Higher Education

Black and White photograph showing the Heythrop building as it was in Oxfordshire

The Jesuits in Britain have been involved in higher education since the seventeenth century. 

Heythrop College in Kensington, an incorporated college of the University of London, can trace its foundation to a seventeenth century bequest to establish a college on the Continent where English Jesuits might be trained. In1614 a college was founded at Louvain which later was transferred to Liège, where it thrived for nearly two centuries. The college even survived the suppression of the Jesuit order  in 1773: there was a strategic name change, but the former Jesuit rector remained in charge. In the wake of the French revolution the community at Liege had to flee to England where it was welcomed in 1794 at Stonyhurst in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, an area where Jesuits were still ministering to the recusant Catholic population.  

Stonyhurst remained a centre for the philosophical studies of Jesuits in training and St Beuno’s was built in North Wales to house the theologate.  In 1926 the two faculties were reunited at Heythrop Hall in Oxfordshire, and in 1970 moved to London to become a college of the University of London, admitting lay students for the first time. The first principal of the new college was the eminent Jesuit philosopher Frederick Copleston.

In mid-2015 Heythrop College announced that it would be closing as a college of the University of London at the end of the academic year 2017-2018. This decision was reached because it was no longer economically viable to operate a small, independent specialist college in the challenging environment of higher education in Britain.

For eighteen months the Jesuits have been consulting with a range of  stakeholders, including the international Society of Jesus and the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, to research possible options to continue its higher education mission in modern Britain. Merger negotiations with other institutions have not been able to create a plan which meets the needs of all the stakeholders, so our process of discernment for the future of our intellectual apostolate continues.

The ban on Catholics attending Oxford University was lifted in 1871, but the Catholic bishops prohibited their subjects from attending Oxford (risk of Protestant contamination!) until 1895. At which point the opportunity was immediately seized by the British Jesuits to open a house of study to enable Jesuits to gain Oxford degrees.

The Jesuits had been in Oxford since 1875, when they had discreetly built the  parish church of St Aloysius. Now Fr Richard Clarke SJ exercised in 1896 his right as an Oxford Master of Arts to set up his private hall in the university near the church.  This private hall was named Clarke’s Hall, after its Master, and after him it took the name of Fr Pope. This early name of “Pope’s Hall” might well have seemed an act of provocation but Oxford Private Halls were initially always called after their Master. Under Fr Charles Plater, Plater’s Hall was in 1918 granted University status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) and as such was formally renamed Campion Hall, with some of its members now being recognised to lecture in the University.

Martin D'Arcy SJ 1888-1976

Under the new Master Martin D'Arcy in the 1930s, the hall was rebuilt on its current site in Brewer Street by the celebrated architect of the day Sir Edwin Lutyens, in local Cotswold stone, and opened in 1936, winning many tributes for the way Lutyens had made such impressive use of the rather cramped site.

Campion Hall was originally established so that Jesuits could gain Oxford degrees which would qualify them to teach in the 15+ schools the Jesuits then had in Britain and its mission territories.

Later, as Jesuit schools closed or their Jesuit staffs were replaced by lay people, the focus of Campion Hall shifted to become an international Jesuit graduate study centre.

It is possible to view Campion Hall as increasingly the focal point of a creative interaction between the two international institutions of Oxford University and the Society of Jesus. The University, with its motto “The Lord enlightens me”; and the Society of Jesus, with its commitment to the intellectual apostolate in pursuit of its own precept of doing the truth in love, have collaborated in their respective missions in the search, pursuit and communication of truth; and it is to be hoped that this creative synergy will continue to promote the flourishing of both these bodies, and of society at large.

James Hanvey SJJames Hanvey SJ, Master, Campion Hall

James Hanvey joined the Jesuits in 1975 and was ordained in 1983. He is currently Master of Campion Hall, Oxford.

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Listen (below) to Fr James Hanvey SJ give a simple reflection on Christian prayer. He discusses Christ's own prayer and how we can use the prayer of the Church to draw closer to God the Father.


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Higher Education, university, Campion Hall, Heythrop College, Academia