St Michael’s Priory
St Michael’s Priory was a house of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM), an Anglican religious order founded in 1893. The first SSM brothers came here in 1973, after the closure of Kelham Theological College.
During a period spanning more than 45 years of SSM presence in Willen, various forms of community have evolved and developed, including the ‘The Well’ project during the late 1980s and into the 2000s, as members of the Society sought ways to continue to live the values of SSM’s founder, Herbert Kelly.
During its final phase of its existence until closing at the end of 2019, the life of the Priory was centred around the daily rhythm of prayer and work. It has always been a place of peace, encounter and welcome; with a community that provided a space where all may meet as one, in Christ, seeing to share their life with all who came there and welcoming all around the common table. Strangers soon become friends, and many found there space to pray, somewhere to enjoy the silence of the gardens or enjoy a good meal.
Above all, St Michaels was a place where men and women, lay and religious, could find God in contemplation, action and prayer, and in mission and ministry. It was a sign of peace and hope, not only for the town and region, but in a world which is broken and which seeks renewal and new life.
Society of the Sacred Mission and Willen
The Society of the Sacred Mission came to Willen from Kelham in 1973, and among those who left Kelham for Willen was Fr Sydney Holgate, who had arrived at Kelham from Mildenhall, some 50 years earlier. Brothers Bertram and Jimmy, too, along with Fr Ralph, joined the new community, with Ralph as the first Prior.
This was to be a new chapter in its life, since the Society had withdrawn from the training of priests through the theological college system. The whole charism of the Society had to be reconsidered; and this was carried out against the background of the challenges facing the Society in that the natural recruiting forum, Kelham Theological College, had closed.