Archive for the ‘Library of the Faith’ Category.

The History of Advent, by Father Prosper Louis Paschal Gueranger

The name Advent (from the Latin word Adventus, which signifies a Coming) is applied, in the Latin Church, to that period of the year, during which the Church requires the faithful to prepare for the celebration of the Feast of Christmas, the anniversary of the Birth of Jesus Christ. The mystery of that great day had every right to the honour of being prepared for by prayer and works of penance; and, in fact, it is impossible to state, with any certainty, when this season of preparation (which had long been observed before receiving its present name of Advent) was first instituted. It would seem, however, that its observance first began in the West, since it is evident that Advent could not have been looked on as a preparation for the Feast of Christmas, until that Feast was definitively fixed to the twenty-fifth of December: which was only done in the East, towards the close of the fourth century; whereas, it is certain, that the Church of Rome kept the feast on that day at a much earlier period.

We must look upon Advent in two different lights: first, as a time of preparation, properly so called, for the Birth of our Saviour, by works of penance; and secondly, as a series of Ecclesiastical Offices drawn up for the same purpose. We find, as far back as the fifth century, the custom of giving exhortations to the people in order to prepare them for the Feast of Christmas. We have two Sermons of Saint Maximus of Turin on this subject, not to speak of several others, which were formerly attributed to Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine, but which were probably written by Saint Cesarius of Arles. If these documents do not tell us what was the duration and the exercises of this holy season, they at least show us how ancient was the practice of distinguishing the time of Advent by special sermons. Saint Ivo of Chartres, Saint Bernard, and several other Doctors of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, have left us set sermons de Adventu Domini, quite distinct from their Sunday Homilies on the Gospels of that season. In the Capitularia of Charles the Bald, in 846, the Bishops admonish that Prince not to call them away from their churches during Lent or Advent, under pretext of affairs of the State or the necessities of war, seeing that they have special duties to fulfill, and particularly that of preaching during those sacred times.

The oldest document, in which we find the length and exercises of Advent mentioned with anything like clearness, is a passage in the second book of the History of the Franks by Saint Gregory of Tours, where he says that Saint Perpetuus, one of his predecessors, who held that See about the year 480, had decreed a fast three times a week, from the feast of Saint Martin until Christmas. It would be impossible to decide whether Saint Perpetuus, by this regulation, established a new custom, or merely enforced an already existing law. Let us, however, note this interval of forty, or rather of forty-three days, so expressly mentioned, and consecrated to penance, as though it were a second Lent, though less strict and severe than that which precedes Easter.

Later on, we find the ninth canon of the first Council of Macon, held in 582, ordaining that during the same interval, between Saint Martin’s Day and Christmas, the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, should be fasting days, and that the Sacrifice should be celebrated according to The Lenten Rite. Not many years before that, namely in 567, the second Council of Tours had enjoined the monks to fast from the beginning of December till Christmas. This practice of penance soon extended to the whole forty days, even for the laity; and it was commonly called Saint Martin’s Lent. The Capitularia of Charlemagne, in the sixth book, leave us no doubt on the matter; and Rabanus Maurus, in the second book of his Institution of Clerics, bears testimony to this observance. There were even special rejoicings made on Saint Martin’s Feast, just as we see them practised now at the approach of Lent and Easter.

The obligation of observing this Lent, which, though introduced so imperceptibly, had by degrees acquired the force of a sacred law, began to be relaxed, and the forty days from Saint Martin’s Day to Christmas were reduced to four weeks. We have seen that this fast began to be observed first in France; but thence it spread into England, as we find from Venerable Bede’s History; into Italy, as appears from a diploma of Astolphus, King of the Lombards, dated 758; into Germany, Spain, etc, of which the proofs may be seen in the learned work of Dom Martène, On the Ancient Rites of the Church. The first allusion to Advent’s being reduced to four weeks, is to be found in the ninth century, in a letter of Pope Saint Nicholas the First to the Bulgarians. The testimony of Ratherius of Verona, and of Abbo of Fleury, both writers of the tenth century, goes also to prove that, even then, the question of reducing the duration of the Advent fast by one-third was seriously entertained. It is true, that Saint Peter Damian, in the eleventh century, speaks of the Advent fast as still being for forty days; and that Saint Louis, two centuries later, kept it for that length of time; but as far as this holy King is concerned, it is probable that it was only his own devotion which prompted him to this practice.

The discipline of the Churches of the West, after having reduced the time of the Advent fast, so far relented, in a few years, as to change the fast into a simple abstinence; and we even find Councils of the twelfth century, for instance, Selingstadt in 1122, and Avranches in 1172, which seem to require only the clergy to observe this abstinence. The Council of Salisbury, held in 1281, would seem to expect none but monks to keep it. On the other hand, (for the whole subject is very confused, owing, no doubt, to there never having been any uniformity of discipline regarding it in the Western Church,) we find Pope Innocent III, in his letter to the Bishop of Braga, mentioning the custom of fasting during the whole of Advent, as being at that time observed in Rome; and Durandus, in the same thirteenth century, in his Rational on the Divine Offices, tells us that, in France, fasting was uninterruptedly observed during the whole of that holy time.

This much is certain, that, by degrees, the custom of fasting so far fell into disuse, that when, in 1362, Pope Urban the Fifth endeavoured to prevent the total decay of the Advent penance, all he insisted upon was that all the clerics of his court should keep abstinence during Advent, without in any way including others, either clergy or laity, in this law. Saint Charles Borromeo also strove to bring back his people of Milan, to the spirit, if not to the letter, of ancient times. In his fourth Council, he enjoins the parish priests to exhort the faithful to go to communion on the Sundays, at least, of Lent and Advent; and afterwards addressed to the faithful themselves a Pastoral Letter, in which, after having reminded them of the dispositions wherewith they ought to spend this holy time, he strongly urges them to fast on the Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, at least, of each week in Advent. Finally, Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, when Archbishop of Bologna, following these illustrious examples, wrote his eleventh Ecclesiastical Institution for the purpose of exciting in the mind of his diocesans the exalted idea which the Christians of former times bad of the holy season of Advent, and to the removing an erroneous opinion which prevailed in those parts, namely, that Advent only concerned Religious, and not the laity. He shows them, that such an opinion, unless it be limited to the two practices of fasting and abstinence, is strictly speaking, rash and scandalous, since it cannot be denied that, in the laws and usages of the universal Church, there exist special practices, having for their end the preparing the faithful for the great feast of the Birth of Jesus Christ.

The Greek Church still continues to observe the fast of Advent, though with much less rigour than that of Lent. It consists of forty days, beginning with the 14th of November, the day on which this Church keeps the feast of the Apostle Saint Philip. During this entire period, the people abstain from flesh-meat, butter, milk, and eggs; but they are allowed, which they are not during Lent, fish, oil, and wine. Fasting, in its strict sense, is only binding on seven out of the forty days; and the whole period goes under the name of Saint Philip’s Lent. The Greeks justify these relaxations by this distinction; that the Lent before Christmas is, so they say, only an institution of the monks, whereas the Lent before Easter is of Apostolic institution.

But, if the exterior practices of penance which formerly sanctified the season of Advent, have been, in the Western Church, so gradually relaxed as to have become now quite obsolete except in monasteries; the general character of the Liturgy of this holy time has not changed; and it is by their zeal in foil owing its spirit, that the Faithful will prove their earnestness in preparing for Christmas.

The liturgical form of Advent as it now exists in the Roman Church, has gone through certain modifications. Saint Gregory seems to have been the first to draw up the Office for this season, which originally included five Sundays, as is evident from the most ancient Sacramentaries of this great Pope. It even appears probable, and the opinion has been adopted by Amalarius of Metz, Berno of Bichenaw, Dom Martene, and Benedict the Fourteenth, that Saint Gregory originated the ecclesiastical precept of Advent, although the custom of devoting a longer or shorter period to a preparation for Christmas has been observed from time immemorial, and the abstinence and fast of this holy season first began in France. Saint Gregory therefore fixed, for the Churches of the Latin rite, the form of the Office for this Lent-like season, and sanctioned the fast which had been established, granting a certain latitude to the several Churches as to the manner of its observance.

The Sacramentary of Saint Gelasius has neither Mass nor Office of preparation for Christmas; the first we meet with are in the Gregorian Sacramentary, and, as we just observed, these Masses are five in number. It is remarkable that these Sundays were then counted inversely, that is, the nearest to Christmas was called the first Sunday, and so on with the rest. So far back as the ninth and tenth centuries, these Sundays were reduced to four, as we learn from Amalarius, Saint Nicholas the First, Berno of Richenaw, Ratherius of Verona, etc, and such also is their number in the Gregorian Sacramentary of Pamelius, which appears to have been transcribed about this same period. From that time, the Roman Church has always observed this arrangement of Advent, which gives it four weeks, the fourth beings that in which Christmas Day falls, unless the 25th of December be a Sunday. We may therefore consider the present discipline of the observance of Advent as having lasted a thousand years, at least as far as the Church of Rome is concerned; for some of the Churches in France kept up the number of five Sundays as late as the thirteenth century.

The Ambrosian Liturgy, even to this day, has six weeks of Advent; so has the Gothic or Mozarabic Missal. As regards the Gallican Liturgy, the fragments collected by Dom Mabillon give us no information; but it is natural to suppose with this learned man, whose opinion has been confirmed by Dom Martène, that the Church of Gaul adopted, in this as in so many other points, the usages of the Gothic Church, that is to say, that its Advent consisted of six Sundays and six weeks.

With regard to the Greeks, their Rubrics for Advent are given in the Mensea, immediately after the Office for the 14th of November. They have no proper Office for Advent, neither do they celebrate during this time the Mass of the Presanctified, as they do in Lent. There are only in the Offices for the Saints, whose feasts occur between the 14th of November and the Sunday nearest Christmas, frequent allusions to the Birth of the Saviour, to the Maternity of Mary, to the cave of Bethlehem, etc. On the Sunday preceding Christmas, in order to celebrate the expected coming of the Messias, they keep what they call the Feast of the Holy Fathers, that is the commemoration of the Saints of the Old Law. They give the name of Ante-Feast of the Nativity to the 20th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd December; and although they say the office of several Saints on these four days, yet the mystery of the Birth of Jesus pervades the whole Liturgy.

– from the book The Liturgical Year: Advent, by the Very Reverend Dom Prosper Gueranger, Abbot of Solesmes, translated from the French by the Revered Dom Laurence Shepherd, Monk of the English-Benedictine Congregation, 2nd edition; published in Dublin Ireland by James Duffy, 15 Wellington-Quay, 1870

Saint Thomas More Today, by Marie and Tony Shannon

detail from 'Portrait of Sir Thomas More' by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527, tempera on wood, Frick Collection, New York, New YorkThomas More was a Christian layman who was immersed in secular reality. He was a contemplative in a world of activity. He was not afraid to die, because he was not afraid to live.

Like us all, More was not perfect, but this is not an attempt to evaluate his sanctity critically. Rather we shall focus on the positive facets of his spiritual life that can be imitated by any of us, with the grace of God.

Like us all, More had a vocation to serve God. This is something which varies from person to person, proportional to our talents and adequate for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Like most of us, More’s vocation was to serve God by serving his neighbour for the sake of God by doing well his ordinary tasks in secular society. Again this is not an attempt to analyse More’s secular achievements: this has been done more than adequately in the collection of 47 articles on More and edited by Sylvester and Marc’hadour for the quincentenary of More’s birth.

To appreciate the link between the sanctity and the secularity of More it is necessary to accept that baptism and the call to sanctity are inseparable for the Christian. More is an example that the circumstances of our daily lives are the raw material of this sanctity: the work which fills one’s day, the problems of family life, the time with our friends. It is so tempting to feel that we could live a better life if only our job were more interesting or not so hectic or if our children were quieter or older or if so many circumstances were different; or to decide that we shall do something about why we exist next week or next year but not now, not when we have these problems. More shows us that it is with these problems, among these people that we have to fulfil our eternal destiny, to sanctify ourselves. “If only . . .” was not the motto of Thomas More, Sir or Saint.

Secularity does not necessarily mean secular humanism or materialism or even worldliness. Sanctity certainly does not mean sanctimoniousness or self-righteousness.

The 500th Anniversary of More’s Birth

More than five hundred years have passed since the birth of Saint Thomas More – 6 February 1478.

Five hundred years sounds a long time, and indeed a lot has happened in that time: man has ventured into space and developed ways of killing more people in a shorter space of time. There have of course been the accomplishments of art and science, medicine and technology. Yet for every advance there has been an abuse: doctors can save more lives after birth but society allows them to kill children before birth. We have more time-saving devices, but no more time for each other. Many people value a second car more than a second child. In what ways have we advanced since More’s time? We are closer to the milieu of More’s world than half a millennium might suggest.

Whether one sees right or wrong in one side or the other during the period which led to the Protestant Revolt, there is almost universal agreement that More was a singularly unsullied personality of that era. He has been called “the person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced”. Even contemporary historians who are biased against More’s beliefs still see in him things that can be admired by everybody.

Not that everyone has always seen More in this light. His memory was distorted until this century by religious (or perhaps un-religious) arguments about the “Reformation”. His contemporaries were baffled by his obstinancy and by his blindness to the prevailing wisdom. His death was regarded, even by his family, as a suicidal rejection of the best things of this life.

Yet, in death, as in life, he has set an example to civilized men and women of succeeding centuries. He is very much “A Man for All Seasons”, as the title of Robert Bolt’s play suggest. His life and death show us that the seeds we sow in our daily lives might not ripen in our own time, but that does not matter if it is our Master’s work that we are doing. The harvest will be gathered when the Master chooses.

A Man for Our Times

More is very much a man for our times. If the post-Vatican II age is the era of the Catholic laity, then in More we have an example of a man of the world who was not worldly. If our confused times, like the period when More lived demand an unequivocal choice of whom we shall serve, then More’s life reminds us that the choice of masters is simple but not easy.

Thomas More was a man of many talents and considerable achievements, a “Knight, scholar, writer, statesman, Lord Chancellor of England”, in the words on the memorial to him in the Chapel of St Peter-in-Chains in the Tower of London. He was also a devoted family man and a good friend to his friends. Above all though, he was a saint, canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935, the 400th anniversary of More’s execution.

The parallels between More’s day and our own are even more striking than we have time to pursue in depth. We shall allude to some as we go, but others include “with-it” theologians, the proliferation of unorthodox doctrine, tables instead of altars for the Mass, priests who shun clerical garb to look less like priests, and a general contempt for the safeguards against the world, the flesh and the devil.

A Saint Because He Served

This is not a biography of More. Plenty of other authors have done that and done it well, both at scholarly and popular level.

Rather, the attempt here is to comment on the salient features of More’s interior life, in so far as they are the source of his sanctity, and in so far as they are pertinent to the problems of our times.

This is important because we can be misled by the external actions of the saints if we overlook their internal basis. This is important today because contemporary society often sees Our Lord and his servants as social workers only. This is a caricature of true sanctity.

Not to serve society, wherever our vocation places us, is wrong because we cannot serve God unless we serve society in some way, be it in the office, the factory, the home, the monastery, and so on. Our Lord told us to love God and to love our neighbour for the sake of God. Our first duty is to serve God. That is why we were created. That is why Sir Thomas More is St Thomas More. Sins against society are sins because they offend God.

This confusion, which often reduces the saints to cardboard cut-outs, often arises from a failure to distinguish means and ends. Means rather than ends dominate discussion in the contemporary world, whereas the end is the only thing which justifies the means (which is not to say that the end justifies any means).

Means, rather than ends, preoccupied Tudor times too. Given the need, after the Wars of the Roses, to sustain the Tudor claim to the throne, peace in the realm was obviously important. But peace is meaningless unless people are free to serve God. In our times we have tended to regard peace as the absence of war, but in a just peace a man’s higher duties are protected.

Thus a man like More who was able to put things in perspective was thought to be foolish, almost frivolous. Edward Hall, the Tudor lawyer and politician, wrote of More in his Chronicle: “I cannot tell whether I should call him a foolish wise man, or a wise foolish man”. Indeed, More’s comment to his escort as he climbed the scaffold might be deemed frivolous if we did not know the source of his serenity: “I pray, Master Lieutenant, see me safe up, and for coming down let me shift for myself”

Prayer, penance, humour

Saint Thomas More was the second child of a London judge and a City merchant’s daughter, born on 6th February 1478 (though there is some argument about the precise date). He first went to school at Saint Anthony’s, Threadneedle Street, a London grammar school, and from there to the household of Cardinal Morton who was then Lord Chancellor of England. In this capacity Morton was the main adviser of King Henry VII who had been the victor in the Wars of the Roses. Thus Morton’s support of the Lancastrian cause in that bitter civil war influenced More’s view of Richard III whom More vilified later in a fragmentary biography which was to colour Shakespeare’s and posterity’s attitude to that monarch.

With Morton’s recommendation, More went up to Oxford in 1492. There he joined Canterbury Hall (now part of Christ Church College). He also spent some time at Oriel College as did Cardinal Newman a few centuries later. There is a statue and relic of Saint Thomas in the Catholic chapel of Oxford University.

Yet More was very much a Londoner. He was recalled there by his father to study for the law at Lincoln’s Inn. Nevertheless, his love of Latin which he acquired at school and his appreciation of Greek which he learnt at Oxford from Grocyn and Linacre were never to leave him.

It was at the Charterhouse in London that More made what we would call retreats and periods of recollection while he considered his vocation in life. His decision to be a layman was a positive choice of what he believed to be the Will of God, a choice made after prayer and with a spirit of penance. With the consent of his confessor he wore a hair shirt, until the last week of his life, but never a long face. Voluntary mortification and prayer were fundamental to the spirituality of Thomas.

More kept a bright and cheerful, if somewhat noisy, home in Chelsea in London. There was a certain amount of austerity, but the place was not like a religious museum. The family prayed together often with the psalms, and they read spiritual books together usually a passage from scripture and a commentary. The family prayers were held morning and evening. More continued to serve at Mass in his parish church even when high in the King’s service, to the consternation of his ‘man of the world’ friend, the Duke of Norfolk.

More’s spirit of poverty did not mean that he did not live in any way according to his rank. Rather it meant that he was indifferent to material possessions as such, and so he was ready to sacrifice all when the occasion demanded. Like others of his status he had a household jester, Henry Patenson, though with More’s own ready wit and deep sense of humour he could supply enough jokes of his own.

