Driving along the A27 on a wet Monday morning, pondering what to make for supper, fish pie or casserole, was hardly the moment to expect a vision.
But looking to the right of the road at the Derelict Nutbourne House, I saw the large words ” CATHOLIC BIBLE SCHOOL ” on it.
As the car swerved to the left, I prayed “Lord, You must be joking ?”
I had driven past this boarded- up dump many times and attended Mass in the nearby Chapel of the Nativity, but only knew that it had been a refuge for the homeless for many years before it became uninhabitable, Francis Collins, our beloved Parish priest at St Richards, Chichester, explained that it belonged to the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton, but as it was a listed historic building, they could not demolish it, nor could they afford the several hundred thousands it would cost to renovate it.
We bought it.
THE NEXT DAY, WEARING WELLINGTON BOOTS AND CARRYING UMPTEEN CANDLES IN JAM JARS, WE SPLASHED THROUGH THE WET, SLIPPY, GROUND FLOOR. ABOUT 40 OF US PRAISED GOD IN EXPECTATION OF WHAT HE ALONE COULD DO IN THIS DERELICT HOUSE.
SEVERAL PRIEST FRIENDS CON- CELEBRATED HOLY MASS AND IT WAS A JOYFUL CELEBRATION ! FR MIKE SHAW SAID “THIS IS SO CRAZY, HUMANELY SPEAKING, THAT IT MUST BE OF GOD!”
THE OPEN ROOF, THE WATER POURING THROUGH, THE SEAWEED -LIKE FRONDS DANGLING DOWN AND THE FOUL STENCH DID NOTHING TO DAMPEN THE FAITH AND JOY OF THE GROUP.
Michael and I sold our “retirement ” cottage nearby and put a deposit down of £30000, taking out a mortgage for the remaining £30000. Obtaining this was due to the friendship of the Hon. Nona Byrne, founder of the Catholic HOUSING ASSOCIATION, who caught the vision when no other sensible House Agent would consider giving an elderly couple of retired teachers, a mortgage for a derelict building.
We became homeless for the next two years.
My youngest daughter, Maggi and husband, Nick,and lovely daughter Natasha, embraced us , and dogs,with hospitality and kindness for several months in their Flint cottage in Chichester , we developed a new habit of toasted teacakes for breakfast. Then another dear friend ,PIP BECK, who was moving back to London and in the slow process of selling her beautiful Manor House,set in acres of beautiful grounds, asked us to occupy it until it was sold. This was no hardship ! We celebrated that Christmas in the oak panelled dining room with family and friends. Although we had dined there many times as guests, only the Lord could arrange for us to reside in such luxury for nearly a year.
In the meantime work was progressing on Nutbourne House thanks to Social Services providing a “Manpower Service “team under the direction of a highly skilled craftsman,Danny, who became used to the reality of prayer when we needed to buy materials. “we need five hundred pounds for cement next week, could your prayer group get on their knees ?” They did and a cheque would arrive !
Because the house was listed as a grade 2 historic building , strict regulations were enforced and modern tiles for the roof were not allowed. Once again prayers were answered when the roofer learned of a building of the same period was being demolished in Portsmouth. Our roof was restored.
And, more importantly, Our roofer returned to his faith in God.
DANNY STRIPPING AWAY CENTURIES OF LAYERS FROM THE TIME OF QUEEN ELIZABETH 1st. so much hard work, not only by team but by all friends and Prayer Groupers.
Manpower Services ! Michael and me
Our lovely new Porch …befitting for the Georgian frontage of the dear old house!
EVENTUALLY ……..TWO YEARS ON
DEACON DAVY BOYD AND BISHOP CORMAC CELEBRATE OPENING MASS IN ADJOINING CHAPEL OF THE NATIVITY …THE FIRST CATHOLIC BIBLE SCHOOL IN UK WAS BORN ! 1988
TWO YEARS OF PRAYER AND VERY HARD WORK BY SO MANY PEOPLE
The Tudor dining room restored to former glory, flint walls and Roman, handmade bricks, oak beams with graffito, stone flags brought back after decades in garden and original brick fireplace uncovered.
Our famous library was inspired and organised by Honora Power who built it up with skill and imagination, buying the latest editions of scripture materials, resources and audio tapes from round the world.
Her husband,Norbert, taught Hebrew at CBS,which we all relished.
