The story of how we arrived at Gower Street

Taken from Undiscovered Ends: An Autobiography by Bruce Kent (and copied here with permission of the author).

In mid-July 1966 I was asked to a drinks party in University College to meet other Catholic staff. As we walked out on to Gower Street my companion pointed across the road at a block of four houses and said, “What a pity the Church has just sold those four to the University – they would make and excellent chaplaincy.” I was looking, I discovered, at St Teresa’s hostel, run by the Sisters of Charity for working girls. It must have been the sherry rolling about inside me, but I crossed the road, ring the bell and asked to see the Superior. Monsignors still had clout in those days and the Superior, instead of telling me to get lost in a polite way, gave me the name of their solicitor and told me that after four years of negotiations the deal with the University was within days of completion.

The next morning, lacking all authority, I phoned the solicitor and told him to proceed no further until he had heard from the Cardinal. Cardinal Heenan had flu but that, typically, was not enough to keep him in bed. Wrapped in a blanket, he was driven at once to Gower Street, had a quick look round, decided that the place would be ideal as a student centre and told the Sister Superior that the Diocese would pay the nuns whatever the University offered plus any of their expenses.

Rooms in the Chaplaincy were sought after by students from all over London. The problem was not to forget that the residence was only a convenient base. If some kind of Christian witness was to be provided, it had to be to the whole university.

We – and that means an excellent team of priests, nuns and lay staff and a lot of very supportive students – turned 111 Gower Street over the years into an open and interesting place buzzing with activity. My eight years of chaplaincy life were not only very enjoyable, if exhausting, but they also transformed me.