Category Archives: Jesuit Martyrs

May 19 – Bl Peter Wright, (1603-1651), SJ, Convert/Revert, Priest & Martyr

Peter Wright was born in Slipton, Northamptonshire, one of twelve children, in a Protestant family. While young, he converted to Catholicism. Peter was still young when his father died. He had to work in a country solicitor’s office at Thrapston in his home area. After spending ten years with the solicitor he enlisted in the English army in the Low Countries, but finding that he did not care for military life, he deserted after a month and went to Brabant.

Having drifted away from his faith in his youth, he visited the English Jesuits in Liège and asked to be reconciled to the Church. He then visited Ghent and for two years attended the college of the Jesuits. In 1629 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Watten. After studying philosophy and then theology at Liège, he was ordained a priest there in 1636 and after a further period at Liège was sent to serve at the English College of St. Omer. From 1638-1644 he served as chaplain to Colonel Sir Henry Gage’s English regiment in the service of Spain, based near Ghent.

When Gage returned to England in the spring of 1644 to aid King Charles I, Wright went with him, first to Oxford and then to the relief of Basing House, the seat of John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester. He administered the sacraments to the dying Gage on January 11, 1645. After this Wright became the marquess’s chaplain, first in Hampshire and later in the London house. Wright was seized there by a band of pursuivants who burst in on Candlemas day, 2 February 1651.

Committed to Newgate, he was brought to trial before Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, sitting with justices Philip Jermyn and Richard Aske and others, at the Old Bailey 14–16 May. Something of the atmosphere of the times should be clear when it is recalled that Charles I had been put on trial and subsequently been executed on January 30, 1649. The evidence at Wright’s trial was provided by the informer Thomas Gage, apostate brother of the late Sir Henry and a renegade Dominican priest. Thomas Gage had met Wright in the years when he was a military chaplain and testified against him. The whole scene, about which numerous details have survived, was little like a modern court of law and bizarre moments included the Parliamentarian Lord Chief Justice rebuking the half-deranged informer for speaking disrespectfully of his Royalist soldier brother.

Wright was condemned under the statute 27 Eliz., c. 2. for being a Catholic priest in England, and sentenced on Saturday May 17 to being hanged, drawn and quartered. His execution at Tyburn, London on a hot Whit Monday, 19 May 1651, took place before over twenty thousand spectators. In the period of the trial and the days after his execution, Wright was if not popular, at least a respected figure in public opinion. The sheriff’s officers also seem to have been relatively well disposed to him and he was allowed to hang until he was dead, being thus spared the agonies of being eviscerated alive.

Protestant Bishop Challoner records: “Having celebrated Mass with great devotion, the time drew near when he was to go down in order for execution. Hearing the knocking at the iron grate, he took it as a summons from Heaven, and cried out:

“I come, sweet Jesus, I come.”

When Fr Wright was called out to the hurdle, he went with so much alacrity and speed that the officers could scarce keep pace with him; then being placed on the hurdle he made a short act of contrition; and in the midst of mutual embraces was absolved by Fr Cheney, and then drawn away to Tyburn through the streets crowded with an innumerable multitude of people. He was drawn on the hurdle more like one sitting than lying down; his head was covered, his countenance smiling, a certain air of majesty, and a courage and cheerfulness in his comportment, which was both surprising and edifying, not only to the Catholics who crowded to ask his benediction, but to the Protestants themselves, as many publicly declared.

Thirteen malefactors were appointed to die with him, to whom the father endeavoured to give seasonable advice for the welfare of their souls, but was continually interrupted by the minister, and therefore desisted, betaking himself to silent prayer, in which he employed about an hour, standing with his eyes shut, his hands joined before his breast, his countenance sweet and amiable, and his whole body without motion as one in deep contemplation. When the minister took occasion to tell him it was not yet too late, and that he might save his life if he would renounce the errors of Popery:

“If I had a thousand lives I would most willingly give them all up in defence of the Catholic religion.” The hangman having fitted the rope to his neck, the confessor made a short speech to the spectators: Gentlemen, this is a short passage to eternity; my time is now short, and I have not much to speak. I was brought hither charged with no other crime but being a priest. I willingly confess I am a priest; I confess I am a Catholic; I confess I am a religious man of the Society of Jesus, or as you call it, a Jesuit. 

This is the cause for which I die; for this alone was I condemned, and for propagating the Catholic faith, which is spread through the whole world, taught through all ages from Christ’s time, and will be taught for all ages to come.

For this cause I most willingly sacrifice my life, and would die a thousand times for the same if it were necessary; and I look upon it my greatest happiness, that my most good God has chosen me most unworthy to this blessed lot, the lot of the saints. This is a grace which so unworthy a sinner could scarce have wished, much less hoped for.

And now I beg of the goodness of my God with all the fervour I am able, and most humbly entreat Him that He would drive from you that are Protestants the darkness of error, and enlighten your minds with the rays of truth. And as for you Catholics, my fellow soldiers and comrades, as many of you as are here I earnestly beseech you to join in prayer for me and with me till my last moment; and when I shall come to Heaven I will do as much for you. God bless you all; I forgive all men. From my heart I bid you all farewell till we meet in a happy eternity.

Having spoken to this effect, he again recollected himself a while in prayer, and then the cart was drawn away, and he was suffered to hang till he quietly expired. His dead body was cut down, beheaded, bowelled, and quartered. His friends were permitted to carry off his head and quarters which were translated to Liege, and there honourably deposited in the college of the English Jesuits. He suffered aged 48, and after 22 years of religious life.”

Love,
Matthew

Jesuit emotion…

-by Professor Yasmin Haskell

“Jorge Mario Bergoglio has chosen the papal name ‘Francis’, which will suggest to most Catholics the founder of the Franciscan order, Francis of Assisi. Pope Francis’ gentle and unassuming style, his poverty – if catching the bus and cooking one’s own meals really qualifies as poverty in the Latin American context … – point to the medieval Italian saint who preached to the common people, and legendarily, to the birds. But Francis was also half the name of one of the Jesuits’ earliest saints, Francis-Xavier (1506-1552), the fervent and restless ‘Apostle to the Indes’, who took Catholic Christianity to India, Japan, and the East Indes in the early modern period, dying of a fever just fourteen kilometres from the shore of mainland China. Perhaps Pope Francis quietly gestures to this sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, too, who has come to represent the global reach of the Catholic Church, and embodies the evangelical zeal for ‘harvesting souls’ which fired so many members of his order in the early modern period.

So who were the Jesuits? The Society or Company of Jesus was a Catholic Reformation order founded in 1540 by Basque nobleman and former soldier, Ignatius of Loyola, and a bunch of his student friends (among them Francis-Xavier). They quickly earned a formidable and paradoxical reputation. The Pope’s crack troops were deployed from Messina to Macao, Paris to Paraguay, recruiting converts, fighting the spread of Protestantism, and educating the élites of Catholic Europe and her New World colonies. They conducted diplomatic business and scientific research, composed music and poetry, and shocked and awed audiences with theatre and pyrotechnics, art and architecture. Jesuits were prepared to die for their beliefs in faraway missions, but they were also accused of being slippery and self-serving. They championed native Indian rights, but enslaved Africans. In their ranks were to be found hard-nosed heretic hunters, as well as defenders of the rights of ‘witches’, and believers in ‘natural magic’. Renowned for their chameleon-like ability to adapt to local circumstances – dressing as mandarins in China or brahmins in India – the proud and powerful ‘black robes’ couldn’t help but stand out on Catholic home turf. Victims of their own success, the Jesuits were hounded out of France, Spain, Portugal, and the New World. The ‘Old’ Society of Jesus was shut down by the Pope in 1773.

The Society of Jesus was restored in 1814 and has regrown to become the single largest order of the Catholic Church. The ‘New’ Society has produced its fair share of arch-conservatives, but also Nazi-resisters, freedom-fighters, and liberation theologians. It retains its former reputation for education and intellectual sophistication: the profile of a twentieth-century polymath such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (philosopher, mathematician, palaeontologist, and evolutionary biologist) would not look out of place alongside those of Athanasius Kircher (speculative vulcanologist, biologist, orientalist …) or Roger Boscovich (poet, physicist, astronomer, diplomat …) in Carlos Sommervogel’s great bio-bibliographical dictionary of the Old Society (Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus).

