400 years of academic excellence
In 2014, Heythrop celebrated its 400th anniversary. Like most ancient places of learning, its name, character and location have changed over the years, with occasional episodes of high drama along the way.
In 1614 England was a dangerous place for Roman Catholics, and it was not possible to educate Catholic priests there. A wealthy English Catholic gave a sizeable sum of money to establish a college at Louvain (in modern-day Belgium) to educate English Jesuits in philosophy and theology. After a few years the College moved to Liège where it remained for around 170 years, carrying on when the Jesuits were suppressed worldwide in 1773.
By 1794, however, revolutionary France had dissolved all religious orders, guillotined the king and queen and embarked upon the “Reign of Terror”. France was at war with England. It was dangerous to be a priest and dangerous to be English, and the armies of revolutionary France were advancing. By this time, though there were serious restrictions for Catholics, England was relatively safe. The decision was made to come home.
Staff and students settled at Stonyhurst in Lancashire. Soon after the University of London was established in 1836, the College at Stonyhurst was recognised to prepare students for University of London degrees. Philosophers remained in Lancashire whilst Theology relocated to North Wales. After 70 years or so apart, they came together again in 1926 at Heythrop Hall, near Oxford – the name which the College has retained. In the second half of the twentieth century the pace of change quickened. Heythrop began to admit lay people as well as Jesuits, and women as well as men. In 1970 the College moved to London and in 1993, to Kensington. In 1971 a Royal Charter established it as a College of the University of London specialising in Theology and Philosophy, with a mission “to offer its students an education marked by intelligence, scholarship and generosity of spirit”.
Today Heythrop is a unique and diverse place to study, welcoming students of all different faiths, backgrounds and nationalities to explore contemporary and historical philosophical and theological issues, in a respectful and cohesive, academic environment.