OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

ST IGNATIUS CHAPEL (1793)

First R.C. church at Oxford after the Reformation

Angel Court, 81 St Clement's Street, Oxford

St Ignatius’ Chapel was built by a Jesuit priest, Fr Charles Leslie SJ, a younger son of Patrick, 21st Baron of Balquhain. He had been a priest in Woodstock, Tusmore, and Waterperry before settling in St Clement’s in 1790. The passing of the Catholic Relief Act of 1791 removed some restrictions on Roman Catholics, permitting them their own places of worship and schools. As there were about sixty Roman Catholics wishing to attend services, he determined to build a chapel for the purpose, finding £1000 from his own funds and raising the rest from supporters very quickly. The chapel was built in 1793 (probably opened officially in 1795), named after St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, in the garden of his house, set well back from the road as anti-Catholic sentiment at that time was still strong. On Sundays, two University Proctors would stand outside on the look-out for undergraduates for whom the chapel was out of bounds. After Mass the congregation would take breakfast at the Port Mahon next door.

St Ignatius' chapel

The chapel holds a significant place in the history of John Henry Newman, later Cardinal Newman (1801–1890) and now beatified. After his reception into the Roman Catholic Church in 1845, it was here that he attended mass, regularly walking over from Littlemore during his remaining months at Oxford. Newman disdained the little chapel, describing it as ‘what to outward appearance is a meeting house’. Fr James Corry SJ, priest at St Ignatius in 1871, despaired of its size: ‘Even if I were a storm, what can I do in a tea kettle?’ His prayers were answered by the building of the large and imposing Church of St Aloysius (The Oratory) designed by Joseph Hansom, in Woodstock Road and opened in 1875 by Cardinal Manning. St Ignatius continued to be used as a chapel of ease and indeed some families and undergraduates preferred to continue to worship there. The last Mass was celebrated there in 1911.

Meanwhile from 1869 the chapel had been in use as a school for girls and infants. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), priest at St Aloysius 1878–79, spent much time at St Ignatius’ Chapel and school, teaching and ministering to the poor and infirm in this part of the city. In 1909 the Presbytery was replaced by a handsome new school building with Venetian windows designed to house 200 pupils, although the chapel continued in use as a school room. In 1932 St Ignatius’ School was renamed St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School and remained on the site until 1968 when it removed to modern buildings in Headley Way. The chapel and school buildings became business premises, currently for Fast Track and Opportunity International, at what is now designated ‘Angel Court’.

Sources:

  • A History of the Post-Reformation Catholic Missions in Oxfordshire (1906) by Mrs Bryan Stapleton
  • St Aloysius’ Parish (1993) by Jerome Bertram
  • The Encyclopaedia of Oxford (1988) by Christopher and Edward Hibbert.

The plaque was unveiled at the former chapel, 81 St Clement’s, on 31 July (St Ignatius’ Day) 2018 by the Rt Revd William Kenney, CP, Auxiliary Bishop, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham. The speakers were the Revd Dr Joseph Munitiz SJ, former Master of Campion Hall, and Sister Marie Ann, Governor of St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Primary School. Among those attending was a considerable gathering of representatives of Roman Catholic, Anglican, and secular communities. Refreshments were taken at the Port Mahon.

Photographs taken at the ceremony:

Speeches made at the ceremony (PDFs):

Online articles about the chapel and the ceremony

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

The Former
CHAPEL OF
ST IGNATIUS

The first Roman Catholic
place of worship at Oxford
after the Reformation

Built by Fr Charles Leslie SJ
in 1793

campion hall

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