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  /    /  History 7: Return to the Universities

History 7: Return to the Universities

1921: New Blackfriars, Oxford

Blackfriars owes its presence in Oxford today largely to the vision and heroic efforts of Bede Jarrett OP.

Fr Bede’s vision for the refounding of the Oxford priory led him to fundraise in the USA, and it was a wealthy American widow, Charlotte Tytus, who was the greatest benefactor of the new Blackfriars. The Dominicans purchased three adjacent properties at 62–64 St Giles, which were mostly demolished, though a few parts were incorporated.

The foundation stone was laid by Cardinal Bourne, 383 years since the suppression of the previous priory and 700 years to the day since the friars first arrived in Oxford.

In 1970, Blackfriars was recognised by the University of Oxford as an ‘Institute of Higher Study’. Finally, in 1994, Blackfriars Hall was established as a ‘Permanent Private Hall’, enabling students to study here for Oxford undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

1931: Mission in Edinburgh

The Scottish Province of the Order was wiped out at the Reformation. It was not until the C20th that Dominican houses were established again from the English Province, starting with the sisters. In 1931 a small community made its home in the early Georgian townhouse of 24 George Square. The priory served from the outset as a spiritual home for Catholic students and academics.

1938: Scholars in Cambridge

The medieval priory in Cambridge was founded in 1238 on a site now occupied by Emmanuel College. In 1938, the widowed Lay Dominican mother of Sebastian Bullough OP, Enrichetta Bullough, offered the friars a suburban villa on Buckingham Road. This became a place of study, a ‘house of writers’ such as Victor White OP,, both friend and critic of Carl Jung; Gerald Vann OP and Thomas Gilby OP, editor of the modern English and Latin version of Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae.

From 1980–99 the Priory was home not only to the friars but also a number of young laypeople, often graduate students, who for a year or more shared the friars’ daily life. For much of this period, the friars also had a close involvement with the Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher House in Cambridge.

Bede Jarrett: Champion of ‘Blackfriars’

Fr Bede Jarrett reshaped the English Dominican Province.

By his death in 1934, he had made the English Dominicans known for outreach to major universities in England and Scotland, for social and cultural engagement through the journal ‘Blackfriars’, for translation into English of major works by Thomas Aquinas, and for their boys’ school at Laxton in Northamptonshire. In addition to this, the overseas mission in Grenada, begun in 1902, had been joined with a second overseas mission in Southern Africa from 1917, where a Priory was founded in the Afrikaner university town of Stellenbosch in 1930.

Undoubtedly Bede’s greatest achievement was the creation of ‘Blackfriars’, Oxford. As the First World War drew to a close, Bede was able to purchase for £15,200 the three houses 62, 63, and 64 St Giles as the site for the future church and priory.

Much of the achievement lay in the hard graft of fundraising. The initial purchase of the properties was facilitated by a gift from Mrs Charlotte Jefferson Tytus, but far more money was needed. Bede undertook several fundraising campaigns in the United States of America. The community formally arrived in 1929.

It is telling that when Bede finally stood down as Provincial in 1932 after four consecutive terms of office, he was immediately elected as Prior of Oxford. The house embodied his vision for the wider Province as a preaching mission resourced by a rigorous intellectual training and able to engage both with the ordinary Catholics in the parishes and the wider secular culture.

His own preaching mission was characterised by the giving of retreat talks in which he dwelt on God’s unshakeable providence, and of the generosity this should inspire in us. He wrote, ‘The art of perfect living is perfect giving’.