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Bruno Scott James Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS135

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The Bruno Scott James Papers consist of correspondence and manuscript material belonging to Msgr. James. Correspondence by Msgr. James is limited and in xerox form. The originals are located in other collections, specifically, the Douglas Woodruff papers and the Sir Arnold Lunn papers at the Georgetown University Special Collections Division. The bulk of the correspondence relating directly to Msgr. James is to or from his friend, the Bishop William Gordon Wheeler of Leeds. This concerns the prospective publication of the former's spiritual letters to colleagues seeking guidance. In addition, Folders 1:21 - 1:22 contain correspondence exchanged between Patrick McLaughlin (1909-1988) and his colleagues including Rev. Wheeler. McLaughlin was a professor at the Collegio Sant'Anselmo in Rome. He was also an Anglican priest until 1963 when he converted to Catholicism. He was well-known as the founder of St. Anne's House, Soho, where such intellectuals and writers as T.S. Eliot, Rose Macaulay, Dorothy Sayers, and Charles Williams met. He also fostered the development of drama at St. Thomas's in Regent Street, which produced new plays by Christopher Fry and Ronald Duncan, among others. [For more information on McLaughlin, see obituary in The Times, (London), July 23, 1988, p.12.]

The main topic of this correspondence concerns the establishment of a seminary for liturgical studies by a group of five young men aspiring to priesthood. Led by one, Rene Bugnot, they initially elicited the aid of McLoughlin, but apparently later found his assistance intrusive and severed contact with him. There is a passing reference by Bugnot to missing a visit with Msgr. James while the former was in Rome. Manuscript material is filed alphabetically by the title of the work. Particularly noteworthy is the typescript prepared by Rev. Wheeler of Mgsr. James' 'Letters of Spiritual Direction.'


  • 1957 - 1988
  • Majority of material found within 1976 - 1984

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

Monsignor Bruno Scott James, a remarkable and somewhat eccentric English Catholic priest, is perhaps best described by his friend Right Reverence William Gordon Wheeler (formerly Bishop of Leeds, England): "The vision of this....Priest enveloped in a black cloak, his head shorn, and with a Siamese cat perched on his shoulder, sitting on the steps of the Slipper Chapel and pouring out patristic pearls is a memorable one. He undoubtedly had a great gift of prayer himself and was able to communicate this to others..."

Fr. Bruno, as he was affectionately known, was born in Devonshire, England, in 1906. He received his early education from governesses and at preparatory school. However, ill-health necessitated a return to tutors. It was one such tutor, a clergyman learned in the classics and patristics, who engendered a deep and lasting love for the Church. Subsequently, and much to the dismay of his family, Fr. Bruno did not go on to Oxford University, but entered a monastery run by the Anglican Benedictines at Pershore (later at Nashdom). Under the guidance of the abbot there, Denis Prideaux, Fr. Bruno continued his studies of the early Church Fathers. According to Rev. Wheeler, Fr. Bruno was never quite comfortable in the Church of England, and during a visit to the Slipper Chapel in Walsingham, Fr. Bruno decided to take instruction from the Carthusians at Parkminster and was eventually received into the Catholic Church at Sacred Heart, Hove. Greatly inspired by his experience at Parkminster, Fr. Bruno spent a period of time testing his vocation. He resided first at Downside Abbey, and then in the Certosa of Florence until the breakdown of his health compelled him to become a student again at Beda College, Rome, where he took instruction for the secular priesthood.

After his ordination (1935), he was appointed by the Bishop of Northampton, Dr. Youens, as first administrator of Walsingham with a mandate to establish a shrine at Slipper Chapel. During the period at Slipper Chapel (1935-1943), Fr. Bruno began an apostolate and inspired many seminarians to join him on pilgrimages around the country. When his health again broke down, followed by a series of operations, Fr. Bruno convalesced under the care of the Roche family at their home at Llanarth Court. He was later installed in Stiffkey Hall, bought for him by the Roche family. After this, when Stiffkey began to seem remote from his colleagues, the family arranged a house for Fr. Bruno near Downside Abbey in the village of Stratton-on-the-Fosse. At this time, he came across the recently published book by Morris West, 'The Children of the Sun,' which describes the apostolate of Don Mario Borelli in the slums of Naples. Greatly affected by this, Fr. Bruno left immediately for Naples.

In Naples, Fr. Bruno helped to found the John Henry Newman College, a residence hall for students at the University of Naples. With the help of Cardinal Wright, he took up residence in the Jesuit College in Naples and supported by the Neapolitan Oratory began an apostolate. Over the years, the name of 'Padre Bruno' came to be known and loved; however, with time, his health deteriorated to the extent that eventually Cardinal Wright persuaded him to close Newman College. Fr. Bruno writes of his experience at the college and about its closing in his brief essay entitled, 'What Happened to Collegio Newman?' (see Folder 1:16) After Newman College closed, Fr. Bruno did not leave Italy, for he was soon appointed by Pope Paul VI as canon of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere with the title of monsignor. His new responsibilities required him to reside in Rome much of the time, although he frequently visited his friends in Naples. Failing health finally compelled Msgr. James to relinquish his duties as canon, and he returned to England. He died on March 16, 1984 at age 77, among friends in Brighton. He was buried at his beloved Downside Abbey.

Msgr. James was founder of the Virgil Society. He was also a member of the Bath and Country Club (Bath, England) and of the Travellers Club (London) having travelled widely in Europe, the United States and North Africa. Books by Fr. Bruno include: 'How to Pray and Other Conferences' (1948); 'The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux' (1953); 'The One Thing Necessary' (1954); 'The Life of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux' (1955); 'Seeking God' (1960); and an autobiography, 'Asking for Trouble' (1962).


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Provenance: Gift of Richard Wells, Esq., nephew of Msgr. James, November 1990.

Bruno Scott James Papers
In Progress
Karen O'Connell. Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057