The origins of the Western Orthodox University can be traced to 1888, when the Intercollegiate University was founded as a non-profit-making body in the United States of America, receiving charters from the legislatures of three different states between 1890 and 1938. These charters empowered the University to grant degrees, an activity which it carried out from headquarters in Chicago chiefly by means of correspondence education. The Chancellor of the University for many years was one of its doctoral graduates, Archbishop the Hon. Frederick E.J. Lloyd (1859-1933) (pictured left), a Welshman by birth who served as Archbishop-Primate of the American Catholic Church and a member of the House of Representatives for the State of Illinois.
Lloyd oversaw the expansion of the Intercollegiate University to London, England, under his bishop in England, Archbishop Churchill Sibley (1858-1938) (pictured right), who he appointed Registrar. Following Lloyd’s death in 1933, his widow, who was an heiress of considerable means, established the Lloyd Auxiliary Fund at the University for the assistance of the deserving. Under Archbishop Sibley’s very successful Chancellorship, the University continued its work from his home in Chelsea. The University was described in its publicity material as offering “exceptional advantages to earnest students through its varied carefully arranged courses of Study in Theology, Arts, Music and Practical Business” with degrees conferred “after thorough preparation” at an annual service in St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, London, which was followed by a banquet and speeches. Among the many graduates, clergy and schoolmasters were predominant, although the roll of alumni was diverse, even embracing an earl and several baronets. The journal of the University was “The Inter-Collegian”. The University conferred degrees from Bachelor to Doctor in divinity, law, arts, music, philosophy, literature, science, and commerce, and also awarded University Fellowships. It held degree examinations nine times a year.
In February 1938, the Intercollegiate University separated into two parts, the British Division being divided from the activity in the rest of the world and re-structured. It was clearly stated that with the exception of the payment of examiners and its core administration, all others who served the University would do so on a purely voluntary basis. As a consequence, new offices were secured for the University’s Registry in Cromwell Road, South Kensington. Archbishop Sibley, now aged eighty, retired as Chancellor at the Convocation on 31 May 1938 and was presented with a loving-cup in recognition of “his long and devoted services to the University”. He was awarded the position of President during his retirement, dying in December of that year. “The Inter-Collegian” of July 1939, said in its tribute to Sibley, “He was a man of strong and somewhat complex character, uniting something of a Richelieu with a marked kindliness and great personal charm.”
The government of the Intercollegiate University’s British Division now fell to its Vice-Chancellor, Dr Frank W. Crossley-Holland, J.P. Dr Crossley-Holland was a barrister-at-law and a Doctor of Medicine (being a registered chemist and druggist). In 1935 he was President of the British Pharmaceutical Conference. From 1939-40 he served as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, being also a Member of Bedford County Council. He was also a past parliamentary candidate (National Liberal), author of “The Pharmacy Handbook” (1914) and was awarded a patent in the United States for a design of an invalid chair. He was assisted by the Revd. Dr Sidney E. P. Needham (1879-1962) (pictured left at his episcopal consecration), Rector of Farthinghoe, Northants., in the Church of England and later a bishop in the Catholicate of the West, also being a doctoral graduate of the Intercollegiate University, who served as Registrar.
Feeling that the Intercollegiate University had run its course despite the continuing public interest in its work, Dr Crossley-Holland and Dr Needham resolved to establish a genuinely Anglo-American correspondence university that would succeed it. On 21 July 1942 the Secretary of State of the State of Delaware, USA, granted a perpetual charter to the University of Sulgrave. Sulgrave is a village in Northamptonshire close to Farthinghoe, where Dr Needham held his benefice, and whose manor house (pictured right) was the home of the ancestors of George Washington. In November 1942 Dr Crossley-Holland and Dr Needham, on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Sulgrave University, approached the Sulgrave Manor Board requesting that they might place an inscribed token stone in the grounds of Sulgrave Manor commemorating the founding of the new University. By the beginning of 1943, the remaining Intercollegiate students had been transferred to Sulgrave and the Intercollegiate University was wound up shortly afterwards. Dr Crossley-Holland and Dr Needham occupied similar positions in Sulgrave’s administration as they had done for the Intercollegiate University, and Dr Crossley-Holland also served as President of the Board of Trustees.