But the heart has always been just as if not more important than the head in Jesuit theology. Much of the order’s thinking, historically, has gone into questions of how to rouse, channel and discipline the emotions. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises remains to this day the beating heart of the Society of Jesus, anticipating some of the techniques of modern psychotherapy in its guided visualisations; its call for attention to and daily written reckoning of our desires and defects; its rules for ‘discernment of spirits’ (in effect, how to listen to our emotions before making important life choices). In conjuring up in detail the agonies of the Passion, however, not to mention a sense-by-sense experience of the torments of Hell, Ignatius is a world away from modern secular philosophers of emotional well-being and intelligence, and from mental health regimes that seek to eliminate anxiety and depression from our lives. The exercitant of the Spiritual Exercises moves inevitably between states of ‘consolation’ and ‘desolation’ with no more human control over this process than that of preparing him/herself in advance for the next turn of the wheel.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 20 – Bl Dominic Collins, SJ (1566-1602) – Religious & Martyr

Dominic Collins was born in the seaport town of Youghal, in County Cork, Ireland. His family was well established and respected and both his father and brother were mayors of Youghal. It was in the time of Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism was the official religion and Irish Catholics were subjected to persecution from time to time.

Although the situation was not yet critical in Youghal, Dominic felt that he did not have much future in the town. Like many others, he decided to leave Ireland and make a better life in Europe. So at the age of twenty, Collins arrived in France. He had dreams of joining the cavalry but for that he needed a horse so he worked for some time in various hostelries in Brittany, north-west France. Eventually, he was enlisted in the army of the Duke of Mercoeus, who was a member of the Catholic League fighting against the Protestan Huguenots in Brittany. Dominic had a distinguished military career lasting nine years.

He was promoted to captain of the cavalry and later military governor when he managed to recover land from the Huguenots.

Although he had a good pension following his service to the King of Spain, he began to realize that being a soldier was not the future he wanted. In the Lent of 1598, he met an Irish Jesuit, Thomas White, who introduced him to the Jesuit superiors in Salamanca, Spain, after hearing Dominic’s desire to do something better with his life. Although he was now 32 years old, the Jesuit provincial thought it was wise to delay his entrance, perhaps to test the strength of his vocation. There were doubts too about his sufficiently educated to become a priest but he was willing to be a Jesuit brother. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in December 1598. When the Jesuit College was struck by a plague, Dominic tended the victims, nursing some of them back to health and comforting the others in their last hours. A report from that time describes him as a man of sound judgement and great physical strength; mature, prudent and sociable, though inclined to be hot-tempered and obstinate. He was allowed to profess temporary religious vows in the Society in February 1601.

Soon after his profession, an expedition was organized by King Philip III of Spain to assist Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in their attempt at revolt against English rule. Seven months after his profession, Brother Dominic Collins was assigned as companion and assistant to Fr James Archer, an Irish Jesuit who was being sent by the king as chaplain to the expedition. Fr Archer has specifically asked for Collins as his assistant due to his extensive military background.

The two Jesuits sailed in September 1601 on different vessels which became separated during a storm. When Bro Collins finally reached Ireland in December, two months after Fr Archer; Castlehaven in southwestern Cork on 1 December, the main squadron with Fr Archer having reached Kinsale more than two months earlier.

The Irish attacked Kinsale at dawn on Christmas Eve but were defeated. Bro Collins was reunited with Fr Archer in February 1602 and together the two Jesuits proceeded to Dunboy Castle, which the Irish had recently regained. Some months later Bro Collins found himself (Fr Archer had left for Spain to persuade the king to send reinforcements) besieged inside Dunboy Castle with 143 defenders. With the landing on 6 June of huge English forces, Dunboy Castle fortifications began to crumble under the heavy bombardment. Many of the Irish defenders were killed and the Castle surrendered. With the exception of Dominic Collins and two others, all the remaining 77 defenders were executed by hanging in the castle yard.

Dominic was later imprisoned in Cork, tortured for three months, and, despite several offers to spare his life if he would divulge information about Catholics and to renounce his vocation as a Jesuit and join the established Church, he flatly refused. He also rejected the offer of an honorable position in the English army and Protestant offers of ecclesiastical preferment if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Even his own relatives tried persuading him to renounce the faith publicly while inwardly remaining faithful to Catholicism. But this he would not do.

He was finally condemned to death and on 31 October 1602 he was taken to Youghal, his hometown and hanged. Before climbing the scaffold, he spoke to the crowd in Irish, Spanish, and English, saying he was happy to die for his faith. He was so cheerful that an English officer remarked, “He is going to his death as eagerly as I would go to a banquet.” Bro Collins overheard him and replied, “For this cause I would be willing to die not one but a thousand deaths.” So moved was the crowd that the hangman fled and a passing fisherman was forced to do the job.

Blessed Dominic is remembered for his constancy in the faith. Though freedom and advancement were set before him, he chose to “endure the cross, despising its shame” (cf. Heb 12:2).

Dominic’s martyrdom is commemorated in a carving at St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co. Cork. Liturgically his feast is celebrated on 20 June, or 30 October (in the Society of Jesus). Today a Jesuit residence in Dublin is named for him.

Left hanging on the gallows, the rope eventually broke and Dominic’s body fell to the ground. Under cover of darkness, local Catholics took his body away and buried him with respect in a secret place. From that day he was venerated as a martyr in Youghal and his fame quickly spread throughout Ireland and Europe. In the Irish Colleges of Douai and Salamanca the Jesuits showed his portrait and many favors and cures were attributed to his intercession. Although used to the rough life of the army camp, Dominic always kept a strange innocence and gentleness. He is one of the most attractive of all the Irish martyrs.

All powerful and ever-living God, You gave us an example of marvelous courage in the blessed martyrs Dominic and his companions. For the joy that was set before them they endured the cross, despising its shame. Grant by their prayers that, faithful to Your commandments, we may bring forth the fruits of unity and peace.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 4 – Martyrs of Dorchester, (d. 1594), Bls John Cornelius, SJ, Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey, Patrick Salmon – “Oh, Precious Collar!!”

dorset_memorial
-Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester, England

There is a very special communion between the laity and the ordained. Not merely too many calories delivered to rectories at holidays, or generous gifts for Father from time to time; one priest who received a new car famously quipped, “All THIS!!!! AND eternal life, too!!!”

It is recorded, often, in history, when oppressed, persecutors believed by destroying the priesthood, they would succeed in in destroying the faith. Untrue, time and time, again. When Asian missionaries returned, it is recorded, to Far Eastern missions where once they evangelized after several hundred years of absence, the clandestine faith still survived, albeit adapted to life without clergy, but it persisted. It is stronger than that. It always has been. So, “though the mountains fall into the sea”, yet shall we trust in His promises. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.

Persecution in England in the late 17th century was part of a crackdown by the Elizabethan government after the Decree of 1585, which made it an offense punishable by death to seek ordination to the priesthood oversees and return to England. This story, like others just like it, is of Catholic laity and that special communion with the ordained.

John, Thomas, John and Patrick were executed together at Dorchester on July 4, 1594: John Cornelius, who trained for the priesthood at Douai and Rome, was arrested in April; his companions were arrested for assisting him. John became a Jesuit while imprisoned in London. All of them were from Ireland:

Father John Cornelius, their leader, was born in 1557 to Irish parents who had moved to Great Britain. A Dorsetshire Catholic knight, Sir John Arundel, sent him to Oxford University to study. But John was too Catholic in his convictions to be pleased with the “new religion” that dominated the University. Feeling called rather to the Catholic priesthood, he crossed the Channel and enrolled at the English college in Rheims for holy orders. From Rheims he went on to the English College in Rome to complete his theology, and it was at Rome that he was ordained a priest.

Return to England as a Catholic priest was at that time forbidden under pain of death. But Father John, a man of prayer and zeal, saw in that law a challenge rather than a deterrent, as did the rest of the contemporary English priests who set service to persecuted Catholics as their top priority. His assignment was to the Catholics of Dorset. These priests’ ministry was a “cloak-and-dagger” operation, since they were always in danger of discovery and arrest. Their capture could mean also the arrest and punishment of anybody who assisted them.

