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Durham University News

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Durham Centre for Catholic Studies is UK first

(3 March 2008)

Durham University and the Roman Catholic Church are launching the first Centre for Catholic Studies at a secular UK university.

The Durham Centre for Catholic Studies will also be home to the first endowed chair of Catholic theology at a secular UK university. The Bede Chair of Catholic Theology and the research and outreach work of the Centre have been made possible by donations and funding thus far totalling £2.1million. The major sponsors of the Bede Chair are the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle personally led by Bishop Kevin Dunn, the Sisters of Mercy (Oaklea, Sunderland), the Sisters of La Retraite (Britain and Ireland) and the Ballinger Trust. Ampleforth Abbey, in North Yorkshire, is also contributing towards the funding for the Centre. The announcement of the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology and the Durham Centre for Catholic Studies follows the death on Saturday (March 1) of the Right Reverend Kevin Dunn, Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle (2004-08), who had personally led the campaign to raise the required £2 million endowment to establish the Chair. Building on the Department’s traditional strengths, the Durham Centre for Catholic Studies aims to become an internationally regarded research centre engaged with some of the most pressing questions facing the world’s largest faith tradition. The new Centre complements the Department’s close links with the Church of England, its reputation as one of the UK’s leading academic centres for Orthodox studies and its developing work in Methodist studies. His Eminence Cardinal Walter Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, who was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity by Durham University in January 2006, has agreed to act as one of the patrons of the Centre. A leading Roman Catholic scholar is now being sought to become the first holder of the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology, and will act as the intellectual figurehead of the Centre. The Bede Chair will also play a key role in the planned outreach work of the Centre. Both the Bede Chair and the Centre for Catholic Studies will be officially launched in early May (8 to 10) at an international conference and series of public lectures hosted by Durham’s Department of Theology and Religion on “Catholic Theology and the Public Academy”. Centre Director, Dr Paul Murray, said: “We are immensely grateful to all our partners who have made this possible and our thoughts are particularly with Bishop Kevin Dunn and his family and friends at this very sad time, as they are also with Canon Seamus Cunningham and the people of the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. “These developments act as a measure of the way in which the UK has become a real centre for world-class Catholic theology. “They provide a secure, long-term platform for the continued flourishing of such theology into the future. “It is for the good of all when religious traditions are brought into serious focus alongside each other and in dialogue with all the scholarly resources and diverse disciplinary expertise that the public university affords.” The Vice-Chancellor of Durham University, Professor Chris Higgins, said, “The establishment of the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology is an excellent development, clearly for the Department of Theology and Religion and, importantly, for the standing of Durham University and the North East of England. “It is an innovative move which has the potential to serve widely. I am encouraged by the enthusiasm and support with which the Chair has been both conceived and accomplished. I congratulate those responsible for their foresight and commitment and look forward with great interest to the opportunities which I am confident will ensue.” Chair of the Fundraising Committee and Director of Catholic social services for the Diocese, Austin Donohoe, said: “The dual establishment of the Bede Chair of Catholic Theology and the Durham Centre for Catholic Studies represents a great achievement and a real resource for the people of this Diocese, of which they can be justly proud. “When St Bede, the most learned man of his age, wrote his History of the English Speaking Peoples, this region was heralded as one of the great centres of learning throughout the world. “Strengthened by that vision, the partners in this project are of the conviction that we now have the opportunity to help create another great centre of Catholic learning for the people of this region and well beyond.”

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