The happiness of the household and the genuine culture of More attracted many Renaissance scholars and artists such as Erasmus and Holbein, almost to the exasperation of More’s practical second wife, Dame Alice.

More had married Jane Colt in 1505 and they had four children in five years when Jane died soon after giving birth to John. The other children were Elizabeth, Cecily and Margaret, the eldest and More’s “dearest Meg”.

More then married a widow, Alice Middleton. Her down-to-earth approach to domestic life gave More the support he needed as he worked harder and harder in his numerous legal and public activities. More was a man who lived heroic sanctity in the midst of, and because of (not despite) a commitment to his work, his family and his friends.

Nevertheless, any attempts to analyse More which overlook the foundations of prayer and penance in his life will be mere superficial description. He was a man of action, but action came very much in the third place. Though action can be distinguished from prayer and penance, the three cannot be really separated in the life of a person who takes the baptismal promises seriously (which is what sanctity means). More’s exterior activity was the overflow of an interior life which was supported by the twin pillars of prayer and penance.


Utopia has come into our language to mean something unattainable: it is somewhat ironic that it should come from the pen of an eminently practical man. Perhaps it was because of his teasing temperament which we see in his dealings with Meg and Norfolk especially. Probably it is because saints are not sad and can see the ironies of this present life.

Certainly More was not sad. “His kind and friendly cheerfulness, with a little air of raillery, shone from his face,” wrote Erasmus. Even his son-in-law, William Roper, could testify to his good humour: “in 16 years and more, being in his house conversant with him, I could never perceive as much as once in a fume”. Roper’s testimony is particularly telling as we listen to these words of More to his daughter, Meg Roper: “I have borne a long time with your husband; I have reasoned and argued with him in those points of religion, and still given to him my poor fatherly counsel; but I perceive none of this able to call him home; and, therefore, Meg, I will no longer argue nor dispute with him, but will clean given him over, and get me another while to God and pray for him”. More’s prayers did turn out more fruitful than his arguments, because Roper did eventually repent.

This serenity found expression in his writings which always had a purpose and which were a full measure of the European heritage of human dignity. His “Utopia”, conceived in Antwerp, and published in 1516, is a marvellous fantasy which puts privilege in perspective. It is an eloquent defense of the poor in whom we see Christ. It was written by a mature lawyer and diplomat, familiar with the courts of men but who sought first the kingdom of God, whose kingdom is not of this world, but whose kingdom we find on this earth in genuine help for the needy. Although based on reason, parts of Utopia were undoubtedly written with tongue-in-cheek wit. It was written by a man who, while he did not adopt a holier-than-thou attitude to the customary garb and style of his state in life, was at the same time unattached to worldly possessions. Utopia came from a man who gave to the poor and mortified himself, but who did not thereby force mortifications or gloom on those who were near and dear to him.

Of Utopia, the island which is nowhere, but keeps fresh the hearts of men, we are reminded by Chesterton’s remarks in his Orthodoxy: “I could never conceive or tolerate any Utopia which did not leave to me the liberty for which I chiefly care, the liberty to bind myself”.

Freedom, conscience and authority

More’s was not just a life of honour, nor is his influence upon affairs his chief claim on history. It is his defence of true liberty, of freedom of conscience, of the source of earthly authority, that has caused controversy to surround him for five hundred years.

To many he is pig-headed rather than high-principled, just as to many it is his raw courage rather than the reason for that courage that is admirable. More in the Tower of London awaiting execution is the same More who learnt the meaning of mortification from the Carthusians as a youth, who was a man of prayer and learning, whose house was a bright and cheerful home, who rose to the highest honours in the land, and who defended the faith.

This is the message of More: because he handled the humdrum events of everyday life in a saintly, but not sanctimonious way, Our Lord was able to use him when the time came as a light for his contemporaries and for us.

Henry VIII, debased by lust and vanity, has been the loser in the court of history. It is not the senseless act of the monarch that we remember so much as the manner of life of his good servant More.

Henry VIII

Henry, an immensely talented man, and in his youth a practical vindication of the Tudor claim to the throne, shared with More a love of the Holy Mass. Like More, Henry VIII wrote much in defence of the true faith against the Lutheran heretics. It is somewhat ironic that Henry, who in 1521 wrote a spirited defence of papal authority, the Assertion of the Seven Sacraments, and who was given the papal title “Defender of the Faith”, a title retained by English monarchs over the centuries, was later to repulse that same authority. In so doing he destroyed any divine basis for authority within his own realm, a fact to which succeeding monarchs and his own heresy can assent.

Apologists for Henry are apt to quote the vacillations of Pope Clement VII and the latter’s confinement by the Emperor Charles V as excuses for taking the initiative in the divorce issue, but Henry did undermine the basis of authority.

Professor James Hitchcock, in an address to the John XXIII Fellowship in Australia, points out that in More’s time Henry VIII “had no real doctrinal quarrels with the Catholic Church, but who disliked intensely the fact that the Pope claimed to have some authority over him as king, and who solved the problem very neatly by proclaiming himself to be the head of the Church in England” (Need We Be Confused? The Laity and the Future).

Authority is not a popular concept amongst some who have had exposure to a lot of formal education, yet More who was genuinely well educated would not at first read heretical books. In 1528 Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall dispensed More so that he could read them and refute them. This true docility exemplifies More’s prudence, and his awareness of the dangers of unbridled curiosity shows his temperance: two virtues to which we shall return later.

Nevertheless, Henry could not but admire More’s talents and quite correctly wanted his kingdom to benefit from them. Henry appointed More as chancellor in 1529 in succession to Cardinal Wolsey. As a King’s counsellor More had previously told the King that he regarded the marriage between Henry and Catherine of Aragon as valid, and so More’s appointment was on the understanding that he would not be required to play any part in “the King’s Great Matter”. The sacredness of the oath in marriage and the oath in court was similar for More, because the presence of God was something real for him. Despite their professed Christianity many of his contemporaries could see nothing more than verbal formularies in such promises.

Because of his stand on the divorce issue as a matter of conscience, More is sometimes cited as though he were a modern liberal in the fight for freedom of conscience. Nothing could be further from reality. More used the word “conscience” a lot, but he did not mean by it that an individual had a right to follow his own guidance, because that was Protestantism. By conscience More meant the duty to acknowledge the truth, as revealed through the scriptures and the magisterium of the Church. It is in this that the dispute developed between More and Thomas Cromwell, who was Henry’s chief adviser from 1533 until his own execution in 1540 and who was a convinced Protestant.

More and Newman

Three hundred years later, another Oxford man, a student at Trinity and later a Fellow of Oriel, John Henry Newman, destined to be made a Cardinal late in life by Pope Leo XIII, expounded the views on conscience which were lived by More. Curiously enough both More and Newman clarify the Christian position on conscience, in their different styles, with interchanges with the Dukes of Norfolk of their times. Like us, and unlike More, Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk, was unable to distinguish between what is important and what is urgent.

It is also of interest to note that in the intervening centuries from More to Newman, each succeeding Duke of Norfolk (with one exception) changed from the religion of his predecessor in that title, until in 1875 Newman had occasion to write his famous letter to the fifteenth Duke of Norfolk. This was written against a background of whether Catholics could be loyal English People and loving children of the Pope. In the aftermath of the First Vatican Council and the Catholic Emancipation Bill, conscience and authority were lively issues.

In the Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, Newman says: “Unless a man is able to say to himself, as in the presence of God, that he must not, and dare not act upon the Papal injunction, he is bound to obey it, and would commit a great sin in disobeying it”. More too pointed out to the 3rd Duke of Norfolk that if he offended his conscience for the sake of good fellowship and went to hell, would the Duke in heaven for following his conscience then join More for the sake of good fellowship. Of course two people can follow two distinct paths of conduct in good conscience, but the Catholic should always listen to the Church and obey it, unless our conscience tells us that we must absolutely not do what the Church tells us.

In the words of Msgr. Escriva de Balaguer, the Founder of the Catholic lay association Opus Dei, of which Saint Thomas More is a patron: “The advice of another Christian and especially a priest’s advice, in questions of faith and morals, is a powerful help for knowing what God wants of us in our particular circumstances. Advice, however, does not eliminate personal responsibility. In the end, it is we ourselves, each one of us on our own, who have to decide for ourselves and personally account to God for our decisions” (Conversations, p. 111).

More on Conscience

There is a curious belief that conscience is something which gives the all clear for the use of the Pill, or for missing Sunday Mass. More had a very different view, and in following his conscience he was forced to give up his life, his high office, and above all, his beloved family.

More, in his defiance of “the judgement of both universities and the universal consent of all the clergy of this realm”, seemed always to assume that others were following their consciences just as he was following his. At the heart of More’s attitude is the idea that if your conscience tells you that you must do something, though the Church says you must not, then you should obey your conscience, though it is mistaken. But, if your conscience says you may do something but the Church says you must not do it, then you should obey the Church.

“Can I trust my conscience? It is true that some people today answer the question with a confident and unqualified Yes – to the point that they appear to endow personal conscience, in its role as a guide, with the very quality they indignantly deny to the guidance of Church or Pope: the quality of infallibility”.

If we reflect on More’s ascetic qualities, that he was in fact a contemplative in the midst of the world, then we can see why his conscience was so sensitive and yet so strong. On the other hand, many of his contemporaries had lost all sense of divine perspective in their view of life. Witness Norfolk’s worry: “By the Mass, Master More, it is perilous striving with princes. And therefore I wish you somewhat to incline to the King’s pleasure. For by Godbody Master More, Indignatio principis est mors (the anger of the princes is death)”. And More’s reply: “Is that all, my Lord? Then in good faith is there no more difference between your grace and me, but that I shall die today and you tomorrow”.

Moriae Encomium

This was the Latin title of Erasmus’ book, In Praise of Folly, and it is a pun on More’s name, ‘In praise of More’. We need to be careful not to be so dazzled by his spectacular deeds as to feel that the basis of these is beyond our limited talents. Underpinning his love of freedom, respect for conscience, and appreciation of authority was his living of the cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. A few comments on the first of these in relation to More and our own lives are not out of place here.

One might infer that More’s use of silence to avoid condemnation was an example of prudence, but this is too close to the popular concept of the virtue. Certainly More hoped that silence would save him: he would not take the Oath of Supremacy (that Henry was head of the English Church), and he would not say why he would not take the oath.

What is virtue?

Virtue has to do with the Latin vir, man. Virtue is something manly (in the best sense), and in the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas: “virtue enables us to follow our natural inclinations” (in the right sense). Aquinas further says that prudence is genitrix virtutum: prudence gives birth to the other virtues. The ancients always considered docilitas to be an essential part of prudence. This is not something simple-minded, but the ability to take advice so that one can see and consider what is real. To be prudent one does not have to be a scholar. There was a saying in More’s time: “the wise man is one who savours all things as they really are”. It is this wisdom which is inherent in prudence.

Dr John Finnis demonstrates the role of the cardinal virtues in the alleged conflict between conscience and authority, a theme fundamental to an appreciation of More: “being reasonable . . . involves an effort . . . which like all other actions goes astray unless it is guided by intelligence, by the energy of fortitude, by the self-discipline of temperance and the impartiality which secures a just conclusion. So conscience is not a matter of ‘seeing’ what is right by an intuition” (The Rational Strength of Christian Morality).

Thus if reflection on More’s life is to be more than mere entertainment, we need to see how he guided his conscience by the example of Christ and submitted his conscience to the teaching of those who teach with Christ’s authority. That he was able to do so was because of his interior spirit of prayer and penance, manifested by exterior actions full of peace and joy. “The Catholic whose faith makes him see Christ in the authority of the Church (‘Anyone who listens to you listens to me’: {Luke 10:16}), and therefore obeys that authority, is conscious of obeying Christ. And of course he is conscious of obeying freely; there lies the dignity and merit of his obedience – it is freely given”

In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “The only way truth can impose itself is by the force of its own gentle but powerful influence on the mind of man” (Declaration on Religious Liberty, paragraph 1).

Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell realized this as much as More and badly needed More’s approval for its propaganda value. But there is nothing new in this, as More with his knowledge of the Scriptures would have realized. “Why do the nations conspire, and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves up and the rulers take council together, against the Lord and against his anointed” (Psalm 2:1-2).

Universal Call to Sanctity

More is not a saint because he died for his convictions: he died for his convictions because of his sanctity. He was aware that sanctity is not just something vague for some few somewhere else. Sanctity means being truly and completely human. Sanctity is not something superficial. Sanctity is something to which we are all called.

With a sound interior life, More’s exterior life was busy, fruitful and happy. He was a man who used his talents to the fullest in the service of his heavenly master, when he must have been tempted to abuse them in the service of his earthly master. Yet he worked hard and well for the temporal kingdom to earn his eternal crown. More is a saint who can be imitated.

Forget his death on the scaffold, a death he did not seek, a death he used all his legal wits to avoid. More’s fidelity and courage on the scaffold were built on his fidelity to his daily duties and his courage with the little difficulties, the same sorts of difficulties that we encounter.

We can imitate More. We can achieve sanctity. We can take seriously Christ’s call to be perfect. Our Lord has asked us to do this and he will give us the help we need.

Sanctity can, with God’s grace, be more readily attained than riches, than fame, than learning, and yet it is easier to acquire riches, to achieve fame, to be learned, than to be a saint. More used the riches, the fame, the learning at his disposal, as an instrument in God’s service. The secular and the sacred, the profane and the profound, were part of his life.

We too can sanctify our secular environment as Saint Thomas More did, because the same help that sustained him is available to us, and it is available now.

To summarize Saint Thomas More’s cheerful attitude to life and his difficulties and care for his friends, he used often say to friends:

“Pray for me as I do for you, that we may merrily meet in Heaven.”

– from the booklet Saint Thomas More Today, by Marie and Tony Shannon, Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1978

The Life of Saint Anthony, by Father Ambrose Ryan, O.F.M.

Anthony was not born in Padua, Italy; he was born at Lisbon in Portugal. The date was 1195 and his baptismal name was Ferdinand. His parents were substantial citizens and the family name was something like Bulhom, according to most scholars.

He was baptised in the cathedral church of old Lisbon, the Se Patriarcal, and on its ancient font, you read: “Here the waters of holy baptism cleansed Anthony from all stain of original sin. The world rejoices in his light, Padua in his body, heaven in his soul.”

Augustinian, then Franciscan

Anthony Bulhom received his early schooling from the clergy of the Se Patriarcal school and at fifteen years of age he joined the Augustinian monastery of Saint Vincent de Fora, Lisbon. When seventeen, in 1212, he transferred to the Coimbra monastery of Santa Cruz and there was taught for nine years by the very religious and very capable Canon John: the experience equipped him unusually well for the extraordinary life that was to be his.

When 25 years of age, and quite likely unordained – for in those days it was normal to receive priestly ordination at 30 years, he was lifted from Augustinian monastic observance into the itinerant missionary life of a Franciscan Friar Minor. It is a most interesting example of the strange ways of God’s providence in men’s lives.

The new Order of Friars Minor had been in existence less than twenty years when Ferdinand the Augustinian crossed to it. Despite its youth, the Order had made an astonishing beginning attracting hundreds of recruits. Some of these were already found in Coimbra, Portugal, and five of their number boldly ventured into the Saracen-held Morocco to preach Christ’s gospel. They were murdered (or, as we would hold, martyred) by the Saracens in January 1220, and their bodies were carried back to Portugal by local seamen and brought to Santa Cruz monastery, Coimbra.

Ferdinand, it is told, was very moved and irresistibly attracted as he knelt to pray beside the martyred bodies of Friar Berard and companions. And to their brethren from the Coimbra convent of Saint Anthony of the Olives (named for Anthony the Hermit) he said: “If I may go to Morocco and imitate these brothers, I will gladly join you.”

And this is what he did with due permission. As a friar minor, he became “Anthony”, the name no doubt being assumed in honour of Saint Anthony the Hermit, and within months, he crossed to Marrakesh, Morocco. But not for martyrdom! God’s Providence entered again and a persistent malarial fever laid him low until it was necessary to give up and set sail for home.


At sea, a violent storm arose and the ship ran before it to find harbour south of Messina, Sicily. Here Friar Anthony was delighted to find some of his new family of Franciscans, and with these, he headed north to come to Assisi, Italy, for the famous Chapter of Mats at Pentecost 1221.

Unheralded and unknown, he surely saw Francis of Assisi – the founder of the Friars Minor – at this Chapter, but there is no report that they met in person. It would not have been easy to do so with more than 3,000 men gathered for this unique meeting.

Friar Gratian, Provincial of Romagna (North Italy), took the new man under his protection and sent him to a hermitage at Montepaolo near Forli, and there he lived in prayer, poverty and study for twelve months.

In the summer of 1222, there was a priestly ordination ceremony at Forli conducted by Bishop Ricciardellus Belmonti. Ordained were Dominican and Franciscan friars, “amongst them Anthony” (as his first biographer put it). He was 27 years of age.

At a reception in the Dominican convent, following the ordinations, the new Father Anthony, was induced to speak. “He began without flourish – writes Father Clasen O.F.M. – but as he spoke his words became vivid and forceful until the assembly came under the spell of the Holy Spirit who spoke through him”.

And the friars minor, and all present, realised that a man of God and a ‘gifted intellectual’ was with them. In a later sermon, Anthony said: “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul, He fills it with his fire and lets it enkindle others. All things that draw near to Him feel his renewing warmth.” (Sermons of Saint Anthony).

Scholarly Man and Leader

The fame of Anthony – of Lisbon and later of Padua – rests on his deep sanctity and the burning zeal of his ten year period of missionary preaching. These are certainly the highlights of his life as it has come down to us. Actually, we have too few precise details about this friar, more famous around the world than the intimately known and extraordinary Francis of Assisi. Yet a few other facts of his life deserve to be told before we write of his preaching and his holiness.

These facts are: Anthony was a most capable teacher of the friars minor, and he was an inspiring leader in their midst.

As teacher, he holds the unique distinction of being personally appointed to teach theology to the friars by Saint Francis himself. “Friar Anthony, my bishop and theologian” wrote Francis. When you know that Francis of Assisi had a deep ingrained suspicion of learning, of showy learning, and manifested his opposition to it in several determined ways, you realize what a decision it was for him to appoint Anthony to teach the others. Father Clasen thinks that Francis’s decision in this matter “marked a turning point in the history of the Franciscan brotherhood.”