Naturally, the missionaries’ terms of service were usually short, for the police were alert and aggressive. Cornelius (he also went by the alias of Mohun, although his real surname seems to have been O’Mahony) was finally seized by the sheriff of Dorset on April 24, 1594, at the Chideock Castle of Lady Arundel.

Having seized the priest by surprise, the Sheriff was about to hurry him off hatless. Now, in that hat-conscious age, to be hatless was to appear uncivilized. Thomas Bosgrave, a gallant young Cornish nephew of Sir John Arundel and a witness to the arrest, stepped forward and offered Father John his own hat. “The honor I owe to your function,” he declared, “may not suffer me to see you go bareheaded!” It was a simple gesture of charity to a priest, but he was to pay for his piety. The Sheriff promptly arrested Bosgrave, too, for “aiding” a Catholic clergyman. He likewise arrested two serving-men of this Catholic household, Dubliners John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Content, no doubt, with the day’s work, the county official then led his catch off to jail.

Cornelius, the most important of them, was taken to London to be examined by Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. The Council had him stretched on the rack to force him to name all those who had given him shelter or assistance. Torture would not open his lips, however, so he was sent back to Dorchester for trial, along with the three lay captives. On July 2, the court declared the priest guilty of high treason under the law that forbade Catholic priests to enter England and remain there. Bosgrave, Carey and Salmon were pronounced guilty of felony for aiding and abetting Father John. The sentence was the same for all: hanging, drawing, and quartering.

After the court had published its judgment, it offered all four men a reprieve if they would give up their Catholic faith. All four refused.

The execution took place at Dorchester two days later. The three laymen were hanged first. John Carey is reported to have said as the noose hung before his face, kissing the rope, “Oh! Precious collar!” Each made a Catholic profession of faith before the trap was sprung. Father John then kissed the feet of his hanging companions. He then kissed the gallows with the words of Saint Andrew, “O Cross, long desired.” He was not allowed to make any formal statement; but he did manage to state that he had been lately admitted into the Jesuits, and would have been en route to the Jesuit novitiate in Flanders had he not been arrested.

Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester

The Dorset Martyrs Memorial at Gallows Hill on South Walks, Dorchester was created by Dame Elisabeth Frink and was erected in 1986. It was funded by institutions and individuals of all denominations and the Arts Council of Great Britain through South West Arts.

The memorial represents two martyrs facing Death and commemorates all Dorset men and women who suffered for their faith and, in particular, seven known Catholics who were executed where the Memorial now stands, including —

John Cornelius SJ, Priest, executed 4 July 1594

John Cornelius was born in Bodmin of Irish descent and was sent to Exeter College, Oxford by Sir John Arundell. He was ordained in 1584 at the English College in Rome.

John Cornelius was a Chaplain to the Arundell family at Chideock Castle where he was arrested after a search of the castle and sent to Dorchester to be tried for high treason along with

Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Executed on 4 July 1594, along with Fr Cornelius, SJ.

Thomas Bosgrave was the son of Leonard Bosgrave and the grandson of Sir John Arundell, making him the great-great-grandson of Thomas Gray, 1st Marquis of Dorset and half-brother to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of King Henry VII.

Thomas Bosgrave, together with John Carey and Patrick Salmon, servants at Chideock Castle, was arrested and taken with John Cornelius to Dorchester where they were charged with harbouring a priest contrary to the statute of 1585.

Gallows Hill

dorchester
-please click on the image for a more detailed view

John Speed’s map of Dorchester was published in 1610. It shows the position of the gallows on Gallows Hill on the bottom of the map towards the right,close to the modern junction of Icen Way and South Walks. The gallows was made of two uprights and a crossbeam connecting them with enough space for a two-wheeled cart to pass through and enough space for multiple hangings. At that time the County Gaol wa son High East Street near Icen Way, which used to be called Gaol Lane.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the penalty for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered. The victim was tortured, imprisoned, then taken to the gallows. He or she would be cut down after a short hanging, sometimes still alive, and cruelly butchered, with the limbs being torn from the body. The dismembered corpse was often placed on gateways. This is how John Cornelius, SJ and many more died.

The gallows was removed to Maumbury Rings around 1703, which means that many of the 74 prisoners condemned to death during the ‘Bloody Assize’ following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 will also have been executed there.

Love,
Matthew

Psalm 130 – De Profundis clamavi ad te Domini

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
-Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 70r – De Profundis, the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

For 800 yrs Dominicans have lined the hallways of their priories, where they have buried their dead, and sung the De Profundis, in remembrance. Very moving to experience. I also have the pleasure of owning and having read Fr. Ciszek’s, SJ, book He Leadeth Me.

Profound sinner though I am, I pray, Lord, if it be Your holy will, allow me the privilege and grace to suffer and die for You!! Better yet, let me despise my many sins, and live instead in faithfulness to You and Your will. Amen.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!
Out of the depths, I cry to You, O Lord!

philip_nolan
-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“After years of interrogation at the hands of the Soviet secret police, the American Jesuit Walter Ciszek reached a breaking point. He had been falsely accused of spying for the Vatican and was subjected to isolation and near starvation. As he records in his autobiographical account He Leadeth Me, under this strain his prayer life and mental stability both collapsed in a moment of despair: “I knew that I had gone beyond all bounds, had crossed over the brink into a fit of blackness I had never known before.” The cause of this crisis? He had always conceived of his “role—man’s role—in the divine economy as an active one,” but now, brought to destitution & desolation, he hadn’t the strength to go on. Thus for “one sickening split second,” he gave up on his life and on his salvation.

He came out of this experience only after being stripped of all trust in his own strength: “I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong.” He discovered that he had to see that every action, every impulse, was a moment for cooperation with the directive love of God.

While Ciszek came to understand what it meant to rely on God’s grace through extraordinary suffering, it’s something we all have to learn. And for all of us, it involves suffering—primarily, the suffering of dying to self. How do we let go of that trust in ourselves that makes us so defensive when challenged, so worried when we’re uncertain about the future, and so frustrated when things don’t go according to our plans? So much of our mental and spiritual energy goes into protecting that center of false self-reliance that its removal seems impossible for us. And, for man, it is impossible.

The psalmist tells God, “It was good for me to be afflicted / to learn Your will.” That’s fairly easy to say in a moment of contentment, but if someone told that to me during the miseries of the stomach flu, let alone in a Soviet prison camp, I’d find it much harder to believe. But notice that the psalmist says it was good—he’s reflecting on the past. He didn’t necessarily see or appreciate the point of afflictions while they happened, but in retrospect he can begin to see why God had allowed the difficulties in his life. His understanding came from a habit of reflecting about what had happened to him, what God had allowed. [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

I’m reminded of the title character in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. She spends much of the book musing: “I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do.” It sounds like a simple question, but the very phrasing of it implies a deep insight—things happen. Like the psalmist and Ciszek, Lila, too, had suffered. She had known what it was to be powerless. She had lived a childhood that would have been disorienting and traumatizing to the steadiest disposition. If someone told her she was the maker of her own destiny, it would have sounded a farce to her. As a result, she lives a posture towards her own life that is one of wonder—“I just been wondering”—even if it’s a wonder that is often confused and frightened.

Things happen to us and we don’t know why. We don’t create our lives; we haven’t chosen many of their events. We both participate in the story of our lives and observe them. As we live, and suffer, we have the opportunity again and again to wonder and ponder why things happen the way they do. Over time, we can hope with Ciszek “to see [God’s] will in all things, … to accept every situation and circumstance and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust.” [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

Love & trusting in the the Divine Will. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!!
Matthew

Dec 26 – St Noel Chabanel, SJ, (1613-1649): Priest & Martyr, “resist your temptation to put down your Cross”

St_Noel_Charbanel_SJ

When making the Stations of the Cross, particularly in stations 3, 7, 9, where Jesus falls, I meditate on this truth most fully. Why not stay down? The release of not carrying the full weight must be welcome, but the fall hurt, too. The Roman soldiers will beat Him to death where He lay if He does not move. He still has His most important work to do, as do we. Jesus, help me rise as You did, when I fall from the exhaustion, horror, and great burden of my own crosses. I have work to do, Lord. Be my help, my strength, and my salvation.

