When I first arrived at Oxford University I was thrilled to discover that there was a Catholic church – the Oxford Oratory – less than two hundred metres away from my college. Even the small city of Oxford can seem dauntingly large to a new student, and so the Oratory quickly became the church which I regularly attended. I enjoyed many wonderful masses at the Oratory; however, I couldn't help feeling that there was a distinct lack of a student community there, which, as a local parish church isn't really that surprising.
As I began to explore Oxford further, I occasionally went to other college masses, and my interest in the University's Catholic Chaplaincy grew. I gradually started to attend weekly talks there, but some part of me always felt that I had left it too late to become involved with the community itself. When I started my Master's degree last year, I was thrown into an experience of Oxford which I had not anticipated – most of my friends had left the city and I no longer lived in college, meaning that my nearby haven of the Oratory suddenly seemed a lot more distant. As with many unexpected or difficult situations, this was a blessing in disguise as it opened my mind to the large number of other churches in Oxford which had previously been second in line to the local Oratory.
As a result of being one of a small group from my college who stayed on in Oxford, the start of my Master's year was rather lonely, and I felt compelled towards the Chaplaincy. My reluctance to become involved during my undergraduate degree for fears of it being "too late" were immediately assuaged as I felt a sense of openness and acceptance, and I felt that I had finally found the sort of student community for which I had been searching over the last three years. Here was a group of like-minded students who were experiencing similar daily life in Oxford, but who also understood my commitment to the Catholic faith and the important role it plays in one's life as a student. I quickly became involved in helping with the weekly CAFOD soup lunches and met many wonderful people. As I started going to the chaplaincy more often, I realized how much I appreciated my experiences of the Oratory, and I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to alternate between churches and communities during my last year in Oxford.
One of the greatest privileges about experiencing this city as a Catholic student was the huge choice of churches and masses which were right on my doorstep. During the past four years, and especially over the last nine months, I have had such a wonderful experience of the Catholic communities in this city; and, be it the Oratory, the Chaplaincy, or college masses, I have always felt supported and able to speak to people in times of need, or just as a friend.
Stephanie has just completed a Masters in Musicology at the University of Oxford