Challenging Legacies

October 6, 2023

A conference held in Oxford to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Jesuit Province in Britain surveyed the history of its mission and works, and came to what was in itself a historic conclusion with an ecumenical service in Christ Church Cathedral.

Twenty-nine presentations covered topics including: Jesuit contributions to Catholic Social tradition and the work of Charles Plater, liturgical music in the twentieth century, the ‘evil Jesuit’ in Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre, missions to Maryland, Southern Africa, and Guyana, the Heythrop legacy, Jesuit education in schools and colleges, and the use of Ignatian spirituality by Mary Ward, founder of the Congregation of Jesus.

The final keynote lecture by Prof Gerard Kilroy on the English Mission of 1580 conveyed new insights from recent discoveries in the libraries of the city of Prague and at Lambeth Palace, adding depth to what is known about St Edmund Campion, including a touching series of interventions by his students on learning that their teacher would be leaving them.

Revd Prof Diarmaid McCullough reflected during the concluding panel on, ‘the paradox of history, the way that history is never quite what you had expected, its untidiness’, and said, ‘I take away from this week a sense of the Society of Jesus as a unifying global force. This has been a wonderful week of such insights, and I thank all the speakers this week for enriching my understanding of history.’

Father Nick Austin SJ, Master of Campion Hall, said, 'It was a delight to host this academic event here at Campion Hall in Oxford as part of the celebration of 400 years of the Province. The range of the historical topics was very impressive. Learning about our rich past gives us greater wisdom and hope for the future. It was wonderful to finish with the joyful ecumenical service at Christ Church Cathedral.'  

The final ecumenical service in Christ Church cathedral included two new pieces by Campion Hall’s fellow in music, Luca Uggias; an introit based on words of St Henry Walpole, Why Do I Use My Paper, Ink and Pen? and Binsey Poplars, an anthem based on a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

The service also featured Sir James Macmillan’s anthem, Precious in the Eyes of the Lord, which had been commissioned for this 400th anniversary year.

The homily by the Rt Revd William Kenney CP, reflected on the ways history not only examines the past but also shapes our future, ‘All our history, all of our lives, have a before and after, and it’s not the same. History is not set in stone. It was John Henry Newman, a controversial figure in this city in his time, who said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”’

The Dean of Christ Church, Prof Sarah Foot, said that she had been ‘delighted to be able to celebrate our friendship with the Jesuits, and with our friends at Campion Hall across the road.’

Father Michael Holman SJ commented that ‘Speaker after speaker demonstrated how our predecessors carried out their mission with creativity, flexibility and great commitment, often in the most challenging of circumstances. They inspire us to serve the Church and God’s people in an imaginative and equally committed way as we face up to the many challenges of our own day.’  

The organisers are grateful to the Bodleian Library, Christ Church Cathedral, and the Catholic Chaplaincy of the University of Oxford for their hospitality and the provision of spaces that made the conference possible.

Photographs by Ian Wallman

A video of Senior Research Fellow Prof Gerard Kilroy’s lecture and the concluding panel can be viewed here.

A video of the ecumenical service at Christ Church can be viewed here.

Both Prof Gerard Kilroy and Revd Prof Diarmaid McCullough are Senior Research Fellows at Campion Hall.

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