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Peter Roebuck: The Foundation Decade at Shrigley, Seminary, Church and Shrine (LAS, Roma 2004).

Writing the history of a school or of a religious foundation is fraught with pitfalls. Frequently, the history is restricted to what is positive, which is like' throwing sand in the eyes of the reader', or it can have such a narrow focus that it seems unrelated to the background and context in which it occurred, or it can be so institutional as to lack any of the human stories which can make it come alive. Peter Roebuck's little jewel not only avoids all these pitfalls it offers a polished and multifaceted history of one of the most beloved of the UK's junior seminaries, a type of institution which has almost completely disappeared but not only that he manages to convey something of the extraordinary dynamism that inspired its foundation and early years. Reading this little book it almost feels as if you have felt the enthusiasm and the dedication that engaged its early staff and pupils. The Salesian Missionary College at Shrigley Park was founded in 1929 as a school, training boys for entering the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Catholic religious order, and aimed at inspiring them to dedicate their lives to the service of young people particularly on the foreign missions. What Peter Roebuck does by his careful use of the rich archives which he catalogued himself is to re-create the atmosphere of those early years and sympathetically assess its wider significance . He sets the story in a wider historical context. He gives an excellent sketch of the chequered history of Shrigley Hall, the grand country house and situates the founding of the College as part of the Catholic Church's missionary expansion and that of the Salesians in the aftermath of the First World War. Professor Roebuck's account of the founding of Shrigley focuses on the outstanding personalities that shaped those early years, Fr Joseph Ciantar, Fr Angelo Franco, Fr Aeneas Tozzi, Fr Thomas Payne. He examines their particular contributions and their particular gifts and the difficulties that they faced. He manages too to see this development as a critical part of the `re-founding' of the English Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco. What keeps this from being merely an interesting school history is the wider reference framework in which it is placed and the counterpoint between the foundation itself and the employment of an unlikely `society' architect, Philip Tilden who designed the outstanding National Shrine to St John Bosco that was the Shrigley Church. What started as a stop-gap project for an architect suffering intense depression due to the Wall St Crash turned into a sort of spiritual quest and deeply involving personal journey of friendship between the architect and Fr Thomas Hall the second Rector. We observe the sophisticated, worldly wise, somewhat cynical character who could have been a character in a Dorothy L. Sayers Murder Mystery, being enthused and engaged by the deeply held personal faith and enthusiasm of the founders. A touching aspect of the narrative is the section on the boys who tragically died in the early years of the school's existence. This roots the atmosphere of the school in the hard realities of accident, sickness and sadness among young people which will affect any human community.

While one would agree with nearly all Professor Roebuck's wider assessments this reviewer for one, would have to disagree with his over-kind assessment of `the sensitive treatment of a major transformation' or re-development of the Shrigley Church into a spa and banqueting centre which I find totally unsympathetic to the fundamental nature of the building. Overall a book that I could not put down and which enthralled me from beginning to end. Fr John Dickson SDB


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