The Jesuit priest St. Noel Chabanel, SJ was one of the North American Martyrs; he worked among the Huron Indians with St. Charles Garnier. Missionaries often become very sympathetic toward those to whom they minister, but this was not the case for Fr. Noel; he felt a strong repugnance for the Indians and their customs. This, along with difficulty in learning their language and similar challenges, caused him a lasting sense of sadness and spiritual suffocation. How did he respond? By making a solemn vow never to give up or to leave his assignment — a vow that he kept until the day of his martyrdom.

-by PETER AMBROSIE

A CALL TO COURAGE

“I am going where obedience calls me, but whether I stay there or receive permission from my superior to return to the mission where I belong, I must serve God faithfully until death.” These, perhaps his last recorded words, Rev. Noel Chabanel, SJ spoke on the very day of his death, Dec. 8, 1649 to the Fathers in charge of St. Matthias mission among the Petuns. They give us the measure of this unique Martyr and Saint. Mere Marie de l’Incarnation in a letter to her son dated Aug.30, 1650 said of him, “Whatever may be, he died in the act of obedience.”

What kind of man was Noel Chabanel? From the viewpoint of the length, intensity and success of their missionary activities the eight North American Martyrs fall into two groups: the “big four” and the “little four.” Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and Jogues belong to the first class; Lalemant, Goupil, de la Lande and Noel Chabanel, to the second. The “little four” suffer by contrast with the herculean labors of the “big four.” But all of them equally shed their blood in witness to Christ and His message.

EARLY YEARS

Noel Chabanel was the youngest of the priests and the last of the band of eight to suffer martyrdom in the new world. His birthplace in south-eastern France, the village of Saugues about a hundred miles northwest of the port of Marseilles, nestled in hill country which was the source of four rivers, the Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhone. Here on the banks of the Lozere, a tributary of the Loire, Chabanel was born on Feb. 2, 1613, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady. His father, a notary, and his mother sprung from merchant stock, raised their four children, Pierre, Claude, Antoinette and Noel, the youngest, in comfort, yet in the firmness of the traditional Catholic upbringing of early 17th century France.

Though the details of his boyhood are somewhat scanty, we know that Noel was first educated in the basic humanities in the Chapter school in Saugues and then as a teenager in higher studies at an unknown college. His brother Pierre entered the Society of Jesus in 1623 and Noel, just past seventeen years old, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Toulouse on Feb. 8, 1630. After a two years novitiate and his first vows he taught rhetoric quite successfully in the college of that city from 1632-1639.

From 1639 to 1641 he did his studies in theology there, followed by his Tertianship, a third probationary year, still in Toulouse, 1641-1642. In 1641 he was ordained a priest. His years of training ended in a classroom teaching rhetoric again, this time at the college of Rodez The Jesuit catalogue for the Province of Toulouse leaves this pointed portrait of Chabanel: “Serious by nature – energetic – great stability -better than average intelligence.”

BIRTH OF A MISSIONARY

During his twelve years as a Jesuit the young Society of Jesus knew its golden age in France, multiplying into five Provinces or territorial divisions between the years 1545 and 1616. Jesuit foreign missionary activity, too, spread east, west and south. From the famous Jesuit Rela-tions Noel learned of the heroic work of his fellow Jesuits in New France. In the seventeenth century sophisticated France was thrilled with the tales graphically written each year by the Jesuits in New France. These were the Jesuit Relations – one of the world’s most famous records of adventure, history and heroic sanctity, unique be-cause they were history written on the spot in the hour of its making.

Especially during his Tertianship the tiny flame of his ambition to become a missionary fanned into a fierce desire. In the words of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, “God gave him a strong vocation for this country.” Twice he wrote to the General of the Society of Jesus in Rome, Mutius Vitelleschi. The first time requesting that his studies be curtailed and that he be sent immediately to answer the urgent call for missionaries in New France. The reply of the General on November 15, 1642, though negative, left the door open. Finally on April 4, 1643 his obedient patience was rewarded when a reply from the General to his second letter allowed him to leave for New France.

On May 8,1643 Noel’s dream became a reality. As he stood aboard-ship in the port of Dieppe, this young priest, thirty years old, looked west across the Atlantic with its bright promise of adventure for Christ. Little did he suspect how strange, how mysterious, how demanding the adventure in New France was to be for a sensitive young man raised and schooled in the comparative comfort, shelter and luxury of old France.

With Noel travelled two Jesuits, Gabriel Druillet and Leonard Garreau, a native of Limoges of the Province of Aquitaine. Could Noel suspect that Father Garreau would be the last Jesuit he would see and confide in, on the eve of his death?

ARRIVAL IN QUEBEC

The perilous crossing of the Atlantic in the early 17th century with its many hazards has often been described in the Jesuit Relations. This was Noel’s special introduction to the new world and a presage of what was in store for him. After a three months’ voyage they landed in the settlement of Quebec on August 15. Ironically, the Relation of that year records that his confreres in Quebec were overjoyed at the arrival of “three worthy workers, Religious of our Society, and very apt for the language.” The life of Chabanel was to prove how unprophetic these words were to be for him! For, of the five Jesuit Martyrs killed in Canada, Noel was the only one who had no flair for the native languages.

INSECURITY OF THE FRENCH SETTLEMENTS

The picture in New France was anything but bright the past year. 1642 was a year of great crisis for the missionaries in Huronia. The Huron mission had been cut off from Quebec by the Iroquois blockade. No flotilla of Huron canoes had come down to Quebec for the yearly trade. By the same token no provisions had made their way back to the isolated mission in Huronia. Finally in the summer of 1642 Isaac Jogues, a veteran of six years in the Huron missions, was picked to break through the blockade for desperately needed supplies. Miraculously he made the journey to Quebec after thirty-five days canoeing. On his return trip to Sainte-Marie Jogues and Rene’ Goupil were am-bushed and taken captive into Iroquois territory, where Goupil, sur-geon and saint, suffered martyrdom on September 29,1642, the first of the band of eight to die a martyr. Even the inhabitants of Quebec, Three Rivers and the recently founded settlement of Ville Marie (Montreal) did not escape the cruel and daring raids of the prowling Iroquois. It was during this period of fear and uncertainty that Noel landed in Quebec. Although warmly welcomed by his Jesuit brothers -and this compensated somewhat for the crude conditions he found – he could feel the atmosphere of danger, fear and insecurity.

A highlight of Noel’s winter stay in Quebec was meeting the senior veteran missionary, Rev. Jean de Brebeuf,SJ who had left Huronia in 1641 suffering from a broken left clavicle sustained while on a mission among the Neutrals. In Quebec during his recuperation period Brebeuf served as procurator or supplier for the Huron mission. Because of the hazard of journeying that fall of 1643 to the Huron mission, Noel Chabanel had to stay in Quebec that winter getting his first initiation of missionary work in and around the settlement. Like all newly arrived blackrobes, his ignorance of the difficult Indian languages – so different from his polished French – would curtail his initial apostolate among the native people. So Father Noel would do chaplain duty at the Ursuline Convent and work with the colonists and soldiers of the little settlement.

HURONIA BOUND -1644

When the ice went out of the St. Lawrence in the spring of 1644, Father Bressani made a desperate attempt to carry aid to the isolated Fathers in distant Huronia. He and his party were ambushed and taken captive by the lurking Iroquois. In late spring a few christian Hurons managed to arrive in Quebec from Huronia with word of the dire needs of the blackrobes there. On their return trip after trading they too were seized by the enemy. Finally, Governor Montmagny decided to send an armed escort of a score of French soldiers to Sainte-Marie, the black-robe missionary centre on the Wye River in Huronia. So in midsummer of 1644 Fathers Brebeuf, Chabanel and Garreau left Quebec in an attempt to reach Huronia.

ARRIVAL AT STE-MARIE AMONG THE HURONS

The treacherous northern water route via the Ottawa was another cruel initiation for Noel. The party reached the Residence of Ste-Marie on the Wye on September 7, 1644. Almost at once Noel Chabanel took up the study of the Huron language. For the next five years of his life Chabanel’s world was to be encompassed by his life at Ste-Marie and a few missionary excursions, working first with Jean de Brebeuf and finally with Charles Garnier.

