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Conference Day Report - Catherine O'Brien

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

The Centre for Marian Studies was delighted to join with the Institute for Theology at St Mary’s University for a conference entitled ‘Miraculous Conceptions: The Origins of Mary and Jesus in Theology and Story-Telling’ on 8 December 2018. The event took place in the very grand Waldegrave Drawing Room, which provided a wonderful backdrop for a day of lively and convivial discussion. Given the date of the Marian Feast, it was unsurprising that there was a good deal of focus on the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

The day began with a paper by Revd. Dr Simon Gaine OP, who is the Regent of Blackfriars Hall and Studium in Oxford. His presentation, entitled ‘Why did the Dominicans oppose the Immaculate Conception?’ provided a most impressive example of how to make difficult theological concepts accessible to everyone, demonstrating that it is possible to be both erudite and intelligible. Dr Sarah Boss, who founded the Centre for Marian Studies in 1995, then gave a presentation called ‘A Mariological Surprise? The Theological Foundations of Ineffabilis Deus (1854)’, which introduced the audience to most fascinating new research into events surrounding the definition of the Marian dogma in the nineteenth century. In the afternoon, Dr Jacob Phillips, who is head of the Institute of Theology at St Mary’s University, spoke engagingly about the role that England has played in the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in a paper entitled ‘“A Delicate, Perfect Flower”: On the Englishness of the Immaculate Conception’, reminding the audience that theologian Yves Congar once said that the Immaculate Conception ‘is the gift of your England to the Catholicity’. The final session by Dr Catherine O’Brien, who is director for the Centre for Marian Studies, explored the idea of ‘Filming the Sacred’ by examining the origins of Mary and Jesus in cinematic narratives.

The conference delegates were also treated to a Marian tour of St Mary’s historic campus, including the beautiful Chapel in the Woods. Joanna Bogle, who is writing a history of the university, was kind enough to lead the way and proved to be a fount of knowledge and humour. There was also the opportunity to attend Mass in the university chapel, which is adorned by stained glass windows whose underlying concept is the Mysteries of the Rosary.

It is hoped that this enjoyable day will be the first of many collaborations between St Mary’s University and the Centre for Marian Studies.

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