St Stephen’s House, Oxford (popularly known as "Staggers"), is an Anglican theological college and one of six religious Permanent Private Halls of the University of Oxford, England. From its mission statement the House asserts it offers "formation, education, and training for a variety of qualifications and ministries rooted in the catholic tradition, helping the church give faithful witness to Christ in contemporary society" as well as an exceptional education in a "context encouraging disciplined study, academic research and personal reflection centered in prayer and worship".


St Stephen's House was founded in 1876 by members of the Tractarian movement and has stood ever since in the Catholic tradition of the Church of England. The principal founder of the House was the later Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King, who was, at the time, Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford. King has been acclaimed as one of the outstandingly holy men of his age and exercised considerable influence on the early life of the House. Associated with King were William Bright, Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and a great scholar; Edward Stuart Talbot, Warden of Keble College and subsequently Bishop of Winchester; Edwin James Palmer, Professor of Latin, Archdeacon of Oxford and later Bishop of Bombay; Edward Woolcoombe, a Fellow of Balliol with a great interest in and support for the missionary movement; and John Wordsworth, Chaplain of Brasenose College. Finally among the founding band was Henry Scott Holland, then senior fellow at Christ Church and one of the leading figures in the development of the Christian social teaching of the time. It was apparently Holland who suggested the title of House in honour of St Stephen and in memory of a promising young priest of the same name who had died.

For most of its life the House’s central role has been to train candidates for ordination in the Church of England and other provinces of the Anglican Communion. Indeed by the 1950s it was a seminary on a very Catholic model, training highly 'professional' priests in the use of the confessional and the practice of Ignatian meditation. Life was quasi-monastic with periods of greater and lesser silence, and prescribed times for prayer. Presiding over it was Father Arthur Couratin, described by some as "a Roman Catholic who uses the Prayer Book" and by others as "Noel Coward in a clerical collar". His relaxed drawl and quick wit concealed a formidable intellect and with him as Principal the House maintained high standards of liturgy, scholarship and morality.

In its history the House has produced a number of bishops from its staff. In the early days James Leo Schuster (Chaplain from 1939–1949) was made Bishop of St John's in South Africa. In more recent times David Hope (Principal from 1974–1982) went on to become Bishop of Wakefield, Bishop of London and later Archbishop of York; David Thomas (Vice-Principal from 1975–79 and Principal from 1982–87) continues to serve as Provincial Assistant Bishop to the Church in Wales; Edwin Barnes (Principal from 1987–1995) became Bishop of Richborough; Andrew Burnham (Vice-Principal from 1995–2000) was the Bishop of Ebbsfleet before resigning from the Church of England in 2010.

The conferral of Permanent Private Hall status by the University of Oxford in 2003, along with recent developments in the Church, have meant that the House now sees its remit more widely as providing formation, education and training for the whole people of God. Within this overall understanding, the formation of candidates for the diaconate and the priesthood continues to have a prominent role.

The House was located originally on the site which is now the New Bodleian Library in a house opposite the King's Arms public house. It was soon to move into buildings in Norham Gardens, North Oxford. These buildings were developed, a chapel being built to the side of one of the houses and, in later years, accommodation being provided for married students. The buildings, whilst the college's home for many, were never ideal. In 1980 the Society of St John the Evangelist (SSJE) decided to move from its mother house, Cowley St John. These monastic buildings were the ideal setting for a theological college. It was decided to buy the site and move the college to East Oxford. The current buildings contain the church of St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, by G F Bodley, a masterpiece of his work, cloisters, the main buildings, the House Chapel and the old mission house. The house chapel, extended by Ninian Comper, is the old monastic chapel and is used for Morning and Evening Prayer. The daily Mass is celebrated in St John's Church. Accommodation in flats and houses on the site is provided for married students whilst single students live in the rooms once inhabited by the SSJE brethren.

The buildings of the college provide a catalogue of interesting and important aspects of Anglican history. The Founder's Chapel — where the SSJE community prayed daily until the later completion of what is now the House Chapel — was where Dietrich Bonhoeffer is reputed to have decided to return to Germany where he met with martyrdom.


