St Edmund Campion

1540 – 1581

A leader in the English underground church, pursued by priest hunters

Edmund Campion was born on the 24th January 1540. In 1564, he received a Master’s degree from St John’s College, Oxford,  and in 1568 was ordained as an Anglican deacon.

Between 1569 and 1571, while living in Ireland, he subsequently travelled to Douai, France, to become a Catholic in secret. Campion next went to Rome, where he became a Jesuit. Pioneering the English Mission, he arrived in London in June 1580 disguised as a jewel merchant. His preaching caught the authorities’ attention, who believed his mission to be political and treasonous. Nevertheless, he managed to minister to Catholics in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lancashire.

The hunt for Campion intensified following the publication of his ‘Ten Reasons’, which questioned the validity of the Anglican church. He was captured in July 1581 and, following imprisonment and torture, was convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. The day of his execution at Tyburn was 1st December 1581. He was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. His feast day is the day of his execution, 1st December.

St Robert Southwell

1561 – 1595

A poet of Shakespeare’s generation and a clandestine missionary in Elizabethan England

Robert Southwell was born around 1561 in Horsham St Faith and grew up in a family of Norfolk gentry. From the age of fourteen, he studied in France and became a Jesuit in Rome in 1580. After ordination in 1584, he served as prefect of studies in the English College in Rome.

Two years later he was sent, at his own request, to England where he secretly went from one Catholic family to another.  In 1589 he became the domestic chaplain to Lady Ann Dacre, whose husband, Philip Howard, was then imprisoned for his faith, and would remain so until his death in October 1595.

Robert Southwell is widely known for his poetry, which was admired by writers such as Ben Johnson, and influenced playwrights and poets such as William Shakespeare and John Donne. Southwell was arrested after six years of missionary work and was held in prison for more than three years, suffering severe deprivation and repeated torture. He was executed at Tyburn on 21st February 1595 and was canonised in 1970. His feast day is the 21st February.

‘My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard.
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.’

Robert Southwell SJ, New Heaven, New War

John Gerard

1564 - 1637

The Jesuit who escaped from the Tower of London

John Gerard became a Jesuit at the age of twenty-three, in Rome, August 1588. Having already studied at the Jesuit College in Clermont, he was sent almost immediately back to England. For six years he undertook a clandestine mission, bringing more than twenty influential families back to the Catholic faith and preaching the Spiritual Exercises.

John Gerard was captured in 1594 and sent to the Tower of London where he was tortured, fruitlessly, to reveal the headquarters of Henry Garnet, the Jesuit superior in England. In 1597, he made a daring escape from the Tower; one of very few to do so successfully. He was later implicated in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot because he had ministered to several of the plotters but managed to escape to the continent, disguised as a servant of the Spanish Ambassador.

At the request of his superiors, he wrote his autobiography, which described his years in England and Wales in thrilling and captivating detail. This manuscript was translated in the 20th century by Philip Caraman, and is still in print titled ‘The Autobiography of an Elizabethan’, or  ‘The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest.’ After a decade as a spiritual father, he died in the Roman College on 27th July 1637.

St John Ogilvie

1579 - 1615

The martyr of the Scottish reformation

John Ogilvie was born in Scotland in 1579, the son of Sir Walter Ogilvie of Drum-na-Keith, Banffshire, and raised a Calvinist. He was sent abroad to further his education and converted to the Catholic faith. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Vienna in 1599 and was ordained a Jesuit priest in Paris in 1610.

After some time spent teaching in Rouen, he travelled as a missionary to Scotland, where he arrived disguised as a horse dealer in 1613. Within a year he was betrayed and arrested in Glasgow. He spent many months in prison undergoing torture and defiantly refusing to denounce the pope’s supremacy. On 10th March 1615, he was tried for high treason, found guilty and executed at Glasgow Cross. His body was buried in an unmarked grave. In refusing to accept that the King could dictate one’s religious beliefs, and giving his life for this cause, he became a Catholic martyr and a hero for religious tolerance.

In 1929, he was beatified after a miracle was attributed to his intercession and he was declared a saint in 1976. He is Scotland’s only martyr of the reformation period.

Venerable Mary Ward

1585 - 1645

Founder of the ‘English Ladies’, imprisoned as a 'heretic, rebel, and schismatic'

Mary Ward was born on 23rd January 1585, the daughter of Yorkshire recusants. She believed that women had a vital role to play in the Church and society, teaching that ‘there is no such difference between men and women, that women may not do great things!' Ward believed herself called to start a religious order for women modelled on the mobility and missionary focus of the Jesuits while remaining independent from them. She worked among Catholics in England, despite this being illegal.

She was condemned to death in London but fled across the English Channel in 1609 with a group of companions. Known as ‘The English Ladies’, she and her sisters founded communities and schools across Europe, in contradiction to the Council of Trent's insistence that religious women be strictly enclosed.

Mary Ward repeatedly attempted to persuade the Pope of the validity of their ministry, even walking over the Alps to Rome in the middle of the Thirty Years War and outbreaks of plague, to present her plan to him. Despite her attempts, Mary was imprisoned as a 'heretic, rebel, and schismatic'. Nevertheless, she and her companions continued to establish free schools for the poor, nursed the sick and visited prisoners. When she died in York in 1645 during the English Civil War, she was surrounded by her few remaining companions, who maintained the dream of an unenclosed apostolic order for women. Her work revived and developed gradually, but it was not until 1909 that she was formally recognised by the Holy See as the foundress of the two religious institutes.

