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Farewell, Heythrop College (1614-2018)

(Posted July 31, 2019)

In June 2014, I had the good fortune of being asked to present a paper at the 400th anniversary of the founding of what was then Heythrop College, in the company of august scholars and even the Archbishop of Canterbury. My own humble contribution was focused on the pre-suppression library (quelle surprise!) associated with the institution, and I was honored to speak about the books held by the Jesuit colleges of Leuven, Liege, St. Omer, and Stonyhurst, which were the predecessors of the modern college. The conference was held in the Senate House Library, but I did manage to squeeze in a trip to the Heythrop library in Kensington Square. Alas, I have not been able to return there.

Historians generally feel some regret when august institutions close or fall into ruins, and I am no exception in this case. I take comfort in the knowledge that the University of London has pledged to keep the books from the HC library available, via an agreement with the Society of Jesus in Britain. According to a statement by Heythrop Library dated July 2, 2018, "members of the Library can access the titles and order via the online catalogue for arrival at the Library on the same or next day. The books presently located in Kensington Square are being transferred to an external depository in Ruislip used by Senate House Library, part of the University of London, to ensure the collection is properly housed and conserved as a whole." In addition, some of the rare volumes will be housed at the University of Oxford's Campion Hall. Mr. Michael Morgan, formerly the HC librarian, will now be the Head Librarian of the Society in Britain. (For more information, see and

It was during that conference that my friend and colleague Robert Maryks offered me the possibility of publishing Jesuit Foundations and Medici Power in the Brill Jesuit Studies series, and that I began to formulate clear plans to pursue a project on European Jesuit libraries. Four and a half years later, the book is published, and the project is in full swing. For that reason alone, Heythrop will always hold a special place in my heart. I recommend Michael Walsh's book, Heythrop College 1614-2014: A Commemorative History (London: Heythrop College, 2014) to learn more about the institution over four centuries, and this video to see memories by those recently associated with the College. It begins and ends with an exhortation: "The nurturing flame of Heythrop has gone. The flickering embers of the fire are all that are left. It is our responsibility… To take these embers. To light new fires to continue the memory and actions of Heythrop. To show future generations that truth, meaning, compassion, love and being human matter."

This isn't a small responsibility, to be sure, but it is an important one. it's one I see as intimately connected to the work of history: the preservation and study of that which is meaningful and human.


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