A Short History of the Oratory

Little Gidding
St John’s Church in Little Gidding, showing the tomb of Blessed Nicholas Ferrar, patron of OGS

The Oratory of the Good Shepherd was founded by Edward Wynn, John How, and Eric Milner White, who were all ministering in different colleges of the University of Cambridge. As they were drawn together into deeper spiritual fellowship, they sought to form a community which would sustain them in their ministry and contribute to the life of the Church in Cambridge. In John How’s own words:


“We three got together I can remember the occasion well and the subject was broached, and in some measure planned; a  Fellowship of Catholic-minded priest-dons… living under a common rule and meeting together (as far as possible) for common devotions, at least Mass and one of the Hours. We felt the need of fellowship and a sense of community, though we lived each his own separate life in separate colleges. So it all began. We drew up a simple outline rule, leaving specific details to be filled in after growing experience.”

On March 3rd 1913, the brethren, joined by Fr John Neville Figgis CR, who acted as an advisor to the group, made a declaration of intention, from which OGS had its beginnings. The First World War interrupted things, but afterwards the brethren came together again, meeting at Little Gidding, the site of Nicholas Ferrar’s community in the seventeenth century. It was here that the Seven Notes were written and the way of life was devised. The First World War had a significant impact on the formation of the Oratory, as John How explained to the brethren when he said these words in 1918:

“The Oratory has been cradled in an historical epoch, which must largely determine its mission and labours. There are new needs to be met by the Church, and old needs, as yet unsatisfied by her, have been made visible to all eyes.”

Oratory House
The Oratory House

In January 1920, it was decided to open an Oratory House in Cambridge, where some brethren continued to live a common life until 1939. Since 1939 the Oratory has had no permanent base – although, for a season, St Deiniol’s Library in Hawarden functioned as the centre of Oratory life. On occasion two or three brethren have lived together when staffing a parish, and the Oratory Manual makes provision either for brothers to live together or to live a common life in dispersion.

Throughout its history, the Oratory has expanded far beyond Cambridge, and now has Provinces in Europe, North America, Australia, and Southern Africa, and its brothers are engaged in a huge variety of ministries. In the 21stcentury, the Oratory is unique among traditional Anglican communities, and offers a distinctive witness in the Church today, as Fr Christopher OGS has enumerated in a recent paper.

Click here for Fr Henry Brandreth’s A History of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd, which covers the first forty years of the life of OGS.

This brief history was written by Fr Dominic Austin Cawdell OGS in 2020.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.