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.
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
Bedminster, Bristol, St John’s 1934–1946
Sheffield, Parson’s Cross 1937–1956
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
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