Netherhall celebrates its 50th anniversary

Netherhall House, a student residence in London inspired by St. Josemaría Escrivá, reached the half-century mark this past summer. Its 100 residents were joined for a weekend celebration by friends, patrons and about 200 alumni from around the globe. Students and ex-residents watched videos of some of the more important moments in Netherhall’s history, including the day the Queen Mother came to visit. But more than the historical highlights, the abiding pleasure for the former residents was coming back to their home in London and exchanging reminiscences.

An international residence

Netherhall was acquired as a residence hall for students at London University and other higher education institutions in 1952. At first it occupied one house and accommodated just 25 students, but it swiftly expanded to include the house next door.

Netherhall held a special place in the heart of the founder of Opus Dei, Saint Josemaría Escrivá, who visited it during his summer stays in London from 1958 to 1962.

The residence hall has always had a very international make-up. In the academic year 2001-2002 only a quarter of the residents were British, with 30 different countries represented. Over its entire fifty-year existence, more than half of the 3,000 residents who have lived there for a year or more have come from outside Europe.

According to Jim Mirabal, director during the mid-1970s, it is Netherhall’s atmosphere that makes it special. “There were a hundred people here, and so well did we get on that it reminded one of what Saint Josemaría said about there being only one race, the race of the children of God. One appreciates this later in life.”

Kevin Dalton, a student living during the late 1960s, agrees. In 1968, he says, “Netherhall was free of student rioting — perhaps the only place in London that was. There was too much of a family feel for that.” On its fiftieth anniversary Netherhall extends right round one side of the block, with a four-story specially-built residence inaugurated in 1966 by the Queen Mother (who died earlier this year), and a further extension opened in 1995 by the Duchess of Kent.

One of the June weekend visitors was the Bishop of Nottingham, Malcolm McMahon. He celebrated Mass in Netherhall Oratory. In his homily he told a packed congregation the story of how he had come to know the original Netherhall House as a schoolboy in 1965:

“I was introduced to The Way, written by Saint Josemaría, when I attended a retreat given here at Netherhall House…. The saying of Saint Josemaría that stayed with me — as did my copy of The Way — is the one that goes, 'You have to be a man of God, a man of interior life, a man of prayer and sacrifice. Your apostolate must be the overflow of your life within.'”

There was a second fiftieth anniversary celebration on September 7. The response was once again overwhelming. Many past residents came for a second time, their numbers swelled by others who had been unable to attend the celebrations in June. A surprise visitor was the archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

Not everyone was able to get to Netherhall the second time round. Sir Bernard Audley, Chairman of the Patrons and for so long a key supporter, with his wife Lady Audley, sent a letter instead: “We both feel that Netherhall has enriched our lives, as it has that of so many others.” And Augustine J. Chong, a resident in 1960, who became Professor of Physics at the University of Singapore, writes: “I was a foreigner from a tiny country, and yet I felt I was part of a big family at Netherhall.” Buildings come and go, but the spirit remains.

Romana, n. 35, July-December 2002, p. 360-361.

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