Life as a Catholic student in Southend

Franklin is a first-year student, studying Oral Health Science. In this blog, he writes about his Catholic faith and how he has been able to continue practising during his time at our Southend Campus, despite the wider challenges of 2020 and 2021.

Coming to university is a time of great change. For many of us it results in new friends, new subjects, new opportunities, and (unless you already reside in Southend-on-Sea) a new location. But in all this change, some things remain the same. For me, it was my Catholic faith.

We all come to university to grow in an academic sense, but simultaneously this is often a catalyst for growth in so many other ways. For many of us, it’s the first time moving away from home, honing our skills in budgeting, cooking, and looking after ourselves. We are becoming adults with increasing independence.

And for those of us for whom religion plays a big part in our lives, how much you pray or go to your place of worship is entirely in your hands now.

For that reason, university can be a place of great spiritual growth and decline.

Decline because you are leaving the familiarity of your spiritual community and cannot rely on people you knew before university to encourage your attendance, and growth because, if you choose to seek out new religious experiences, it is possible to do so right here in Southend.

Just how much growth you experience now depends on you.

Catholic holy places in Southend

The three closest Roman Catholic churches to campus are St Helen’s on the Westcliff border, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Southchurch, and St John Fisher near Prittlewell.

Mass is celebrated every day. On weekdays, all churches deliver a daytime mass, while Sundays and other holy days (such as Ash Wednesday) see multiple masses taking place.

Additionally, Sacred Heart currently holds a Thursday evening service called ‘The Adoration of Christ’. As a night owl, it is one of my favourite experiences – a time of reflection, prayer, and thanksgiving. It is sometimes referred to as ‘holy hour’ because there is a real focus on just homing in on God through meditation.

As you are no doubt aware, the COVID pandemic significantly affected the way in which churches and other places of worship could operate. However, one of the blessings of lockdown was that Catholic churches caught up with technology and began livestreaming their activities. Consequently, when you can’t get to mass, you can partake digitally.

In addition to these places of worship, Southend Campus has its own Faith Centre – a multi faith facility for students and staff to come together and worship.

COVID-secure Mass

Like other buildings, churches are following government guidance on face coverings and Track and Trace check-ins, which are subject to change depending on the current rules of the day.

Over the last few months, we have worn face coverings to mass and seating has been spaced out to allow people to attend church safely. After we leave, the pews are disinfected by the ushers.

With time, things will get back to normal but, for now, the singing is left to the choir and the handshakes have been omitted. All these actions mean that you can still come to church, knowing that everything is being done to ensure your safety.

As COVID regulations ease, some parish groups are reorganising, and we are beginning to plan for the future.

A final reflection…

We all have needs that need to be fulfilled, not least during your time at university.

Your course will contribute to your academic needs, and the friends you make will fulfil your social needs. What’s more, the money we hope to make after graduation should address our nourishment and sustenance.

However, as humans – regardless of creed – we also have spiritual needs. If Catholicism is your persuasion, you need not neglect it while studying in Southend. And if your will leads you to one of the churches here, we look forward to seeing you.