A Short History of the Society of the Sacred Mission

The Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) is an Anglican religious order founded by Father Herbert Hamilton Kelly in 1893.

Originally known as the ‘Corean Missionary Brotherhood’ for the training of missionaries, the scope of the organisation widened and the name changed to the Society of the Sacred Mission in 1892. The official foundation date of the Society is 1893, the year the first novices were clothed.

The Society began life at Vassall Road, South London, moving to Mildenhall, Suffolk in 1897 and Kelham Hall, Nottinghamshire in 1903 where it remained until 1973.

One distinguishing feature of SSM from its earliest days was the background of its members. Most were drawn from the lower middle or working classes and had only received an elementary education. One of the primary aims stated in the Constitution was ‘training those of whom at present use cannot be made or is not made, whether through their lack of means or of education, or through other causes’. Early recruits included carpenters, shop assistants, clerks, teachers and journalists.

The Society opened priories in poorer parts of England including Nottingham, the Liverpool docks, Bedminster in Bristol and Sheffield.

Overseas Missions
In 1902 the Society took over its first missionary house in South Africa (Modderpoort and, in 1904, a second at Teyateyaneng, Basutoland) and life flourished across Southern Africa. SSM also had a presence in Japan and Australia. The South African and Australian Provinces are now autonomous.

Herbert Kelly served as the first director from 1894 until 1910, and then spent time away in US and Japan. He was followed by David Jenks.

The Golden Age of Kelham
The Society survived a constitutional crisis in 1920 and the college continued to grow for the next forty years. A succession of visitors made their way to Kelham in what has been described as its ‘Golden Age’. These included T.S. Eliot and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The Society also fostered theologians, educators and writers such as Gabriel Hebert, David Jenks, Reginald Tribe and George Every.

By the mid-1960s, in common with other religious institutions, numbers had declined at Kelham and it was closed as a theological college in 1972. Following the closure of Kelham, SSM focused its activity in England on a number of priories, including Lancaster (1969-1990), Sheffield (1973-1980), and Willen (1973-2019). 

SSM English Priories

Nottingham, St George’s 1911–1974

Liverpool 1932–1946

Bedminster, Bristol, St John’s 1934–1946

Sheffield, Parson’s Cross 1937–1956

Averham 1942–1949[?]

Sheffield, St Mark’s, Roslin Road 1973–1980

Lancaster, Quernmore, St Paul’s 1965–1990
Students took degrees at Lancaster University (St Martin’s College)

Willen Priory, Milton Keynes 1973–2019
From 1998-2015 it was known as ‘The Well’, from 2015-2019 it reverted to being known as St Michael’s Priory

Durham, St Antony’s 1985–
(Ecumenical Spirituality Centre, 1998-2018)

The Society opened St Anthony’s Priory, Durham in 1985 and by 1992 there were twelve residents undergoing preparation for higher education with a longer-term view of entering theological education. This work ceased in 1998 and St Antony’s became a semi-autonomous ‘ecumenical spirituality project’. In 2018, it reverted to being a direct operation of SSM and now offers retreats, spiritual direction, and training for spiritual directors. In a new piece of work, plans are being developed to establish an Institute for Anglican religious Life in Durham.

SSM Office Holders

(traditionally the posts of Director and Warden were held by the same person, the 1925 Chapter considered separating them but they desired Fr Tribe to hold both roles)

1893-1910       Herbert Kelly

1910-1920       David Jenks

1920-1925       Joseph White

1925-1943       Reginald Tribe

1943-1952       Stephen Bedale

1952-1962       Paul Hume

1962-1972       Gregory Wilkins

1972-1982       Dunstan McKee

1982-1989       Edmund Wheat

1989-199         Thomas Brown

1989-1998       Christopher Myers


1893-1972       The Director

1972-1981       Ralph Martin

1981-1991       Edmund Wheat

1991-1998       Rodney Hart


1998-1999       Douglas Brown

1999-2000       Edmund Wheat

2000-2009       Jonathan Ewer

2009-2014       Colin Griffiths

2015-2019       Jonathan Ewer


1947-1957       Basil Oddie

1957-1962       Nicholas Allenby

1962-1968      John Lewis

1968-1972      Dunstan McKee

1972-               Douglas Brown

                         Christopher Myers

                         David McDougal


1903-1906       Alfred Kelly

1906-1911        Henry John Drake

1911-1915        Stanley Haynes

1915-1922       George Carleton

1923-1934       Joseph White

1935-1951        Arthur Amor

1951-1952        Paul Hume

1952-1956        Richard Roseveare

1956-1963        Cecil Hemsley

1963-1967        Alban Perkins

1967-1972        Marcus Stephens

1972-                David Wells

2015-                Tanki Mofana