Anthony, of course, taught Sacred Scripture and he taught Saint Augustine – the Augustine that Canon John had opened up to him. Ever afterwards, the friars minor were to lean towards this “Augustinian” flavour in matters of philosophy and theology. He organised classes for the friars at Bologna, Italy, and soon at Montpellier and Limoges in France. None of his courses could have lasted more than a few months at a time, for he was heavily committed to public preaching year by year, yet his teaching left its mark.

The excellence of his mind may even now be gauged by a testimony of Canon Thomas Gallus, an Augustinian of Vercelli, Italy, a considerable scholar who knew Anthony as a personal friend. Thomas Gallus wrote: “As a close friend I have been able to observe in Brother Anthony of the friars minor a readiness to grasp mystical theology. For though he was not well read in natural sciences, he had a pure spirit and a burning heart and was a man on fire with God. All this enabled him easily to understand all the riches and depths of mystical theology with all his heart.” (Commentary on Dionysius.) It is a precious testimony.

As Leader of the friars, Anthony was Guardian and ‘Custos’ of Franciscan houses in France from 1225-27: Le Puy-en-Velay is one, the district around Limoges is the other. And he personally founded the convent of Brive in Central France where, to this day, his cult is best kept in France. Then back in Italy in 1228, he became Provincial of northern Italy at the Order’s Pentecost Chapter. After three years, he retired from this onerous office to remain on in his beloved Padua.

Preaching with Power

“A burning heart, on fire for God” wrote Thomas Gallus of his friend Anthony. And this is the image of Anthony the preacher handed down in northern Italy and southern and central France. It reminds one of Saint Paul’s “I came amongst you with power, invested with the power that raised Jesus Christ from the tomb.”

There is no possible doubt about the amazing success of the man as a preacher. In sober fact he set a standard in the Order of Friars Minor, a standard that was to influence many of his brethren for the Franciscans have had great renown in Catholic history for their enthusiastic gospel preaching.

Anthony began in the Romagna area of north Italy and moved around in Lombardy and Emilia: Rimini, Venice, Friuli, these are cities where his memory is preserved. “He began by speaking to half-empty churches,” (writes Alice Curtayne), “for good preachers were rare and preaching being in decline, there was a bored indifference to sermons. But he never preached twice in the same half-empty church. In general, the people’s response was prompt. The churches packed to hear him until windows and doors were filled with faces and all the square outside massed with people. Anthony was forced to take a platform out into the streets the better to command his audiences. But when the numbers mounted to thirty thousand, the streets and squares were found cramping, and the platform had to be carried out of the town to a bare hillside, say, or to a meadow, and thither that spectacular mass of people followed him. . . .”

“Within a year of his accepting the mission of preacher, when it was known in a city or town that he was coming, shops were shuttered up and the law courts closed in order that no one should be forced to miss the event. . . . When the crowds moving to one of his sermons crested a distant hill, some onlooker likened them to a dense flock of birds rising in flight.

“Their manner of listening made a deep impression on observers for these thirty thousand were in the habit of standing without movement, and voicelessly, listening together as one man might listen. But sometimes, when the saint paused, they sighed in unison, and then the sound was like a great wind soughing. Another eyewitness left on record this vivid detail: he said that large numbers used to assemble at the platform the night before the sermon to make sure of a good place. Crowds would be seen crossing the fields at night, carrying lanterns to guide themselves.”

Curtayne’s words may sound more like oratory than sober history, yet they can be reasonably verified. Rimini (Italy), Montpellier (France), Limoges (France), Padua (Italy) are four cities and country-sides which still bear witness in memorial stones and in partly written traditions to the amazing power of his preaching, and to the crowds that listened. And these are only a few of many, many places.

A new Elias, a Prophet sent by God, a Hammer of heretics, a Burning Fire – these are ancient encomiums of the preacher Anthony.

And tradition is so insistent on the gospel signs that accompanied his preaching, namely, “that the sick were healed, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed” that it would be quite arbitrary to put them aside. One may say, of course, that the greater wonder still was the penetration of the gospel word into the minds and hearts of the hearers, for it is also traditional that spiritual conversions came almost en masse.


An excellent modern life of Saint Anthony by Father S. Clasen O.F.M. – published in English by Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago 1961 – holds that the saint performed only a few miracles while living; the flood of wonders came after his death.

Two of the most famous are of Saint Anthony speaking to the fish at Rimini after the residents ignored him, and the Eucharistic miracle of Bourges.

The Bourges miracle is the one where the town’s leading Jew challenged Anthony to back up his belief in the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist by a sign. It was agreed upon to starve an ass and then lead it before some sheaves of hay and a container holding the Eucharist, and see what would happen. The story is that the ass bent its front legs before the Sacrament before attacking the hay and the Jew converted.

Tradition gives us the story of the Child Jesus resting in the arms of Anthony, and we also have the wonder that happened at Arles, France in 1224. Anthony was speaking to the friars in a local chapter when suddenly Frances of Assisi – then alive and well at Assisi! – was seen to appear in the doorway with his arms uplifted in the sign of the cross. A case of bilocation.


Earlier it has been said that Anthony returned from France to Italy in 1228 and was then elected Provincial of the Romagna Province. Here he again taught and led the friars, and evangelised the people. Late in 1228, he was in Rome and preached before Pope Gregory IX and the clergy, as well as to the people. Gregory is said to have called him an “Armory of the Bible” after hearing his biblical sermons.

Padua now became a centre of attraction for the holy man and more and more did he come to visit the city. Then by 1229, he was a permanent resident.

In ancient times, the friars minor were called “Mendicants” and “Itinerants”, the latter because they wandered here and wandered there. Anthony was surely an itinerant. Portugal – Spain – Morocco – Sicily – Italy – Assisi – Romagna – Bologna. Then north to Arles – Montpellier – Toulouse – Le Puy en Velay – Limoges – Bourges – Brive; all in France. Then returning to Italy we can follow him to Monte Luco – La Verna (for several months) – Verona – Mantua – Rimini – Venice – and finally Padua.

In all these places, it would seem, the friars and the people have kept memories of his visits and of his goodness. The mildest of men in company, and with a heart of compassion for suffering and sin, he could be forceful against usury, double-dealing and unfairness. (There’s a record of him dressing down a bishop, and a good one, in the middle of a sermon with the words: “And now let me speak to you who wears the mitre!”) As said of Francis, so may it be said of Anthony: “He was not so much one who prayed, rather was he a person who was prayer.”

A born teacher, a born leader, and with superb gifts in both, he would as willingly bend his arms to wield a hoe in the field or to prepare a meal for his companions. A homely man.

In the last two years of his brief life, he captured the city of Padua. For his Lenten courses of sermons, the crowds were enormous, Paduans and country folk, hanging on his words. It was Christ and the multitudes over again!

Somehow, as you re-read the meagre details of Anthony’s life, you form the impression: how like, in so many ways, is his life with that of the Lord and Master!

Father Clasen details the splendid effects of Anthony’s preaching in the Paduan area: “Quarrels were patched up, mortal enemies reconciled, poor debtors released from prison and given their freedom, restitution made of ill-gotten goods. Immoral women reformed their lives, thieves and criminals changed their ways, the public life of Padua – which had been something of a disaster area – was considerably changed.”

The Senate of Padua city “on the plea of Friar Anthony” made a statute in 1231 “to forbid the imprisonment of a person for the sole reason that he had fallen into debts; his goods could be seized but he was to be allowed his liberty”.

In this same period, Anthony composed the only writings we have from his hand. It is a large volume of Sermons and sermon notes.


At the early age of 36 years, death came to him. Following the Lent of 1231, which left him very exhausted he left the city of Padua to live in solitude at Camposampiero. A nobleman named Tiso had built him a hut under a large walnut tree with similar accommodation for his companion friars, of whom Luke Belludi was one. Here in retirement he dealt with God about his own life. “God permits his judgment to be exercised by the pious Christian” – wrote Anthony. “For the Christian judges himself and then God finds nothing in him that is worthy of blame”.

On Friday, 13 June 1231, when the friars’ bell called him to noonday meal, he left his hut to eat with the others. As he sat to table he had an attack of weakness and was taken to bed, but soon he asked the friars to bring him back to Padua. They got as far as Arcella with the holy man resting on a waggon. As he got worse, they stopped there. He made confession, took Viaticum, and then sang gently ‘O Gloriosa Virginum’ to Our Lady (O Glorious Virgin). One of the friars asked him, “What are you gazing at so intently?” And Anthony replied, “I see my Lord”. He was then anointed, joined the friars in the seven penitential psalms, and in about half an hour “his soul peacefully left his body and was received into the happiness of God’s infinite love.”

Padua Acclaims a Saint

It is said that the friars thought to bring his body quietly back to Padua knowing that the people of Arcella and Capo di Ponte would try to keep the holy man with them. They were frustrated, however, when children began to run through the streets of Padua calling out: “The holy father is dead; Saint Anthony is dead!”

For four days, the people of Arcella and Capo di Ponte strove to keep his remains. They blocked the bridge over the river and cut down a temporary one. Eventually by a ruse, the Mayor of Padua outwitted them and Bishop Jacopo Corrado, the clergy and friars, and a procession of thousands of people brought the remains in triumph back to the Friars’ church at Padua.

“Immediately after his death – writes Clasen – Anthony became the object of an extraordinary devotion, and miracle followed miracle as the prayers of the sick and the afflicted were answered by sudden cures and wonders”. A wave of enthusiasm followed, crowds flocked from the neighbouring towns and villages to visit the tomb. The bishop, the senate, the knights and university students, formed a council to put some order into these noisy gatherings. Candles of enormous size were brought and lighted – one of these needed sixteen men to carry it!

Scarcely a month had passed when the city of Padua sent official requests to Pope Gregory to canonise their man. The canonisation was held at Spoleto on May 30th, 1232.

Shrine at Padua

The Saint, Il Santo, this is how the Paduans have always referred to Saint Anthony. Our man, our treasure, our protector!

Soon they set to work to build him a shrine that would rival the magnificent church of Saint Mark the Evangelist at Venice, and this they succeeded in doing. When the new basilica was well under way in 1263, it was decided to exhume the remains and relocate them within it.

Saint Bonaventure, Minister General of the friars, was present and bore witness to a wonder. It was discovered on opening the coffin that the body had decayed leaving only the bones, but the tongue of the saint was seen to be fresh and intact. Reverently taking it up Bonaventure exclaimed, “O blessed tongue, you always praised the Lord and led others to praise Him! Now we see how great indeed were your merits before God!” (To this day, the tongue is preserved at Padua.)

Devotion to Saint Anthony

For nearly 750 years or so, devotions to The Saint, and petitions for favours through his intercession, have never flagged in the Catholic Church. These have always been of a popular, even domestic kind. Some thought when Pope Pius XII added his name to the list of important Doctors of the Church in 1946 that the intention was to restore a truer picture of this powerful personality to the people who had made him “The Finder of Lost Articles”. But only time shall tell.

At Padua, Italy, the Conventual Franciscans reverently maintain the beautiful basilica and guard the treasures of the ages accumulated around the tomb of the saint. Enthusiastic devotions are regularly conducted, and an endless flow of devotees and sightseers come and go from all parts of the world. From the frequently published lists of favours granted (consult: Il Messaggero di Sant’Antonio), one can see that his cult does not diminish. Many are the special shrines of Saint Anthony in the churches of the Catholic world.

– from the booklet SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA: A Popular Saint – With Prayers and Devotions in His Honour, by Father Ambrose Ryan, O.F.M., Australian Catholic Truth Society #1701, 1977

Peace Beyond Understanding: The Story of Mother Mary MacKillop, Foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, by Monsignor James Hannon

Saint Mary MacKillopMary MacKillop was an Australian. She was born on 15th January, 1842, in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, a few hundred yards from where Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, now stands. Baptized at Saint Francis’ Church, the record of her baptism is in the archives of the Cathedral.

Her parents were immigrant Highland Scots, Alexander MacKillop and Flora McDonald, who were married at Saint Francis’ by Victoria’s first priest, Father Geoghegan, OFM.

Her Father

Alexander MacKillop had studied for the priesthood, first in Scotland, later at the Scots College in Rome. He reluctantly abandoned his studies, probably through ill health, and returned to Scotland. At that time and place, the vague combination of disappointment and disgrace which expressed itself in the term “spoiled priest” was a strong factor. Almost certainly because of this, his parents left the Catholic Highlands in 1835 and took Alexander with them to find a new life beyond the rim of the world in Australia.

He was one of the tiny group of Catholics who met for prayer in the home of the French carpenter, Peter Bodecin, in Collins Street West, before the arrival of the Franciscan, Father Geoghegan. He served as one of the trustees for the building of Saint Francis Church, and for the establishment and maintenance of the little school alongside. Apparently successful in business at first, he was ruined in the crash of the Rucher affair, for the solvency of which he had been a guarantor – one of the “Twelve Apostles”. He lost the home he bad built for the family at Darebin, moving from place to place in poverty and desperate embarrassment.

The Family

Mary was the eldest of the seven children, and bore a great part of the burden of worry. She had little formal schooling: a short time at Saint Francis’ School, maybe a term at the Academy of Mary Immaculate. Quite patiently, however, she learned much from her father; the treasure he had stored up for a wider field was poured out for his eldest daughter, and Mary MacKillop reached a standard of religious and literary education which would have been available from no colonial school of the period.

The later history of “Sandy” MacKillop is wrapped in mystery. He seems to have been with the family for some time in Portland; but, after Mary’s removal to Penola and to Adelaide, there is no word of him. Did he go searching for gold still wider afield? Did he embark on some other business venture? Did he just wander off, spending the twilight of his life reaching for the Grail he was reaching for in Scotland and Rome and Melbourne? With the sure wisdom of hindsight, it is certain that nothing he had ever dreamed of doing whether as a priest or a Catholic layman, could ever match the glory of the achievement of being the father and the childhood mentor of Mary MacKillop.

The Roaring Fifties

The discovery of gold at Ballarat in August, 1851, brought a dramatic change to the quiet sleepiness of the settlement of Port Phillip. The proud and the free, the reckless and the greedy, came pouring in to fan out from Melbourne in a feverish rush to the diggings at Ballarat and Bendigo and a hundred other places across the Colony. The “Roaring Forties” of the Californian gold rushes became the “Roaring Fifties” in Australia. In that decade, more gold was produced in Australia than in any other decade of the nineteenth century; and it brought tremendous changes.

Melbourne became a boomtown. Property values soared, as did tradesmen’s wages, as did the price of foodstuffs. Ships swung idly at anchor in Port Phillip Bay, deserted by their crews to join in the mad rush of clerks and shopkeepers, government servants and farmers to the spreading goldfields. Other ships refused to proceed farther than the port of Adelaide, for fear of desertion by their crews, and a thriving business was established in the freighting of their cargoes to Melbourne and the fields at Ballarat and Bendigo – by bullock wagons! All this resulted in a scarcity of commodities which, paralleled by the use of nuggets and gold dust as currency, triggered wild inflations.

Republic of Victoria

It was in this atmosphere that Mary MacKillop grew up. She was a month short of her thirteenth birthday when the unrest of the inrushing population came to a head at Eureka, near Ballarat. For a pathetically proud three days the star-crossed flag of the “Republic of Victoria” flew over the Stockade, to be dragged in sad defeat at the heels of a trooper’s horse on that December Sunday morning of 1854. Yet, for the last eight years of her life, she was to know that same flag as the honoured symbol of One Nation, One People, One Commonwealth of Australia.

Clerk and Teacher

She was what must have been a rarity in the mid-nineteenth century, a business girl, for she worked as a clerk with the printing and stationery firm of Sands and McDougall – then Sands and Kenny – receiving the wages of a forewoman. Later, thanks to the education she had received from her father, she was able to fill successfully the post of governess in several places in the Western District and in the Southeast of the Colony of South Australia. Early in the 1860’s, in an attempt to reunite the family, she started a school in Portland in a rented house which had been built by the Hentys. It was a curious kind of enterprise, part private school, part community-supported; and the ever-present shortage of money cramped it from the beginning. It was at this school that Father Tenison Woods came into her life for the second time. She had met him some four years before when she was governess at a station homestead near Penola, which was the headquarters of his widespread parish.

Father Julian Tenison Woods

Father Tenison Woods was a man of remarkable and creative mind. Not only was he one of Australia’s great frontier missionaries, but a distinguished explorer and scientist. Among other works he pioneered the geological study of Northern Australia. He is one of the truly great founders of Catholic education in Australia. With all his great gifts, his untiring zeal, he had nevertheless an unhappy and strangely difficult personality. His relations with Mary MacKillop were marred by misunderstandings and a curious kind of tyranny on his part. On her part, she never uttered a word against her director of the early years, was always most upset if his part in the founding of the Sisters of Saint Joseph would seem to have been forgotten.

A Beginning At Penola

It was late in 1865 that Father Tenison Woods asked Mary to undertake the teaching of a school which he proposed to open in Penola. Early in 1866 she crossed the border into South Australia with her two sisters and her brother John. In Penola a disused stable had been rented and, by dint of some hard work by John MacKillop it was made presentable enough for the beginning of school. It was the Bethlehem of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart. On the Feast of Saint Joseph, 1866, Mary MacKillop, the first Sister of Saint Joseph, placed herself in the hands of her Divine Master to teach his little ones. Although she did not take formal vows until the Feast of the Assumption, 1867, in Adelaide, Mary MacKillop becoming Mother Mary of the Cross, the 19th of March has always been regarded as the date of the foundation.

Adelaide – and Gethsemane

The story of the next eight years is one of extraordinary trial, and of tremendous strength on the part of Mother Mary of the Cross. Time and again she earned in bitter truth the right to the title. Within five years the tiny community had grown to a body of 120 nuns. Maybe the rapid growth, but probably more so the departure from the semi-cloistered life which was the accepted role of a nun, was the cause of the determined opposition. In South Australia which had been founded only 30 years before with the expressed stipulation that “no Irish or Papists need apply”, the enmity of those outside the Church was understandable enough. What was so hard to bear was the opposition within the Church, opposition all along the line of ecclesiastical authority; opposition which, quite patently, its authors were convinced was for the ultimate glory of God. Mother Mary and her daughters in Christ were to learn the bitter wisdom of the warning Christ had given to those who would follow Him: “They will put you out of their synagogues, and think that they are doing honour to God. And it was a struggle conducted by Mother Mary with sublime charity and an unbroken loyalty to the Hierarchy and the clergy.

