David Craven introduces Ladyewell House in Preston


The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. If as Catholics we are to have a future in the Church of England it is essential that we grow vocations, raising up priests who are equipped for the rigours of ministering in the Church in the twenty first century. With a settled agreement in place over the issue of Women Bishops we now need to move off the battlefield and on to the mission field, recapturing that same sense of passion for evangelism that our forebears had.

With seismic changes coming to how our theological institutions are funded and supported the landscape of ordination training will change beyond recognition. We can try to ignore facts or else we can look to get on the front foot and seek to shape the future for the next generation of priests within our tradition. That is what is happening in Preston with the development of the Ladyewell House. 

The vision for this project is to call out a new generation of priests formed within the traditional Catholic stream of the Church of England who carry a renewed imagination, experience of and confidence for reaching communities with the gospel and seeing unchurched people come to faith, establishing new worshipping congregations and be nurtured in the riches of the sacramental tradition. This tradition for many generations past has brought such life-giving riches into the faith of the nation. It is about a re-opening of ancient wells and ways of sacramental mission and faith and making space for strengthening of the deep Catholic fabric of the historic Church in our nation. 

The early pioneers of the Anglo-Catholic cause had a zeal and passion for preaching, teaching and establishing new worshipping congregations. Faithful priests serving parishes with great love and care are vital and will always be needed. Yet, many of our priests today have little or no exposure to pioneering and new ways of being sacramental and what that might look like. All this means that we often struggle to find priests in the Catholic tradition who can take on more challenging roles. We want to change that. 

Ladyewell House will look to provide an additional pathway for ordinands to train that sees learning done in context. The period of formation for ordination is a hinge phase for imbuing missional faith, courage and ambition in ordinands. Contextual pathways which have re-emerged within the Church of England appear to be having a stronger track record for enabling newly ordained priests to lead and form mission-focussed communities, reaching new people with the gospel, Ladyewell House seeks to be such a place for Anglo-Catholics.

Looking back, we can see how proper formation for Church of England clergy was for the most part introduced by the Oxford Movement who drew on learning from the French School and in particular the Sulpician inheritance. The first French seminary was founded by M Olier at St Sulpice in Paris. The seminary placed a deep emphasis on interiority, drawing men from their daily lives and into tight-knit community for a period of sustained spiritual growth, study and formation. Olier placed the seminary right at the heart of a huge and teeming slum served by the Parish of St Sulpice.

The Oxford Movement adopted most aspects of the seminary model: community living, a disciplined routine of daily prayer and sound theological learning. However, rather than placing the seminary in the slum, they placed it in the academy. This arguably had a huge impact on the ethos of the training offered.

Ladyewell House will offer a pattern of formation inspired by the Sulpician model located in inner-city Preston. It will draw from the best traditions of the seminary style training offered by Anglican theological colleges but will offer that training in the context of the urban through placements. This will form priests who combine a strong interior life with a passion for the mission of the church, especially amongst the poor. 

“Placement” can be a misnomer, and its significance can be misunderstood. Instinctively meaning a short-term experience where the student watches and learns. In this model it makes available 3 days a week for placement where ordinands are both: 


  • formed in community, observing the regular daily pattern of Mass and the offices with ongoing spiritual direction and periods of reflection
  • then work in the parish, taking on significant leadership for establishing new missional projects, under the supervision of the Parish Priest, drawing on opportunities at other neighbouring parishes, but innovating mission in a sacramental context.  


The placements are the “critical success factor” in this enterprise and would draw on investment from Bishop Philip North’s evangelistic zeal and innovation in the Catholic tradition as well as the input of supervisors experienced in offering contextual placements. 

In partnership with the new Emmanuel Theological College in the North West, we will look to develop ordinands in three areas: Apostolic Spirit, Spiritual Formation and Theological Depth. We want men who will have a zeal for evangelisation and love of pastoral service; who are sustained by an interior life of prayer that is sufficiently robust to sustain the challenges of mission and ministry in the twenty first century; and who will be equipped to think and reflect theologically in order to preach and defend the faith.

Emmanuel’s high priority on formation for mission in context, and the opportunity to train on a full-time contextual pathway for 2-3 years – half-time study and half-time placement – makes it the ideal place to partner with for this project. Coupled with the programmes offered at our existing colleges it is our belief that we are well positioned as a constituency to meet the challenges head on.

Given the paucity of traditional Catholic vocations, it could be tempting to look down an abyss of despair and presume that this project might be doomed before conception. This project attempts to tackle this. Significant data shows that training pathways generate vocations. We are committed to that in a way that is confident in our who we are and what we have to offer as a constituency.

Ladyewell House would therefore be a place for traditionalist Ordinands, a courageous step given the immense pressure in society and the Church for mixed gender groupings. The genius of the mixed-mode pathway is that the time at Emmanuel Theological College (weekday teaching and residentials) would be in a worshipping community, drawing from across the whole spectrum of the Church of England where mutual flourishing is encouraged as part of the 5Guiding Principles. Meanwhile, the time at Ladyewell House enables an honouring and respecting of a long-established tradition in the Church that has come under significant siege in recent decades. Single gender formation, done with generosity, can engender confidence rather than cliques.

Ladyewell is an ancient Catholic shrine, located just outside of Preston. By tapping into the local Catholic roots of Preston and Lancashire it is hoped that we can mine some of the riches of the past here in the present in order to promote a vibrant and flourishing Catholic strand within the Church of the future.

Just as Mary said “yes” to God, we look to her example of courage, selflessness and courage as we step out in faith seeking to make God an incarnational reality in the hearts and lives of many. It’s our prayer that the Ladyewell House will contribute to this.


Fr David Craven SSC is Parish Priest of St George’s, Preston and a Trustee of Emmanuel Theological College