Saints Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell

Today’s feast (December 1st) commemorates 10 saints and 18 blesseds, all Jesuits of England or Wales, who were martyred on their native soil between 1573 and 1679, a time of fierce persecution of the Catholic Church. Two of the best known in the group are Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell.

Edmund Campion was born in London, England, on 24 January 1540, the son of a bookseller. His Catholic parents later became Protestant. Campion received his early education at Christ’s Hospital. As the best of London’s scholars, he was chosen to represent them in making a laudatory oration when Queen Mary visited the city. He won a scholarship to St. John’s College in Oxford University, where he became a Junior Fellow in 1557. In 1564, on graduating, he took the Oath of Supremacy (recognising the queen as head of the English Church). When Sir Thomas White, the founder of the college, was buried in 1567, it was Campion who was asked to give the Latin oration.
Two years later he formally welcomed Queen Elizabeth to the university and she was very impressed by him. He was chosen to lead a public debate of scholars in the queen’s presence. By the time the queen left the university, Campion had the patronage of the powerful William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester, tipped to be the future husband of the young Queen. He was ordained a deacon in the Church of England and people were even speaking of him as a future Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England, now cut off from Rome.

The more he studied to be an Anglican priest, the more convinced he became that truth was with the Catholic Church. He moved to Dublin, Ireland, in 1569 in the hope of finding a less hostile environment. He helped found a university (later Trinity College) and wrote a History of Ireland, later incorporated in much altered form in Holinshed’s Chronicle (1587). But Dublin showed an anti-Catholic bias that brought him back to London. In June 1571 he left England for Douai in Belgium. Here the recently established English College was training seminarians to work in England. He rejoined the Catholic Church and was ordained subdeacon in 1573. In the same year he went to Rome with the intention of joining the Jesuits and, within a month, was accepted. As the Jesuits had not yet an English Province he joined the Austrian Province and went to Prague and Brno for his novitiate. After taking his first vows and being ordained priest in 1578, he remained in Prague expecting to spend the rest of his life there. He impressed people with his powers of oratory.
The situation changed radically when the Jesuit Superior General decided to set up a Jesuit mission in England. At the suggestion of Dr. (later Cardinal) Allen, Edmund Campion and Robert Persons were chosen. Campion set out from Rome in 1580, visited Charles Borromeo at Milan, and successfully landed at Dover disguised as a jewel merchant.
During a short stay in London, Campion wrote his famous manifesto which came to be known as “Campion’s Brag”. He described his mission as one “of free cost to preach the Gospel, to minister the Sacraments, to instruct the simple, to reform sinners, to confute errors; in brief to cry alarm spiritual against foul vice and proud ignorance, wherewith many of my dear countrymen are abused”.
Widely distributed, it became a rallying point for Catholics. Campion now kept constantly on the move in different parts of England, not staying more than one or two nights in any place preaching, hearing confessions and celebrating Mass. A book addressed to the academic world, entitled Rationes decem ("Ten Reasons"), to prove the truth of Catholicism and the falsity of Protestantism was printed by the end of June 1581. Many of the 400 copies printed were left on the benches of Oxford’s University Church of St. Mary (a church later made famous by another convert, Cardinal Newman).
In July he left London and stayed with a family in Berkshire. Unfortunately a professional priest-hunter was in the congregation pretending to be Catholic. But when the authorities came back to arrest him they could not find him. After another search, they found Campion with two other priests in a hiding hole in the house. On 22 July they were taken to the Tower of London. Campion’s cell was so small he could neither stand nor lie down. Even Queen Elizabeth wanted to save him and he was summoned into her presence. In spite of great promises of high position if he defected, he declined and was returned to the Tower. A few days later he was put on the rack. Four discussions with Anglican theologians got nowhere and it was finally decided he should be executed. As being a Catholic priest was not enough to justify the death penalty, Campion and the other priests were charged with a conspiracy against the queen by exhorting foreigners to invade the country. During their trial Campion told the court: “In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors, all the ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England. . . posterity’s judgment is not liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.”
They were found guilty of high treason and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered. The full sentence passed upon those convicted of high treason up to 1870 was as follows : “That you be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution where you shall be hanged by the neck and being (still) alive cut down, your privy members shall be cut off and your bowels taken out and burned before you, your head severed from your body and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of at the King’s pleasure.” On hearing the verdict, the priests sang the Te Deum.
Campion with Alexander Briant and Ralph Sherwin, a diocesan priest, were dragged through the streets of London. On reaching the place of execution at Tyburn, Campion’s cart was driven from under him leaving him hanging. While still alive, he was cut down, his heart and intestines removed and then his body cut up. The date was 1 December 1581 and Campion was 41 years old.
As one commentator has said: “By his death was lost a brilliant thinker and literary stylist comparable to any in the Elizabethan age, one who might have contributed no less effectively to his cause by the spoken and written word than by heroic suffering.”
He was canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Robert Southwell was born at Horsham St Faith in Norfolk, England in 1561, the son of Sir Robert Southwell. Robert at first resisted the pressures to join the Church of England but later conformed. In May 1576 he enrolled in the English College at Douai, Flanders and later studied in Paris where he met the Jesuit Thomas Darbyshire. He expressed a desire to join the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) at the age of 17 but was considered too young. Then, not unlike Stanislaus Kostka, he walked all the way to Rome and was accepted in 1578. He was made Prefect of Studies at the English College in Rome and ordained priest in 1584.

