Some of the first Sisters
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The Community of St Mary the Virgin was founded in 1848 by William John Butler, the then 29 year old Vicar of Wantage, following the spiritual revival in the Church of England known as the Oxford Movement. CSMV was one of the first Anglican Religious Communities to be founded in England since the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII.
In 1849, one Harriet Day, a farmer’s daughter, came to assist the Revd William Butler in the formation of this new Sisterhood and, in 1854, she was installed by Samuel Wilberforce, then Bishop of Oxford, as the first Reverend Mother, a position she held for 33 years.
The Revd William Butler and Mother Harriet both left their mark on the Community. From the beginning there was an emphasis on simplicity of life, the first Rule being drawn up in 1854. This was revised in 1863 but the fully printed Rule (concerning the Community’s ethos and aspirations) together with the Consititution did not appear until 1896, from which time the Sisters took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to God before the Bishop of Oxford (as they continue to do to this day, though sometimes to a bishop who is representing the Bishop of Oxford). The Rule has continued to be revised to adapt to changing insights.
From small beginnings, CSMV grew over the years with many active works: schools, mission houses and homes for young mothers, young offenders, the elderly and for the rehabilitation of persons suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
Community houses were also started in India, South Africa and, later, in Botswana plus elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Community also helped in the nurturing and formation of a small indigenous community in Madagascar -the Society of the Servants of Jesus Christ (FMJK), founded in 1985 – with which contact is still maintained.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, institutional works were gradually given up in favour of smaller houses and more individual ministries, the Community assisting as hospital chaplains and providing ministry in parishes and schools. More recently, the Community has concentrated on engaging in spiritual direction, leading retreats and providing hospitality for visiting guests.
The convent at Wantage continues to be the home of the Community.
Brief History of the Community House at Smethwick
CSMV opened a Community House in Smethwick, on the outskirts of Birmingham, in 1992. The house, set in an urban priority area, was a former Doctor’s surgery built in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
The Community had an active presence in this inner-city, multi-cultural, multi-faith community, responding to a variety of local needs. The Smethwick Sisters were also involved in the life of three local Anglican churches; Old Church, St Matthew and Holy Trinity, Smethwick.
The Daily Office was recited five times each day in the house Chapel and there was a Eucharist on most days of the week.
The house was sold in 2014.