Throughout its existence, the Intercollegiate University had withstood the attacks of the educational establishment in both the United States and in England, that establishment being thoroughly opposed to distance education and to any university operating outside of governmental control, even when, as in the case of the Intercollegiate, it was a non-profit-making body and granted degrees only after the fulfilment of the appropriate academic requirements. Doubtless this was a factor in the decision to make a fresh start with the University of Sulgrave. But here, despite the clear legality of Sulgrave’s position on both sides of the Atlantic, opposition to its existence made itself felt early on, and the Institute of International Education in New York condemned it outright without, so far as can be established, any prior investigation of its academic merits. It was clear when questions were asked in the British Parliament as to Sulgrave’s activities in February 1943 that it stood no more chance than its predecessor of receiving a fair hearing or a favourable reception. Although an application had been made to register the University as a company in England and Wales, the Board of Trustees opted to withdraw that application and dissolve the University rather than continue to engage in the heated controversy that, to their evident surprise, it had provoked.
The fresh start that had been sought would finally be achieved with the foundation of the Western Orthodox Academy. Where its two predecessor institutions had been of secular foundation, even though they had been administered by clergymen, this institution was to be explicitly religious in its foundation and authority, and was chartered on 1 August 1945 by Mar Georgius, Catholicos of the West and Patriarch of Glastonbury (1905-79) (pictured left) “to fill the place formerly occupied by the Intercollegiate University”.
Introducing the new body, Mar Georgius explained why it fulfilled a necessary purpose, given the extant universities of Britain and the Commonwealth. Writing in the “Orthodox Catholic Review”, he said,
It is a principle held dear by all who profess the true Catholic Faith that the Church has a necessary function to perform with regard to education, and indeed universities as we now know them were originally instituted by the Church. Owing to the secularization of the ancient universities, and the subsequent formation of modern universities of a secularist type, the curricula of the so-called “recognized” universities, and the general tone of their examinations are such that they are not based upon a sufficiently high standard of orthodoxy, for which reason many Christian Churches have found it necessary to establish their own academic institutions…Doubtlessly it is natural for the wealthy secular universities to dislike competition, and they and many of their graduates have constituted themselves open enemies of institutions of the type alluded to above. Unfortunately in so doing they have departed from all canons of decent behaviour and impute unworthy motives to those in charge of the same, besides sneering at the degrees which they grant. Every autocephalous Church has a right to impart instruction to those who seek it, and to test the knowledge of its students by examinations, and to recognize proficiency by the award of degrees. Only by this means can the clergy and laity be properly trained in the Faith, for as indicated above, the “recognized” universities are not based upon true doctrine. For any attempt to sneer at or contest this right is an act of religious persecution. After all, why should any Church be forced to accept other people’s standards? Down with academic totalitarianism!! Down with secularist intolerance!! Down with religious persecution!!!
[Orthodox Catholic Review vol. 2 no. 3, December 1946, p.10]
This article implies that it was not expected that the Western Orthodox Academy would be without its detractors, although it was prepared to defend itself robustly. When the anonymous author of the preface to the 1948 edition of “Crockford’s Clerical Directory” made a number of ill-judged remarks, Mar Georgius brought an action in libel in the High Court (Mar Georgius v. The Vice-Chancellor and Delegates of the Press of the University of Oxford, and Geoffrey Cumberlege, 1948.G.No.1907 – the Vice-Chancellor and Delegates being sued as printers, and Mr Cumberlege as publisher of the libel). Mar Georgius was successful in this action, and the defendants were required to publish an apology including an unreserved withdrawal of the passage that had been complained of and to pay damages. The case was believed to have been the first time that the University of Oxford had been sued in its long history.
