A popular name for the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE), the oldest male religious order in the Anglican Church. Its name was derived from the English town of Cowley, near Oxford, where the founder, Father Richard Meaux Benson (1824–1915), had been vicar. It was founded on Dec. 27, 1866 (St. John's Day), when Benson, in company with Father O'Neill and Father Grafton, who came from the U.S., pronounced vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. With the permission of the bishop of Oxford, the three men had spent the previous year preparing to renew religious community life in England. The society's first foundation in the U.S. was in Boston (Nov. 1, 1870). In 1921 an independent congregation was established in the U.S. In the U.S., the Society has a monastery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a retreat center, Emery House, in West Newbury, Massachusetts. Members of the Society, who may be ordained priests or religious brothers, live under a Rule of Life and make the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Principal ministries of the Society include retreats, spiritual direction and book publishing. In the U.S., the Society operates a publishing house, Cowley Publications.
Bibliography: p. f. anson, The Call of the Cloister (London 1955). a. m. allchin, The Silent Rebellion: Anglican Religious Communities 1845–1900 (London 1958). m. v. woodgate, Father Benson, Founder of the Cowley Fathers (London 1953).
[t. f. casey/eds.]