THE MAIN REASON THAT WE FELT INSPIRED TO SET UP A CATHOLIC BIBLE SCHOOL WAS TO MEET THE URGENT DESIRE OF THOUSANDS OF CATHOLICS AND OTHERS WHO HAD EXPERIENCED BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THIRST TO DEEPEN THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES. THEY DID NOT WANT TO STUDY FOR A THEOLOGICAL DEGREE BUT WERE HUNGRY FOR THE WORD.
SO WE WERE ENCOURAGED ENORMOUSLY BY OUR PARISH PRIEST, OUR BISHOP AND FRIENDS OF MANY DENOMINATION, INCLUDING THE ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER ,ERIC KEMP, AND FROM A DELEGATION FROM THE BIBLE SOCIETY IN SWINDON WHO CLIMBED OVER THE RUBBLE, CAUGHT THE VISION AND OFFERED ME A JOB TEACHING ONE OF THEIR BIBLE STUDY COURSES. IN ACCEPTING TO JOIN THEIR TEAM FOR A LIMITED INPUT, I WAS TO LEARN THE HIGHEST STANDARDS OF PRESENTATION AND VISUAL AIDS WHICH WERE CONTINUED IN MY OWN COURSES AT THE BIBLE SCHOOL.
WHAT WENT ON ?
THE CONTENT OF OUR PROGRAMME WAS INITIALLY BASED ON OUR OWN EXPERIENCE.; MICHAEL AS AN ACADEMIC SCRIPTURE SCHOLAR, WRITER AND TEACHER, AND MY TEACHING, COUNSELLING AND SPIRITUAL TRAINING, BUT IN TIME WE MANAGED TO AQUIRE THE SKILLS OF A WIDE VARIETY OF MEN AND WOMEN FROM HOME AND ABROAD. SOME OF THEM ARE PICTURED BELOW, BUT OTHERS INCLUDE ; FR IAN PETIT , DR JACK DOMINION , RUSS PARKER , DR JIM FLEMMING , DR HANANIAH PINTO, PROF. MARION SYMS , FR BARGIL PIXNER OSB , DAVE MATTHEWS , CHARLES WHITEHEAD , MICHAEL SIMPSON SJ, , FR JERRY CURTIN SJ , JOHN& ROSEANNE EVENS , DR ELAINE MAYBURY. And some dear folk who have slipped my failing memory …mea culpa!
CANON FRANCIS WITH CLAIRE
VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE ; JUNE AND SUE WHO KEPT THE SPARKLE IN THE HOUSE FOR 14 YEARS. THE WINDOW BEHIND THEM WAS A COPY OF THE ONE IN THE CHURCH OF THE PRIMACY OF PETER IN GALILLEE
We were given a clear vision of how the building would be organised; lecture rooms, library. office, kitchens etc., but there was one small area above the barn which the Lord had not shown me. UNTIL …. WE WERE IN EINDHOVEN , in Holland, visiting the Emmanual Community, when a Sr took me into a small chapel where two people were in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, with a telephone beside them. IMMEDIATELY I realised that we could provide the same service in UK, and the little space above the barn could be made beautiful, by our carpenter Clive, and become of service to anyone needing prayer . The SOS PRAYER LINE WAS BORN !!
S.O.S PRAYER LINE
We were blessed to have a large, Charismatic Prayer Group meeting every Monday, all of whom were generous enough to join the team of SOS co workers. We brought an experienced Leader from Paris who trained us to be in adoration and only listen to the caller in love. No questions, no counselling, only offering a short word of scripture when appropriate . The numbers of callers increased until, after several years we were receiving several thousand calls a year. The people who benefited most of all were the team who spent several hours a night in prayer. Several priests were on the team, including our beloved Parish Priest, Francis Collins.
The First Prophecy for the first anniversary of the SOS Prayer Line. from then on we took no other reading matter into the room, and only read our Bibles.
Garden outside the barn.
ANNUAL GARDEN PARTY
Every summer we celebrated with a garden party in our, now beautiful, garden, see above, with a huge marquis and lots of stalls, and amazing ingenuity from all our friends and lots of fun. At the end of the day we had a great party for all the helpers in the marquis, with barbecued ribs and lots of lubrication to toast our efforts.
Most of the people on these photographs were members of the SOS team as well as helping the school in so many other ways.
This ” GRAND BICHON NATIONAL’ BECAME A FAVOURITE EVENT. Organised by my cheating daughter, Maggi, who was even observed waving a sausage in front of Poppy , who always won! Daisy, Pippa nor Monty ever stood a chance !