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Richard Meux Benson
Born 1824
Died 1915
Venerated in Anglican Church of Canada, Episcopal Church (United States)
Feast January 15, January 16

Richard Meux Benson (1824–1915) was a priest in the Church of England and founder of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the first religious order of monks in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation. He is commemorated in the Calendar of Saints of the Anglican Church of Canada on January 15 and of the Episcopal Church (USA) on January 16.


Early life

Born into a wealthy family of London in 1824, Benson was taught at home by a private tutor and entered Christ Church, Oxford. After his degree and ordination and a curacy at Surbiton, in 1850 he became vicar of Cowley, Oxford. He was considered High Church. In 1858 Benson conducted a retreat for priests using material taken in part from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. In 1859, having erected a new parish church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, Benson planned a mission to India but abandoned the plan at the request of his bishop.

At the time there were convents of Anglican women in England, and in 1865 two priests joined Benson in Cowley to begin community life under the name of Mission Priests of St. John the Evangelist with Benson as Superior.

Society of St. John the Evangelist

The form of religious life instituted by Benson was not purely contemplative -- its members engaged in active external ministry -- but they recited the Divine Office together daily in choir, and Benson emphasized contemplation. The brothers were to get an hour's meditation daily if possible, and he gave the community a summer retreat of four weeks, later reduced to fortnight. He prescribed other retreat days and silence days. As a religious founder, he concentrated on essentials, among which he reckoned life-vows, taken with precautions as to maturity; regular confession; choir office, prayer and meditation; and priestly ministry. He fully recognized the authority of his bishop over the priests of the community, who were clergy of the diocese, but not as extending to their private life together.

From 1870 to 1883 the Society spread to the United States, India, and South Africa. Benson himself made an American mission tour. In 1884 the society adopted a Constitution and Rule drafted by Benson.

During the creation of the Society, Benson had maintained his duties as a parish vicar. In 1886 he resigned this charge to devote all his attention to the Society and its mission.

In 1890 Benson stepped aside for another to be elected Superior. He spent one year in India, and eight years at the American house in Boston.

The last sixteen years of Benson's life were lived at home again. He celebrated the Holy Eucharist as long as he could stand at the altar, and then was wheeled in a chair to his Communion every morning. He died on January 14, 1915.



  • Smith, Martin L. (ed.) (1980) Benson of Cowley, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-213112-5
  • Woodgate, M.V. (1953) Father Benson: founder of the Cowley Fathers, London : Geoffery Bles, 183 p.

External links



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