RepositoryJesuits in Britain Archives
TitleSt Aidan's College
LevelSub fonds
DescriptionPapers relating to the establishment and early history of the College; College publications including brochures, prospectus, rules and list of old boys; visitation reports; correspondence and notes relating to the closure of St Aidan's, 1931-1969 (there is no material relating to the last few years of the College's existence); photographs; College scrapbook; list of old boys who entered the priesthood.
Admin_HistorySt Aidan's was a Catholic College in South Africa run by the Society of Jesus for almost 100 years between 1876 and 1973.

The origins of St Aidan's College date back to the mid-nineteenth century when Aidan Devereux, Bishop of what was then the Eastern Vicariate, established a small Catholic school in the frontier town of Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. The school was modest in its scope and was known simply as 'Ricards' School' after Fr James David Ricards who taught there. This early school would later come to be known as 'Little St Aidan's' to distinguish it from the College which followed.

When Ricards was consecrated Bishop in 1871, he renewed efforts to raise the funds necessary to establish a Catholic seminary in Grahamstown to support his vision for missionary work in the interior. The first foundations of a building were laid on 29 January 1873. At the time there were very few priests in the Eastern Cape so Ricards approached several religious orders in Europe to support this new venture. Following discussions with the Jesuit General, Fr Beckx, and the Jesuit Provincial in England, Fr Gallwey, an agreement was reached that the Society would provide priests to run St Aidan's College and a mission at nearby Graaff Reinet. In 1875, a party of Jesuits including Fr John Bridge (the first Rector), Fr John Lea and Fr Augustus Law, brothers, teachers and students set sail for Grahamstown. St Aidan's College accepted its first cohort of students on 31 January 1876.

St Aidan's became the early headquarters of the Zambesi Mission. It was from St Aidan's that the first group of Jesuit missionaries, including Fr Augustus Law, departed for the Zambesi region (modern Zimbabwe) in 1879. In 1893, the headquarters of the Zambesi Mission was transferred to Bulawayo.

Although initially intended to be an ecclesiastical seminary, St Aidan's was more closely modelled on an English public school in the Jesuit tradition. In its early years, the College was open to boys of all denominations; by the turn of the twentieth century, the College only accepted Catholic students. The College grew rapidly in the first fifty years of its existence - the original premises were much enlarged, a new chapel was constructed in the mid-1920s, a preparatory school was eventually opened in 1935 and the cadet corps was established in 1899. The College had its own journal ('St Aidan's Record') and the former students of the College established an active union for Old Aidanites.

From its beginning St Aidan's had been plagued by financial difficulties and a sense of isolation from the rest of the Jesuit mission in Southern Africa. The Jesuits rapidly established themselves and centred their resources in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and by the 1930s the South African mission stations had all been abandoned. The first thought of closing the College came as early as 1933. The question of the College's closure returned in the 1960s against a backdrop of Vatican II, debate over the role of the Society in South Africa and concerns about the resources of the English Province. Negotiations over the future of the College were protracted, complicated and emotional. In June 1966, Fr Ennis (Superior of the Salisbury Mission) announced publicly that the Jesuits intended to withdraw from St Aidan's. By the end of 1966, the Jesuits reached an agreement with the Bishop of Port Elizabeth to continue for a further ten years on the understanding that they would provide no further personnel or financial support. St Aidan's continued to operate for seven more years but the Diocese of Port Elizabeth finally sanctioned the closure of St Aidans's in December 1973 having been unable to find a solution to the College's financial woes.

Notable alumni include: Sir Percy FitzPatrick, author; Bernard Tancred, South African cricketer; Sir Charles Coghlan, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia.

A full history is given in Francis L. Coleman, 'St Aidan's College Grahamstown: A history' (Grahamstown, 1980).
Related Material - Papers of Fr Richard Copeland (Rector, 1959-1966), especially correspondence with Fr Superior, Fr Provincial, Fr General on the closure of St Aidan's and a file of material on the history of St Aidan's (ref: 36/2/9-12).
- Papers of Fr Barton Watson (Rector, 1971-1973) including material on the St Aidan's Cadet Detachment and correspondence regarding the closure of St Aidan's (ref: 99/12/5/5-6).
- Zambesi Mission papers, 1874-1893 (ref: MSB/37)
- Copy of letters of Fr Alfred Weld held at the Jesuit Archives in Zimbabwe (ref: BY/14).
- Letter to Fr Buckland referring to his proposed writing of a history of St Aidan's with some historical notes from a Mr Quin, Sept. 1925 (ref: DN/2).
- Notes on the history of the college and mission at Grahamstown and Graaff Reinet 1875-1883, see Memoranda Vol. 1, pt II, ff. 72-76 (ref: 14/2/16).
- Letters of Fr Blackett SJ on financial matters (ref: 10/4): Blackett Letter Book 1: 4,5 ('Roach Loan') & 101; Blackett Letter Book 2: f.255, 259A, 260 & 323.
- St Aidan's Record, 1899-1972; December 1973.
- Coleman, Francis L., 'St Aidan's College Grahamstown: A History' (Grahamstown, 1980). (Library catalogue: BY 42.2).
AccessConditionsThe papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to archive material in the Jesuits in Britain Archives.

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