English Dominicans establish new house in Durham

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First religious house in Durham opened since the Reformation
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Mass in St Cuthbert's Durham celebrated by the Provincial
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The English Province of the Order have established a new religious community in Durham at the invitation of the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle, Rt Rev. Séamus Cunningham. Three Dominican friars arrived in Durham in September to have care of the Catholic Chaplaincy to Durham University as well as the Parish of St Cuthbert. The historic occasion of the public opening and blessing of the new religious community was marked by the celebration of Holy Mass on Wednesday 7 November, the Feast of All Saints of the Dominican Order.

The Mass was celebrated by the Very Rev John Farrell OP, Prior Provincial of England, with the Dominican community, friars from other communities, local clergy, and large numbers of parishioners and students. During his homily Fr John recalled the rich history of the friars in the North East of England. Although this is the first Dominican foundation in Durham itself, the Dominican friars first came to the region in 1239, less than 25 years after the foundation of the Order. Their mediaeval priory in Newcastle still exists, on Friars Street, as a restaurant and craft centre. At the time of the Reformation, the last prior publicly denounced Henry VIII's claim to be Supreme Governor of the Church in England and fled to still-Catholic Scotland. The priory was suppressed in 1539, but friars were active during penal times, especially around Hexham in the 17th century, where a large tombstone in the Abbey churchyard testifies to several members of the local Leadbitter family as friars and one nun 'of the Order of St Dominick'. In the 19th century friars took part in the new consolidation of Catholicism at various points in the Tyne Valley. In 1860 St Dominic's priory Newcastle was re-established after a gap of over 300 years, now at New Bridge Street.

The new religious house established St Cuthbert's Durham is a daughter house of this Newcastle community. Fr. Benjamin Earl OP has been appointed as Parish Priest and Catholic Chaplain to Durham University, and is joined in the new community by Fr. Thomas Skeats OP and Fr. John Patrick Kenrick OP. Fr. Benjamin said, 'It is a huge privilege to be asked to continue in Durham the outstanding work of priests from the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. The new religious community has been touched by the very warm welcome received from parish, chaplaincy, University and diocesan communities, and we very much look forward to working with all those groups to promote prayer, study and preaching of the good news in Durham and the North-East.'