When I was first teaching at the Franciscan Study Centre, in the Nineties, this first room was my office, and the second, a classroom. Individual attention was our aim, whenever that seemed likely to be beneficial. Students from the University and the Study Centre occasionally asked for scholarly supervision. But each person’s circumstances were different. Topics were diverse, and the conversations very dissimilar.
I recall, for instance, an Ethiopian Capuchin Franciscan talking about his family’s hard times, his experience of being ostracised, and the breakdown of Christian sympathy between Catholics and Copts in his home area. A caring manner and willingness to listen counted for more than his items of academic reading.
On another, much more cheerful occasion, I remember the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a third year BA student, relating to me her chosen dissertation topic: depictions in religious art of the angelic Annunciation to Mary. I had very little to do. She had found abundant material, and it was obvious that her keenness would produce a fine piece of writing, as it proved to be.
A third consultation involved a young man with no faith background. He took theology as his course, but he wanted a journalist’s career. He expected to transfer enjoyment of symbolism and storytelling to writing for GQ magazine! Christians use images and metaphors from Homer: surely more of such themes would prove commercially profitable! He asked me to suggest further reading. There was a kind of deadness in his voice: a sad memory for me.