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Summer Gathering at Douai Abbey

On the Feast Day of St Oliver Plunkett (1 July), members of the Catholic Union headed to Douai Abbey in Berkshire for this year’s Summer Gathering.

This was the first time that Catholic Union has held the annual event at Douai and the group was given a warm welcome by the Benedictine monks. It is in another Benedictine congregation (Downside Abbey) where St Oliver Plunkett’s body can be found with his head in St Peter’s Church in Drogheda.

Around 40 Catholic Union members were given a tour of Douai by Fr Oliver Holt, who spoke of how his community had been founded in Paris in 1615 and ended up in Woolhampton in 1903, where they established the Abbey that exists today.

The distinctive Abbey Church, with its part-stone part-timber frame, reflects the ambition of those first monks who arrived in 1903 combined with the financial realities as the century wore on. The present Church was only completed in 1993, with a smaller and more modern design than originally planned, but the amount of natural light and subtle stained-glass windows create a very peaceful atmosphere.

As well as a tour of the Abbey and Mass in the parish Church, there was the opportunity to hear about the Catholic Union’s work over the past year. Catholic Union President, Sir Edward Leigh MP, spoke about the continued challenges in Parliament on a number of fronts from abortion to assisted suicide, but said that there was a “vocal minority” continuing to make the pro-life argument.

Deputy Director, James Somerville-Meikle, gave an update on the Catholic Union’s recent work from the campaign to lift the 50 percent cap on new free schools to carrying out a major survey on religion in the workplace. The survey found that almost 1 in 3 Catholics had faced disadvantage at work because of their faith. Catholic Union member and City lawyer, Peter Frost, spoke about how some of these challenges could be addressed in practice.

The day was kindly sponsored by the Universe Catholic Weekly and members could be seen thumbing through their free copy of the papers during tea and coffee breaks. The Summer Gathering is one of a number of events for Catholic Union members, which included a tour of Westminster Cathedral earlier this year. More details of membership can be found here.