Newly appointed Archbishop of Cardiff discusses time as student at University of Leicester

Leicester alumnus and newly appointed Archbishop of Cardiff, Mark O’Toole, has spoken about his time at the University.

His Excellency was installed as the eighth Archbishop of Cardiff and Bishop of Menevia in June, at St David’s Cathedral in the Welsh capital.

Archbishop O’Toole studied BSc Geography at the University between 1981 and 1984 before he entered into priestly formation at Allen Hall Seminary in London.

Talking about his time at the University of Leicester, Archbishop O’Toole said: “Nobody in my family had ever been to University before so I was ‘feeling’ my way through the applications process.

“Two things struck me about Leicester. I liked the course. Geography was my best ‘A’ level but I did not want to do it at a University level through the lens of the Humanities. Leicester offered the possibility of a BSc. which appealed to where my strengths and interests were.

“I also liked the fact that the University was in a city but it was not too overwhelming in terms of size. I could see it was a University that had all the amenities, opportunities and ‘life’, of being in a city, but there was a ‘friendly feel’ to it. When I visited, I could see myself being able to make the move there, and enjoying it.”

“It was an incredibly important time for me, where I felt I ‘grew up’”, Archbishop O’Toole said.

“Being away from home, being master of my own time, having to establish my own friendships, and rhythm of life helped me mature as a human being.

“My years in Leicester coincided with a kind of “inner search”. What was the meaning of my life? Why do people suffer? What’s the point of it all?

“Among some of the people I met, and the friendships I made, I discovered others asking these questions, too. I could see a relationship between an intellectual journey of maturation, and a human one. I realised, too, these questions would not simply go away.”

Archbishop O’Toole said that these questions helped him to explore his faith more and more whilst studying in Leicester.

“Ultimately, these ‘meaning of life questions’ opened the door to exploring faith in God more consciously, and this opened up the path to being a priest.

“I will be always grateful for my time in Leicester because it gave me the intellectual and human space to discover that I am precious to God and that God is worth staking your life on.

“And more than this, that God has taken on a human face in His Son Jesus. In the encounter with Him - before His gaze - my questions find their ultimate rest and fall silent.

“I still live, seeking to deepen this truth within myself every day, and hoping to be able to help others discover the beauty of this encounter, with Jesus, too.”

Even decades on, Archbishop O’Toole maintains that the friendships he made at University of Leicester have had a lasting impact on his life.

He said: “Friendship is such an important part of the University years.

“Most friends from my Leicester days are non-Religious, and have gone on to settle down with partners, have families, and rewarding careers in a whole host of disciplines - teaching, counselling, design, medicine, research.

“A regret for me is that my life has often been too busy, and taken me in such different directions, and we have not been able to see one another as much as I would have liked.

“But I have followed them ‘from afar’ with a sense of deep gratitude for each one, in their uniqueness, and - they will understand this, too - with a prayer for each of them, for all they have given me.”

Before his appointment as Archbishop of Cardiff and Bishop and Menevia, Archbishop O’Toole was ordained ninth Bishop of Plymouth.