About Fisher House


Welcome to Fisher House

Fisher House today

The Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy, now popularly known as Fisher House, was founded by papal indult in 1895, when Catholics were allowed once more to read for degrees at Oxford and Cambridge. Since 1924 Fisher House, a cluster of two sixteenth century houses, has been its home. From September 2013, the chaplain is Mgr Mark Langham (a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster and former Administrator of Westminster Cathedral); the assistant chaplains are Sr Ann Swailes, OP and Fr Kevin Grove CSC.

The chaplaincy is open daily to all Catholic members of the University, from undergraduates to fellows. There are three Sunday Masses (a said English vigil Mass, sung Latin Mass and sung English Mass), and a daily Mass. During the exam period, Lauds is also celebrated. College representatives also help to organise periodic Masses in College chapels.

Fisher House library

The Fisher House Library has a fine collection of theology, biography, history, and literature. It can be used by all Catholic undergraduates and postgraduates, and is open whenever Fisher House itself is open.

The finances of the chaplaincy, including building upkeep, are handled by the Cambridge University Catholic Association (CUCA), while the chaplains are appointed by the Oxford and Cambridge Catholic Education Board (OCCEB). Day-to-day running of the chaplaincy is handled by the chaplain and the student-run Fisher Society. Catholic students and those who regularly attend Mass at Fisher House are automatically members of the Fisher Society, and anybody else is welcome to join the events organised by the committee.

Regular events include the annual Fisher Mass (in recent years celebrated at Great St Mary’s) and the Gilbey requiem, as well as the Fisher Society dinner, barbecue, and garden party at the nearby Dominican priory. Lunches are organised daily (excepting Sundays when tea is provided), as well as many parties and events throughout the term.

The chaplaincy provides weekly courses and discussion groups on bible study, theology, ethics, poetry, philosophy and others, as well as an annual series of Fisher Lectures.

History of Fisher House

Foundation and Early Years (1871-1924)

Oxford and Cambridge opened their doors to Catholics in 1871 after the repeal of the Test Acts which had excluded Catholics from the ancient universities. However, the Catholic hierarchy, believing that it would be impossible for the students to attend Oxford and Cambridge without being corrupted by an increasing atmosphere of liberalism and scepticism, forbade Catholics to attend, and sought instead to found a Catholic university in London. This decision was met with public outcry from wealthy laity who wished for their sons to attend Oxbridge colleges. Following the death of Cardinal Manning, who had been implacably opposed to Catholics attending Oxford or Cambridge, a petition led by the Catholic Cambridge fellow Baron Anatole von Hügel was presented to the Bishops and the ban was lifted in 1896 with the condition that a chaplaincy be established to provide teaching on philosophy, history and religion.
As a consequence, the Oxford and Cambridge Catholic Education Board was founded, and Henry Fitzalan-Howard, 15th Duke of Norfolk, purchased property at St Edmund’s House, where the Catholic Chaplaincy was established, with Fr Edmund Nolan as first chaplain. The very first lectures were given by Cuthbert Butler, OSB, entitled “Questions of the Day”. At the same time, the Fisher Society was established by Cambridge students as a literary and debating society.
In 1899, the Cambridge University Catholic Association (CUCA) was founded, and purchased rooms for the chaplaincy at 2 Green Street. Later, under Monsignor Arthur Barnes, the chaplaincy moved to Llandaff House near Downing College. After the Great War, Fr Bernard Marshall became chaplain at 50 Bridge Street, and then 2 Round Church Street, next to the Union.

Fisher House (1924-present)

2 Green Street, the first home of the Catholic Chaplaincy.

2 Green Street, the first home of the Catholic Chaplaincy.

The Black Swan, in the medieval heart of Cambridge.

The Black Swan, in the medieval heart of Cambridge.

In 1924, a Grade II listed pub called the Black Swan was purchased by CUCA for £10,000. The chaplaincy was moved there and named Fisher House. It is an interesting cluster of buildings with two old houses joined at right angles. One overhangs the street and dates from the 16th century. The other (containing the dining room, kitchen, great chamber, and living quarters) is of the early 17th century with medieval cellars.

Alfred Newman Gilbey photographed by Lord Snowdon.

Alfred Newman Gilbey photographed by Lord Snowdon.

In 1998, Alfred Gilbey, a renowned and much-loved chaplain who had fought to prevent Fisher House being demolished for redevelopment, was interred in the courtyard. Fisher House was officially opened on 4 May 1925, at that time the feast of Blessed John Fisher. In 1937 a women’s chaplaincy was founded at Lady Margaret House, and was merged into Fisher House in 1966. Originally Mass was held in a chapel in an upper room, but in 1967 work was started on a new hall and side chapel.

Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) at Fisher House 1988.

Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) at Fisher House 1988.

The hall was originally rented out to market traders to provide income, but in 2008, after a successful appeal to raise £2 million, it became a permanent place of worship. This endowment fund included a personal donation of €3000 from Pope Benedict XVI, who had previously visited Fisher House to give a lecture in 1988.

Fr Alban McCoy

Fr Alban McCoy

In 2005, a reconstruction of a c. 1280 Cimabue crucifix was commissioned from the Hamilton Kerr Institute by Fr Alban McCoy. This artwork was constructed according to contemporary medieval Italian methods, and was completed in March 2008. It was installed at Fisher House and consecrated by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.

The new chapel

The new chapel

Fisher House now encompasses a venerable old building, with a fine modern chapel and meeting room, with a library and terrace. It is thus well equipped to serve the Catholic Community of the University – undergraduates, graduates and Senior Members – remaining true to its original mandate: to support, encourage, challenge and guide the members of the University in living out their Catholic faith in Cambridge.