The house has aways been located in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the Church of England. A great emphasis has always been placed on the formation of the person in their journey toward ordination. At the heart of the House is prayer with Morning and Evening prayer forming the 'bookends' of the day. Ordinands are required to attend both. The daily Mass also provides a critical point of spiritual nourishment. Theological training appropriate to the person is provided, as is time for ministerial preparation. Ordinands are expected to take an active part in the life and work of the house, serving at dinner, keeping up the gardens, and cleaning the church and chapels.

Sports are often popular and teams are fielded for a variety of university games, although it does somewhat depend on the enthusiasm of the students. The House currently has its own football team which has competed against other Christian training establishments in Oxford and, also, Pusey House.

The house has a good musical tradition with a variety of traditional and contemporary music being used at major liturgies and a choir made up from within the student body. The House Chapel contains a small chamber organ and St John's Church, a larger instrument with an impressive case above the north side of the rood screen.

The college had in the past, a reputation for being camp and attracting a number of gay ordinands, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s. David Hope, later Archbishop of York, was recruited as principal in 1974 to rein in excesses and to ensure the college remained on track in its mission.A.N. Wilson fictionalised this turn of events in his novel Unguarded Hours. The Reverend Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, quoted in A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality, claims its proportion of gay students has been as high as ninety percent. This claim has not been verified and has been made by a person who is openly gay, and is seeking to bring out into the open, other allegedly gay ministers. Prominent gay cleric Jeffrey John is an alumnus. Wilson writes that in his time there, some students were given opposite-sex "names in religion".

Theological education and the wider church

In recent years the college has extended its ministry to the wider church with programmes of teaching open to the general public. Every year there are two summer schools in June, on 'Understanding Islam' and Christian Apologetics. Between 2009 and 2011 there is a conference on ecclesiology around Epiphany each January, organised by Fr Andrew Davison, one of the tutors in Christian Doctrine. The college also welcomes sabbatical guests and visiting scholars.

Notable former students

Many former students, in the tradition of the House, go on to minister in urban priority areas and parishes which continue to suffer poverty and deprivation.

  • The Revd Mgr Andrew Burnham - former Bishop of Ebbsfleet and former Vice-Principal
  • The Revd Anthony Caesar, composer
  • The Rt Revd Alan Chesters - former Bishop of Blackburn
  • The Revd Canon Arthur Couratin, Liturgiologist and former Principal
  • Archbishop Hovnan Derderian - Primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America
  • The Rt Revd Peter Elliott, Titular Bishop of Manaccenser and Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne (Roman Catholic)
  • The Revd Fr Mark Elvins OFMCap - Roman Catholic priest and friar
  • Mark Fox, journalist and public policy analyst
  • The Rt Revd and Rt Hon David Hope, Lord Hope of Thornes - former Archbishop of York and former Principal
  • The Rt Hon William Cecil James Philip John Paul Howard, 8th Earl of Wicklow
  • The Revd David Jasper - Changyang Chair Professor in Literature & Theology, Renmin University of China
  • The Very Revd Jeffrey John - Dean of St Albans
  • The Rt Revd Eric Kemp - former Bishop of Chichester
  • The Rt Revd Trevor Mwamba - Bishop of Botswana, who is portrayed in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith and appears as himself in the TV series.
  • The Rt Revd Gordon Roe - former Bishop of Huntingdon
  • Fr John Saward - theologian, fellow of Greyfriars, Oxford
  • The Rt Revd Glyn Simon - former Archbishop of Wales
  • The Rt Revd David Thomas - former Provincial Assistant Bishop of the Church in Wales and former Vice-Principal and Principal
  • The Rt Revd Timothy Thornton - Bishop of Truro
  • The Rt Revd Martin Warner - Bishop of Whitby
  • The Rt Revd William Gordon Wheeler - former Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds
  • The Venerable Colin Williams - General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches
  • The Revd Canon Paul Greenwell - Precentor of Ripon Cathedral
  • The Revd Peter Laister
  • A. N. Wilson - journalist
Academics and teachers
  • The Revd Canon Robin Ward - Principal
  • The Revd Damian Feeney - Vice-Principal
  • Ian Boxall - Senior Tutor
  • Lucy Gardner

The permanent staff are assisted by a number of visiting tutors, including:

  • The Revd Elaine Bardwell
  • The Revd Simon Jones
  • The Revd Canon Beaumont Stevenson
  • The Revd Canon Vincent Strudwick
  • Sister Benedicta Ward SLG
Honorary Research Fellows
  • The Revd Andrew Linzey
  • John Chesworth


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