Founded in Oxford in 1866, the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (SSJE) became the first male Anglican religious order of men to from since the Reformation. Father Founder, Richard Meux Benson, took vows of poverty, obedience and celibacy and, along with Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill and Charles Chapman Grafton, began a Society which would continue in Britain for almost 150 years.
Missionary work, both at home and overseas, was a fundamental aim of the Society and by the turn of the 20th century missions had been established in Bombay and Poona in India and Cape Town in South Africa. Work would also begin in America in 1870, and this would be followed in 1928 with a house opening in Ontario, Canada. At home, a church, mission house and schools were built in the Cowley district of Oxford, and in 1905 a purpose-built London home for the Society was established at Great College Street, Westminster. The work of the members of the Society would provide a template for those societies formed latterly, and the legacy of SSJE is clear, with churches and schools still fulfilling the needs of communities across three continents.
In 2011 the British Chapter of the Society came to an end, though an American Chapter based in Cambridge, Massachusetts still thrives.
The SSJE collection, given to Lambeth Palace Library in 2012, provides a record of all the activities of the Fathers, including missionary work, conducting retreats and the delivering sermons and addresses. The overseas missionary work is particularly well recorded within the Fathers personal papers, with large quantities of letters from India and South Africa surviving to provide a vivid recollection of the early days of the Society in what were often harsh, uncompromising conditions. Also included are copies of the Rule and Statues by which the Fathers lived their lives, a range of minute books documenting the administration of the Society, a large number of photographs which feature various Fathers, the Society’s properties at home and abroad, the types of missionary work undertaken by the Fathers, and records which detail the establishing of the Society’s London House.
These papers are stored at the Church of England Record Centre.