PORTSMOUTH, England — With the rapid closure and merging of parishes across the United Kingdom, and dwindling numbers of men entering the priesthood, one Catholic bishop has come up with a counterintuitive way to address the problem.

The bishop of Portsmouth in England will launch a new “powerhouse of prayer” on a remote Island in his diocese, staffed by six religious sisters and a priest.

The Adoremus Centre will be founded on the far-flung island of Alderney, part of the Channel Islands, about 90 miles off the southern coast of England. In fact, it’s closer to France.

It has just one church, St. Anne and St. Mary Magdalene, and a tiny population of just 1,900 people.

The Register contacted Bishop Philip Egan to find out more about the initiative. “The parish on Alderney has not had a resident pastor for some time, and next to its church lies an empty convent. It has not been easy for the bishop to supply the parish with a priest,” he explained.

“The convent, meanwhile, belongs to the wonderful Sisters of Mercy on Guernsey, but it had been out of use for several years; and I had heard through the grapevine that they were now thinking of selling it.”

“Meanwhile, this last year, our own diocesan-rite Marian Franciscans have had a lot of new postulants, and the mother superior was wishing to establish a contemplative branch. They were looking for a property. The final element in this jigsaw was that from this autumn I now had a priest who was willing to move to Alderney!

“So, with the idea coming together in my heart and mind, I decided to go and see Mother Bernadette of the Sisters of Mercy to ask if we might make an arrangement with her to use the convent. That morning I met with one of her lay trustees, who told me that the project would be very attractive indeed in the Channel Islands and to many wider afield, with a lot of support. When I went in to see Mother, she was holding the keys in her hands! I was amazed at how, in God’s providence, the whole ensemble fitted together so quickly and effortlessly.”

 

Terrorism Expert-Turned-Priest

Father John Lavers, 54, a Canadian who spent 30 years working in government crime and security departments before entering the priesthood, will become the church’s first parish priest in six years and act as leader and chaplain to the center.

“It is important that people know that this will be a center of strong and continuous prayer and that it is important for people to help and support the Adoremus Centre with whatever means they can,” he told the Register.

“I trust in God's providence that people will support the Adoremus Centre, and I call upon them to be generous, with not only their intentions and needs, but their financial support, as well.”

He was ordained for the Archdiocese of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, and has served in the Diocese of Portsmouth since 2014.

In his letter to the parish announcing the news, Bishop Egan wrote that Father Lavers and the parish should “renew the mission of the Church on the island, with special concern to reach out to all the inactive Catholics.”

Six sisters from the Franciscan Family of the Immaculate Heart and St. Maximilian will move into a convent next to the parish, donated by the Sisters of Mercy.

They will live a contemplative life of continuous prayer, petition, self-offering and perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist.

Asked what he hoped the center would achieve, Father Lavers told the Register:  “As contemporary society throughout the world continues to face many difficult and unknown challenges, surrounded by the growth in secularism, atheism, indifference and other such negative pressures upon the faith, it has been the way of God to call men and woman to special and unique places on this earth to pray and enter into spiritual warfare by truly living a simple and virtuous way of life.

“It will be like this on the small island of Alderney. The Adoremus Centre will be located within the parish of St. Anne and St. Mary Magdalen and will offer a great strength and presence of continuous prayer and self-sacrifice for the needs of the bishop, the diocese and the universal Church — all for the salvation of souls."

 

A Special Mission to Support Priests

The purpose of the center is to obtain God’s grace and blessing for the clergy, people, schools and ministries of the diocese in its work of proclaiming the Gospel in a highly secularized context.

The Adoremus Centre will also be a house of prayer specially focused on priestly vocations, supporting the ministry of current priests and aiding seminarians and young men considering a priestly vocation.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales continues to face serious problems maintaining parishes due to the retirement of priests and few men entering seminary.

The latest Office for Vocations statistics show that just 25 men entered training for the priesthood in 2016 for England and Wales, down from 42 in 2015 and more than 150 in 1985.

Only 19 priests were ordained in 2016, with none ordained for Portsmouth. However, the diocese now boasts 14 students in priestly formation for the start of the new academic year.

 

Re-Evangelization Taking Root

The center will livestream religious services and liturgies online for people all over the diocese and beyond to participate in from home, and petitions with requests for prayer can be emailed to the sisters, giving the apostolate a potentially international dimension.

Bishop Egan is one of several bishops to open up his diocese to new initiatives in support of the re-evangelization of England.

A new oratory of St. Philip Neri, known as the Oratorians, opened in his diocese this May, and he has welcomed new Franciscan priests and friars with a special Marian charism, entrusting them with a parish in the town of Gosport. Both groups are noted for their evangelization work and reverent liturgies.

Concluded Bishop Egan, “The idea for the Adoremus Centre came to me during Eucharistic adoration. It arose out of a conviction that if our diocese is to grow and develop, and, more importantly, if the diocese is to be committed to mission and the New Evangelization, then we must begin by expressing our total reliance on God and his providence, asking him constantly for the graces and blessings we need.”

 

Daniel Blackman writes from London.