History

Campion Hall University of Oxford was named after Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest who worked underground in Elizabethan England caring for his persecuted fellow-Catholics. Queen Elizabeth’s royal father, Henry VIII, had broken with the Catholic Church when his wife proved unable to produce a male heir who would succeed him on the throne of England, but the Pope refused to permit Henry to divorce her in order to marry his brother’s widow, in the hope of a better consequence. To legitimate his divorce, Henry had the English Parliament proclaim him supreme head of the Church in England, and he proceeded to introduce changes in the church’s beliefs and practices along the lines of the Reformation which the German theologian, Martin Luther, had begun to introduce into the Church on the Continent. Unhappily, none of Henry’s subsequent five wives produced a healthy male heir, and he was survived by only a sickly son who died at the age of sixteen, leaving him with two daughters, Princess Mary, born of the original queen Catherine of Aragon, and the younger Princess Elizabeth, born of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who supplanted Catherine.

In the process of reforming the beliefs and rites of the national church of which he was now considered head under God, the King took steps to outlaw and punish any of his subjects who persisted in maintaining the old Catholic religion, even to executing some of them for their allegedly traitorous beliefs. When he died in 1547, his ailing son survived him as King Edward VI for only six years, and was followed by Queen Mary, who had privately preserved her Catholic faith and practices, and who on taking the throne proceeded strenuously to reverse the English Reformation and to restore the old faith and the union with the papacy. She, however, died after only five years and her reign was followed by that of her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, who initiated the illustrious Elizabethan Age, and substantially restored and pursued her father’s reform of the Church of England, including its repressive and punitive attitude towards recusant Catholics. One such was Edmund Campion, who was executed in 1581 at Tyburn on being found guilty of a charge of treason against the queen.

Campion was born the son of a bookseller near St Paul’s in London in 1540, the year in which Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuit Order which Campion would eventually join. After schooling at Christ’s Hospital School he proceeded to St Johns College Oxford, where he was required to take the Oath of Supremacy to the monarch before he could graduate as Master of Arts in 1564. The height of his university career was no doubt the occasion when he was chosen as official University orator to welcome, and impress, the Queen, an honour and distinction which seemed fair to ensure for Campion as a Fellow of St John’s a favoured academic and political future. After a few further years, however, he became preoccupied with personal religious questioning and in 1571 he decided to become a Catholic. Pursuing his religious studies in the Low Countries he determined there to join the recently founded and intellectually challenging Jesuit Order, and walked to Rome to seek admission to its ranks. He continued his Jesuit studies in Austria, being ordained priest there, and then being appointed professor of rhetoric and philosophy in the Jesuit college in Prague.

In 1580 the Jesuit Superior General decided to send some of his men to England to support the surviving Catholics and promote the Catholic cause there, and a reluctant Campion arrived disguised as a jewel merchant from Dublin, under the direction of his fellow-Jesuit, Robert Persons, who, before himself becoming a Catholic and a Jesuit, had been the Bursar of Balliol College, Oxford. The missionary team was betrayed before and after its arrival in England, where Campion daringly issued a public proclamation of their exclusively religious aims in a statement openly addressed to England’s Privy Council. This became known as Campion's Brag, and it was followed by Campion’s further publication addressed to the university of his Ten Reasons for rejecting the Anglican Church, of which 400 copies were printed and discreetly laid out on the benches of the University church of St Mary’s, to the consternation of its worshippers; the consequence being that the campaign to discover and destroy the Catholic missionaries became even more determined and aggressive.

As the now notorious Campion, “the seditious Jesuit”, moved discreetly among the country houses conveniently owned by Catholic recusants, his betrayal and arrest after about a year’s missionary activity was the almost inevitable result of his preaching regularly and indiscriminately to groups of Catholics. Lengthy imprisonment in the Tower of London and regular questioning and torture, and insistent disputations, led to his being found guilty of high treason against the queen, and sentenced to be hanged, disembowelled and dissected. This duly followed at Tyburn on 1st December, 1581, an event which led four hundred years later to Campion’s being solemnly declared a saint of the Catholic church, as one of the 40 English martyrs of that period.

As it happened, and perhaps not unconnected with Campion, that same year 1581 saw it decreed in Oxford University that all undergraduates must henceforth subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. This requirement, which obviously excluded non-Anglicans from entering the University, was eventually removed in 1871, as Catholicism became less unacceptable. But then the Catholic bishops of England prohibited their subjects from attending Oxford, for fear that they would be contaminated by what their hierarchy considered a Protestant and heretical University.

