It is entirely in keeping with the charism of the Chemin Neuf Community that its first mission on Merseyside should have been based in the shadow of the Anglican Cathedral – and its second now stands at the foot of the Metropolitan.
When Reverend Tim Watson, Anglican curate at our neighbouring cathedral, and his wife Kate, who had worked with Liverpool Hope University's Roman Catholic chaplaincy, left Liverpool this summer after four years engaging ecumenically with religious life in the city, the Chemin Neuf crossed quickly to the other end of Hope Street at the request of Archbishop Malcolm McMahon.
The Community's new assignment is to establish a residence for young adults, aged 18 to 35, at the Cathedral Convent which, until 2014, had been occupied by the Daughters of Charity.
Marie-Eve Fontaine, the Chemin Neuf lay member tasked with setting up the 'Christ the King Student House', takes up the story: "Archbishop Malcolm wanted the Community to be in Liverpool and he gave us this place knowing that we were looking for a student house in the city. We are proposing to share an ecumenical experience with young people – this will be a place from where young adults can go about their daily lives, be it working or studying, while enjoying a fraternal atmosphere and growing in faith. We can welcome ten people of any Christian denomination."
Marie-Eve, from Osny in northern France, was chosen for this project by Father Laurent Fabre, the Jesuit priest who in Lyon in 1973 helped to found the Chemin Neuf – which translates as 'new way' – as a Roman Catholic Community with an ecumenical vocation. If "surprise" was her immediate reaction, Marie-Eve accepted the posting after a time of prayer with the hope that "this can be an open place, for sharing and dialogue".
The 34-year-old had been working full time in youth ministry since 2008, most recently as pastoral assistant for youth for the diocese of Bordeaux these past four years. "We can't speak to the youth without speaking about unity," she says.
However, her connection with the Chemin Neuf – an organisation rooted in both the Ignatian tradition and the experience of the Charismatic Renewal – dates back much further. "It began in 1997 during a retreat – I experienced what you might call a second conversion. I then committed to the Community 15 years later and renewed this commitment this summer. The Community helped me, first as a student, to trust in God in my daily life. I also discovered that God wanted a personal relationship with me through both common and personal prayer."
During that process, modern languages graduate Marie-Eve studied for a master's degree in international business in Spain and the United States. With Liverpool her latest port of call, she already feels "really welcome as part of the Archdiocese". A location that she describes as "ideal" is facilitating her mission too. "We are in the centre of the University campus, Hope Street is a very symbolic place for us to be, and the Cathedral is also a big symbol."
She perceives, moreover, a significant prayerful legacy from the old tenants of the newly branded 'Christ the King Student House'. "There is a sense of grace here, from the fact that the Sisters prayed here, and hopefully we can continue this while working for Christian unity."