Unified Direction

The years of trial were punctuated by journeys to Sydney and to Brisbane. Here the problem was the one of government. Mother Mary wanted, because she so clearly saw the necessity, an Australia-wide congregation, with unified direction, and a common training for all her sisters. The Church in Australia – or, more accurately, the Church in the various Colonies which eventually were to become Australia, was not yet prepared for such unity of government or of purpose. And so in 1874 Mother Mary of the Cross, 32 years of age, with trouble facing here everywhere she looked, made up her mind to go to Rome.

The Roman Saga

1874! It is less than a hundred years ago, but it is difficult today to imagine just what an extraordinary feat of courage and determination that journey was. Mother Mary travelled in lay dress, her habit packed away in her baggage against the day of arrival in Rome. This she did for the double reason of causing the minimum of upset and to save the cost – a very cogent reason, this – of the travelling expenses of a companion. So much swift history has flowed beneath the bridges of the last century, that it is hard to evoke the mood which she must have found in the Rome of 1874. Less than four years before, the Red-Shirts of Garibaldi – without Garibaldi – had won their puny victory at the Porta Pia, had burst into the City of the Popes to place the House of Savoy on the Quirinal throne, and scatter the Fathers of the First Vatican Council.

On their heels the anti-clericals and the atheists of Europe, the haters of the Papacy and the wild-eyed revolutionaries of the world had swarmed into Rome to celebrate the end of the Catholic Church; to humiliate, in every possible way, the Successor of Saint Peter, both in his person and in his representatives. Within the Church, there was a sense of stunned dismay, a feeling that the unbelievable had happened. What interest could there be in the quarter of a million Catholics in a group of colonies on the far side of the world? Above all, what audience could be found in Papal Rome for revolutionary ideas in Australia, with the reckless results of revolution all around them?

Ears That Would Listen

And yet, this young woman of 32 years, without benefit of distinguished birth or patronage, with no advantages of wealth or position, was able to find, and swiftly, ears that would listen, hearts that would sympathize, heads that would plan all the way up to the anguished Pio Nono himself [Pope Pius IX]. From Rome to France, to England, the Scotland of her fathers, to Ireland, Mother Mary went serenely on. What surprises is not that she was received coldly in so many places, looked on with suspicion and alarm in so many others. The real surprise is that she won friends, so many steadfast friends, in the most unlikely quarters.

Back to Rome, and to the decision which spelled out eventual success in the long struggle. On her return to Australia, the first General Chapter of the Congregation was held in Adelaide in 1875. There were skirmishes still to be fought, to be lost as well as won; disappointments were to come, setbacks to be endured and by-passed. But the long haul to the top of the hill was over.

Mother Mary’s Monument

Since the foundation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, there have been more than 3,000 members of the Congregation. Today [1966] they number some 2,500 in 22 Dioceses of Australia, in the four Dioceses of New Zealand, and even in one Diocese in Ireland, so long and so generously the benefactor of the Church in Australia and New Zealand.

Aims and Objectives

The first two paragraphs of the Constitutions of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart read:

“The primary end of the Institute is the sanctification of its members by the practice of the three simple vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, and by the exact observance of this Rule.”

“The secondary end of the Institute is the instruction of poor children. However, by way of exception and at the request or with the consent of the Ordinary, other works which may be required by necessity can be added to the work of education.”

The evaluation of the primary end, the measure of its success, is beyond our calculation. The secondary end, however, the success of the work of the Sisters, is laid out like a magnificent mosaic for all to see. During Mother Mary’s active leadership of over 40 years she founded 160 Josephite houses, including 12 homes for orphans and homeless and 117 schools with 12,000 children. At her death, the family she had founded in Christ numbered 1,000 Sisters; a record probably unequalled in the history of religious congregations.

Current Situation

To bring the record up to date with any kind of accuracy is an impossibility; for the simple reason that the figures are changing almost month by month. There are more than two and a half thousand Sisters, somewhere about 100,000 plus children in their schools; orphanages, maternity hospitals, foundling homes, hostels for working girls and for migrants, motor missions, correspondence courses . . . . wherever the need, especially of those whom Christ Our Lord called His little ones, there will be found today a Sister of Saint Joseph.

Mother Mary and Caroline Chisholm

It is interesting to speculate on what influence Mrs. Caroline Chisholm had on the vocation of Mary MacKillop. After her return from England in 1854, Mrs. Chisholm spent some three years in Melbourne and was a frequent visitor to the MacKillop home in Darebin, which was a Mass-centre for the Catholics of the district.

Caroline Chisholm holds a place which is unique in Australian social history. A convert to Catholicism, she spent her early married years as the wife of an officer of the East India Company, himself a Catholic of Scottish ancestry. Late in the 1830’s they moved to Australia. A woman of strong and fearless character, brilliant practical mind and simple personal piety, she combined a delicate feminine conservatism with a social radicalism that challenged the colonial governments and wealthy interests of the day. She struggled untiringly, both in New South Wales and in England, against almost hopeless odds, for a colonial social policy based on the family and private property. With the help of her husband, she carried through a brilliant work of colonization in the face of tremendous difficulties, opposition from entrenched wealth and religious prejudice.

Second Moses

The story of her journeys on the Australian frontier, riding her white horse Captain, leading her armies of immigrants, caught the imagination of England. London Punch called her a “second Moses in bonnet and shawl”:

“Who led their expeditions and under whose command
Through dangers and through hardships
Sought they the Promised Land?
A second Moses, surely, it was who did it all.
It was. A second Moses in bonnet and in shawl.”

Perhaps her greatest and most lasting achievement was the establishment of the dignity of womanhood after the degradation of the convict era. Without rank or wealth, and with very meagre support, she settled some 11,000 women in security and independence; and, from the day she dedicated her “talents to the God that gave them”, she steadfastly refused any reward for her work. *

A Greatly Honoured Guest

Caroline Chisholm would have been a greatly honoured guest in the home at Darebin. Her greatest achievements were in the process of development. For the young Mary, then in her early teens, the personality, the burning enthusiasm of the visitor, have made a lasting impression. It is impossible not to come to the conclusion that Caroline Chisholm was an instrument of Divine Providence in the forming of the vocation of the young girl, precisely at the time it must have been stirring in her heart.

There are indications in her life that she had been impressed by the need for the care of the immigrants. In Sydney, she visited the immigrant ships, offered what help she and her Sisters could. Later, at Mackay in Queensland, she taught catechism to the children of the Kanaka workers on the sugar plantations, labourers indentured from the islands of the Pacific. She travelled around in a buggy, collecting the children of immigrants to teach them the truths of their Faith.

The work that the Sisters of Saint Joseph are doing today for the migrants, not only for the thousands of migrant children in their city schools, but also in the hostels and holding centres, must be very much in the line of the dreams of their Foundress.

Mother Mary’s Death

The success of her work, the victory over prejudice and misunderstanding, did not bring an end to the suffering of Mother Mary, so well named “of the Cross”. The last years of her life were spent in a wheelchair, physically crippled by what would today be diagnosed as a stroke. It is a measure of the striking importance of the work she had begun, the appreciation of it even by secular government, that the New Zealand Railways placed a special train at her disposal on her last visit to the houses in that Dominion.

The end came on 8 August 1909. Gently Death stole to her bedside as the beloved enemy. An enemy, because death is the ceaseless enemy of every living thing; an enemy, because death would take her away from the day-by-day care of her Sisters. Beloved, because death meant for her the lasting rendezvous with the Christ she had known long since, and loved all the days of her life.

The Peace Was Always There

In the Holy Year of 1925, the Superior General of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, Mother Lawrence, with Sister Francis as her companion, came out from Rome to visit the small band of Australian students on vacation at the Villa of the Propaganda Fide at Castel Gandolfo. With maybe a dim sensing that they were touching the gossamer threads of history, the students asked her what was her outstanding memory of Mother Mary of the Cross whom she had known so long and so well. One student of those days remembers well her answer.

“It was,” said Mother Lawrence, “her peace . . . a deep, endless kind of peace that came from far inside. Oh, she was often in pain, often tired; she knew disappointments and worries in plenty. Even in the days of success, every mail brought the small agony of a decision to be made, every visit problems great or small; but the peace was always there. Yes, that is what I remember most: the peace of her; the peace that was always there. . .

Light in the Darkness

Almost exactly 50 years before, Mother Mary was herself in Rome. As the days and the weeks of waiting lengthened out, she walked in the footsteps of the millions of Christian pilgrims that Rome had known since the days of the apostles Peter and Paul. There was a particular attraction for her, for these were the places – the churches, the streets, the monuments and the shrines – which had lived so vividly in her imagination since the wide-eyed little Mary MacKillop had listened entranced to her father’s stories of his student days in the Scots College on the Via Quattro Fontane. At least once she took the short roadway which winds up to the Capitol from the Forum, to pay a visit to the little chapel which is built over the Mamertine Prison, the grim dungeons of which had been the last address of so many of Rome’s more notable enemies. Beneath the chapel is the cell which a thousand and a half years of Christian tradition assigns as the place where Saint Peter wrote his Second Epistle, shortly before his martyrdom. In the gloomy mustiness which even today is the pervading impression of the stark prison, she would have heard the echo of the words of the old man:

“Being assured that the laying away of this my tabernacle is at hand, according as our Lord Jesus Christ also has signified to me.

“And I will endeavour that you frequently have after my decease whereby you may keep a memory of these things.

“For we have not, by following artificial fables, made known to you the power and the presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ; but we were eye witnesses of his greatness.

“For he received from God the Father honour and glory: this voice coming down to him from the excellent glory: This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him. And this we heard brought from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. And we have the more firm prophetical word, whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light which shines in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” – 2 Peter 1:14-19

He was on Tabor again, with James and John under the morning sun of Galilee, as he had been so often, in vivid and startling memory through almost 40 years. In the Garden of Gethsemane, through prisons and floggings, in poverty and tears and the contempt of the world around him. . . . .The darkness fell away, he saw only the shining face of the transfigured Christ; he heard no groans of fellow-prisoners, no rustles of the horde of rats, only the words from Heaven. He felt no leaden weight of impending torture and death in his heart, only the glad surge of “Lord, it is good to be here!” the words that had sprung from his heart “when we were with Him in the holy mount”. That had been his real life through all those 40 years, the bright light which had shone in so many a dark place. For Saint Peter, through the storm of his life and the agony of his death on Vatican Hill, it was a citadel of impregnable peace.

A Touch of the Glory

And the young Mother Mary understood it so well. For somewhere, sometime, there had been for her a transfiguration of Christ. In Melbourne, in Portland, Penola, Adelaide? God knows. Did it develop gradually in her soul, or was there a dramatic moment, a blinding flash? Once again, only God knows.

But of one thing we may be sure: there was such a transfiguration. Somewhere, sometime, Mary MacKillop was permitted to touch a little of the glory, to know a small part of the wonder that is the glorified Christ. For it is this gift that Christ has in His giving for those He chooses for special service. This was the light which she followed, this was the light “which shone in a dark place”; in all the dark places of her life. And with the light came peace, that special kind of peace “which passes all understanding”.

A Deep Interior Fortress

That peace of Christ brings no immunity from suffering, no guarantee against tears and the twisting of the heart, no final victory against the weakness of human nature. Only deep strength it brings with it, the building of a deep interior fortress which no panic may storm, no doubt or opposition may ever really breach. And this peace and its strength Mother Mary needed. She was to know opposition and misunderstanding from those in whom she instinctively had trusted for help and encouragement. She was to know that particular sense of repulsive guilt which only those wrongly accused can ever experience. Poverty was to be a constant companion. It was not the joyful kind of poverty which carries with it the freedom from personal possessions, the total reliance on God’s Providence. Poverty for herself would have been so easy to bear, so happy a burden. The poverty she knew was the poverty of all the Sisters under her care, the hoarding of the pennies and the scraps to build the little shacks that were the convents, to keep open the shelters for the orphans and the helpless. Add to all this the long journeys by coach and bullock-wagon and in small ships, the long battles with authority which had to follow such a delicate path: to go forward along the way she knew to be so necessary for the success of the work Christ Our Lord had assigned to her; and, at the same time and so successfully, to preserve the utmost of respect and reverence for the very ones who opposed that progress so vigorously.

Through it all and with it all, deep down her heart was singing, and the refrain of that song were the words of Simon Peter: “Lord, it is good to be here!”

The Day Star Rises

And even in her lifetime, she was to see “the day star arise”. She lived to see her Sisters busy in the noisy, bustling streets of city suburbs; teaching the children, visiting the homes of the growing industrial jungles of the twentieth century. She saw them spread out through the quiet country towns to the places that nudge the edge of the Never-Never; to Jindabyne and Adaminaby and Nimmitabel and the country where the Man from the Snowy River rode through the pages of Banjo Patterson. The brown line of them was stretched taut across the whole continent from Kalgoorlie and Kelleberrin, Boulder and Southern Cross in the West to Texas and Taroom, Diranbandi and Crow’s Nest in Queensland. Sometimes they were housed in places that looked something like convents. More often their homes were tiny cottages, poor outside and in, housing sometimes three, far more frequently just two Sisters. Their acceptance of the vocation that Christ had given them brought no exemptions from the loneliness of isolation, from the sand and the flies and the heat. It brought with it no guarantee of Mass and the Sacraments, no surety that it might not be months on end before they could count on the visit of a priest.

Poor in the material things, maybe sometimes poorer still in the externals of the Faith, the young girls who had come so joyfully from the cities and the towns grew old fast; but their spirit was forever young. Deep in their eyes was the reflection of the light that Mother Mary had known in all the dark places; away down where only God can hear the murmuring of the heart, there was the song: “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

Land of the Long White Cloud

Across the Tasman, the names Mother Mary wrote on her letters, the addresses she searched for on her visits sang a different song: set to the music of the Maoris “Land of the Long White Cloud”. Remuera and Matata were founded in the 19th century; Paeroa, Rotorua, Whangarei in the early years of the 1900’s; in the South, Port Chalmers, Waimate and Temuka were flourishing before the turn of the century. The Sisters were settled in Temuka for four years before the Diocese (Christchurch), in which it is situated, was founded. It is as good a yardstick as any to measure the growth of the work that Mother Mary did for her Master to reflect that the foundation at Temuka in New Zealand’s South Island took place just 17 years after the beginning in the stable at Penola; only eight years after her return from Rome. . . .

Wherever they went, whatever the work they found waiting to be done, the daughters of Mother Mary carried the same whispered offering to Christ in their hearts; a whisper that was the long echo of the words of Ruth to Naomi: “Wherever You go I shall go. Your people will be my people . . . . wherever You dwell there will I pitch my tent. Where You die, there also shall I die, and there will I be buried . . . and I pray that nothing in life or in death may ever separate me from You. . .

Pride and Confidence

Australians are proud of Mother Mary of the Cross, all Australians. But there is a large segment of them who have a particular pride in her memory. They number not only the thousands of Sisters who live under the Rule she gave them; but the hundreds of thousands of other Australians whose lives have been significantly formed by what the Sisters of Saint Joseph meant to them in their early youth.

They are an extraordinary cross-section of Australia’s people: Young men and young women and grandparents and great-grandparents; husbands and wives and sons and daughters, the poor and the not-so-poor. Some of them found in the Sisters of the foundling homes and the orphanages loving substitutes for the mothers and fathers they were never to know. Others came to the Sisters as scruffy young ruffians from city slums, or as shy little colts from the spinifex and the saltbush. For thousands of them the first real vision of what they could learn, of the opportunities that life held for them came from the gentle voice, the firm dedication of a nun in a brown habit. Above all, they learned how to make Christ Our Lord part of their lives, to translate Him from the prayers they had learned at the bedside into a meaning for all their years on earth.

A cross-section they are: plumbers and carpenters and bishops and milkmen; professors and dustmen and politicians and doctors and lawyers; publicans and priests and nurses and missionaries and actors and singers . . . so many vocations, so many ways of serving God. And all of these vocations owe something, little or very much indeed, to the work begun by Mother Mary MacKillop.

They are proud of Mother Mary; proud, and confident, too. Confident that the work which she began will continue, no matter what may be the present difficulties or the fears for the future. Confident, too, that in these lands of the Southern Cross, in which and through the love of which she expressed so eloquently her love of God, her name will always be a blessing, the memory of her in lasting peace.

Some Characteristic Sayings

True Charity:

“My own dear Sisters, do all you can to bear with one another and to love one another in God and for God. We must expect to receive crosses; we know that we give them. What poor, faulty nature finds hard to bear, the love of God and zeal in His service will make sweet and easy. Try always to be generous with God.”

The Institute God’s Work:

“Don’t be troubled about the future of the Institute; I am not. He Whose work it is will take care of it. Let us all resign ourselves into His hands, and pray that in all things He may guide us to do His holy will. When thoughts of this or that will come, I turn to Him and say: ‘Only what You will, my God. Use me as You will’.”

A Welcome to the Cross:

My only anxiety is lest I should fall in a sorrow or humiliation He should put upon me. I cannot say with God’s faithful servants that I love humiliations; but I know they are good for me, and if He sends them I hope I shall be grateful.”

Simple Obedience:

“Beware of self mixing up with the work of God. Fear your own judgement; never let reasonings come between you and obedience.”

Respect for Priests:

“I had rather a dagger were thrust into my heart than hear a word said amongst us against priests – the anointed of God.”

All for God Only:

“Let us do the will of Him we love, and not by one wilful sigh wish for life or death but as He pleases, and when He pleases; so that no shadow of earthly will or self remain in hearts chosen by the God of Love for Himself.”


