At present, the world is very much characterised by a sense of alienation, trouble, war, misunderstandings about race equality, equal rights as well as concern for the future of the planet we live in. If we were to use a single word to sum up the contemporary world, the word ‘troubled’ might be an apt description.

But we must see this time of trouble, searching and confusion as well - as mixed- priorities being put on the table by government regarding the mission and purpose of education - as at time of hope too. This questioning spirit and searching for greater understanding also presents us with an opportunity to ‘teach’ and ‘reawaken’ in the world a sense of the spiritual and the energy that is needed to bring about a humane political and social world which ‘involves a constant attention to the common good and a concern for integral human development’ (FT 267). And the place where integral human development and concern for the dignity of ‘all persons of goodwill’ is the Church which has a role that some might not be so familiar with. The Church ‘has a public role over and above her charitable and educational activities’ (FT 267). And so does the Catholic University.

The open door that Catholic universities can provide to a Church that is focused on finding more humane ways of living must not be underestimated. Universities can be the key locus where the much-needed debates about justice, goodness, respect for cultural diversity, community living and peaceful international relations can take place - with openness, scholarly friendship, and academic rigour.

In his Message for the World Day of Peace (1 Jan 2021, no. 8), Pope Francis describes the role of Catholic education to be ‘an act of hope that, from the present, looks to the future.’ It should ‘pass on a system of values based on the recognition of the dignity of each person, each linguistic, ethnic and religious community and each people, as well as the fundamental rights arising from that recognition.’

It is in this spirit that Leeds Trinity University is approaching its Catholic mission and identity – as a searching for a more humanising way of providing high-quality education to as many students as possible. Informed by our Catholic values, we provide an outstanding educational offer to students as well as the hope that our graduates will be professionals that are driven by excellence in all that they do - which includes their behaviours being guided by values and respect for people and the world. We aim to widen access to education particularly to those students who may feel that they live on the margins of society or that they are not confident enough to ‘fit in’ at university or that university-level education is reserved solely for an elitist group which does not include them.

At Leeds Trinity, we are very proud to express our Catholic mission as being spear-headed by the Sisters of the Cross and Passion order. Their foundress, the most Venerable Elizabeth Prout, was a pioneering voice in providing education to poor Irish communities (in the first instance) in Manchester when she saw the devastating poverty that some people were living in. Guided by the firm belief that the route out of poverty was through providing access to skills and education so that people could not only contribute to society but feel much more confident about exactly what contribution they could make. Humanising the world and ‘seeing’ people in their entirety, and in their vulnerability, is something that we hold dear at Leeds Trinity as we wish our staff and students to use their skills for the good of themselves, others and the world. We also strive - through the curriculum itself and through other outreach and Catholic mission-related activities – to encourage everyone who is linked to our university to be conscious and aware of the issues that hold people in positions of injustice, vulnerability and darkness.

Paragraph 12 of Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Saint John Paul II makes it clear that ‘[e]very Catholic University, as a university, is an academic community which, in a rigorous and critical fashion, assists in the protection and advancement of human dignity and of a cultural heritage through research, teaching and various services offered to the local, national and international communities (14). It possesses that institutional autonomy necessary to perform its functions effectively and guarantees its members academic freedom, so long as the rights of the individual person and of the community are preserved within the confines of the truth and the common good.’

This is an inspirational task for a modern university in a sector that is both challenging, complex, competitive and demanding in terms of the OfS regulations – as it invites the Catholic university to do more than just deliver education in line with sector norms and/or expectations. Rather, the Catholic university is expected to go beyond this and to teach the world about more humane ways of living, produce research that promotes the intrinsic value of human persons, and to make a contribution to local, national and international concerns for the future of our world and all the communities within it. This task is both exciting and challenging at the same time. Nevertheless, it sheds a clear light on the nature and purpose of the Catholic university today. It must serve the world. It must serve the common good. And it must serve academic freedom. But the search for truth must be situated in a specific context, pursued with respect and due consideration and avoid any purely subjective and/or individualistic versions of what might be considered ‘good’, ‘moral’, ‘just’ or ‘ethical’ ways of living in the contemporary world. A delicate task but a noble one.

In short, therefore, Leeds Trinity University’s Catholic Mission requires that the university thinks big in relation to the good that it does in Leeds, in the UK and in the world. The task is an ambitious one but it is also inspirational and encouraging as Leeds Trinity’s Catholic mission means that staff and students should expect imaginative teaching, informed by cutting-edge research and an approach to academic life and pedagogic practice that is both human, compassionate, focused on the good of persons as well as on what will best serve the ‘signs of times’ in a complex and mysterious world. We have to engage in this task with hope, with vision, with imagination and dream that the world can be better, different and more just for everyone. And the first step to doing is to learn, to read, to teach and to reflect with a ‘contemplative heart.’ As Nelson Mandela reminds us, ‘[…] winner[s] are dreamer[s] who never give[…] up.’ Therefore, let us dream!