The Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) 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, 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, which was revised in 1863. The Rule (concerning the Community’s ethos and aspirations) first appeared in print together with the Consititution in 1896. It was from that time the Sisters took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to God before the Bishop of Oxford or his nominee.
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, 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, but retains its support of education through local initiatives
The convent at Wantage continues to be the home of the Community.