This episcopal prohibition was relaxed in 1895, and the opportunity was immediately seized upon by the Ampleforth Benedictines and the English Jesuits to open houses of study in Oxford to enable their respective members to gain Oxford degrees and staff their schools in England and overseas. (The Dominicans, having no schools, established Blackfriars later, in 1929). The Jesuits had been in Oxford since 1875, when they had discreetly built a parish church behind a wall in St Giles under the patronage of the Jesuit student saint, Aloysius Gonzaga. Now, with the permission of the local Catholic hierarchy and the approval of the University, one Fr Richard Clarke SJ, MA (Oxon), a Fellow of St John’s, and later of Trinity College, who became a Catholic at the famous London Jesuit Church in Farm Street, exercised in 1896 his right as an Oxford Master of Arts to set up his private hall in the university, near St Aloysius’ Church, and to teach Catholic undergraduates for Oxford degrees. This private hall was named after its Master, Clarke’s Hall, and after him it took the name of Fr Pope, who moved it to larger premises in St Giles. This early name of “Pope’s Hall” might well have seemed an act of defiance and provocation on the part of Catholics, but the explanation is more innocent. Oxford Private Halls were initially called after their Master, so what is now known as Campion Hall was for a time named after its then Master, one Thomas O’Fallon Pope, SJ. who was followed by Fr Charles Plater. Under the latter, Plater’s Hall was in 1918 granted University status as a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) and as such was formally renamed Campion Hall by the Jesuits, with some of its members now being recognised to lecture in the University.

Subsequent Masters of the Hall were Fr Henry Keane and Fr Ernest G. Vignaux, until on the death of the latter in 1933, Fr Martin C. D’Arcy became the Hall’s Master for twelve years until 1945, when he was appointed Provincial Superior of the British Jesuits. On his appointment as Master, Fr D’Arcy fast became the celebrity he remained for most of his life, and after his death in 1976 Campion Hall established in his honour the annual Martin D’Arcy Memorial Lectures, to be delivered by a fellow-Jesuit.

As the new Master, D'Arcy inherited plans to rebuild Campion Hall in St Giles’ on the impending expiry of its current lease from St John’s College, but he found the proposals displeasing to his taste. He favoured instead purchasing in 1935 Micklem Hall in Brewer’s Street, some of it dating from the sixteenth century, and moreover, and highly significantly, he arranged through a mutual friend for the celebrated architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, to refurbish the old building and design the new university hall for him there.

Lutyens (1869-1944) was considered the outstanding contemporary British architect. He had been commissioned in 1912 to design the city of New Delhi when it was designated capital of India in succession to Calcutta. He was also responsible for many country houses in Britain and Europe, the cenotaphs in Whitehall and elsewhere, the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the highly ambitious Catholic Cathedral in Liverpool, although building this last was suspended during the Second World War, and after the war and Lutyen’s death a less magnificent and less expensive completion was commissioned of another architect.

The new Campion Hall was built 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 he was offered. The Hall shows some reminiscences of New Delhi, including the carved Hindu bells which top the pillars on its wooden staircases. Lutyens’ full design for the Hall remained incomplete until 1956, when a new west wing was built in order to house more Jesuit students studying at the University.

Campion Hall was originally established by the Jesuit order for its younger members to gain an Oxford degree which would qualify them to teach arts and science subjects in the more than fifteen boarding and grammar schools the Jesuit then had in Britain and its mission territories in British Guiana, Rhodesia and South Africa. Later, as recruits for the Jesuit Order began to decline, as with other Catholic religious orders following the Second Vatican Council, and as many Jesuit schools closed or their Jesuit teaching staffs were replaced by lay men and women, the focus of Campion Hall shifted. Having concentrated earlier on taking in cohorts of mainly British Jesuit undergraduate students, it became more of an international Jesuit centre preparing a selection of Jesuit graduate students from all over the world, plus a few other male graduate students, to be awarded Oxford higher degrees in various fields of study.

The relationship between Oxford University and the Jesuit Order is thus an interesting one as it has developed over the years since 1895, quite apart from the close connection between various individual Jesuits and the university, notably Campion and Persons in earlier times. Until recently, all Masters of Private Halls had to be Oxford graduates, like the founder, Clarke, so the University connection with individual Jesuits was automatic; but in addition other celebrated Jesuits, or future celebrated Jesuits, have been connected with the University since Campion himself. In more modern times one thinks of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Cyril C. Martindale, Thomas Corbishley and Frederick C. Copleston, not to mention current members of the Hall’s Senior Common Room.

In addition, 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 motto, “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.

The coat of arms of Campion Hall commemorates the martyrdom of the Jesuit Saint, Edmund Campion, by depicting a cross flanked with two campion flowers and with a wolf’s head at its centre, this being a heraldic symbol of the Loyola family (lobo = wolf), of which a distinguished member, Iñigo, founded the Jesuit Order. Above this, two crossed palm branches of victory on a gold crown of triumph illustrate the Christian belief in the significance of dying for one’s faith.