The Revd Katherine Price (2001), in Merton College Chapel

The Revd Katherine Price (2001)

The Reverend Katherine Price has the honour of being the first female Mertonian to be ordained as an Anglican priest. She is now Chaplain of The Queen’s College, Oxford.

Katherine was brought up in the Peak District. She came to Merton in 2001 to study History and was the first person to go to Oxbridge from her school. She immediately felt at home: "I loved the traditions and the beauty of the historic buildings, and the fact that I didn't need wealth or birth to belong here." Because of the sort of community that Merton is, Katherine is still in touch with friends she made in her first term. Oxford is also where she met her husband in the Chapel of Exeter College, where they later married.

Katherine stayed on at Merton for a graduate year to do an MSt in historical research, and then spent five years with a small public sector organisation in Cheshire. Here, she held various policy, guidance and training roles in information rights law.

Most importantly for what she has ended up doing in life, she was baptised in 2008. She was selected for ordination training in 2011 and spent three years at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield in West Yorkshire, living alongside a monastic community.

A curacy at Grimsby Minster followed, before Katherine returned to Oxford in 2017 to become Chaplain of The Queen’s College. As if this and recent motherhood were not enough, she is also undertaking part-time doctoral studies, researching the relationship between the local and universal church in the Anglican Communion and Eastern Orthodoxy.

"Having been brought up an atheist, mine has been a rather rambling spiritual journey," Katherine admits. She wrote about this journey from atheism to ordination in a memoir, I Think It's God Calling: A Vocation Diary (BRF, 2015). This is what she wrote about her first year as a curate:

"Nothing really prepares you for this – for how difficult it is, but also how straightforward. You spend two or three years learning the theory and looking at the way things are done by various churches and clergy. You reflect on it, you discuss it, you think about how you would do it … and then, when your turn comes, you just do it. Not in the way you were taught or the way you’d decided was best; just whatever way they do it here."

And now, for Katherine, ‘here’ is The Queen’s College Chapel. She derives a wry amusement from the fact that there is a certain amount of rivalry with the Merton College Choir. She refuses to be drawn on where her loyalties lie!

Merton & Me

Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch as a student, what was your first impression?

I didn’t think there were places like this in England. I already loved medieval history and medieval architecture, but the place I’d grown up in was built entirely in the industrial revolution. The only old buildings I saw belonged to the church or the National Trust. It hadn’t occurred to me you could actually live in something that old! Also, when we all hung our coats on the pegs outside the hall and I expressed anxiety about leaving my things unattended, I think it was one of the porters who said, “It’s quite safe. Mertonians aren’t thieves!” So I suppose from that point on, the whole College felt like home.

Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?

I think the memory that sticks in other people’s minds about my time at Merton must be the bops! Some of my costumes were infamous… But one of the memories that sums up Merton for me didn’t take place at the College at all, but in Cornwall. The historians were all taken on a reading trip in preparation for finals. Sadly, I could only stay a day due to a family bereavement, but it gave a real insight into why Merton ‘works’ academically: we were there to bond as a group, and to rediscover our love for the subject by reading something new rather than cramming. I believe that was the first year more Mertonians got firsts than 2:1s, and it was definitely not because we had no fun!

Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.

I once sang Gilbert & Sullivan on the Buxton Opera House stage. In a bikini.

What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?

Ha! That’s actually a hilarious question to ask a priest. Clergy come from a more diverse range of educational and professional backgrounds than probably any other job, and most of us start off by trying to run away from our vocation! I remember coming back to Merton for an alumni event ten years after matriculation. Everyone round me had what as students we used to scoff at as ‘money-grabbing jobs’. I had just quit my job to start my second BA. So I see myself more as the one who didn’t achieve a career! Perhaps my advice would be not to have your life all planned out. That’s hard for me because I’m one of life’s planners, but all the best things that have happened to me have been entirely unexpected. God’s plan is always more interesting and exciting than mine!

Describe Merton in three words.

Nothing to prove.

A conversation with The Revd Katherine Price

Katherine recently returned to the Chapel to be interviewed by the College’s Associate – and first female – Chaplain, Revd Dr Melanie Marshall.