A HISTORIC Roman Catholic College is to close, it was announced last night.
A large drop in the number of men training as priests has led to the decision to close Ushaw College, on the outskirts of Durham.
The 200-year old Roman Catholic college is home to St Cuthbert’s Seminary which has been training priests since its foundation in France more than 400 years ago.
The proposal means that the college will cease operating at the end of the current academic year, in June 2011.
In recent years, Ushaw College – between the villages of Bearpark and Esh – has opened its doors to the public in a bid to survive financially while continuing the work of the Roman Catholic Church in the region.
But conferences, heritage open days, paying guests and even a bikers’ rally in the picturesque grounds failed to halt the financial meltdown.
Currently, there are 26 seminarians in formation at St Cuthbert’s Seminary and once they have completed this year’s studies, it is proposed that they will transfer to another seminary.
Archbishop Patrick Kelly, chair of trustees, said: “This is one of the most difficult proposals that we as Trustees have had to make, not least because of the excellence of the formation our students are receiving.”
Monsignor John Marsland, President of the College, added: “Ushaw has a long history within the Roman Catholic Church and words cannot express how sad we are that we are considering such a drastic step.
“We have long tried to find a development partner and it would be nice to believe that a partner will still come forward with a viable business plan but unfortunately time is running out and we have to face the reality of the situation we are in.”
The decline in priestly vocations provided the college with an opportunity to diversify, resulting in innovative educational outreach programmes, a new biomass enterprise – complete with a willow crop -- and the three-star English Tourist Board accreditation for its accommodation and its sought-after unique setting for conferences and events.
The college has also become the home of the North East regional office of the Catholic charity CAFOD, and the Churches’ Regional Commission.
Kay Wightman, the college’s director of finance and commercial development, said the business had been facing tough times for many years.
“Ushaw College has proved to be increasingly popular among leisure groups, individual visitors, and people seeking somewhere a little different from the usual accommodation options on offer”, she explained. “We’ve also experienced a welcome upturn in the number of businesses and organisations – including international companies – selecting Ushaw to host their corporate events, team-building activities and social gatherings, however this is not enough.
“We are a charitable organisation and as such unfortunately we’ve had to bear increasing costs of maintaining and running the facilities we provide, and this has led to the sad proposal that Ushaw is to close. We have spent the last two years exploring several options and had hoped we would be able to attract a development partner to continue the evolution of Ushaw College and the home of St Cuthbert’s Seminary.”
The building could eventually be put up for sale.