Here at Ste-Marie, face to face with the harsh realities of the coun-try, Noel’s zeal was spurred when he met the veteran missionaries of Huronia. From time to time they returned from their mission outposts to Ste-Marie which served as their base of operations, their council chamber, their refuge and place of recollection, their haven for spiritual and social comfort.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

The Relation for this year informs us that Noel was destined at first to work with the nomadic Algonkins who were resident in the Huron dis-trict. After a winter’s hard work at learning the Indian language he came to a shocking realization. Try as he would, he could not master the intricate Indian tongue. Paul Ragueneau, his superior at Ste-Marie, best describes this tragedy. “Once here, even after three, four, five years of study of the Indian language, he made such little progress that he could hardly be understood even in the most ordinary conversation. This was no small mortification for a man burning with the desire to convert the Indians. Besides, it was particularly painful, for his memory had always been good, as were his other talents, which was proven by his years of satisfactory teaching of rhetoric in France.”

In one of the most touching documents of the Jesuit Relations, Ragueneau gives a poignant picture of the struggles of this heroic man who wrote of himself as a “bloodless martyr in the shadow of martyrdom.” To make matters worse his tastes were so delicate and sensitive that he found everything about the Indian customs and culture crude, foreign, even revolting. One would think that this is more than enough suffering for one man to bear. But there is more. “When in addition God withdraws His visible graces, and remains hidden, although a person sighs for Him alone and when He leaves the soul a prey to sadness, disgust and natural aversions; these are trials which are greater than ordinary virtue can bear.” Certain it is that, without the strength of God which Chabanel incessantly prayed for, his courage would have broken under the severe strain.

For five frightful years Chabanel had to endure this desolating martyrdom. During this agony Noel saw Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and others of his brothers competent and successful at their work. Here he was, frustrated before he could begin, denied the one essential tool for success – the ability to communicate with his native flock. Perhaps, though, the most bitter pill of all was the scorn and ridicule the natives heaped on him for his courageous but abortive attempts to speak their language – this, even from the children! He seemed easy prey to the subtle temptation assailing him again and again to leave this primitive country and return to France where there was plenty of work more suited to his character and talents.

Yet, Noel, though severely tested, refused to come down from the cross on which God had placed him. In fact to bind himself more irrevocably to his cross he made a vow to remain on it for life. The Relation of 1650 preserves for us the wording of this vow which he pronounced at Ste-Marie on June 20, 1647 on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is worth quoting in full as it reveals the steely quality of this person who, though sensitive by nature, by God’s grace persevered to the bitter end.

“My Lord, Jesus Christ, Who, by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to cooperate with the designs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversion of these Hurons to the faith; I, Noel Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of Your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the Testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron Mission; it being understood that all this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen.”

That heroic vow won for Chabanel, in this life, strength to endure every hardship, and, on the day of the canonization of the Martyrs, the distinction of standing as an equal beside those whom he regarded as his superiors. As Christ did in His passion, Noel repeated in his life the struggle against the powers of darkness, a struggle sustained only through persevering prayer.

Despite his crucifixion of loneliness and discouragement, with the support of his superior, Father Ragueneau, and his spiritual guide, Father Pierre Chastelain, Noel carried on, day by day, as best he could, serving in whatever way he could, but always in a secondary role, in the shadow of his more successful brother missionaries. While residing at Ste-Marie, 1644 to 1645, Chabanel found innumerable tasks to keep him busy, ministering to the many needs in the European residence and the Indian compound. Was a companion needed to go to one of the missionary stations? To help in the Indian hospital, to baptize, to assist the dying, to catechize the children? Chabanel was always ready to do his humble best.

OSSOSSANE’, MISSION OF LA CONCEPTION

In 1646 Noel was sent to the mission of the Immaculate Conception at Ossossane’, called La Rochelle by the French, on Nottawasaga Bay south west of Ste-Marie. So Christian was this Huron village that it was called the “believing village” by the natives. In three years time, 1649, from this village some three hundred Huron warriors were to put up a courageous last ditch stand against a thousand Iroquois before they were eventually wiped out at the village of St. Louis. Working here under Simon le Moyne, Chabanel found a model mission well advanced in Christianity. Besides, he could visit from time to time his “oasis of peace,” Ste-Marie, a short distance away where he could consult with his spiritual adviser, Pierre Chastelain, SJ.

On Oct. 21,1646 Noel pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit, promising before Paul Ragueneau the superior his “perpetual obedience in the Society of Jesus.” While Chabanel was making his spiritual immolation to his Lord, unknown to him and his brothers, a mere two days before in New York State Isaac Jogues and John de la Lande had already offered their life’s blood to the same Christ Noel was serving in a bloodless martyrdom. Only too soon the shadow of the cross which had already enveloped three martyrs of that glorious band of eight would reach into Huronia to claim yet five more victims for the sacrifice.

During his stay at Ossossane’ Noel met Charles Garnier on his way to establish a new mission, the farthest outpost, among the Petun nation about fifty miles south west of Ste-Marie. Little did Noel think that one day he would join Garnier in that mission and finally gain the coveted palm of martyrdom for which he longed and of which he deemed himself so unworthy.

BACK TO STE-MARIE

In the spring of 1647, he was recalled to Ste-Marie to help with the stream of Huron refugees who fled there panic stricken from the invading Iroquois. It was while here in June that he made his annual retreat and pronounced his heroic vow of stability in the Canadian mission. Though he did not possess the gift of the Huron tongue as did Brebeuf, though he did not have the charm to attract the Indians as did Garnier and Daniel, Noel asked but the grace to persevere till death as a helper of these holy missionaries.

From 1647 to 1648 Chabanel humbly and obediently carried out his appointed tasks both at Ste-Marie and in the various mission villages dependent on Ste-Marie. That year of 1648 the shadow of the Iroquois menace darkened the skies of Huronia. The enemy were closing in taking first the outlying missions. On July 4th, tragedy struck closer to home base. Teanaostaiae, the mission of St. Joseph, eleven miles south east of Ste-Marie was seized and destroyed by the Iroquois. Anthony Daniel, its amiable pastor fell defending his flock. Panic spread throughout Huronia. St. Ignace I, because of the Iroquois danger was moved closer to Ste-Marie about six miles to the east on the Sturgeon River. Brebeuf was the master builder of St. Ignace II and was put in charge of this station along with its sister mission, St. Louis, half way between the new St. Ignace II and Ste-Marie. He asked for missionary help. Father Ragueneau sent him Noel Chabanel.

AT ST. IGNACE II

In the autumn of 1648 Noel left Ste-Marie to join Brebeuf at St. Ignace. He worked with Brebeuf until February, 1649, considering it a great privilege to be associated with this giant so courageous by nature and so endowed by grace. There was work to be done that fall and winter to put the finishing touches to St. Ignace II. The weeks flew by. In February, 1649, Father Chabanel was replaced by the frail and delicate Gabriel Lalemant, a novice of but a few months in Huronia. Chabanel, more robust in health was needed in the hardy mission of the Petuns, St. Jean, to the south west near modern Stayner, to help Charles Garnier. Accustomed by now to these quick changes Noe~~l left for his new mission post on February 17, sad to leave Bre’beuf, but without a murmur.

As Noel took his last leave of Ste-Marie, his final farewell to Father Chastelain betrayed a premonition of martyrdom. “This time I hope to give myself to God once and for all and to belong to Him entirely.” Shortly after, Chastelain remarked to a friend, “I have just been deeply moved. That good Father spoke to me with the look and voice of a victim offering up his sacrifice. I do not know what God has in store for him, but I can see that He wants him to be a great saint.”