O God, who wills not that any soul should perish, but that all should be converted and live, grant, we beseech You, success to good work begun for Your Name by Your servant Mary of the Cross, and deign so to glorify her name before men that an increasing multitude of souls may by her means be brought to eternal salvation. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

– from the booklet Peace Beyond Understanding: The Story of Mother Mary MacKillop, Foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, by Monsignor James Hannon, Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1966

The Triple Crown: Saint Robert Southwell, S.J., Poet, Priest, Martyr, by B. A. Moore S.J.

illustration of Father Robert Southwell, SJ, artist unknown, published in the Illustrated Catholic Family Annual, 1873Interest in the English Martyrs has probably never been greater than it is at the moment, and hopes for their Canonization run high. Among that band of heroic souls who passed, as one of them put it, “through the terrible ‘Red Sea’ of death” were men and women of every condition of life: married and unmarried, layfolk and religious, secular priests and priests of a variety of religious orders, members of the nobility and commonfolk. All of them died, ultimately, for the unity of the Church which gives their blood a voice of appeal to which our day, more than any other since their death, is prepared to listen. All of those who died spoke our language and were formed in a way of life from which our own derives – which gives us an understanding of, and a nearness to them which is, perhaps, not so easily captured in regard to other Saints.

To represent this varied band, we have chosen Saint Robert Southwell, Poet, Priest and Martyr. As a martyr he reminds us that what has drawn these so diverse men and women into a single band, united among themselves and separated from their contemporaries, is their common death in a common cause; as a priest he reminds us that it was around the very survival of the priesthood and the Sacrifice it offers that the conflict principally raged; as a poet he has not only enriched our literature but was able to give moving expression to the hopes and fears that like a fever shook the whole Catholic body of his day.

Family Fortunes

The fortunes of the Southwell family were firmly based on the spoils of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries – the Benedictine priory at Horsham in Norfolk (ironically enough, called Saint Faith’s) going to “the King’s true servant”, Sir Richard Southwell. Time was when the young Richard appeared to be anything but the King’s true servant, for he faltered in his duty as false accuser of Saint Thomas More. He redeemed himself, however, by playing this role successfully in the case of the Earl of Surrey, the poet. This latter’s grandson, Saint Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, was later to be supported in his long imprisonment by Sir Richard’s own grandson, Saint Robert Southwell.

New Men, Wealth

Thus Sir Richard early learnt that in those days of new men and new wealth a too-sensitive conscience could leave a man impoverished, nay, impoverish him still further. Morals gave way to means. It is no surprise, therefore, to find him married to an heiress for the continuance of the family fortunes, but preferring his wife’s cousin as the mother of his children for the continuance of the family itself. He married her off to an already married dependant against the day when, his wife being dead, he would convict his henchman of bigamy, and marry his children’s mother, having by her a last daughter.

In these philanderings we find the very human agency for the fulfillment of the so-called “Monks’ Curse”, supposed to fall on anyone who profited from the destruction of the monasteries. For, within a few years of Saint Robert’s death, litigation between the legitimate and illegitimate branches of the family soon reduced the family fortunes to a mere shadow of their former substance.

Conforming Family

With the restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary, the Southwell family conformed gracefully enough, as they did later again in the changed circumstances under Queen Elizabeth. They did, it is true, even then retain a Marian priest as a sign of their attachment to the old ways, but he was not called to upset their accommodating consciences.

The father of the future martyr, Richard Southwell, conformed to the new religion. Not so his aunts, daughters of old Sir Richard, who have the distinction of being considered “very dangerous” by the informers among Walsingham’s network of spies.

The Third Son

Robert, his father’s third son, was born towards the end of 1561, and even as a child achieved a certain amount of local fame. While still an infant in the cradle he was stolen by a gypsy beguiled, as she confessed on being overtaken by the swift pursuit which followed, by the child’s beauty. This was not mere flattery designed to soften whatever blows the irate father might have been disposed to deliver. Later, on the continent, Robert was generally referred to as “the beautiful English youth”; and at his trial, his fresh and youthful appearance was still so marked (despite years of imprisonment and 10 cruel rackings) that he was referred to (contemptuously it is true, but that is not the point) as the “boy priest”. He was, in fact, then close on 33 years of age.

This kidnapping deeply impressed Robert, told of it no doubt a thousand times by his nurse. Later on, in his spiritual diary, he was to picture what his ready imagination presented to him as the probable outcome of this adventure had he not betimes been rescued. He is listing the more signal mercies shown by God:

“What if I had remained with the vagrant? How abject! How destitute of the knowledge or reverence of God! In what debasement of vice, in what great perils of crimes, in what indubitable risk of a miserable death and eternal punishment I would have been!”

In so sensitive and courteous a soul as his, it was but natural that gratitude to God for his rescue should have included gratitude to the old maidservant whose timely discovery of the kidnapping led to his being recovered. Her he sought out on his first arriving as a priest in England many years later and rewarded her in the way he knew best – reconciling her to the ancient Faith and providing for all the need of her old age.

His Nickname

For some obscure reason, Robert’s father gave him the nickname “Father Robert”. It is difficult to suggest a plausible reason why. It was certainly not that his father had destined him for the Church; priests were literally a dying race in Elizabethan England. Moreover, Robert was later to remind his father of this nickname, pointing out that in giving it to him he had spoken more truly than he knew. It may have meant no more than that Robert was rather fond of the old monastery of Saint Faith – his father had not yet sold it as he was later forced to do. It had also been suggested that the prophetic nickname referred to the quiet gravity of his disposition. It may be so; but certain it is that he was not always quiet nor always grave. Emulating, no doubt, the indominable spirit of that aunt of his whom he so much admired, he was caught out in some rather indiscreet irreverences uttered about the Queen’s regime, and, at the age of 14, found himself carpeted before the, by now, thoroughly inquisitorial Court of Star Chamber. It was high time to leave England.

Illegal Departure

This step, which Robert took in 1576, was not one to be advertised as it was quite illegal. Consequently, how and from what point of the coast he departed for the continent is still a matter for conjecture. A poem he wrote in later life suggests that between the decision to go and the going there was little lapse of time – not even time to return to bid farewell to his mother and the ancestral home. For in the poem, “On the Loss of the Child”, Our Lady complains:

How couldst thou go some other where to dwell
And make no stay to bid her once farewell?

The next two years of his life, 1576-1578, were spent attending the Jesuit school at Douai, with six months in Paris. During this period, he several times asked to be admitted into the Society of Jesus. He was deferred each time; perhaps because of some fear that his rather impressionable temperament did not fit him for the life, or perhaps because the unsettled condition of that part of Europe at the time made the future so uncertain. Probably, it was a combination of both circumstances.

Jesuit Novice

Like Saint Stanislaus Kostka before him, he set out for Rome to obtain there what had been denied him elsewhere, and was admitted into the novitiate of the Order on 17 October, 1578, shortly before his seventeenth birthday. The two years noviceship ended with his taking vows in 1580 – the year in which Saint Edmund Campion and Father Robert Parsons left to begin their heroic mission in England.

The landing of Parsons and Campion in England was, indeed, portentous of a new phase in the struggle of Catholicism for survival in England; and tales of accompanying portents on land and in the sky gained easy credence. Ever since, the shadowy figure of Parsons (enigmatic even to the understanding of many Catholics) has stood as the very incarnation of the jesuitical Jesuit; while Campion, in the blaze of his own glory and the aura of his martyrdom, is a glowing symbol of all the English Martyrs. “Jewel of England” as Elizabeth called him, his meteoric career flashed with a fiery brilliance. His elegance of person and urbanity of manner, his brilliance of mind and keenness of wit, the holy swagger of his Brag made him a legend even in his own lifetime.

Southwell was cast in a different mould. Sensitive, even excessively so, and retiring, he lived surrounded by an air more of dedication to sacrifice than by the zest which characterized Campion. He was a lamb led to the slaughter where Campion was an eagle.


The years 1580 to 1585 Robert spent in study and in teaching at the English College, being ordained in 1584. During that period, the College passed through one of its great crises when disaffection (nor the least of it being fomented by saboteurs planted there by Cecil) threatened the extinction of this creation of the genial Pope Gregory XIII. His leisure moments (too few for the task as his superiors eventually pointed out) were spent in compiling and publishing a regular news-letter of the heroic exploits of the Jesuits already in England – their extraordinary escapades and escapes, the good accomplished, the tortures endured, the crowns of martyrdom gained. Not the least exalted but probably the least exultant reader of these news-sheets was Cecil himself, to whom they were regularly sent by his satellites in Rome.

The English Mission

In 1586, Father Robert sought and obtained leave to go himself to the English mission from the Father General of the time, Claude Aquaviva. A man like Southwell was sadly needed in England at the time. Campion, four of his confreres and five secular priests, former pupils of the Jesuits in Rome, were already gloriously dead. With the death of these brilliant and cultured, as well as holy, men, the English Catholics were being starved not only of the Mass and the Sacraments and instruction in their Faith, but also of a native Catholic Literature. To them, no one could be more welcome than Father Southwell, priest and poet.

Father Weston

In the years between Campion’s martyrdom and Southwell’s arrival in 1586, the most glamorous figure in the English arena was Father William Weston, a man of great holiness and zeal with a positive genius for escaping from awkward situations. He was eventually to die peacefully in Spain; but meanwhile, in England, he endured 17 years imprisonment, including four years solitary confinement in the Tower. One of the greatest services he did the Catholics in England was to save Southwell and his companion, Father Henry Garnet, later martyred, from immediate capture on their arrival.

Father Weston is chiefly remembered for the alarming frequency with which he, for a few years, performed exorcisms – to the great distress of the Catholics and the delighted ridicule of the Protestants. Misguided though his practice was, exorcism was then the universal remedy for afflictions whose cause, being unknown, was readily attributed to the devil – especially as the illnesses were in no way physical, but were what we would now call hysteria, mental derangement, obsessions and the rest. Besides, as Father Weston himself said, “Something had to be attempted as much for the sake of those who suffered the affliction as from compassion towards the persons who had them in their houses.” What he had in mind was the great likelihood of such sufferers’ being hunted down and burnt as witches.

Arrival in England

The ship on which Fathers Garnet and Southwell sailed for England weighed anchor at two o’clock in the morning. Shortly after sunrise, off a lonely stretch of the coast between Dover and Folkstone, the ship’s boat was lowered. Robert Southwell was back in England.

To their dismay, they saw their landing being observed with great interest by a man on the high bluff above the beach. He was however, as Father Garnet wrote, “some sort of shepherd and a very honest fellow. He described to us at great length the places round about and the right way to get to them; and he assured us that he felt towards us as if we were his own kith and kin, and this he affirmed with a great oath. So our first adventure was a merry one.”

Southwell, too, was soon writing back to Rome:

“At the Queen’s Court they say there is a business in hand which, if it succeeds, will mean ruin for us; but if it fails, all will be well. To the Catholics, however, these are but bugs to frighten children; for they are driven so far already that there is no room left for further cruelty.”

As was so often the case with Southwell’s observations on the times, these words were a very apt description of the tortuous Babington conspiracy that was even then on the point of bursting wide open. How wrong he was in the second opinion he later learned by personal experience when he endured repeated rackings – each of which, he wrote, was worse than death.

Within a month of Southwell’s arrival in England, the Babington conspiracy broke; and Southwell, from the crowd at the foot of the gallows, gave absolution to the first of the butchered.

In Daily Peril

In another letter to his Superior in Rome, Robert has left us a brief but comprehensive picture of his life at this time. “I am devoting myself to sermons, hearing confessions and other priestly duties: hemmed in by daily perils, never safe for a moment.” Dramatic escapes from those human bloodhounds, the persuivants, became a common occurrence; but it was a unique experience to spend an entire week hidden in a priest’s hiding-place (those secret cells so artfully constructed in the wall or under the fireplaces of the great houses) while the persuivants took up residence and searched the place at their leisure.

Not the least important aspect of this subjection to constant stress through ever-present danger was the maturing effect it had on Robert’s own character. In the letter he wrote to Rome from the other side of the Channel when on the point of departing for England there is a note which may not be too strongly described as slightly hysterical. This edge of Europe he calls “death’s ante-room”. It is understandable, of course. He was, after all, not yet 25 years of age, only two years a priest, endowed with a highly sensitive nature and a vivid imagination, and was facing an adventure of enormous consequence. More, he was facing a certain and horrible death: not for nothing was Father General Aquaviva whose sadly heroic duty it was to send priests to the English Mission known in Rome as Lambs-to-the-slaughter Aquaviva. And Saint Philip Neri, meeting students from the English College in Rome, would greet them with the first line of the Church’s hymn to the Holy Innocents: “Hail, flowers of martyrdom.”

Under the stress of danger, then, this characteristic in Robert disappears; but never the desire for martyrdom to which he aspired with a calm humility as the supreme opportunity of showing his great love for Christ who first died for love of him.

Countess of Arundel

A cluster of houses in a quiet corner of London presented at that time a miniature of the whole of England. There were to be found the great Protestant houses – that of the Earl of Leicester, Cecil House, Somerset House, and in the midst of them the house of the unhappy, staunchly Catholic, Countess of Arundel. Her husband, Saint Philip Howard, still languished in the tower from which he was to find release only in death. The Countess, under the influence of Saint Robert, threw off the too-personal grief which had hitherto enveloped her, and took more to heart the plight of the whole Catholic body of England. She invited Robert to live in her house in the midst of the enemy camp. So there came about a situation possible only in a persecuted country. The false witness of Southwell’s grandfather had sent Howard’s grandfather to the gallows. Wiser than their fathers, the sons, poets both, gave each other all they had: Howard his house to Southwell, Southwell the power of his priesthood and his literary talent to Howard.

The Authentic Church

One of the great tasks of the mission in England was to ensure the continuity of the Church there with that first planted by Saint Augustine of Canterbury. If ever the persecution were relaxed, the Church must be in a position to emerge from the catacombs of England as a newly blossoming native growth, not as an exotic transplant from foreign places. It must emerge as the authentic Church of the English tradition and, in its externals, clothed with an English garment as The Authentic Church

The Poet

Since the printing presses of Parson and Campion had been hunted down and destroyed, there had been no native Catholic literature in England; and the beleaguered Catholic body was being starved not only of the life of grace, but also of the graces of intellectual and cultural life. (The impact of Campion’s writings. especially his Brag and the Ten Reasons should not be under-estimated.)The time was ripe for a repetition of Campion’s and Parson’s daring and invigorating experiment; and in the person of this talented poet there was on hand a worthy successor to Campion, one who could repeat, and perhaps surpass, the glories of the latter’s.

Brag and Ten Reasons

To obtain and install, without arousing the least suspicion, the presses, type and paper needed for the venture was a Herculean labour. But it was done. In 1587 Robert’s first work appeared: “An Epistle of Comfort for those restrained in Durance For the Catholic Faith.” It was written primarily for Saint Philip Howard in whose house it was composed. It has been praised by critics for “its clarity and rhythmic beauty, glowing with piety like a stained-glass window”; and in it the glory of death and martyrdom is matched with solid controversy.

The murder about this time of Mary, Queen of Scots, gave rise to a poem on one of Robert’s favourite themes – “Decease, Release”. In it, the Queen is made to say:

Alive a Queen, now dead I am a Saint;
Once Mary called, my name now Martyr is;
From earthly reign debarred by restraint,
In lieu whereof I reign in heavenly bliss.

Rue not my death, rejoice at my repose;
It was no death to me but to my woe;
The bud was opened to let out the rose,
The chains unloosed to let the captive go.

At the same time, the rapidly maturing poet was writing newsletters to Rome containing remarkably accurate and shrewd interpretations of the political scene.

His literary brilliance and attractive personality soon drew to his side a group of brilliant young men from the Universities and the Inns of Court. From them he learnt what he gleefully transmitted to his old friend Saint Robert Bellarmine that the undergraduates at the Universities judged the success or failure of their ministers’ sermons by whether or not they had the good sense not to try to refute Bellarmine’s “Controversies”.

Robert soon had plenty of matter for his newsletters; for, following the much-desired failure of the Armada came 33 martyrdoms, including that of Saint Margaret Ward – “a maid”, wrote Southwell, “among a thousand, in whose frail sex shone a courage hard to parallel.”

Missionary Tours

Meanwhile, the dangers of too-long continued residence in any one place and the needs of the Catholics throughout the country sent Robert on missionary tours of England. In them, the desire for Martyrdom, grown too vehement through the introspection pandered to by long confinement in the Arundel house, was moderated to a more controlled resignation.

Over these years, while Robert went about his priestly work, there had been rising to ever greater power the most notorious of the persuivants – Topcliffe, who had performed such sterling service in his chosen profession that he was permitted to maintain in his own house a private rack “for the more convenient examination of prisoners”. It was a variety of rack known as the manacles, and improved on its predecessors in two ways: it was far more painful, and yet left no visible wound or dislocation that would advertise the agony that had been endured upon it. Consequently, when at his “trial” Southwell protested against the barbarity of his torture, Topcliffe was able to challenge him to show the court the scars. “Ask a woman to show her throes (her birth pangs),” Southwell replied. Into the hands of this savage examiner and to the tender mercies of the manacles Robert was soon to be committed.


But before that, he had a final task to perform. In 1591 there appeared from the Queen’s Council a pamphlet called the Proclamation, consisting in the main of a diatribe against priests and Jesuits. In an attempt to rally again the patriotism that had flashed out on the occasion of the Armada, this Proclamation announced that the King of Spain and the Pope were busy at work preparing a new invasion of England. The forerunners of this invasion were the priests who were secretly at work in England. It was hoped, apparently, that a feeling of patriotism might succeed in doing what the persecution was signally failing to do.

Southwell’s answer to the Proclamation was entitled An Humble Supplication, and was addressed to his “Best-beloved Princess”, Queen Elizabeth. The Proclamation, he said, was so coarsely written that he feared the Queen’s name was being abused in being attached to it. She was surely ignorant of it as he was sure she was ignorant of the barbaric tortures inflicted on prisoners in her name. He complained that every incident (even a fire or a quarrel between the apprentices and their employers) was laid at the door of Catholics, without the least pretence at a just investigation, and even when the real agents of the incidents were well known. In refuting the calumnies of the Proclamation, Southwell was wasting his time, for he was mistaken in believing the Queen was not a party to it.


But the writing of the Supplication itself was not a futile expense of energy. By acknowledging freely the Queen’s temporal power, Southwell was able to reassure the Catholics that it was indeed for their faith that they were suffering, and was able to show the viciousness of the Act of 1585 on which they were condemned to death. He gave clear evidence that the Catholic body was not responsible for plots against the Queen’s life; that these were, in fact, anti-Catholic forgeries. A voice crying in the wilderness of those bloody times, he makes an impassioned plea for tolerance.