He was then assigned to the mission in England and left Rome on 8 May 1586 with Fr Henry Garnet. To avoid capture, they landed on a secluded stretch of the English coast. Southwell was assigned to work in and about London. He spent his seven years there first with the Vaux family and then with Anne Dacres, Countess of Arundel, whose husband Sir Philip Howard was imprisoned in the Tower for his fidelity to the Catholic faith. Southwell’s ministry involved visiting prison and helping priests who had recently arrived in England. When Henry Garnet came to London, Southwell was able to visit places outside London. He worked with Garnet on a secret press that issued catechisms and religious books.
After six fruitful years, Southwell was finally betrayed. Anne Bellamy, a Catholic, had been put in prison for refusing to attend a Protestant service. There she was made pregnant by the notorious priest-hunter, Richard Topcliffe. He promised to marry her if she would cooperate in setting a trap for Southwell. Southwell was caught and arrested at Uxenden in Middlesex. Topcliffe regarded Southwell as his greatest catch. In Topcliffe’s house next to the Gatehouse Prison, Southwell was subjected to several days of extreme torture but refused to reveal the names of Catholics or priests after 13 periods of torture. Finally he was thrown among poor prisoners in Newgate Prison. His father was allowed to visit him and was horrified at the sight of his son. He asked Queen Elizabeth to treat him as a gentleman – release him or execute him. Southwell was moved to better conditions in the Tower but denied visitors. Here he spent two and half years and expressed his deepest feelings in writing that was later published as St Peter’s Complaint.

He was finally brought to trial on 20 February 1595 at Westminster Hall. He admitted being a Catholic priest but denied the charges of plots against the queen. Found guilty of high treason by a packed jury, he was executed the very next day. On the three-hour journey to Tyburn he was dragged through the streets. Because the hanging noose was not properly tied, he did not die when the cart was pulled away from under him. The hangman mercifully hung on to his feet to end the agony. The he was beheaded and quartered. He died on 21 February 1595 at 34 years of age.
The event shocked both the royal court and the country. Like his fellow-Jesuit Campion, he had a particularly keen intelligence and sensitive personality. He was a distinguished writer both of prose and lyric poetry. His most famous works include: An Epistle of Comfort (letters addressed to Philip Howard), An Humble Supplication to Her Majestie (an exposure of the Babington Plot), Mary Magdalen’s Funeral Tears (1594), A short Rule of Good Life (published posthumously in 1598) and A Fourfold Meditation (1606). His best known poems are The Burning Babe and St. Peter’s Complaint (a long narrative of the Life of Christ). Works which feature in any serious anthology of English literature.
A portrait in crayon, based on a lost oil painting, survives at the Jesuit Stonyhurst College in Lancashire.
He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
These 28 martyrs are revered for their fidelity to the Catholic Church and their zeal in working for their fellow persecuted Catholics.


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St Joseph Pignatelli, Priest and Religious, SJ

Commentary on St. Joseph Pignatelli, S.J.

Joseph Pignatelli was born of a Spanish mother and a father who was an Italian noble in 1737. He lived in the family palace in Saragossa (Zaragoza) in north-eastern Spain, about half way between Madrid and Barcelona. When his mother died in 1743, his father moved the family to Naples. Four years later his father died.  In 1749, at the age of 12, he returned to Saragossa and went to the Jesuit College there.  He lived in the Jesuit community house.

