Father Richard Meux Benson
In keeping with monastic tradition, our community reads aloud each departed Brother’s obituary on the anniversary of his death, during Compline. In the words of our Rule, “In Christ we are still one with our departed brothers and we express this communion through regular prayer for them and by recalling their lives on the anniversaries of their deaths. We believe that they pray for us and that we will be reunited when Christ gathers all creation to himself, so that God may be all in all.” (Ch. 48). Below is Father Benson’s obituary.
Father Richard Meux Benson, the Founder of our Society, and the first Superior General, died on 14 January 1915 at the Mission House in Oxford in the ninety-first year of his life and in the forty-ninth year of his religious profession.
Born on 6 July 1824 at the family home in Russell Square, London, Father Benson was baptized a month later at St. George’s Church, Bloomsbury Square. He was educated at home and in 1844 began university at Christ Church College, Oxford where he came under the influence of the early leaders of the Oxford Movement. He remained a Student or Fellow of Christ Church for the rest of his life, and was the last of the Students with life tenure.
He was ordained on Trinity Sunday 1848 by Bishop Samuel Wilberforce and became the Assistant Curate in the Parish of Surbiton. Two years later he became the Vicar of the Parish of Cowley St. James. He intended to go to India where he hoped to establish a college of missionary priests, but was convinced by the Bishop of Oxford to remain in the Parish of Cowley, then undergoing a large population increase. It was there that he began his great life’s work.
Together with an American, Father Charles Chapman Grafton and another Englishman, Father Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill, he began the life of our Society in a small house on the Iffley Road, Oxford, in the summer of 1865. It was on the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, 27 December 1866 that the three of them made their Profession in vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience as Mission Priests of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, thus formally restoring the religious life for men to the Anglican Church. From then until 1890 he was the Superior General.
He remained Vicar of Cowley until 1870, and incumbent of Cowley St. John until 1886. In 1890 he retired as the Superior General and set out for the United States via India, Japan and Canada. He arrived in Boston in 1892. After seven years in Boston he returned to Oxford. His life then became one of suffering and patient waiting for his call. Blind, deaf and crippled, he was cut off from much of the life of the Mission House. But until a few days before his death he made his Communion daily in the church. He maintained his strict ascetic disciplines to the end.
The occasions when for some reason, one of the brethren asked his blessing revealed the love in his heart, and the close touch with spiritual realities in which he dwelt. He is buried along with other members of our community, in the churchyard of St. Mary and St. John, Oxford.