Celebrating the 175th Anniversary of York St John University


The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu's speech at the York St John University Dinner to celebrate the 175th anniversary of York St John follows: 


It is a great delight and joy to speak to you this evening. As Chancellor, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you here to this dinner to mark the 175th Anniversary of York St John. It is a tribute to the importance of this University to York and to this Country. Because it is an international institution we have so many illustrious guests here to share in our celebrations. These include our Governors, Honorary Graduates, former members of staff including the previous Vice Chancellors, as well as representatives from the church, education, civic and business representatives across York. You are all warmly welcome. Feel at home.

If we look back tonight to the year 1841, we see an incredible journey which led to the creation of York St John University. What a remarkable achievement we are celebrating tonight.

Back in 1841, William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne was still Prime Minister and Queen Victoria had just been on the throne for four years when the first step in this University’s history began with the opening of York Diocesan Training School by the Diocesan Board of Education and St John’s College. Queen Victoria certainly had the measure of Viscount Melbourne. When he once opined to her ‘All dogs like me’, the Queen responded drily, ‘They are known for their sagacity’. And in an answer to a question by Queen Victoria as to what he thought about Thomas Macaulay’s brilliant essay on education for all, is reported as saying, “I don’t know, Ma’am, why they make all this fuss about education; none of the Pagets can read or write, and they get on well enough”.


Our University’s humble beginnings had firm foundations which led to the opening of Ripon St Margaret’s College for young women teachers in 1862. In 1952 a Crest incorporating the Eagle of St John the Apostle and the Crossed Keys of the Arch-Diocese of York and the college motto ‘Ut Vitam Habeant et Abundantius’ (“That they might have life and have it more abundantly”) was approved by the College of Heraldry.

In 1975, the separate colleges of Ripon and York were merged to form the college of Ripon & York St John with degrees awarded through the University of Leeds. 1989 saw the first York Minister Degree ceremony and in 2000 the college of Ripon and York became a fully accredited college of the University of Leeds. A new name of ‘York St John College’ was introduced with the closure of the Ripon campus. In 2006, the Privy Council granted us University status and the University took the official title of York St John University on 1 October 2006. And in 2015 the Privy Council approved Research Degrees status to our beloved University.

I was delighted to be installed as first Chancellor of the University at York Minister on 7th March 2007. Since then, I have had the privilege of serving with three Vice Chancellors: Professor Dianne Willcocks, Professor David Fleming and the current Vice Chancellor, Professor Karen Stanton.

During my time as Chancellor, I have been particularly struck by a body of principle undergirding York St John University. This body of principle explains why I take such enormous pride in York St John. They are rooted in the fact that York St John was originally a Church of England foundation and those Christian virtues are very much alive and flourishing in the University today.


The first virtue is the University’s strong commitment not just to the academic excellence and success of its students and staff, but also to their total wellbeing. The academic status of the university is a cause for great pride in itself – with its growing academic reputation, increasing importance as a centre of research ( 30% of York St John research was rated as ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent in 2014), and its remarkable level of graduate employability of 97.5% in 2015.

I also know from my first-hand contact with students, staff and governors that as a university, we have always cared about the flourishing of the whole person. In this we have been faithful to our motto, ‘Ut Vitam Habeant et Abundantius’ (“That they have life and have it more abundantly”).

In an environment in which universities are under more and more pressure to focus on academic success alone, our commitment to the education and wellbeing of the whole person, seen, for example, in our support and encouragement of our students to enjoy and to achieve excellence in sport, is truly impressive.

The second virtue of York St John University which really thrills me is our commitment to diversity across our student and teaching staff. We see this both in the range of students from all walks of life across the UK who are studying at the university as well as a growing number of overseas students. Initiatives to increase participation including the ‘Aspirations Day’ run for students in schools in Yorkshire, have done a great deal to broaden the range and type of students who study here.

At the same time, the University's commitment to ensure that students are not prevented from coming because of shortage of funds has done a lot to increase access. This evening, we have an opportunity to play our part by contributing to the scholarship and bursary fund and I hope you will respond generously. There isn’t such a thing as a free dinner! Dig deep into your reserves. Thank you!

The third virtue of this university which fills me with joy is the contribution that we make both to the City of York itself and to the wider community. York St John has a record number of students who stay on in the region after graduating (well, wouldn’t you if you had the opportunity to work in God’s own county?). Our graduates play a remarkable role in enriching our lives here in Yorkshire.

The University contributes more than £60million to the local economy each year and, according to an independent analysis, we have helped to create over 1,100 jobs in this City. Many of the students also take time to volunteer with a number of local charities to help enrich the lives of many in York.

Many of you who are here tonight will be aware that this is the final week of my six months Pilgrimage of Prayer, Witness and Blessing throughout the Diocese of York. On my very first day of the Pilgrimage, on a cold, winter’s day in early December, I visited Caedman College in Whitby. There, I was greeted by one of the teachers whose mother had insisted that she showed me the photo of her receiving her degree from me in York Minster. In the six months the encounters have increased to 50 teachers who are graduates of York St John, teaching in schools in this Diocese.

And last week, I met a physiotherapist who I awarded a degree 8 years ago – she was mentoring a student from York St John on a home visit they had just undertaken. Many students have benefitted from a fantastic education at York St John University and are now enriching the lives of all of us in this region.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is an immense privilege to be Chancellor of York St John University. As we look forward to the next 175 years of providing Higher Education in York, I pray that we will go from strength to strength. May God bless the University: Let it prosper.

Ut Vitam Habeant et Abundantius’ (“That they might have life and have it more abundantly”)


Thank you for listening.