If nothing else, the Supplication is a great piece of literature, rising to powerful heights when he exposes and protests against the sufferings inflicted on Catholics, or when, with powerful imagination he confronts Elizabeth with all her kingly predecessors who, being Catholics, were liable to the same penalties as those her government was inflicting on her loyal subjects who “daily in our lives, and always at our executions, unfeignedly pray for your Majesty.” Robert was a priest, and as a priest he struggled for Elizabeth’s soul:

“If our due care of our country be such that, to rear the least fallen soul among your Majesty’s subjects from a fatal lapse, we are contented to pay our lives for the ransom: how much better should we think them bestowed, if so high a pennyworth as your gracious self, or the whole Realm, might be the gain of our dear purchase.”

Death Warrant

But writing thus he was signing his own death warrant. The hunt for Southwell was intensified and, in the following year, 1592, he was taken. In February of that year, Father Garnet had written in desperation:

“There is simply nowhere left to hide.”

But it was not the thoroughness of the hunt that led to Southwell’s capture, but betrayal by a Catholic.

Among the many Catholic families to whom Southwell had ministered was that of the Bellamys in Middlesex. Their staunch adherence to the Faith was notorious, but the house seemed to bear a charmed existence and no priest was ever captured there.

One of the daughters of the house, Anne, a woman of 29, was committed to prison towards the end of January, and, soon afterwards, was found to be pregnant by Topcliffe. To cover his guilt, to capture Southwell and to provide an estate for the prison keeper (to whom he intended marrying Anne) Topcliffe wove a plot which would accomplish all three together. It proved successful at the cost of life to three men and two women, and the ruin of several others.

In June, Anne was sent back to her Father’s house from where she sent for Southwell to come in his capacity as a priest. Southwell duly arrived, said Mass and preached. He was to leave the following morning. At midnight the persuivants arrived, led by Topcliffe. With him was a young man named Fitzherbert who had offered Topcliffe three thousand pounds to eliminate all the members of the family who stood between him and the family estate. Three years later, Topcliffe was suing Fitzherbert for failure to keep the contract. Even in those days, stomachs were not strong enough for that, and it was the end of Topcliffe’s career – who rather ungraciously remarked that it was enough to make Father Southwell’s bones dance for joy.


Realizing that the hunt was up, and to save his host’s property from destruction, Southwell left his hiding place and faced the old man. Topcliffe asked, “Who are you?” Southwell replied, “A gentleman.”

This was one thing Topcliffe was not and he hurled a stream of abuse at Southwell, ending with the words, “Priest! Traitor! Jesuit!” “Ah,” replied Southwell mildly, “but that is what you have to prove.” In a fury, Topcliffe drew his sword and rushed upon Southwell, but was restrained by his henchmen. The arrest was made. “The Goliath of the Papists’ was taken to Topcliffe’s house, and the Queen heard the news “with unwonted merriment”.


In the few weeks that he was in the house, Southwell was put to the manacles 10 times. The pain is akin to that of crucifixion; and it is no surprise to hear him declare under oath that he would have found death preferable.

The purpose of the torture was to obtain incriminating evidence against suspected Catholics. It failed dismally.

Cecil, no sentimentalist, declared:

Let antiquity boast of its Roman heroes and the patience of captives in torments: our own age is not inferior to it, nor do the minds of the English cede to the Romans. There is at present confined one Southwell, a Jesuit, who. thirteen times most cruelly tortured, cannot be induced to confess anything, not even the colour of the horse whereon on a certain day he rode, lest from such indication his adversaries might conjecture in what house, or in company of what Catholics, he that day was.


Southwell was then transferred to the Gatehouse prison, where he had for his keeper the husband of the woman who had betrayed him. There for some weeks, exhausted and emaciated, he lay in his own filth, unable even to brush from his body the maggots which swarmed upon him. By the end of July, his plight was such that his father (whom Robert had reconciled on his first coming to England) petitioned the Queen that he either suffer death if he were guilty of death, or else be better lodged. Southwell was therefore moved to the Tower, the Queen remembering, perhaps, that his mother had been a childhood friend of hers. Two and a half years of solitary confinement in the Tower, with the Bible and the works of Saint Bernard as his only companions, were all that stood between Robert and his reward. They were long years to a man who had written:

Who lives in love loves least to live
And long delay doth rue
If Him he love by Whom he live
To Whom all love is due;
Who for our love did choose to live
And was content to die,
Who loved our love more than His life
And love with life did buy.

And again:

Not where I breathe but where I love, I live;
Not where I love but where I am, I die:
The life I wish must future glory give;
The death I feel in present dangers lie.

Without the Mass, without companions, Robert nevertheless had occasional visitors. The tough Lieutenant of the Tower was charmed by the gentleness and gaiety of his prisoner, and ever afterwards spoke of him as “the saint, that blessed Father.” On one occasion, Saint Philip Howard’s pet dog strayed to his cell; Southwell gave the dog his blessing to carry back to his master. Less welcome guests were the members of the Privy Council who came again and again with their persistent questionings.

The thirty months that he lay in the Tower must have seemed an eternity to Southwell; and, indeed, there is little reason to suppose that they would have ended in any way but with his death in prison had not his own action provoked a different outcome. Southwell had learned patience, observing that Times go by Turns:

Not always fall of leaf nor ever spring,
Not endless night yet not eternal day;
The saddest birds a season find to sing,
The roughest storm a calm may soon allay;
Thus with succeeding turns God tempereth all,
That man may hope to rise yet fear to fall.

He had also learned to moderate his desire for martyrdom as long as he was performing a useful ministry with his writing, his secret press, his missionary journeys throughout England.

The Trial

But now he seemed to be suspended midway between earth and heaven. He determined to win the one or the other; and in 1594 asked to be brought to trial, Cecil replied that if he was in so much haste to be hanged he should have his desire.

Fortified with the first cup of wine he had tasted in two years, and “decayed in memory” as he said “from long imprisonment”, he faced his judges to give one of those exhibitions of gaiety, wit, shrewdness and courage which the martyrs on trial invariably turned on for the benefit of the real jury, the people of England. Asked would he be tried “by God and your country”, Robert replied: “By God and by you; for I would not lay upon my country the guilt of my condemnation.” Asked his age he replied: “I think I am near the age of Our Saviour who lived upon earth thirty-three years.” Topcliffe could not appreciate the subtlety of the answer, and accused Southwell of blasphemy, thereby unwittingly underlining the point of Southwell’s answer. Topcliffe’s interjections were unlucky; they gave Southwell the chance to raise the question of torture. Topcliffe blustered: “If he were racked, let me die for it.” “No,” replied Southwell,” but you have another kind of torture” (the manacles). Topcliffe: “Show the marks of your torture.” Southwell: “Ask a woman to show her throes (her birth pangs).” Topcliffe talked at great length, trying to clear himself. “Thou art a bad man,” said Southwell, and left it at that.

Topcliffe made one more interjection before being silenced by the judges. “I would blow you all to pieces,” he shouted. “What, ALL?” quirked Robert, “Soul and body too?” The smile that no doubt accompanied this sally which, among other things, neatly turned Topcliffe’s earlier accusation of blasphemy back on his own head, faded from Robert’s lips as he recognized his next accuser, Anne Bellamy. Her evidence (which Robert could have discredited had he been willing to expose her infamy) was used in an attempt to show that Southwell had taught the lawfulness of perjury. His reply was, by a parable, to ensnare the Court into admitting his position or to appear disloyal subjects of the Queen.

The Verdict

The jury retired, and in a quarter of an hour returned with their verdict of guilty. While the judge paused to deliver his sentence, Topcliffe again become vocal, calling out to the crowded hall: “I found him hidden in the tylles (tiles).” With a fine blend of humility, humour and scorn, Southwell replied: “It was time to hide when Mr. Topcliffe came.” The expected sentence was passed; Southwell was to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Dawn of the following day came at last. His keeper summoned Southwell who embraced him and gave him his cap – a souvenir the Protestant keeper valued highly, declining all Catholic offers to buy it. As he was tied to the hurdle, on which he was to be dragged to the gallows, he exclaimed: “How great a preferment (promotion) for so base a servant”, as he thought of those who had gone this way before him. A young woman, related to him, fell on her knees in the mud beside him and asked his blessing. He gave it, saying, “Dear cousin, I thank thee; and I pray thee, pray for me.” Arriving at the scaffold, and released from the hurdle, he wiped the mud from his face and flung the handkerchief as a parting gesture to Father Garnet whom he saw in the crowd below.

The Hanging

After he had spoken to the crowd, declaring his innocence and proclaiming his faith, he prayed, as did all the Martyrs, for the Queen. The noose was fitted around his neck. It slipped, was refitted and this time held. His last words as, slowly strangling, he made the sign of the Cross were, “Into thy hands, O Lord….” The butchering known as quartering was, by law, performed while the half-strangulated man was still alive and conscious. The Sergeant, therefore, stepped forward to cut him down and have the quartering proceeded with, but the powerful Protestant nobleman, Lord Mountjoy, who was standing by, waved him back, and the crowd roared its approval. Seeing the Sergeant hesitate, the Sheriff himself stepped forward drawing his sword to cut the rope; but he, too, stopped when the crowd roared its hostility. The hangman, taking his cue from the mood of the spectators, mercifully took the Martyr by the legs and leant with his full weight. When he felt the body go limp, he gently lowered it to the block.

The quarterer went to work. It is said that as the butcher held the Martyr’s heart aloft in his hand it seemed to jump from his grasp, as if anxious to join its fellow members of the Martyr’s body, already reeking in the cauldron.

The name of Blessed Robert Southwell headed the list of the 21 Jesuit priests and one brother who were among the 136 English Martyrs beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15 December, 1929. All of this great muster had suffered for the Faith between the years 1594 and 1679. Ten other martyrs, five Jesuit priests led by Blessed Edmund Campion and five secular priests, who died between the years 1573 and 1582 had already been beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 29 December, 1886. The only Catholic to suffer judicial execution for his faith during the Reformation period in Scotland was the Jesuit priest Blessed John Ogilvie, Martyred at Glasgow in 1615 and beatified by Pius XI on 29 November, 1929. The Feast of Saint Robert Southwell and Companions is kept in Jesuit churches on 21 February; that of Saint Edmund Campion and Companions on 1 December. Both these Saints and their 38 companions are now remembered as the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales on 25 October.

– from the booklet The Triple Crown: Saint Robert Southwell, S.J., Poet, Priest, Martyr, by B. A. Moore S.J., Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1966

Newman, Life and Thought, by Father Peter J Elliott

Life and Thoughts

At the end of his great work, The Development of Christian Doctrine, John Henry Newman addressed his readers, “And now dear reader, time is short, eternity is long. Put not from you what you have here found; regard it not as mere matter of present controversy; set not out resolved to refute it, and looking about for the best way of doing so . . . ” Then he continued with the words of a man about to take the plunge of conversion to Catholicism. ” . . . seduce not yourself that it comes of disappointment, or disgust, or restlessness, or wounded feeling, or undue sensibility or other weakness . . . ” And then he challenges his reader bluntly, “. . . wrap not yourself round in the associations of years past; nor determine that to be truth which you wish to be so, nor make an idol of cherished anticipations. Time is short, eternity is long. Nunc Dimittis servum tuum, Domine . . . ” [Now You dismiss Your servant, O Lord . . . see Luke 2:29].

So Newman passed out of the Church of England. The Passionist missionary Blessed Dominic Barberi came in from a rainy night in October 1845 to be confronted with a disturbed and excited man, forty-four years old, the sharpest mind of the Oxford Movement, the man whose pamphlet, Tract Ninety, had shaken England. In the kitchen at Littlemore, Newman the scholar, the great preacher, the hero with many disciples, was kneeling at the feet of a humble Italian priest, begging “admission into the One Fold of Christ”, to use his own words. His life seems to have come to a climax at that point of conversion. He was in his prime. Great works of scholarship already lay behind him, equally great works lay ahead. In his conversion there was a dramatic break with Anglicanism, and yet a deliberate and conscious taking into Catholicism of all his past experience and academic achievement, except in those instances he isolated which contradicted Catholic truth and Christian charity.

Some have claimed that Newman’s conversion marked a dismal turning point, that ever after his scholarship and charm deteriorated. This is not true. But it must be admitted that Catholicism cost Newman something he referred to in his Apologia, something he dramatized in his novel Loss and Gain. He was cut off from Oxford. He had to sacrifice the glory and prestige, together with the personal contacts and academic facilities of the great university. He had to set out on a path which led to the pastoral and missionary life of an English Catholic priest, a life, largely hidden from public view, largely concerned with non-academic affairs. Yet in that change, Newman found Faith, new zeal, a new drive, for at last he had embraced the confidence and splendour of the whole span of authentic Christian doctrine and life. So we look back from his conversion, and we look forward into his Catholic life.

Anglican Days

Behind all Newman’s theology and experience lay a basic evangelical piety. At the age of fifteen he had undergone a spiritual conversion, in which he became convinced that he was one of God’s elect, that he had the gift of final perseverance. Fortunately this did not lead to priggish Puritan notions about everyone else being damned. Later, at the age of twenty-one, he abandoned belief in predestination. But he always retained a confident faith in his first conversion. Jesus Christ and basic Christian doctrine became realities to this rather precocious teenager who went up to Oxford just before he turned sixteen.

As to what befell him in England’s premier university, you may read all about it in his autobiographical work, Apologia pro vita sua. In this book we find, for example, the author’s explanation for an unusual and unnecessary failure in examinations. A very old lady I knew, who recently lived in Oxford, and who is a distant relative of Newman, was very sharp indeed about his neurotic examination failure. From her point of view, Newman’s weakness was further demonstrated by his conversion to “Rome”, and she described one of the greatest Englishmen of his time, as “the black sheep of our family”. Many attempts to analyse the personality and character of Newman have produced all sorts of theories; extreme examples of trying to psychoanalyse a dead man, more reasonable examples of hesitant jigsaw puzzle character analysis. The hostile approach may be found in Faber’s Oxford Apostles. A deeper and less confident analysis runs through Meriol Trevor’s great two-volume biography, The Pillar of the Cloud, Light in Winter.

Tentatively I will sketch some aspects of the character which developed in Oxford – intense, academic – but not dry; genuinely devout – but not obviously “pious”; humorous and ready to make jokes and resort to satire, yet capable of completely serious discourse. In himself he was pleasant company, quite handsome and well groomed, although at one stage he lost all his hair and sported a bright red wig until it grew again! He preferred male company, and maintained several deep and many general friendships. His female friends seem to have come mainly from the family circle and its associates, and he was personally committed to celibacy at an early age. He tended to see women in the Victorian romantic fashion, idealized noble creatures who came to one for spiritual direction and guidance. His strict self-discipline and self-mortification, which followed the traditional Catholic lines, never seems to have conflicted with several proper but real particular friendships. But no-one could ever say he was attached to earthly things or people. “Time is short, eternity is long” – this principle of living “sub specie aeternitatis” [‘under the species of eternity’] dominated young Mr. Newman, middle-aged Fr. Newman and elderly Cardinal Newman.

Vocation to Anglican Orders came with his devout temperament and his own rejection of a career in Law. It is difficult to analyse his sense of vocation, rather it seems to have been a matter of duty, of gratitude to God for a youthful conversion. Even his later vocation to the Catholic priesthood is difficult to analyse, apart from the piety and spirituality of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri. As with other converts, Manning, Benson, Knox, Vernon Johnson, the fact that they had been Anglican clergymen with personal belief in priesthood seems to have made Catholic Orders natural and inevitable. But as an Anglican, Newman took on both an academic ministry, while a fellow of Oriel college and a pastoral ministry, the curacy of the small Evangelical parish of St. Clement’s. In Oriel College Newman fell under the influence of Richard Whately, later Protestant Archbishop of Dublin.

Whately inculcated the method of Oxford logic and a belief in the visible Church into his young disciple. This tempered the pious Evangelical personal religion, and the shy retiring nature of young Newman. In Oriel common room he was influenced also by the “broad church” school of thought, and the vicar of St. Mary’s University Church, Mr. Hawkins, who destroyed Newman’s tattered evangelical doctrines of predestination and election. At this time he was attracted to a study of the early Fathers, the main force behind the movement about to begin in Oxford. He also read the great, dull, yet hard-hitting Analogy of Religion by Bishop Bulter, a famous body of solid Anglican theology which points consistently to the role of visible Church, visible authority and genuine interplay between faith and reason in Christianity.

The Oxford Movement

In the late 1820’s, as a full-time tutor clergyman in Oriel, Newman entered a friendship with two key figures of the Oxford Movement, John Keble, a traditional high-churchman and the scholarly Hurrell Froude, also a high-churchman – and a man quite open to controlled admiration of Catholicism. Newman’s own position took on a further development, beyond Evangelicalism, beyond Oriel liberalism. The more he read deeply in the Fathers, the more he worked on his famous study of the Arian heresy, The Arians of the Fourth Century, the more he appreciated Catholic orthodoxy on basic issues, the Incarnation, salvation, the Trinity. He came to hold to the value of sacraments and the apostolic succession, both of which he saw compromised by the now decadent Evangelical Church leaders. In 1832, with his health failing, Newman went with friends to Italy and Sicily, but admitted that his experiences of Catholic worship consciously had little effect on him. He was a convinced Anglican, high church and conservatively given over to a jealous pride in the rights of his Church.

In Sicily he fell ill, and strangely convinced that he had a great work ahead in England, he headed for home. Becalmed in a boat between Palermo and Marseilles, Newman wrote his famous poem, now a popular hymn. It seems to be the first clear sign of inner impatience, of a yearning for something, for something which at the time he would have described perhaps as eternal life in heaven, and yet the poem does not really fit that meaning alone.

“Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark and I am far from home –
Lead Thou me on!”

Some have suggested that he should have written, “I am far from Rome – Lead . . . ” But there was no clear call to Catholicism at this stage, just this wistful, yet cloudy, tugging at his soul, the first glimmer of what I would call “the vision of the City of God”. It was the first mysterious intimation of conversion.

