The Society had its genesis in the Korean Missionary Brotherhood, a theological college set up by Kelly in 1891 to train young men with no money and no special education for missionary work in Korea and central Africa.
At Michaelmas, 1892, the name changed to the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) and Michaelmas has remained a celebratory day for SSM ever since.
The Principles, drafted by Kelly in the same year, express SSM’s ethos, and the Constitution, drafted in 1894, provides the structure. Revised and modernised over the years, the Constitution stands as the basic document regulating members’ relations with one another and the Church at large.
From the beginning, Kelly intended a worldwide SSM presence, calling out ‘a whole mass of enthusiasm and devotion of all kinds, wherever it might be found for all purposes’.
Different to any other theological training of the time, SSM was based on Kelly’s ideal of God-centred devotion. ‘The religious life is just that—devotion organised as a system.’
SSM started with three novices and over its life it was responsible for training 3500 men for the priesthood, serving in Korea, Africa, England, Australia and Japan.
SSM began working in Australia in 1912, when SSM-trained priests began serving in North Queensland.
In 1947 a theological college was established at St Michael’s House in the Adelaide Hills.
In 1978, SSM accepted responsibility for St John’s in Halifax Street, with St Michael’s House continuing as a house of prayer and study. Tragically, the house was destroyed in the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983.
A monastery at Diggers Rest in Victoria, established in the late 1970s, closed in recent times.
With the destruction of St Michael’s House, SSM changed from the ordination of priests to adopting a more public theology. It has established collaborations with the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture and the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology.
SSM’s three provinces—United Kingdom, Southern Africa and Australia—are autonomous, but closely linked.
SSM membership comprises members who have been professed; other members who join fully in the life of SSM but are not professed; and companions who associate with SSM and become part of its life and work.
In Australia, SSM is based in South Australia and Ballarat in Victoria.
The object of SSM is expressed in its motto: Ad gloriam dei in eius voluntate (To the glory of God in the doing of his will).