SSJE was founded in 1866 at Cowley, Oxford, England, by Richard Meux Benson, a priest in the Church of England, and Charles Chapman Grafton. Known colloquially as the Cowley Fathers, the society was the first stable religious community of men to be established in the Anglican Communion since the English Reformation. For many years the society had houses in England, Scotland, India, South Africa, Japan, and Canada.
|Society of St John the Evangelist|
|Founder||Richard Meux Benson|
Charles Chapman Grafton
|Type||Anglican religious order|
|Headquarters||Cambridge, Massachusetts, US|
In 1870 the society came to Boston, Massachusetts, where it became part of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The members of the North American congregation live in a monastery designed by Ralph Adams Cram in Cambridge, near Harvard Square. The guest house was built in memory of Isabella Stewart Gardner. The society has a rural retreat centre, Emery House, in West Newbury, where guests can stay in small hermitages in the meadow.
The community's chief ministries are preaching, spiritual direction, and hospitality. For some years they have been affiliated with St. George's College, Jerusalem, serving as chaplains on a number of pilgrimages to the Holy Land each year. They have also conducted mission trips to Africa. Individual brothers work in various local and regional ministries with students, prisoners, soldiers, the homeless, and persons affected by HIV and AIDS. One of the brothers, M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, served as the 15th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts.
The current superior, Br. James Koester SSJE, was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. He received his Mdiv from Trinity College, Toronto. He was ordained in Anglican Church of Canada in Diocese of British Columbia in 1985. He served in parish ministry for five years before coming to SSJE and was professed as a Brother in 1992. Br. James served in a variety of roles including Deputy Superior and Brother in Charge of Emery House. During his time there Grafton House was opened for monastic interns, men and women.
Cowley Publications was run by the society until 2007, when it was sold to Rowman & Littlefield.
The Fellowship of St John in the United States is a group of men and women who wish to live in a closer relation with the brothers of the Society of St John the Evangelist. They write and follow a rule of life similar to The Rule under which the brothers live. Members of the fellowship support the society through their friendship and prayers, even as they look to SSJE for support and inspiration. There are about 1,000 men and women in the fellowship.
On July 3, 2014, it was announced that one of the members of the fellowship, Roy Cockrum, a former brother, had won $259 million in the Tennessee State Lottery. It was his intention to use it to fund an endowment for the performing arts.
The society in England operated from Marston Street, Oxford from 1868 to 1980. The mother house of the Society covered a large area of land bordered by Cowley Road on one side, and Iffley Road on the other. The site incorporated three chapels, a mission church, a song school, a community school, accommodation for the Brothers, and guest quarters. When the Society withdrew from Marston Street in 1980 the buildings became part of St Stephen's House theological college. A small SSJE monastery was opened further along the Iffley Road, and operated for several years.
In 1905 the Society opened St Edward's House in Westminster, London, where it provided retreats and other ministries until 2012, when it closed and the property was sold. Oxford University professor C. S. Lewis visited Father Walter Adams, making confession to Father Adams as a spiritual discipline from 1940 until Father Adams died on March 3, 1952. Lewis gave much credit to Father Adams for his ministry.
Following the closure of St Edward's House in 2012 the Society no longer maintains a monastery in the British Isles. The British congregation still has three professed Brothers, all of whom currently live as solitaries.
The society administers The Fellowship of St John (UK) Trust Association, a registered charity, which gives grants to UK and foreign agencies for education and missionary work.