Back in England the Oxford Movement broke out into action and Newman was at the centre of it. The little circle of friends had a cause, a glorious cause – the re-catholicising of Anglicanism, from within. The cause captured Newman. His energy was devoted to it. But the cause directed him again and again to see the difficulty of Anglicanism. How could he reconcile the Faith and Church he found in the early Fathers with the divided, confused and essentially Protestant Church of England? As the Tracts for the Times rolled off the press, why were they greeted with such bitter opposition as well as with such enthusiasm? Newman was perturbed. He had minor clashes involving his conscience and the local ecclesiastical structure, for example he refused to marry a Dissenter to an Anglican. Nevertheless he put his faith in dogma and the apostolic nature of Anglicanism as he saw it. He expounded it to a critical but enthusiastic audience in St. Mary’s church. He put forward his position in a work entitled The Via Media, the middle way, not Anglicanism as it was then, or now, but the “Anglo Catholic” position. Newman himself admitted that this had not yet emerged. His admission reveals a sense of doubt. Would it ever emerge?

In 1839 Newman saw the Anglican position mirrored in the position of early heretics, the Monophysites. He had to admit that Rome stood for orthodoxy in the Patristic age. He found that his Via Media had dissolved. His only case against the Catholic Church was to cite her alleged errors. He had no positive theology of his own, no distinct Anglican position. His efforts to find a Catholicism which was not Roman Catholicism led him to write Tract Ninety. In this work, which burst like a storm on the Church of England, Newman tried to do the impossible. He tried to take the Thirty Nine Articles of Elizabeth I’s reign, and explain away their anti-Catholic principles and details. He was greeted with accusations of intellectual dishonesty. He was hounded and abused. He did not realize it until later, but he had taken another step forward. From trying to find his “Via Media,” Catholicism but not Roman Catholicism, he had moved to the point of trying to find Roman Catholicism but not the Catholic Church.

Towards Rome

In 1841 he received what he called “three blows which broke me”. Again he discovered the parallel between the Anglican position and a compromise heresy in the early Church, Semi-Arianism. Again he saw that Rome then, and perhaps now, stood for orthodoxy. He had the painful experience of seeing the Anglican bishops attack him one by one, he, Newman, the stout defender of the apostolic order and authority of these men. He saw the Church he believed to be Catholic at heart willing to allow a German Lutheran prelate act for it in Jerusalem, and Newman and his circle knew that Lutheran ordinations were invalid. Early 1842 saw Newman living at Littlemore, near Oxford, soon to be joined by his friends in a sort of monastic community. Already he was moving into that half-world, a man at sea with his own opinions, drawn in a certain direction, yet not consciously aware of any desire or intention to take the final step.

In 1842 and 1843 Newman lived a monastic life at Littlemore, apart from a Church he barely believed in, yet refusing to submit to the Church which he claimed erred concerning Our Lady and the Pope. His mind was agitated by a theory which seemed to explain the dynamic quality of Catholicism, a theory of the development of doctrine. He was an expert in the great theological battles of the Fifth Century. These and the Nineteenth Century ideals of progress and development seemed to present him with an answer to the objection that he was merely digging up a corrupt dated religion. But these ideas only led him to make the admission to a friend, “I am a Roman in my heart”. After the Lent retreat he took the firm step of resigning the parish of St. Mary’s University Church. On Monday, 25th September, 1843, he preached his last sermon at Littlemore. It was a moving sermon, a farewell, quiet and dignified, the “parting of friends”. At the end of the sermon he threw his academic hood and gown over the altar rail. This was a sign to all present that he had virtually laicised himself.

Two years later, in October, 1845, he was finally received into the Catholic Church. This two-year delay is mysterious, a dismal half-world, but it was the time in which Newman thought out the basic argument in positive terms for becoming a Catholic, the dynamic argument of the development of doctrine. Up till this time he had only negative reasons for becoming a Catholic. He saw what the Church of England was not. He still had to learn for himself what the Catholic Church is. He still had to settle the burning spiritual desire for the fullness of sacramental life and his close family and friend ties in Anglicanism. He was tortured by this. He was tortured by spiritual scruples and uncertainty. Yet, by early 1845 he was well into writing the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, his own bridge to the Church. The essay came to a gradual halt, virtually finished, when its author took the last step. He became a Catholic in October, 1845, not merely because he saw what Anglicanism was not, but because he saw what Catholicism is, the dynamic authentic fullness of Christianity.

Newman as a Catholic

We will not linger over Newman’s early career as a Catholic. His initial doubts about being worthy for priesthood were dispelled. He went to Rome, completed a brief course, was ordained, and entered the famous association of secular priests, the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, to whom he always held a firm devotion. Newman found that theology in Rome was in a patchy, higgledy-piggledy state. He found his own theory of development under fire as possible heresy. But he wrote much later (1863) of “the happy days, thank God, at Propaganda”.

In the Second Vatican Council we find two areas of doctrine directly influenced by Newman.

1. the theology of doctrinal development seems to underline the thinking of the Council.

2. the theology of the consensus of the faithful is clearly visible in Lumen Gentium, 12.

1. How does doctrine develop?

Newman is very careful here. Doctrine does not change. Development implies continuity, not a succession of new dogmas which do not rest in scriptural or apostolic tradition. Newman affirms that living ideas must develop, but to test genuine development he provides seven criteria, and these criteria Newman sees as evidence that genuine development only takes place in the Catholic Church. He sees the development of doctrine as something unique, related to the development of ideas generally, but constantly protected by the unchanging revelation in Christ. We take this for granted today. In Newman’s age, just when the evolution row was about to burst, many theologians viewed his theology with suspicion and hostility. To them it seemed to undermine the belief that Christ gave all truths for all time to his apostles. Newman’s case was quite formidable in the face of this simplification of theology. He pointed back to the great theological battles of the early Church, out of which the formulations of the Incarnation and Trinity were defined.

His historical evidence had marked effect on many scholarly Anglican readers, for they were committed to doctrines which had been defined through development. Newman’s logic also pointed them in the direction of “Rome”.

2. His theology of the laity is interesting.

It created a sharp debate in his own lifetime, and yet found its way into Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 12. In 1859, Newman published an article in the Catholic Journal, The Rambler, “On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine”. The title raised many pious eyebrows. “What’s this? Newman claims the laity can define dogma? What next?” We can see the misunderstanding and stupidity of this rash reaction when we examine what Newman said. Unfortunately it did not protect him from sharp controversy. Newman wrote of the consensus fidelium, not a lay magisterium but the faithful as one of the many witnesses to genuine apostolic tradition. ” . . . the body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and because their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the infallible Church.” Nevertheless, he went on much later, ” . . . the gift of discerning, discriminating, defining, promulgating, and enforcing any portion of that tradition resides solely in the Ecclesia docens”. [‘the teaching Church’]. Newman appealed to history and to the recent definition of the Immaculate Conception to show how the people of God often lead the way in endorsing and preparing for definition of dogma. He was able to cite cases from the patristic age, when sophisticated theologians and prelates fell into heresy, but the humble faithful clamoured for truth. He even saw this consensus as an ‘instinct’ in the Church. Vatican II follows this element in Newman’s doctrine and speaks of the sensus fidei, that gift of the Holy Spirit to God’s People that is an instinct against error and in favour of truth.

We may return to some major aspects of Newman’s life as a Catholic. In 1848 he played the leading role in establishing the priests of the Oratory in Birmingham, where they are to this day. The Oratorians wear a sort of double-breasted soutane, with sash and a linen collar of the Sixteenth Century form. They have only one binding promise – charity among the brethren. Each priest may own property, yet must live in community, eating and praying in community, and working in parish duties as well as using his own talents. The Oratorians are usually priest scholars and music plays an important part in their lives. Newman played the violin with some skill, and certainly enjoyed the Oratorian tradition of Renaissance liturgical music. In London, the Brompton Oratory was built in what became a very fashionable area. This huge baroque church attracted many wealthy and cultivated converts who enjoyed the company of the clergy there. In Birmingham, by contrast, the Oratory ministered to a mixed congregation, largely working-class and Irish immigrants. Newman, for all his exalted reputation, loved to work amongst the ordinary people, and I believe his doctrine of the consensus fidelium may have received its practical force from the faith of Bridget the seamstress or Michael the factory hand in Birmingham.

The Dublin Fiasco

There was one large portion of Newman’s Catholic life which turned into a bitter disappointment. This was the project for a Catholic University in Dublin. The great university in Dublin, Trinity College, was not open for Catholics, at least officially, and according to the hierarchy. Archbishop Cullen, of Dublin, was determined to create a Catholic university. He invited Newman over to Dublin in 1851, and Newman went over to discuss the scheme, although he remarked, “Curious it will be if Oxford is imported into Ireland . . . “. He planned to return to Ireland to give lectures on what this new Catholic university should be, but he was involved in perhaps the most painful embarrassment of his life, the famous Achilli case. Newman had attacked a profligate ex-friar, Giovanni Achilli, whom the Protestant Alliance had welcomed to England with a special hymn, “Hail, Roman Prisoner, Hail!”, fit welcome for an ex-Catholic about to begin a fiery crusade of preaching against the Church. Newman had dared to expose bluntly, and before a large audience, the various sexual indiscretions of the shady ex-Dominican. Achilli and the Protestant Alliance went to Law. Newman was sued for libel. In the midst of all this he found time to return to Ireland and deliver what surely must be the charter of the perfect university, his lectures, published as The Idea of a University. The Achilli case was tried after this. Newman lost it, but won a moral victory because of the scandal it caused concerning the methods used by bigots and fanatics. Newman again went back to Dublin, but, already named by Cullen as the first Rector of the university, he was discouraged by the muddling around and failure to get much done.

Eventually the scheme became a reality, at least partly a reality. Newman threw himself into the work. He reckoned he crossed the Irish Sea 56 times, being divided between the Oratory in Birmingham and the Dublin scheme. He built a university church, “a large barn . . . in the style of a basilica with Irish marbles and copies of standard pictures”, but the scheme as a whole collapsed. Archbishop Cullen seemed to turn on Newman, criticizing him in Roman circles for spending too much, employing English professors, importing Oxford customs and allowing students the outrageous liberties of hunting and dancing! Cullen’s enemies leapt into the scheme and helped bring it down. Mutual hostilities in Ireland and England worked against it. Borne down by the pettiness, sabotage and inconvenience, Newman resigned his rectorship. It was the end of the great dream. It was the triumph of narrow-minded and authoritarian ecclesiastics, in Ireland, England and Rome, who henceforth regarded Newman as a dangerous “liberal”, and, most unforgivable of all, a living reproach to their stupidity.

Papal Infallibility

In the late 1860’s Newman experienced another disappointment. His old friend and fellow convert, Henry Edward Manning, had risen rapidly in the English Church. He became Archbishop of Westminster. He was an extreme Ultramontane. [Dictionary definition: ‘Favourable to the ABSOLUTE authority of the Pope in matters of faith AND discipline.’] Personally, he had nothing against Newman, whom he could never have seen as a rival for power. Newman was not interested in power. But Newman put forward two attempts to bring Catholicism back into Oxford, right into the University itself. He wanted Catholics to be allowed to study in Oxford and to take degrees. He wanted the Oratory to found a mission there, to minister to undergraduates, to seek converts. Manning blocked both these schemes, supported by the Ultramontane layman, W. G. Ward. Catholics would be “polluted” by contact with Protestant or secular education. It was not until after Manning’s death that the Church lifted the short-sighted ban on Catholic undergraduates.

Manning and Newman also stood in differing positions concerning the great theological question which brewed in the late 1860’s as the First Vatican Council drew near. This was Papal Infallibility. We know of Newman’s private belief in the doctrine. He himself was a moderate Ultramontane, and was quite capable in several sermons of the most fervent bursts of loyalty and enthusiasm for Pius IX. Yet Manning suspected Newman of disloyalty to Rome, not grave disloyalty, but of an unsound liberalism. How strange, “Liberalism” was the word Newman hated most of all. Indeed, he would disown many of his “liberal” followers today, if he were still with us. His loyalty to Catholicism was beyond question. Cullen in Dublin, and Bishop Ullathorne of Birmingham firmly defended Newman’s reputation, especially after the Rambler crisis reached Rome. In the 1860’s Newman defended his own integrity and that of all converts in his autobiographical, Apologia pro Vita Sua.

Gently but firmly he had met the Anglo-Catholic challenge in Pusey’s Eirenicon, a criticism of Catholicism which yet hoped for unity. He had published his sharp analysis, The Difficulties of Anglicans. Yet all these obvious signs of total loyalty could not remove the rumour and suspicion. Newman was not on the list of those eligible, outside the episcopate, to be present at Vatican I. Perhaps this was good, insofar as his own academic work was concerned. In the same year as the Council he published A Grammar of Assent, a brilliant work of English Christian philosophy. After his Development of Doctrine, this surely ranks as his second great contribution to theology. When it is properly rediscovered, a theologian of our own time may use it to do what still has to be done, to unite Catholic theology with the modern linguistic and logical schools of British philosophy. The work was not scholastic. It was ahead of its time.

The inopportunists tried to drag Newman into their party. He had declared, “You are going too fast at Rome . . . We do not move at railroad pace in theological matters even in the Nineteenth Century”. Yet, his very language, reflecting his own theory of gradual development, reminds us that it was largely the process of development which effected the definition of infallibility. After the definition, in spite of letters urging him to stand out, Newman accepted the dogma. In 1874 Gladstone, bitter over Irish politics, let fly with his noisy expostulation against the Vatican decrees, claiming they gave the Pope political power.

Newman replied with his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk, based on advice he had given converts who were distressed over infallibility. It was a moderate and scholarly work, which won praise even from Manning and his circle. Gladstone failed to understand it, but he must have appreciated the famous remark Newman made, “Certainly if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts I shall drink – to the Pope, if you please – still to conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards”. We may remember hearing this quoted loud and long during the recent birth control debate. Those who shouted it should have checked what Newman wrote before he made his comment. His Letter to the Duke of Norfolk is an excellent defence of the authority, primacy and infallibility of the Pope. Significantly, it was published later as an appendix to his Difficulties of Anglicans.

The Last Years

Manning became a cardinal through the gratitude of Pius IX in 1875. Newman was pleased at the honour, and it seems that the two old men lost that antipathy towards one another which, on inspection, has been exaggerated a great deal by hearsay and bad history. But Newman had to wait until Pius IX died in February of 1878 before his work was honoured. Early in 1879, after false reports that he had refused the honour, Newman was made a cardinal by the new Pope, Leo XIII. “The cloud is lifted from me for ever,” he remarked to his brethren. In triumph, the old man made the journey to Rome to receive his red hat. His cardinal’s motto was “Cor ad Cor Loquitur,” “Heart Speaks to Heart.” [‘The Heart of Jesus to the Heart of man Speaks’] On the day he received his red hat he delivered a stirring speech against liberalism in theology.

He lived on for another eleven years, lonely years, for one by one his close friends died. Memories linger around the Oratory in Birmingham of these last years, of the aged cardinal climbing up to the library, holding onto a rope attached to the stairs, of the cardinal saying Mass in his own oratory, set in a corner of his crowded study, a Mass where the intentions for the dead were always present in the faded photographs which lined the walls, the faces of the Oxford Movement.

When he grew old, and after he died, some claimed he regretted becoming a Catholic. There is no truth in this, rather it rests on a fictional poem composed by an imaginative high church Anglican. The poem described the old man returning to the village of Littlemore, and weeping over his memories, “exchanging Oxford’s mirage for the gleam of Rome”. Conversion did cost him real suffering, primarily in terms of friends and pastoral relationships. In 1862 he himself entered print on allegations of his disillusionment with a violent letter to the “Globe” newspaper. “I have not had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold . . . ” He later went on in a more hostile tone, ” . . . I do hereby profess ex animo [from the soul] with an absolute internal assent and consent, that Protestantism is the dreariest of possible religions; . . . return to the Church of England! No! ‘The net is broken and we are delivered’. [Newman was quoting Psalm 124:7 (Psalm 123 in the Vulgate) ] I should be a consummate fool (to use a mild term) if in my old age I left the [Newman quotes Exodus 3:8] ‘land flowing with milk and honey’ for the city of confusion and the house of bondage.” We must remember that this was the pre-ecumenical age.

At conversion he had learnt the hard lessons he set out at the end of his essay on development. He continued to learn these lessons within the Church. ” . . . wrap not yourself round in the associations of years past, nor determine that to be truth which you wish to be so, nor make an idol of cherished anticipations . . . ” The anticipations so often came to nothing. The cardinal’s hat was perhaps after all an earthly consolation prize. But the greatest English Catholic of his century was schooled in the school of Christ. His interior life was the firm basis for all his actions, his strivings, his success and failure. He loved his Mass. He visited the Blessed Sacrament with devotion. He had a warm and natural devotion to Our Lady, characteristic of his time in that it centred on that sublime mystery, her Immaculate Conception. His Meditations and Devotions are still there for our benefit, and they have freshness, a modern honesty, a noble prose style which lifts them into our own time, well above the mountains of sugary Victorian piety which face the paper shredder each year.

Cardinal Newman died late in the evening of August 11th, 1890. He was buried, with tributes from the whole of England, in a simple grave together with the graves of other Oratorian clergy, at their retreat house, Rednal, near Birmingham. It is simply a mound of earth, and grass, with a wooden Cross, just like all the others near it. For his memorial tablet at the Oratory, Newman left us just one phrase. It sums up his life, his yearnings, his thinking, his anguish, his conversion, his disappointments, his achievement – all in one phrase, “Ex umbris et imaginibus in Veritatem”. – “Out of shadows and appearances into Truth.”

– from the booklet Newman, Life and Thought, by Father Peter J Elliott, Australian Catholic Truth Society #1666, 1974

The Adventurous Nun: The Story of Anne-Marie Javouhey, by Michael Richardson

Blessed Anne Mary JavouheyNot many of us, in our youth, have played cat and mouse with an unjust police force. Few of us have hidden priests who are hunted because of their unswerving fidelity to their Religion. Not many teenagers have taught Christian Doctrine at a time when this was forbidden by law, but, to these charges, Anne-Marie could plead guilty. Who was Anne-Marie?

Blessed Anne-Marie, born on 10 November, 1779, at Jallanges, was the fifth of ten children. Her father, Balthasar, was a well-to-do farmer; her mother, Claudine, a very holy woman. As a teenager, vivacious Anne-Marie, or Nanette as she was called, loved dress and dancing and young men’s company. There was a touch of dare-devil in her, which readily came to the surface, especially during the Revolution, when she frequently risked life and limb. She was devoted to Saint Bernard and Saint Martin. She arranged an oratory in her home and a small chapel dedicated to Saint Anne in her garden. More important, she founded the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny, was beatified by the Church, and, in the words of Pope Pius XI, was “the first woman missionary”.

