Alumni Profile – Delia Gallagher (1989-1996)

22nd May 2016

Blackfriars Hall graduate Delia Gallagher is CNN’s Vatican Correspondent in Rome. She reflects on her time in Oxford.

I believe ours was the first class to graduate from Blackfriars Permanent Private Hall, way back in 1996. It was my second time at Blackfriars however – I had been an exchange student there in 1989 through a program with the University of San Francisco’s St. Ignatius Institute. So I feel a special affection for the unique monastery-cum-college where I spent several years of my life, and grateful that my youthful mind and heart were formed by the wise, eccentric and joyful Dominicans at Oxford – and not just the friars but the sisters too, whose intelligence, culture and humor were a match for their brothers’.

We didn’t have much of a JCR in those days – we were still getting the by-laws together and had enough budget to cover an electric tea kettle I think – but we were always welcome to a drink upstairs where you were sure to find lively conversation with the likes of Fr Herbert McCabe OP (‘Herbert, is it okay to smoke while you pray?’ Fr Herbert: ‘No, but you could pray while you smoked…’), Fr Bob Ombres OP, Fr Simon Tugwell OP, Fr Gareth Moore OP and Fr Timothy Radcliffe OP.

Drinks at the Eagle and Child was our preferred method of procrastination, and we were often joined by the Dominican novices who were also escaping a freezing library and impending weekly essays.

Sunday lunch was spent next door with the Benedictines, at the eminently civilized St. Benet’s Hall, where Mass was followed by gin and tonic, and croquet in the garden: all were welcomed by Headmaster Fr Henry Wansbrough OSB, known for his New Testament scholarship and for rollerblading down the High Street in his black habit on the way to lectures.

Punting down the Thames sipping Pims; formal dinner at high table; Easter Vigil at Blackfriars and hunts in the countryside with fancy friends: Oxford lived up to all its fantastic stereotypes.

Twenty years on, the fancy memories (and alas, the New Testament Greek) have dimmed in my mind, but what has endured is the formation of the Blackfriars, who managed to do for us what good educators should: point the way to wisdom, teach us how to pray and live magnanimously in the world.


Delia Buckley Gallagher is from San Francisco and received her degree in Philosophy and Theology from Blackfriars in 1996. She lives in Rome with her Italian husband and two children and is CNN’s Vatican Correspondent.

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