ST. JEAN AMONG THE PETUNS

Hardly had Noel spent a month at his new post when the shocking news reached him that the Iroquois had attacked and ravaged St. Ignace and St. Louis on March 16. Both Brebeuf and Noel’s replacement Gabriel Lalemant, were martyred. In a touching letter to his Jesuit brother, Pierre, Noel wrote betraying his wistful yearning: “Father Gabriel Lalemant. . . had replaced me at the village of St. Louis just a month before his death, while I, being stronger, was sent to a more distant and more difficult mission, but one not so fertile in palms and crowns as the one for which my laxity rendered me unworthy before God.” Robbed of the martyrdom he coveted when it was within his grasp! Surely this was the supreme test of his complete obedience to God’s pleasure. But no, a second time this was to happen, and soon!

COLLAPSE OF HURONIA

Tragedy and complete collapse came to Huronja that fatal year, 1649. With village after village pillaged by the Iroquois, with the total breakdown of Huron morale, with the mass hysteria and exodus of the Hurons from Huronia, the Jesuit missionaries came to a painful decision: without a flock what purpose was there in their staying! On May 15, Ste-Marie, the work of ten years, was abandoned and deliberately destroyed by the missionaries themselves. They and the remnant of their sheep resettled temporarily on St. Joseph (Christian Island). The new home was called Ste-Marie II.

All fall of 1649 Chabanel labored among the Petuns with Charles Garnier at St. Jean. On December 5th., he again received orders from his superiors, this time to leave St. Jean and make his way to Christian Island. There were two reasons for this decision: first, the extreme famine conditions among the Petuns, and secondly, his superiors felt they should not expose two missionaries in this dangerous outpost..

Obedience was by now second nature to Chabanel. He bade farewell to Garnier on December 5th., and immediately headed north towards Christian Island. Two days later he feared that St. Jean had fallen to the Iroquois and that Garnier had won a martyr’s crown. A second time was Chabanel cheated of martyrdom! But this time he was not to be denied for long.

The day following Garnier’s death, December 8th., Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Noel Chabanel’s life of “bloodless martyrdom” ended in a martyrdom of blood.

INITIAL MYSTERY SURROUNDING NOEL’S DEATH

At first the details of Noel’s disappearance were vague and uncertain. But thanks to the painstaking care and precision of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, we are now able to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to Noel’s martyrdom. There are two accounts of Noel’s death written by Ragueneau. The first, in the 1650 Relation, written shortly after Noel’s disappearance, recounts his death but reveals no knowledge of the motives for the slaying. Only months later did the real story come to Ragueneau. This more accurate information was the basis of his second account.

THE FIRST ACCOUNT

The first account as given by Ragueneau in the 1650 Relation goes as follows. On Dec. 5th., 1649 Noel, as ordered, left St. Jean to proceed to Christian Island. On his way north he stopped at the village of St. Matthias, a Petun mission where two Fathers, Greslon and Garreau were stationed. It was here Noel spoke his last recorded words to Father Garreau who had sailed to New France with him six years previously. On the morning of Dec. 7th., he left them accompanied by seven or eight christian Hurons. After covering a distance of six long leagues over difficult wintry roads night came upon them. While his companions slept, Noel remained awake to pray. Suddenly the silence of the night was pierced by shouts and noises. Some of these came from the victorious Iroquois who had ravaged St. Jean; some came from the prisoners taken there. Noel quickly awakened his companions who immediately scattered in flight leaving Chabanel alone. The Christians who had escaped from danger reached the Petun nation and reported that Noel tried to follow them, but when he could no longer keep up with them, fell on his knees saying: “What difference does it make if I die or not? This life does not count for much. The Iroquois cannot snatch the happiness of heaven from me.”

At daybreak (December 8th.) Chabanel continued north towards his destination, Christian Island. (From this point on the testimony becomes garbled and untrustworthy, as Ragueneau suspected and was to confirm later.) One of the Hurons said he saw Father Chabanel standing on the bank of a river which lay across his path (the Notta-was aga). This witness added that he had passed Chabanel in his canoe and that he saw Noel throw away his coat, sack and blanket in order to expedite his escape. Ragueneau remarks, “Since that time we have not been able to get news of the Father. We cannot be sure how he died.” He then gives three possibilities: Noel fell into the hands of the enemy who killed him; perhaps he lost his way and died of hunger and cold; or, more probably, he was killed by the Huron who was the last to see him. This man had been a Christian and had since become an apostate who was quite capable of killing Noel to rob him of his little possessions.

Ragueneau concludes his first account by saying that he felt it wiser in this time of public calamity to stifle their suspicions – their only concern being the service of God. Prudent, sober man that he was, he strongly doubted the testimony of this apostate Huron who was known to be no angel.

THE SECOND ACCOUNT

Now for the second, more informed account, of Chabanel’s death, written in 1652 from Quebec. This is found in an autograph note of Paul Ragueneau, appended to the precious MS of 1652, and affirmed under oath. This testimony clears up the first obscurity of Noel’s death. Ragueneau testifies that he obtained from most trustworthy witnesses the following details. The Huron apostate named Louis Honareenhax finally publicly confessed, and even bragged that he had killed Father Noel with a hatchet blow and thrown his body in the half frozen Nottawasaga river, out of hatred for the faith.

For, ever since he and his family had embraced the faith, all kinds of misfortunes had befallen them. These he blamed on Chabanel and in his superstition believed he had rid his people of a menace. It was also a known fact that Louis had been a trouble maker and had previously tried to stir up his tribesmen to get rid of Chabanel and Garnier.

This clear testimony made under oath by a man of Ragueneau’s integrity leaves no doubt as to the real slayer of Noel and the true motivation for his crime, namely out of hatred for the faith on which he blamed all his troubles. Ragueneau himself was certain his friend Chabanel had died a martyr.

EPILOGUE

Thanks to Raguencau the long silence shrouding the greatness of Noel Chabanel has been broken.

Only in the twentieth century is Noel Chabanel’s poignant life and unique martyrdom coming to be appreciated. Like the life of the suffering Christ he served so faithfully, Noel’s life seemed one of apparent failure. Noel Chabanel is the silent hero of the hard trail, a patron of misfits, patron of the lonely, disappointed and abandoned, the patron of all square pegs in round holes. In the official picture (iconography) of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, the closed book in his hand is a grim symbol of his life.

Because of Noel’s heroic obedience to and generous acceptance of God’s will, God, Who is never outdone in generosity, rewarded him with the glory of martyrdom. Like his Master, Noel died as he lived, a lonely man, a man in the shadows. Somewhere along the snow-covered path by the Nottawasaga river, Noel’s grim trail merged into the green pastures of eternity. He was struck down in the dark night by an apostate Huron’s tomahawk and his body thrown into the Nottawasaga River. There perhaps somewhere along its murky bottom lie the bodily remains of this unique man. And so at the age of thirty-six years, nineteen as a Jesuit, five as a Huron missionary, Noel Chabanel, one of the “little four” merited to be crowned a martyr and saint alongside the “big four.”

Our modern world, shocked with the rapidity of constant change, needs more saints of the calibre of Noel Chabanel.

Noel Chabanel, obedient throughout life, persisted obedient unto death because he was a man of unshakable faith and persevering prayer, a man, therefore, who refused to quit in the face of overwhelming odds. The call to faith is a call to obedience, a call to adjust to the new and trying situations God is continually moving man into, a call to resist the powers of darkness that subtly tempt man to come down from the cross of his human condition.”

Saint Noël Chabanel, whose heart burned with the desire to sacrifice all for the glory and honor of God, obtain for me a right appreciation of the trials and sufferings of this life.

Let not disappointments discourage me nor crosses weigh me down, so that strengthened by the example of your heroic constancy and perseverance in the service of God on earth, I may some day share your reward in heaven. Amen.

jesuit_martyrs_na
(-please click on the image for greater detail)

Love,
Matthew

Mar 5 – Bls André de Soveral, SJ, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, and Twenty-eight Companions, (d. 1645), Martyrs

brazil protomartyrs

brazil2

“I will praise you, O God my Savior; I will give thanks to Your Name, for You have been … my helper and have delivered my body” (Sir 51: 1-2).

The two episodes of the martyrdom of Bl. Andre de Soveral, Bl Ambrosio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions occurred in this context. In Rio Grande do Norte there were only two parishes: Our Lady of the Presentation in Natal, of which Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro was parish priest, and Our Lady of the Purification in Cunhau, directed by Fr Andre de Soveral. These two parish communities were victims of harsh religious persecution by the Calvinists.

