Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trinity Term Festivities

Since we arrived in Oxford four weeks ago, we’ve often passed students wearing “subfusc” biking to their examinations, their gowns flapping in the breeze, and a peppy carnation tucked into their buttonhole (white for the freshers, pink for second year, and red for the final exams).  But this week the academic term comes to a close, and with it comes a slew of garden parties and end-of-term balls. 

The festivities began for us last Tuesday, when Stefany Wragg, a 2010 PC Alumna, invited the Oxford-PC students to hall at St. Cross College.  The theme of this week’s dinner was Wimbledon Picnic Hall, complete with provencal tarts and strawberries and cream.  Students from the hall wore their academic gowns, and the master led the dinner, starting with grace in Latin and knocking on the table to announce each course of the meal.  It was great to have a small PC reunion in Oxford, sharing memories about favorite professors and changes around campus.  People often comment about the strong sense of community at PC, but who would have guessed that it would extend across the pond!

Tiffany Donohue, Meredith White, me, Tom Reilly, Stefany Wragg, Beatriz
On Wednesday afternoon, after a tutorial with Fr. John on virtue ethics, I wandered across the Magdalen Bridge to South Parks.  The green expanse of meadows dotted with trees is a peaceful break from the streets of the city.  Climb to the top of the hill, turn to face the city and a panoramic view of the Oxford skyline unfolds before your eyes.  School children in their uniforms enjoyed their recess break, picnickers lounged on their blankets leisurely basking in the warm sunshine, and I sat reading and trying to identify the various spires that pierced above the roofs of the city below.

Oriel College

As the sky grew overcast, not wanting to be caught in a downpour in the middle of the meadows, I relocated to the quad of Oriel College.  It felt quite appropriate to be reading Bl. John Henry Newman’s novel Loss and Gain at the college he attended!

Wednesday evening, the Aquinas Reading Group had their end-of-term garden party.  It was lovely to get to chat with the others students and friars, and amazing to think how many good friends we’ve met in only a few weeks!
On Thursday we attended our last lectures: one in moral theology on the family, and one on Aquinas. 

The next day, Blackfriars held its end of term festivities, beginning with a garden party behind the chapel.  Friendly conversation bubbled as people sipped Pimms (it has a unique, distinctive taste, but I suppose it could be described as an alcoholic cross between fruit punch and ice tea, with orange and cucumber slices floating in it – the British love their cucumbers!) and savored the fresh strawberries and cream.  The celebrations continued after Mass with the Blackfriars Ball: first dinner at the long refectory table, then live music and dancing in the aula.  It was entertaining to see Fr. Peter and Br. Haavar dance in their long habits!

Beatriz, Shaun, Genevieve, me, and Elizabeth in the
Magdalen dining hall.
On Saturday morning, Elizabeth invited us to Magdalen college for breakfast and morning prayer.  The dining hall is gorgeous!  Long tables with candlesticks, wooden paneled walls, stained glass windows – hardly your typical breakfast setting.  Elizabeth told us that they had a several formal dinners there, and I expected that meant a few a term – but no, formal dinner is served there three times a week.  What a life!  Genevieve led morning prayer in the beautiful chapel, which houses a copy of Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” the one that is used when renovations are being made to the original.  On our way out, Elizabeth showed us the house above the water mill where she lives.  Apparently some of the undergraduate rooms have two-stories!  Now with an attic room overlooking the deer park, Elizabeth says there is a lovely feeling of being in the country, outside the bustle of the city.
The house in the background is where Elizabeth lives.

Saturday evening we attended a “Shakespeare in Love” concert at Hereford College, which included music by Vaughan Williams and from West Side Story.

On Sunday we went to Vespers and Benediction in Latin at the Oratory.  The organ music was sublime!
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre hosted a conference on Human Dignity and Healthcare on Monday, and we were able to volunteer and attend some of the lectures.  Some of the issues that were discussed were the distinctions between inherent, attributed, and incandescent (the speaker coined this term: dignity having to do with flourishing to the fullness of the human potential) dignity.  Inherent dignity, the dignity a person has simply by existence, is the most fundamental and the basis for the other two types of dignity.  Another topic mentioned was the relationship between dignity and dependence; man has a fundamental dignity, but also a fundamental dependence.  In contrast to the Greek notion of “magnanimity” where a man would be generous to others, but would refuse to receive help himself, the Christian perspective sees a value in the virtue of humility, and blesses the poor and helpless.  Christianity acknowledges man’s basic need to receive help from others in a somewhat passive sense, in addition to respecting him as a free, active moral agent.
It was sunny on Tuesday, so Beatriz and I went out planning to buy a quick picnic lunch.  As we were walking down the street, though, we came across Heinrich, who introduced us to his friend Xavier and generously invited us to join them for lunch at Balliol.  Aren’t these spontaneous adventures always the best?  Balliol is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford, founded in 1263, and the dining hall is magnificent: again, the long tables, and paneled walls, with portraits of the masters and an organ and choir loft at one end.  Heinrich and Xavier’s conversation, one so extremely German and the other so quintessentially French, was hilarious! 
As they headed off to their physics lab, Beatriz and I ventured over to the Carfax Tower, the clock-tower at the end of Cornmarket Street.  Climbing to the top, we had an amazing view of the city, with the Cotswolds unfolding in the distance.

On Wednesday, Oxford held its Encaenia ceremony, where the honorary degrees are awarded.  We got a small peek at the procession, complete with academic regalia.  One man (I’m not sure his position, but it must have been important) had a long robe, and a little boy followed behind him carrying his train. 
In the evening, Bernhardt invited us over to dinner at his house.  It was so kind and generous of him!  There are so many incredible people at Blackfriars, and it’s rather amazing to think what wonderful friends we’ve made in such a short time.  We’ve truly been blessed to be so welcomed into the heart of the community here!

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