On 19 December 2009, Pope Benedict XVI declared Mary Ward to be Venerable and the Cause for her beatification was opened. The Congregation of Jesus and the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as Loreto Sisters, continue today, with members living under the full Constitutions of the Society of Jesus.

St Philip Evans

1645 - 1678

A Welsh martyr of the Society of Jesus

Philip Evans was born in Monmouth in 1645 and was educated at St Omer’s College. He joined the Society of Jesus in Watten on 7th September 1665 and was ordained a Jesuit priest at Liège, Belgium. He was sent to South Wales as a missionary in 1675, where he worked for four years.

Despite the official anti-Catholic policy, no action was taken against him until 1678 when the Kingdoms of England and Scotland became gripped in anti-Catholic hysteria created by the ‘Popish Plot’, a supposed Catholic conspiracy to kill King Charles II. In November of that year, John Arnold, a justice of the peace and priest-hunter, offered a reward of £200 for his capture. He was arrested in Glamorgan on 4th December 1678 and was executed in 1679.

St Philip Evans is known as one of the six Welsh martyrs, the Welsh martyrs within the forty martyrs of England and Wales, who were all made saints together 25th October 1970 by Pope Paul VI.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

1844 - 1889

One of the great poets of the Victorian age

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born on 28th July 1844 in East London. He attended Cholmeley Grammar School, Highgate, showing a gift for art, literature, and music from his early years. While a student at Balliol College, Oxford, he was received into the Catholic Church by St John Henry Newman. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at Roehampton in September 1868. Ordained in 1877, he became a teacher at Mount St Mary’s, Chesterfield. His work as a minister and teacher took him to London, Oxford, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Stonyhurst College. It was during his time in the rural tranquillity of St Beuno's that he found most encouragement and inspiration for the poetry for which he is now famous.

In 1884 he was appointed to a fellowship at the Royal University in Dublin where he taught and examined in Latin and Greek. He died of typhoid fever in June 1889 aged just 44.

Encouraged by his Superiors, Hopkins continued to write music and verse and to sketch, throughout much of his life, but his creativity remained something of a concern for him as he felt it prevented him from wholly devoting himself to God. It was only after his death when his friend, Robert Bridges the Poet Laureate, published a volume of Hopkins’ work, that his genius began to be recognised. His experimental explorations in the structure of verse, and his use of imagery, established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse. There is a plaque in his memory in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.’

Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur

Bernard Vaughan

1847 - 1922

A friend of all ‘from dukes to dockers’ - and the King!

Bernard Vaughan was born in 1847 to a prominent recusant family in Herefordshire. Five of his eight brothers were ordained, including Herbert Vaughan, later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. He became a Jesuit in 1866.

He spent twenty years at Holy Name Church in Manchester, serving in a number of roles and significantly beautifying the church. In 1895, he gained fame through delivering a series of popular but controversial lectures on the Claims of the Catholic Church. He was friends with everyone ‘from dukes to dockers’, including King Edward VII, who once said to him “Fr Vaughan, you tell me things no one else dare tell me, and I like you for it”.  

When Fr Vaughan moved to Mount Street in London in 1901, he would say “My home is in Manchester though my present address is in London”. Here in 1906-7, he delivered his famous sermons on the Sins of Society, of which a newspaper remarked, “it is difficult to estimate the effect of this astounding course of sermons”. There followed high profile but gruelling speaking tours to China, Japan, Canada and the USA. He died in 1922.

Charles Plater

1875 - 1921

A priest who brought spirituality and the retreat experience to everyone

Charles Plater was born in Mortlake in September 1875, educated at Stonyhurst, and entered the Jesuit novitiate in Roehampton in 1894, where he was ordained in 1910. Although a talented classicist, he devoted his intellect to the study of industrial economics and the pursuit of social justice through education.

Inspired by the retreat-work he witnessed during his travels in Europe, he was determined to popularise retreats for working people and to promote social study in general. The Catholic Social Movement brought people together to enrich their spiritual lives and to encourage social reform.  While Rector of Oxford (later Campion Hall), Plater travelled all over Britain, giving retreats, delivering lectures, forming study classes and social guilds for working people and wounded ex-servicemen. In 1920, he travelled to Malta for health reasons and, ignoring advice to rest, he founded the Leo Union, which sought to educate, inform, and raise the morale of the working-classes.

When Plater died in Malta in January 1921, aged 45, he was honoured in the press: “in the field of social action his death is an irreparable loss.. [he was a] remarkable priest, a pioneer in many movements.” He was honoured nine months after his death by the foundation of the Catholic Workers’ College in Oxford, which was renamed Plater College in 1965.

Clifford Howell

1902 - 1981

A World War II chaplain with a gift for bringing the Mass to life

Clifford Howell was born in 1902 in Birmingham and joined the novitiate aged 17. He studied Chemistry at Imperial College. He was a talented composer and conductor who played many instruments.

While serving as an army chaplain in France and India during the Second World War, Fr Howell began to use the Dialogue Mass, encouraging the participation of his flock. Back in England, he was a pioneer in explaining the liturgy to the faithful and encouraging participation pre-Vatican II. He wrote extensively on the subject in influential and accessible articles. His book, The Work of our Redemption, sold out four editions at home and in the USA.

He presented his famous Liturgical Weeks, which combined doctrine and practice, all over the English speaking world, sometimes in opposition to traditionalists. As liturgy adviser to one of the Vatican II delegates, he was in a position to produce the English translation of the Constitution simultaneously with its promulgation by the Council in 1963.  In 1979, the Archbishops of England and Wales acknowledged his achievements: “You will always hold an honoured place in any account of liturgical renewal in English speaking countries”. He died in 1981.