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The Lonergan Institute

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Phyllis Wallbank
Fr. Louis Roy, O.P.
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Foundations of Philosophy (Deutsch) by Fr. Brian  Cronin 
Transforming Light by Fr. Richard Liddy

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Phyllis Wallbank M.B.E.

Gatehouse of the Priory Church of St. Bartholomew the GreatMrs. Phyllis Wallbank in 1948 founded the first Montessori school in England where adults learned with children: what eventually became known as the Gatehouse Learning Centre.  It was described by Buckminster Fuller in the following terms:

So thoroughly conceived and created that it allows the children to do their own learning while avoiding: 1) their being shorn of their innate sensitivities, 2) being deprived of their innate genius, 3) not having their spontaneous trust betrayed.
In 1964, the Phyllis Wallbank Educational Trust, the PWET, was established by friends and family in order to advance the character of  Phyllis’s work in education. Currently Phyllis serves as the director of the Trust.

Phyllis began her life’s work as a Froebel-trained teacher who later studied psychology at the University of London.  However, working in juvenile courts as a Children’s Officer in Buckinghamshire, England, she realized that far fewer children would become delinquent if they could be educated to assume their own personal responsibilities and so take their rightful place in society.

To do this, she trained under Dr. Maria Montessori and became, for many years, a close personal friend.  Phyllis often visited her in Holland.  In Dr. Montessori’s later years, she served as her examiner for both the ordinary and the advanced courses, jointly examining with Dr. Montessori. She also served as Chairman of the Montessori Association in England and, for many years, Vice President of the International Montessori Association.  Phyllis also organized the last International Montessori Congress, which met in London shortly before Dr. Montessori’s death.  1

In 1985, when walking along the Thames Embankment with her sister after seeing a play, Phyllis encountered a homeless elderly lady whom she tried to help, later, that same night with a gift of food and clothing.  The encounter led Phyllis to return every week on Monday nights with gifts of food and clothing.  A new ministry emerged dedicated to helping homeless and destitute people who live by the Thames Embankment: the London Run.

Volunteers gather every Monday night at Our Lady of Peace Church on Britwell Road, Burnham and, from there, drive into inner London in cars stuffed with food and clothing.  These goods are then distributed to the poor and needy.  In 1990, a new charity was established based on this work: the London Run Charitable Trust although the regular Monday night visits to the poor and destitute continue as a separate activity among volunteers “who gather out of care, out of love.”  In recent years, regular Monday night visits are also made to Slough to help persons there.

In 1996, Phyllis was created a member of the Order of the British Empire, an honor given her by H. M. Queen Elizabeth II.  In the same year, Pope John Paul II decorated her with the Benemerenti Medal.  She continues to be used by Eton College when needed to give specialist assistance to individual students.  Besides this work, Phyllis also serves on the Parliamentary Issues Committee of the Catholic Union of Great Britain (addressing matters to be discussed before upcoming sessions of Parliament).  Phyllis had been invited to become a member after having been voted recently as “Catholic Woman of the Year.”


Marriage and family life are vital components of Phyllis’ success story. Recently, she’s lost her husband of 54 years, Newell, (pictured above, third from left,) whose love she says, “allowed my potential to flower.”

Phyllis describes her husband as deeply religious with a sparkling wit: “There was a lot of laughter always that saw us through difficulties. He was one of the best read people in  literature as well as philosophy and had a wonderful library of poetry. He was so brilliant and yet so humble.”

Despite their deep love for each other, their external interests couldn’t have been more diverse. Phyllis remarks, “A dating agency would never have put us together! I loved riding and dancing and he was miserable the one time I got him on a horse and he couldn’t dance! He was so knowledgeable about music and I only knew what I liked. He was so disciplined in his approach to life and I just lived. Yet our love for each other was our rock.”

The couple had three lovely children together. “We were a lively family and always all of us had so much to say...often at the same time,” Phyllis muses. “Now that Newell has died I am so lucky to have their friendship and that of the grandchildren.”    

1 Phyllis has lectured at a wide variety of colleges and conferences.  Some include: Oxford University, Lady Margaret Hall; Cambridge; London; Harvard; Yale; Seattle University; Washington State University; Purdue University; Chicago University; Boston College, Lonergan Workshop; Columbia University in British Columbia; and Vancouver.  She has also given teacher training courses and lectures in France, Italy, Holland, Ireland, Canada, and the US: at the United Nations Church Center, New York; US Air Base, Mildenhall, England; Fenham, Newcastle, England; Bishop Otter, Chichester, England; Avery Hill, London; Strawberry Hill, England; College of Preceptors, London; North London Polytechnic; Staffordshire County Teacher’s Conference; Enfield Teachers’ Association; the Royal Overseas League; Association of Pediatric Chartered Physiotherapists’ Conference, London; National Association for Gifted Children; British Epilepsy Association, London; International Cerebral Palsy Society; Guest Speaker, Purdue Annual Education Lunch; “Women of the Year Lunch,” London; and Digby Stuart Training College.

In addition, Phyllis has given university courses and lectures under the following titles: Preparing for the 21st Century in Education: Parents and Professionals as Partners in Education; Problems of Perception in Childhood; The Learning Disabled; The Learning of Reading and Writing with Enjoyment; Perceptual Difficulties and the Special Needs Called for in Language and Mathematical Development; Reasons for Difficulties in Language Development, and How to Help Overcome Them; Integrating the Handicapped into the Main Stream of Education; Individualizing the Syllabus for all Activities; The Computer as an Aid to the Teacher; The Computer as an Aid to the Student; Making Use of the Community and the Environment, Now and in the Future, in Education; The Integrated School and the Uses of Additional Expertise; Language Teaching for Some Minority Groups; Mainstreaming in the Schools; The Autistic Child: Language Development and Integration Within the Mainstream; The Epileptic Student Within the Mainstream; The Needs of the Down’s Syndrome Child in Education; The Highly Gifted Child and the Educational Program; The Exceptional Student in the Preschool, Normal Elementary, and Secondary Classroom; Language Development and the Blind: the Varying Needs of the Blind from Birth and the Blind with Remembered Sight; How to Help the Maladjusted Child Within the Mainstream of Education; The Child with Cerebral Palsy and his Needs Within the Mainstream; Science and the Very Young; A School Journey to India; Modern Montessori Teaching: Maths; Modern Montessori: Language Development; The Philosophy of Montessori and Today’s Needs; Parents, Teachers, the Community, and Students Working Together in Education; A Completely New View of Education: A Possible Plan for the New Era; Reflections on the Future of Education in the Light of Montessori and Lonergan; and Stages of Character Development.  Many these lectures and talks have been published.  Some published titles include “The Vocation of Teaching,” “Moral teaching through Shakespeare’s Tragedies,” and “The Way We Learn” which have all appeared in various editions of The Sower: A Quarterly Magazine on Christian Formation


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