Bl. Andre de Soveral was born around 1572 in Sao Vicente, Brazil, the principal town on the island of Santos. He most likely studied at Children of Jesus College in his home town and it is there that his Jesuit vocation began. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1593 and made his novitiate in Bahia. After studying Latin and moral theology and learning the Indios’ language, he was sent to the College of Olinda, a catechetical centre for the Indios throughout the region. He had his first missionary experience in Rio Grande do Norte in 1606 among the Potiguar Indios. On that occasion he entered a native village headed by an indigenous woman, Antonia Potiguara, whom he converted and baptized along with other Indios, and blessed her marriage. By 1614 he was parish priest of Cunhau and a member of the diocesan clergy.

The martyrdom of Fr Andre Fr Ambrosio and their faithful parishioners occurred on different days but in the same historical context. The first took place at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in Cunhau. On Sunday, 16 July 1645, Fr Andre de Soveral had gathered for Mass about 69 of the faithful, mostly farmers and workers employed in Cunhau’s sugar cane factory.

The Dutch sent one of their emissaries to Cunhau, an unscrupulous and cruel German named Jakob Rabe, who presented himself as the envoy of the Supreme Dutch Council of Recife, saying that he would communicate its orders at the end of Mass. But this was merely a pretext, for after the consecration a band of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Indios, burst into the chapel, blocked the exits and ferociously attacked the defenseless faithful. Fr Andre realized the gravity of the situation and interrupted Mass to urge the faithful to prepare for death. Although he had told the tyrants not to touch the minister of God and the sacred vessels, he was killed by an axe hurled at him by an Indio.

The second episode of martyrdom occurred on the banks of the Uruaqu River, about 20 kilometres from Natal, on 3 October 1645. Here the victims were the city’s parishioners, led by their parish priest, Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro. Terrorized by the bloodshed that had occurred at Cunhau, the Catholics of Natal took refuge in several places, but in vain. The Dutch authorities forced them to go to a pre-arranged site where they were awaited by soldiers and a group of 200 Indios. Many of the faithful were tortured with their priest in various ways until they died. The chroniclers of the time describe the means of torture: their limbs were severed, their heads cut off; they were burned, their eyes, tongues and noses were torn off. A child was pinned to a tree trunk and another sliced in half with a sword. Mateus Moreira had his heart ripped out through his back, as he cried: “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”. Those martyred include 27 Brazilians, one Portuguese, one Spaniard and one Frenchman.

Homily of John Paul II, Mar 5, 2000, In Celebration of Brazil’s Quincentennial of Catholic Faith

“You, Lord, have been my helper! I hear these words from the Book of Sirach echoing in my heart as I contemplate the wonders God has wrought in the lives of these brothers and sisters in the faith who have won the palm of martyrdom. Today I have the joy of raising them to the glory of the altars, presenting them to the Church and to the world as a shining witness to God’s power in the frailty of the human person.

You, Lord, have delivered me! This is the cry of André de Soveral, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions, diocesan priests, lay men and women…

Yes, the Almighty was their powerful help in their time of trial and now they are experiencing the joy of eternal reward. Although these humble servants of the Gospel, whose names are for ever written in heaven, lived in different historical periods and in very diverse cultural contexts, they are linked by an identical experience of fidelity to Christ and to the Church. They are united by the same unconditional trust in the Lord and the same deep passion for the Gospel.

I will praise you, O God my Saviour! With their lives offered for the cause of Christ, these new blesseds, the first of the Jubilee Year, proclaim that God is “Father” (cf. ibid., v. 10), God is “protector” and “helper” (cf. v.2); he is our Saviour who listens to the appeals of those who trust in Him with all their heart (cf. v. 11).

2. These are the sentiments that fill our hearts as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of Brazil, which occurs this year. In this immense country, the implanting of the Gospel encountered many difficulties. The Church’s presence was gradually strengthened through the missionary activity of various orders and religious congregations and by priests of the diocesan clergy. The martyrs beatified today came, at the end of the 17th century, from the communities of Cunhaú and Uruaçu in Rio Grande do Norte. Fr André de Soveral, Fr Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 lay companions belong to this generation of martyrs who watered their homeland, making it fertile for a generation of new Christians. They are the first fruits of the missionary work, the protomartyrs of Brazil. One of these, Mateus Moreira, had his heart ripped out through his back while he was still alive, and yet he had the strength to proclaim his faith in the Eucharist, saying:  “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”…

7. “Fear not, therefore” (Mt 10: 31). This is Christ’s invitation. It is also the exhortation of the new blesseds, who remained steadfast in their love of God and of their brothers and sisters, even in the midst of trial. This invitation comes to us as an encouragement in the Jubilee Year, a time for conversion and profound spiritual renewal. Let us not be afraid of trials and difficulties; may we not be hindered by obstacles from making courageous decisions consistent with the Gospel!

What do we have to fear, if Christ is with us? Why doubt, if we remain on Christ’s side and accept the commitment and responsibility of being his disciples? May the celebration of the Jubilee strengthen our determination to follow the Gospel. The new blesseds are an example to us and they offer us their help.

May Mary, Queen of Martyrs, who at the foot of the Cross shared fully in her Son’s sacrifice, sustain us in courageously bearing witness to our faith!”

-from http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20000305_beatifications.html

Love,
Matthew

Apr 7 – Blessed Edward Oldcorne, SJ, (1561-1606), Priest & Martyr

after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608
after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608

Edward Oldcorne was born in York, England of a non-Catholic father and a Catholic mother. He gave up medical studies and enrolled at the English College in Rheims, France in 1581 before going on to Rome to complete his studies and was ordained. Soon after, he joined the Society of Jesus and was allowed to complete his novitiate in a very short time because of the difficult conditions he would face upon his return to England.

Fr Oldcorne stayed with Fr Garnet, the superior of the English Jesuits upon arrival but after a few months he was assigned to Hinlip Hall outside Worcester where he was to spend sixteen years. The master of Hinlip Hall was an ardent Catholic who was in prison and had left the property in the care of his sister, Dorothy, a Protestant who had been at the court of Elizabeth. While priests still found hospitality in Hinlip Hall, she merely tolerated their presence. Many priests had tried to reconcile her to the Church without success. It was left to Fr Oldcorne to find the way. She listened to his instructions and sermons, unconvinced; but when she learned that he had been fasting for days to bring about her conversion, she finally yielded to God’s grace and her conversion led many others in Worcester to return to the faith of their ancestors. The Hall became the Jesuit’s base of operations where many came to seek the sacraments and hear Fr Oldcorne’s preaching. His health was poor ever since he returned to England and he had throat cancer that left him with a hoarse and painful voice, but did not keep him from preaching. His cancer was healed following a pilgrimage to St Winifred’s shrine in 1591.

Catholics in England were looking forward to the end of persecution when Queen Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne in 1603 as he had promised to be more tolerant, but in fact, the persecution increased. This angered some Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the king’s visit on Nov 5, 1605. The plot was discovered and with that the hatred for Catholics intensified. The government was determined to implicate the Jesuits in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” despite the capture of the men behind it. The Jesuit superior Fr Garnet decided to leave London and seek shelter at the Hall, which had more hiding places than any other mansion in England. Bro Nicholas Owen, the person who constructed all the priest-hiding places was with him and they joined Frs Oldcorne and Ashley.

The sheriff of Worcestershire and 100 of his men arrived at the Hall and spent several days searching for priests together with a certain Humphrey Littleton who betrayed Fr Oldcorne. The sheriff stationed a man in each room of the house and ordered others to tap on the walls in the hope of locating concealed priest-holes. By the end of the third day they found eleven such hiding places, but no priests, On the fourth day, starvation and thirst forced Br Ashley and Br Owen to emerge from their hole. Some say the religiously professed brothers real motive was to surrender themselves, focus attention on themselves and their capture, and distract the persecutors long enough for Frs Oldcorne and Garnet to escape.  They had hoped the sheriff would think that he had finally caught his prey and end the search, leaving the two priests in safety. But the sheriff was determined and his men continued their close examination of the house. Finally on the eighth day, Jan 27, 1606 Frs Oldcorne and Garnet were discovered when they emerged white, ill and weak. All four were taken to the Tower of London.

