From what I was able to see in my two years as a Rhodes Scholar pursuing my Master’s degree in theology, Catholic life and faith is alive and well in Oxford. Not in the Theology Department, mind you, which is still largely enamored with nineteenth-century German heretics. There they love to talk about the Enlightenment and how “problematic” traditional theology is. When my advisor discovered that I had worked on Thomas Aquinas for all of my exam and essay requirements, he smiled disapprovingly and looked at me over his glasses: “Well, somehow you’ve managed to come to Oxford and do Catholic Studies!”
There are still faithful Catholics and students of Aquinas at Blackfriars, the Dominican permanent private hall. It is not, technically, one of the thirty-eight colleges at Oxford. If you ask someone at Blackfriars, he will tell you that it is only because they do not have a large enough endowment to be a college. Depending on the year, they may have a sufficiently impressive pool of athletic talent to man a boat for the major crew races (Summer Eights and Torpids), so few visitors would know the difference. The Middle Common Room, which is the hub of student social life, feels just like the one at my own college (Trinity), except there is a note that essentially states: “Wash your own dishes. Unlike the Jesuits, we don’t have the money to pay a maid to clean them for you.”
What is distinctive about Blackfriars, then, is not its status but its deeply Catholic nature and roots. It is said that Thomas Aquinas himself visited Blackfriars in the thirteenth century. To this day, it is a bustling house of study and prayer with daily Mass, Vespers, and its own in-house lectures on everything from beginning Hebrew to the most obscure liturgical theology. Its biggest asset, however, is the set of Dominican priests and brothers who study and teach there. On Monday nights, they lead an Aquinas group: Mass, Vespers, soup dinner, and theology. The discussions often spill over late into the night at the Lamb & Flag pub across the street, a frequent haunt of Lewis, Tolkein, and the Inklings.
She goes on to describe Mass at the Oxford Oratory, events at the Newman Center, Campion Hall, and other Catholic venues. Read the rest there.