On 8 May 1752 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona, south of Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast, and went through the normal formation programme of philosophy and theology. He was ordained a priest the week before Christmas 1762 and spent the next four-and-a-half years in Saragossa doing ordinary pastoral work, including teaching grammar to young boys and visiting the local prison ministering to prisoners awaiting execution.

The hidden life of an ordinary teacher changed suddenly when, on 3 April 1767, King Charles III of Spain expelled the Jesuits from his territory and seized their property. Overnight, 5,000 Jesuits lost everything and were left without a roof over their heads.  Joseph might have used his aristocratic background to stay on in Spain but he chose to go with his Jesuit brothers into exile.

The elderly superior at Saragossa, anticipating the difficulties ahead, passed his authority to the 30-year-old Joseph.  On arriving in Tarragona, the Saragossa Jesuits found other Jesuits also waiting to be deported.  Among them was the provincial superior, who also passed his authority on to Joseph, in effect making him superior of 600 or so Jesuits.

A fleet of 13 ships were needed to carry the Jesuits exiles to Italy.  However, they were not permitted to land at Civita Vecchia on Italy’s west coast nor at Bastia, a port in Corsica.  They were finally able to come ashore at Bonifacio, at the southern tip of Corsica.  They were only able to stay there for a year when France acquired the island from Genoa in September 1768 (thus making a Frenchman of its most famous inhabitant, Napoleon Bonaparte!).  Crowded into ships, the Jesuits were brought to Genoa and then had a 500 km trek to Ferrara in the Papal States.  It was a difficult and tiring journey for those who were elderly or in bad health.  Thanks to Monsignor Francesco Pignatelli, a cousin of Joseph, the Jesuits were welcomed in Ferrara.  But their situation was still precarious because the rulers of Europe were pressuring Pope Clement XIII to suppress the Society everywhere.  He resisted but his successor, Clement XIV, gave in and on 21 July 1773 with his brief Dominus ac Redemptor noster abolished the Society.  Suddenly its 23,000 members were now ex-Jesuits and no longer bound by their vows.

The priests, of course, were still priests but those in formation and the Brothers were now just laymen.  Joseph (now an ex-Jesuit priest) moved to Bologna and from there maintained contact with his brothers scattered in many places.

There was one striking exception to the decree of suppression.  Catherine the Great of Russia had not allowed the papal brief to be promulgated in her territories.  This meant that, technically, the Society of Jesus continued to exist in White Russia.  So Joseph wrote to the Jesuit provincial superior there asking to be re-admitted to the Society.  Then Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, also wanted to have Jesuits in his territory and began negotiating with the Jesuits in Russia.  In 1793, three Jesuits went to set up a Jesuit community in the duchy.  Joseph became a member of this group and on 6 July 1797, at the age of 60, again pronounced his vows as a Jesuit.  Two years later, he became the novice master at Colorno, the only Jesuit novitiate in Western Europe at the time.

On 7 May 1803 the Russian superior named Joseph as provincial superior of Italy, although the Society was still suppressed in most of the country (including the Papal States).  However, this haven was not to last.  When French forces seized the Duchy of Parma in 1804, the Jesuits had to move on to Naples.  This was possible because Pope Pius VIII, by a special letter of 30 July 1804, restored the Society in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  But Joseph was able to stay there for only two years. When Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, took over the Kingdom non-native Jesuits were forced to leave.  In 1806 they were welcomed by Pope Pius VII in Rome where they set up a community at St Pantaleon’s, near the Roman Coliseum, followed soon after by a novitiate in Orvieto. After 40 years of a life in exile, Joseph was full of hope that the Society would be fully restored, even though he might not live to see it.

During the last two years of his life, his health deteriorated and he suffered from haemorrhages, perhaps caused by stomach ulcers.  In October 1811 he was confined to his bed and died peacefully about a month later on 15 November, in his 74th year.  Just three years later, in 1814, Pope Pius VII fully restored the Society of Jesus.

He was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954.

Joseph Pignatelli is remembered for his kindness, humility, gracious manner, as well as for his undaunted courage in keeping his exiled companions united in spirit.  He is, in some respects, almost regarded a second founder of the Order.


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