Marking its patronal feast Tuesday, the School of the Annunciation, a center for the new evangelization in England and Wales, held a Mass at which it was consecrated to Our Lady.

"I'm really delighted Pope Francis has said the new evangelization must be Marian in character," Dr. Petroc Willey, a founding member of the School of the Annunciation, told CNA March 13.

In his apostolic exhortation "Evangelii Gaudium," Pope Francis wrote that Mary is "the Mother of the Church which evangelizes, and without her we could never truly understand the spirit of the new evangelization."

"It really does pick up this idea that you need Mary the contemplative," Willey commented. "When he's saying evangelization, he doesn't mean activism. I'm really pleased that he so emphasizes the priority of grace and the sense of receiving before you can give."

The newly-launched school's consecration was held March 25 both to mark the Annunciation, and as a reminder that until the mid-18th century, the date was New Year's Day in England.

"It's very symbolic for us as well, making it the day we begin, in a sense," Willey, who is reader in the new evangelization at the School of the Annunciation, reflected.

The school, which is located on the grounds of Buckfast Abbey in the Plymouth diocese, was launched at the Mass and consecration, during which its trustees and staff made the profession of faith.

Locating the school, which will offer a diploma in the new evangelization, at the Benedictine abbey -- which has been "tremendously committed to it" -- is meant to "go back to the first evangelization," Willey said.

Europe's evangelization "took place through monastic schools in large part … the Benedictine tradition was particularly important, because it was rooted in contemplative prayer and the perennial tradition of the Church."

"The original mission to England was through the Benedictines, so we're really rooting ourselves" in that contemplative tradition, he explained.

"So that as well as education, what we're really going for is formation as well as education; so there is a strong liturgical, strong prayer base … The mission will flow from our own living out of the mysteries, and that's what we'll be inviting people into. (We're) trying to provide something very perennial, something reaching back into the first evangelization, and finding out how that can serve the new one."

The School of the Annunciation – the only center for formation for the new evangelization in England and Wales – features part-time residential formation at the abbey as well as online support, such that the courses can be taken from anywhere.

"We're hoping to build lots of bridges between England and the States," Willey said. "I think there will be good interplay there."

The residential sessions "are structured to be in harmony with the monastic day, so that the academic work is integrated" with the schedule of the lives of the monks as Buckfast.

"We'll do a lot of study of texts with people, some cultural heritage work in the area, and we also will be taking opportunity to provide strong personal support, so that when students are doing the online work, they'll really know the people who are supporting them."

The School of the Annunciation's diploma will be awarded after two years of coursework. The initial start dates will be Sept. 12-15, and Sept. 29 – Oct. 23, 2014.

In addition to the diploma, the school will offer short courses in the autumn, on topics such as catechetics, Latin, and the relation of the new evangelization with media, with sacred art, and with apologetics. Summer schools will be offered in liturgy, philosophy, theology, and sacred art.

The new evangelization, Willey said, "will work through serious academic work, so that's what we want to provide."

"We will try to provide the perennial core -- philosophy, theology, classical languages – and we'll also introduce people to the history and the lessons from the first evangelization, for the sake of the new … the exciting thing, I think, about the new evangelization, is that you're helping people to find what actually is around them."

"It really isn't an either/or; it's the hermeneutic of continuity, rather than cutting off for the sake of the new," Willey explained, adding that this is why the coursework will be concerned both with beauty, sacred art and Christian patrimony and with the effective use of new media.

Alongside Willey, instructors at the School of the Annunciation include Dr. Andrew Beards, academic director; Dn. Nick Donnelly, director of formation; and Dr. Caroline Farey, director of studies.

The faculty are "want the school to prove itself through its own reputation, to be a new kind of venture for the new evangelization."

The school has won the support of several leaders among England's Catholic leaders. Bishop Mark O'Toole of Plymouth said that "I am delighted to welcome this new initiative for the New Evangelisation at Buckfast Abbey, and I am grateful for the generosity shown by Abbot David and the Monastic community in providing it a home and direction."

Abbot David Charlesworth, meanwhile, added that "the foundation of the School of the Annunciation promises to be the next phase in Buckfast Abbey becoming a centre for authentic Catholic studies in continuity with the great Benedictine tradition stretching back over 1,500 years in our country. May Our Lady of Buckfast bless this new venture."

And Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said, "I am very happy to promote this new initiative, a School forming disciples for the new evangelisation … this will be excellent training for those in your parishes who would like to be better equipped to go out and evangelise."