The charter of what would soon be renamed the Western Orthodox University had been drawn up by Dr Crossley-Holland, thus providing the continuity that had been sought with its predecessor institutions as well as imparting his not inconsiderable legal expertise as a barrister. Dr Needham was appointed Registrar of the new body and would on his retirement be succeeded by Dr Frederick R.S. Rogers. In a further discussion of its foundational principles, Mar Georgius said,
The Patriarchs and other Supreme Hierarchs of the Church of Christ possess a prescriptive right to confer academic degrees in all faculties, either personally, or through such academic institutions as they may Charter for this purpose. In the case of the Pope, he has the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Archbishop of Canterbury confers what are called “Lambeth Degrees” personally, whilst the Patriarch of Glastonbury confers them both personally (when they are called “Glastonbury Degrees”) and also through the Western Orthodox University…The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and the authorities of the Church of England, apparently object to Mar Georgius exercising his ecclesiastical and legal rights in this matter. But they are, of course, powerless to prevent him.
[Hieratica, vol. 1 no. 7, April 1949, p.40]
On 20 February 1950, the Catholicate of the West was incorporated in India under the Societies Act (Act XXI of 1860; registration no. 5/1950) with the Western Orthodox University as one of three constituent perpetual corporations within the scope of the registration. It should not be thought that this was entirely an attempt to place the University under the aegis of a secular government, for the rights of the Catholicos of the West were explicitly recognized as the basis of the incorporation. At this point the Western Orthodox Theological College was operated as a subsidiary organization of the University for the purpose of the training of ordinands.
The difficulties of administration of such a diverse and wide-ranging organization as the Catholicate of the West, compounded by difficulties that arose in the relationship with its Indian representative, caused Mar Georgius to abandon the Catholicate of the West in November 1953 and to purport to transfer its powers and institutions to a new body of his own foundation, the United Orthodox Catholicate. Such an action, however, was invalid under Indian law and violated the rights of the other clergy who were members of the Catholicate; by subsequent determination it was established that these members had inherited the Catholicate under the terms of the 1950 charter while Mar Georgius’s actions meant that he and those clergy who had chosen to join him in his new organization had simply seceded from the Catholicate. The position of Catholicos of the West passed by rights in turn to the next most senior hierarch in the Catholicate, Mar Paulos (Lowell Paul Wadle) (1900-65), and on his death to the only other remaining hierarch, Mar David I (Wallace de Ortega Maxey) (1902-92) (pictured left). On 6 August 1977, Mar David I formally united the headship of the Catholicate of the West with that of the Apostolic Episcopal Church, to which he had succeeded in 1948, and registered this act before the Secretary of State of California.
After November 1953, Mar Georgius established a new Western Orthodox University with its base for a time in Brussels, Belgium, but this entity was dissolved on 1 July 1979. In consequence, it is necessary in examining any historical reference to the Western Orthodox University between the years 1953-79 to establish which of these two institutions is being described:
- the original Western Orthodox University, founded in 1945 and incorporated in India in 1950 as a perpetual constituent corporation of the Catholicate of the West; headed by Mar Georgius until 1953, and then (though inactive) by Mar Paulos; in 1977 formally united (as a constituent part of the Catholicate of the West) with the Apostolic Episcopal Church by Mar David I through his act in California, and thereafter continuing as part of that church until today, or
- the revived Western Orthodox University, founded in 1953 as part of the United Orthodox Catholicate by Mar Georgius, and headed by him thereafter, being formally dissolved on 1 July 1979.
The original Western Orthodox University was revived after some years of inactivity in February 2015 when the Most Revd. Professor John Kersey (Mar Joannes Edmundus) succeeded as Primate and Presiding Bishop of the Apostolic Episcopal Church and Catholicos of the West. The process of revival has sought throughout to preserve the aims and intentions of the University from its foundation together with those of its predecessor institutions, and to strengthen the purposes of the University so that it might, with Divine grace, fulfil its potential to be a beacon of light and knowledge in its chosen areas of activity. Professor Kersey has throughout emphasised the importance of conceiving and strategizing the work of the University as a social enterprise, providing benefit to its members and the wider community while maintaining an efficient business model that guarantees its continued independence.