When the prison officials failed in their efforts to eavesdrop and record any conversation which could link the two priests to the Gunpowder plot, Fr Oldcorne was tortured on the rack five hours a day for five consecutive days. Yet he refused to say anything. When they were put on trial, Fr Oldcorne denied the charge of being involved so well that the charge against him was changed to simply being a Jesuit priest. On this new charge, Fr Oldcorne was found guilty and ordered to be executed. Just before he was hanged, his betrayer asked for pardon, which Fr Oldcorne readily granted, and he also prayed for the king, his accusers and the judge and jury who condemned him. He was pushed from the ladder and was cut down before he was dead and then beheaded and quartered.

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-Edward Oldcorne; Nicholas Owen, by Gaspar Bouttats, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 12:48 am
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=22875

Eye relic of the Blessed Edward Oldcorne

Martyr’s eye returns to Worcester for school anniversary celebrations

“Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College in Worcestershire, UK will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this month with Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Birmingham and the veneration of a relic of the Jesuit martyr after whom the college is named – his right eye! The college is also planning to erect a memorial plaque on the site of his execution and to publish a history of the school… It is said that the force of the executioner’s blow was so extreme when he was decapitated that one of his eyes flew out of its socket. It has since been preserved in a silver casket and kept at Stonyhurst College.”

Blessed Lent!

Love,
Matthew

Feb 1 – St Henry Morse, SJ, (1595-1645) – Priest & Martyr

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Henry Morse, born in Brome, Suffolk, England, in 1595, was raised a Protestant. He enrolled as a law student in London’s Inns of Court. While there, however, he became increasingly dissatisfied with the established religion and more convinced of the truth of the Catholic faith.

Crossing the English Channel, he went to Douai, France, which was then an English Catholic center. Once received into the Church, he decided to study for the priesthood, and made his studies first at Douai, then at the English College in Rome, as Douai had too many students. Although ordained in Rome as a secular priest, he secured permission from the Father General of the Jesuits to be admitted to the Society of Jesus once he got back to England.

Father Morse had scarcely landed in Britain and been accepted as a Jesuit candidate when he was arrested and imprisoned in York Castle.   Upon arrival at a port in England, he was asked by the English port authorities to take the oath of allegiance acknowledging the king’s supremacy in religious matters. The recent convert resolutely refused and was arrested and imprisoned for four years and was released in 1618 when the king decided to get rid of hundreds of religious dissenters by banishing them to France.  He was ordained in 1623.

He had not yet had time to make the novitiate required of those who aspired to Jesuit vows. Providentially, however, he found another Jesuit imprisoned in York Castle. This Father Robinson supervised his novitiate in prison! Therefore, when his three-year term was up, he emerged a full-fledged junior member of the Society.

Banished to the Continent on his release, Father Morse spent some time as a chaplain to English soldiers who served the King of Spain in the Low Countries. Then in 1633 he returned to England secretly, using the name “Cuthbert Claxton,” and he spent the next four years ministering in London.

Now, in 1636-1637 the dread “Black Plague” again became epidemic in London. Morse was kept doubly busy taking care of bodies as well as souls. He made up a list of 400 infected families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whom he regularly visited. He himself caught the disease three times, but each time he recovered. His zeal and thoughtfulness were deeply appreciated and nearly 100 families on his list eventually asked to be reconciled to the Catholic Church.

Unfortunately, the police also learned about Morse’s activities, and arrested him on February 27, 1636. The charges were that he was a priest and that he had “perverted” several hundred of “His Majesty’s Protestant subjects.” Put on trial, he was acquitted of the second charge but not of the first. However, he was bailed out through the intervention of Charles I’s Catholic wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. Then, in 1641, the king was forced to decree the exile of all Catholic priests. Father Henry, unwilling to embarrass his bail bondsmen, returned to Flanders and resumed his work as chaplain of the English soldiers there.

In 1643 Father Morse’s Jesuit superiors sent him back to the mission, this time in northern England, where he was less known.  He accidentally walked into a group of soldiers late one night who suspected he was a priest.  He was arrested and held overnight in the home of a local official.  He escaped with the aid of the Catholic wife of one of his captors.  He enjoyed freedom for 6 weeks but one day he and his guide lost their way in the countryside and innocently knocked on the door of a house to ask for directions. The man who answered was one of the soldiers who had recently apprehended him and remembered him well and there would be no fifth escape.  Tried once more, he was sentenced to death in accord with the law that forbade exiled priests to return to Britain.  He was visited in prison by the ambassadors of other Catholic countries.

On the day of his execution, February 1, 1645, Father Morse was able to celebrate Mass. Then four horses were harnessed to the wicker hurdle on which he was dragged to the gallows that stood on Tyburn Hill. As usual, there was a crowd of the curious on hand to see the show. But also in attendance, to pay their respects, were the French ambassador and his suite, the Spanish and Portuguese ambassadors, and the Flemish Count of Egmont.

As was customary, the condemned priest was allowed to make some final remarks. “I am come hither to die for my religion……I have a secret which highly concerns His Majesty and Parliament to know. The kingdom of England will never be truly blessed until it returns to the Catholic faith and its subjects are all united in one belief under the Bishop of Rome.” He ended by saying: “I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this kingdom.” Then he said his prayers and asked that the cap be pulled over his eyes; beat his breast 3 times, giving the signal to a priest in the crowd to impart absolution. He then said: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” After he was dead his body was torn open, his heart removed, his entrails burned and body quartered. In accordance with the custom that followed executions, his head was exposed on London Bridge and his quartered body was mounted on the city’s four gates.

Egmont and the French ambassador had their retainers dip handkerchiefs in the martyr’s blood. Later on, these relics were the occasion of cures.

San Enrique Morse

St. Henry Morse, pray that we may be as resilient and resolute in our duty to serve the King of the Universe as you were while you were here on earth, and beset by the injustices of your day and age. Pray that our priests will serve Our King as you have done. Pray that we too will serve the King, and our brethren, with such charity, tenacity, and fortitude, as labor in spreading the Good News while we wait in joyful hope for the coming of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Sep 7 – Bls John Duckett & Ralph Corby, SJ, (d. 1644), Priests & Martyrs

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John Duckett was an Englishman, who may have been the grandson of the martyr Bl James Duckett. Father John studied at the English college of Douay in France and became a priest in 1639. He studied for three more years in Paris, spending several hours each day in prayer.  He spent two months with the Cistercian monks, offering that time to God in prayer and retreat before he was sent back to his persecuted England.

The young priest worked hard for a year teaching people about the Catholic faith in England, but one day when he was on his way to baptize two children, he was caught with the holy oils and book of rites.  When his captors threatened harm to his family and friends if he did not tell them who he was, he admitted that he was a priest. He was immediately taken to prison in London.

There he met a Jesuit priest, Ralph Corby. Father Corby had worked in England for twelve years before they caught him celebrating Mass one day.  The Jesuit order tried hard to save Father Corby. When the Jesuits finally obtained his pardon, he insisted that Father John Duckett, who was younger, be set free instead of him. But Father John refused to leave without his friend.

“Assuredly this man dies for a good cause.” – Blessed John’s jailers as they saw the way he dealt with his sentence.

“I fear not death, nor do I condemn not life.  If life were my lot, I would endure it patiently; but if death, I shall receive it joyfully, for that Christ is my life, and death is my gain.  Never since my receiving of Holy Orders did I so much fear death as I did life, and now, when it approacheth, can I faint?”
-from Bl John Duckett’s final letter, written the night before his execution.

At his execution, Father Duckett told a Protestant minister who stood ready to lecture him, “Sir, I come not hither to be taught my faith, but to die for the profession of it.”

Then on September 7, 1644, at ten o’clock, the two priests were taken to Tyburn, to be executed. Their heads were shaved and they wore their cassocks. Each made a short speech, then embraced each other. Their next meeting would be before the King of Kings and Judge of Judges; their shared, same Master.

Bl John’s hand and some of his clothing were recovered as relics, but they had to be hidden, and their hiding place has been lost.

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-Bl John Duckett’s Cross, marking the spot where he was arrested

Love,
Matthew