Vigilant Nanette

Our story opens during the French Revolution in Chamblanc, where her family lived. Nanette used to teach Catechism because the nuns were either in exile or in hiding. On one occasion her father, disapproving of his daughter’s daring enterprise, sneaked up on the unsuspecting class to demonstrate how easily she might be caught, but his daughter had devised a method of vigilance. Suddenly she was teaching Arithmetic. Angry at being outwitted, he forbade her to carry on this practice in the barn. She never disobeyed the order. Instead, the orchard, the garden, the fields and the road became the classroom, and her prayers became more devout.

The fury of the Revolution grew, and Father Ballanche, a hunted priest, found refuge in the Javouhey home. Seventeen-year-old Nanette passed those spy-filled days accompanying her father, who talked business while she moved among the people, arranging rendezvous in old barns, where they might hear night-time sermons, confess their sins, and attend a dawn Mass. Since she was a great organizer, she used to send her brother, Etienne, and Jean Petitjean, the young man who hoped to marry her, on mysterious trips in the Javouhey cart. Under piles of potatoes and hay, Father Ballanche used to lie, while souls, hungry for spiritual guidance, awaited him in some lonely place. She taught the younger Javouhey children to spy, just as today the Communists train children to spy on their parents and friends. The difference was that the Javouhey children spied to preserve life, and if any faithful priests were in the area, Nanette was bound to know.

A Dash of Danger

One night, the scream of “Open the door in the name of the Republic!” horrified the Javouhey household. There was no time to bundle Father Ballanche into the attic. Nanette took the initiative: “Into the cupboard quickly.”

The fugitive slipped in, swinging the door behind him, but the latch did not catch. Meanwhile Nanette opened the front door, and four men entered, demanding the priest. Confidently, the deputy announced that he would have to arrest Balthasar, who, shocked at his sudden helplessness, heard his daughter chuckle at the whole idea. Her father could not produce a priest out of thin air. So she invited them to search the house – which was exactly what they intended.

As the search was beginning, the unlatched door creaked open. Of all people, it was the deputy who caught it, and he was about to peer into the cupboard, when Nanette suggested that her father ought to bring out the wine: “Later we can help them search for the priest.” One wonders what old Balthasar was thinking as his daughter asked him to share his wine with the men who had come to arrest him. He must have been paralysed at the sight of her taking the deputy’s coat and putting it in the cupboard. This time she shut the door firmly.

At long last, the deputy was satisfied by the Javouhey’s behaviour. They were too calm to be hiding a priest. A search would be useless. So, to end the momentous occasion, brother Pierre returned the deputy’s coat, but left the cupboard door wide open. We are told that the deputy stared at the cupboard. So did the Javouheys. He left with his escort and without his prisoner.

Today, priests are still being hunted. There are more than one thousand million people crushed, captured behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains. Pray for them and the Church of Silence; for those in concentration camps and prisons; for the unknown nuns, brothers and priests who labour to the end. It is we who are the silent church. [Thank God the Iron Curtain has fallen, but the Bamboo Curtain over China, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba is still in place. There are many other places where religious freedom is not possible, especially in fanatical Moslem and Hindu regions of the world.]

Spouse of Christ

One day, shortly after the priest-hunt, the daring girl revealed her true colours. “Father, I want to be a nun,” she admitted to Father Ballanche. The priest encouraged her, but wondered what the future held for a nun at a time when all the convents were closed. Her father, of course, had other plans for his Nanette and told her so. That any girl should become a nun was one question but that this girl should be his daughter was quite another. Yet, to his rebuff Nanette had an answer. She began a barrage of letters to her father. “My dear father, not all your refusals discourage me. I think you would tear my heart out, to make me stop wanting to lead the religious life,” and again “I have promised God to devote myself altogether to the service of the sick and the education of little girls.”

So finally, very early in the morning of 11th November, 1798, a small group of people gathered secretly in an upstairs room. They knew that the girl, dressed as a bride, had just completed a private retreat, and now they witnessed her taking of vows. Her three sisters envied her, promising that they too, would be as “happy as you are now”. Her fellow villagers were pleased, but thought that none of the usual convents they had known before the Revolution would suit this vivacious young Mademoiselle.

The Test

Nanette was happy, but the events of the next few years were unexciting to relate and cruel to bear. In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte directed a coup d’état, and the religious crept out of exile. After another struggle with her father, Nanette entered the Convent of the Daughters of Charity, but there she went badly. Her mission to God was clear, but the kind of mission was not. She preferred to be apart from the other members; she lost her appetite. She could neither sleep, nor read. She lost weight, she was losing her vocation, but on she prayed.

One night while kneeling in distress at her bedside, she asked: “Lord, what would You have me do? Make Your will known to me.” She promised obedience to God, even if it meant having to live her whole life in the dark coal-hole, which was near her room and terrified her. A voice answered her pleading: “You will accomplish great things for me.” A few nights later, disturbed from sleep, she was horrified to see her room crowded with coloured children of races she did not know, and in the middle stood a nun in a strange habit. “These are the children God has given you. He wishes you to form a new Congregation to care for them. I am Teresa (of Avila). I will be your protectress,” spoke the strange nun.

This vision occurred in 1800. We twentieth century folk must see visions too. There were once 3,000 street urchins who roamed the alleyways, living on theft and vice. Mario Borelli had a vision. He became Don Mario who lived with them and won their hearts so as to win their souls. [Read Morris West’s Children of the Sun: The Slum Dwellers of Naples (1957) (US title: Children of the Shadows: The True Story of the Street Urchins of Naples), for a fuller account of this modern hero.] Visions are not always so clear as Anne-Marie reported: “I seemed to see – was it a dream? Was it just my imagination? I don’t know – a multitude of children; poor, sick, weeping, commending themselves to me and reaching out their arms to me. What especially struck me was a multitude of blacks, men, women and children, calling me ‘Dear Mother’, and they were so unhappy that they left for ever afterwards the most vivid impression on me.”


Next time Balthasar visited the convent, he found his 20 year old daughter dressed to return home. The villagers had been right after all. Balthasar thought that now his daughter would listen to him, but he was disappointed. Instead, she opened schools and orphanages, and although funds were always insufficient to supply enough food and furniture, Nanette managed to keep these places open, at least for a time. Of course, enduring poverty was far from pleasant for Nanette. At one school she had to sleep on the floor and the conditions were so bad, that horrified curates returned prospective pupils to their homes. And each project that she started failed, and each failure depressed her. The life to which God was calling her would brook no depression, so she entered the Trappistine Convent called “The Monastery of the Holy Will of God”. This title was to become the motto of her own Congregation, one day.

Already she had experience in the direct apostolate with the Daughters of Charity, and by the end of the Trappistine novitiate, she had the solid spiritual formation, necessary for her own peculiar vocation. So she left the Trappistines. The day of her own Congregation was at hand.

Strengthened by the Trappistine training, Nanette took on more and more work in schools and orphanages. Her sisters joined her and with financial help from their father, they began to succeed. Soon, other devoted women helped them and they became known as the Sisters of Saint Joseph. So, on 12th May, 1807, nine young ladies, including Balthasar’s four daughters took vows. Nanette retained her baptismal names, Anne-Marie, while her sisters became Marie-Therese, Marie-Joseph, and Rosalie. They chose their motto: “The holy will of God.” The Mother Foundress was 28 years old, and the world awaited her works.

I Have Come to Serve

Restoration of souls, and sometimes of buildings, became the job of Mother Superior as the Congregation grew. After renovating the disused diocesan seminary in Chalon, the nuns lived there for almost three years, when Spanish prisoners of war were sent there. The nuns cared for what became a prison-hospital, where all types of infectious diseases spread. Reverend Mother herself caught typhus but she recovered. Finally, there was no room for the nuns. They migrated to Rue des Rats and then later (1812) to the historically famous monastery at Cluny, where, in 910, [Saint] Berno founded the original Benedictine Abbey. This Convent at Cluny became the Mother House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph until 1849. Hence their title “of Cluny” was complete. About this time, a minor eruption occurred when Anne-Marie’s nuns used the Lancastrian system of education, in which older pupils acted as monitors and taught groups of 10 what the teacher had taught them. Here was an excellent way to educate large numbers of poor children, for whom the number of books and teachers was inadequate. The system was criticized, however, because it was foreign (English) and was supposed to lead to indifferentism. Despite the adverse criticism of the nuns, the administrator of the Paris diocese; confident in the Congregation’s ability, had a Governmental school placed in their care. So successful was the system in the school that Anne-Marie and her Congregation received unexpected acclaim, and she became an authority overnight.

Anne-Marie also took on many diverse tasks. She opened up workshops and a small hostel for people of modest fortune, a home for war widows and a girls’ orphanage. Even the foundation of a preparatory seminary is attributed to her.


Meanwhile, the Congregation was spreading outwards. France looked to its colonies and the Congregation looked to the colonists. So Senegal (West Africa), a very primitive and unpleasant place, was the first mission to be chosen. Its two settlements, Goree Island and Saint Louis were surrounded by silent bush, where unpredictable natives wandered. So poorly equipped was the hospital, that there were no blankets, beds, eating utensils or mosquito nets. No one even prepared meals. It was simply a place where wretched Africans went to die. In the end, Sister Rosalie had to abandon her plans for schools, and concentrate all her efforts on improving the hospital. Indeed, the Colony was in such a deplorable state, that Anne-Marie could not resist the temptation. “The climate of Senegal is very unhealthy, I must go there myself.” she said.

Ship smells and sailors’ shouts farewelled her at the port. She heard the harsh rasp of block and tackle and she saw men hurrying to their different tasks, before the ship set sail. Men barked orders. Men struggled under the weight of heavy stores. Men swung from ropes and climbed ladders, while the officers surveyed the whole scene. Sailors talked, argued and swore as passengers streamed aboard. Anne-Marie’s blue habit was part of that colourful chaos, in which nameless people pushed and shoved their way to some unknown destiny. On board, she felt the ships floor beneath her feet rise and fall on the gentle swell. There was not long to go.

Anne-Marie Sought Souls

Then came the time which thrills sailors and landsmen alike, for who could not love the sight of billowing canvas, caught by a sea breeze, or the rolling of a ship as it lunges and slumps across ocean waves? That day, men and women, with their hearts set on the future, cut themselves off from the rest of the world. Some sought fame. Some sought fortune. Anne-Marie sought souls.

At Senegal, some months later, Anne-Marie was overjoyed at meeting her sister Rosalie again, and she admitted that she had often cried since her departure from France, but she had also laughed, though not so much. “I have taken a certain amount on myself; our good Master has added a little of his own – but things have settled down.”

Typical of Anne-Marie, she moved up the Senegal River through 50 miles of jungle to Dagana, a trading-centre, where few whites had been, and founded a Mission Centre there. She had great hopes in native missionaries and yearned for a native clergy, but the poor example of the whites contradicted her holy life. After treating her for a tropical disease, one doctor wrote: “I have seen her at work; she is a saint. I am too old to see her in the calendar; but you will.”

At the request of the British Governor, she visited Gambia, a British Colony which was used mainly as a dumping ground for hundreds of slaves taken from Moorish vessels. Anne-Marie refused to proceed until their degrading situation was improved. Finally, she left one Sister at Gambia in charge of these improvements, while at the insistence of the British Governor, she moved on to Sierra Leone, together with a girl, Florence, whom Sister Rosalie had freed from slavery.


Freetown, Sierra Leone, was no haven, with only one doctor (who was often called away from the town) and a very filthy dilapidated hospital. Untrained as she was, Anne-Marie spent those days caring for wounds, setting broken bones and dispensing medicines. The nights went in weaving mats for beds and improvising rags for blankets. Corruption had spread its evil tentacles here too, since the British had first dumped 400 slaves from Moorish vessels and imported 30 prostitutes from London to increase the population. The mulatto elite took control, and slavery broke out, among those who had once been slaves. Work was despised. Theft became a way of life. Despite this, the Mother Superior could only say: “Oh, how can I thank God for having brought me here! I feel so happy in being able to do so much good, and soothe so much suffering. If I had only six Sisters with me, what an amount of good could be accomplished!” About the slaves she wrote: “If only I had enough money to buy them all and set them free. I will never rest until this slave traffic is ended and they have all gained their freedom.”

Yellow Fever

Three months slipped by, when a sudden wave of yellow fever swept through the Colony, changing the hospital into a morgue. The Governor conscripted workers to cart away the dead. The doctor arrived to help her, and despite the grave risk of contagion, she fought the battle against disease for two months, until it struck her down. Then, somehow, through the constant care of Florence, that native girl, and against the doctor’s predictions, the nun recovered. By then, the battle against yellow fever had ended.

One month later, still so weak from the fever that she had to be carried on board, she retracted her steps and found, to her horror, that she had left a trail of desolation in her path. The nun who had remained at Gambia was dead, while the Mother Superior of Goree Island had proved incapable. One nun had rejected her vows and deserted; a second had died unattended. With the urgent message for more nuns and better training sent ahead of her, she returned after two years in Africa to more strife in France. The Congregation needed her steadying influence.

The Nuns’ Mutiny

Back in France, Anne-Marie found herself with a mutiny on her hands. The trouble had sprung up in the French Colony of Bourbon, the island of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, where an unfortunate nun had taken upon herself the position of superior. Because sailing-ships took five months to reach the island, the nun had ample opportunity to convince nuns, priests and officials of her position as superior, before the newly appointed nun arrived. The usurper was so stoutly defended, that after a year’s fruitless waiting, the real superior returned to France. At last, fully aware of the situation at the Colony, Anne-Marie sent her own sister Rosalie to take control.

Sister Rosalie herself met with great opposition, including an attempt to disband the Congregation. Ironically, the usurper, who intercepted the mail addressed to Rosalie, as she had done with Rosalie’s predecessor, received the beautiful letter from Anne-Marie: “Do not let yourself be taken in by sadness; you will be capable of nothing when you are downhearted. God will judge; we must work.”

But neither the opening of another’s mail, nor the influence of governor or priest could hold back the wrath of the mother-country. After some time, Rosalie’s position was confirmed through both government and ecclesiastical channels. The storm clouds had blown over.

Holy Hurry

Expansion was the theme of the day and the Cluny nuns spread from Africa, westwards over into the Caribbean and South America, and to the East, heroic work was being done at Pondicherry, in India. Almost simultaneously, the Church approved of the Congregation’s new rules as the Congregation’s members swelled to 500 scattered throughout 18 houses in France and the Colonies.

In France, a new mission was taking shape – nursing the mentally sick. The asylum of Saint Yon at Rouen, was to become the shelter of 1,350 patients, nursed by 170 Sisters. At Alencon, 80 lunatics, of whom 15 were extremely violent, together with 50 other misfits who were indiscriminately caged with the lunatics, moved Anne-Marie to action. Overcoming her repulsion at their screams, their nakedness and their unpredictable behaviour, she, with 17 nuns and her brother, pacified a jungle of savage human beings. The “Angels in blue” had won another victory.

About this time, despite her own depressing work, Anne-Marie wrote to her niece, Sister Clothilde, who was trying to patch up another’s failure: “Come, my dear; pluck up heart; shake off your enemy indolence which tells you fairy-tales; don’t listen to the pride which lurks beneath the (humble) violet; pride that is so afraid of failure, that people may laugh at it. Pay no attention to ‘What will people say?’ none whatsoever.”

The Colonial Nun

One of the French Colonies, Guiana was too hot, too wet, too rugged, too disease-ridden for anything else but a penal institute on Devil’s Island. It was occupied by officials, merchants, speculators, paroled or escaped convicts and the usual group of nonentities who drift towards places where the conscientious arm of justice only reaches with difficulty.

Colonizing had not been successful in this area. In 1823, the Government had set up a colony of 164 trades-men and farmers along the banks of the Mana River, some 80 miles from the capital, Cayenne. Five years later, the number had dwindled to one family, reduced to the poorest conditions. Realizing its inability to cope with colonization, the French Government turned to Anne-Marie. The result was that 86 laymen and 36 nuns sailed on two ships for Cayenne in 1828. Anne-Marie was to direct the Colony as the Government desired, but she intended far more. She knew of the Indian tribes in the area, the hundreds of slaves imported from Africa, and the wretched lepers nearby. She had hopes of bringing teen-age orphans, the sad remains of the Napoleonic wars, from France, so that they could settle down to a new life, once the Colony was on its feet. This extraordinary nun, however, did not live in a whirl of dreams. “I am taking you to Purgatory,” she warned her helpers.

Once at New Angouleme (Anne-Marie’s new Colony) the farmers and tradesmen all obeyed the nun and lived a community life, rising for 4 o’clock Mass and stopping work at 10 o’clock because of the oppressive heat; the Angelus and dinner were at noon. Schooling was for European children, and for Indians and Africans if they so desired. Particular times were set aside for community and individual works. For Sisters, Colonists and natives the time-table was the same. All worked for the betterment of the Colony and all were responsible to one person – a 50 year old woman, a nun, and, many believe, a Saint.

The Colony advanced so well, that Anne-Marie was able to leave, for a short time, to inspect two other Mission Stations on the Caribbean (Guadeloupe and Martinique) but when she returned, she found that 10 settlers had left. Brother Pierre had inclined to be dictatorial. Also, the old antipathy which dogs human nature, arose in the baby Colony. The whites objected to their children being taught in the school beside black children. Anne-Marie was firm: “I am here, remember, more as a missionary of God, than a missionary of France.” The African children remained.

The Lepers

We frequently read of lepers in the Bible, but the biblical terror has been so often repeated in our readings that it has become rather remote from our own lives. Damien, the leper-priest, [now canonized,] described leprosy more vividly: “Discoloured patches appear on the skin, especially on the cheeks, and the parts affected lose their feeling. After a time, this discoloration covers the entire body; then, ulcers begin to open, chiefly at the extremities. The flesh is eaten away, and gives out a fetid odour; even the breath of the leper becomes so foul, that the air around is poisoned with it. . . . Sometimes, I feel no repugnance, when I hear the confessions of those near their end, whose wounds are full of maggots.” Yet, even Damien admitted: “The smell of their filth, mixed with the exhalation of their sores, was simply disgusting, unbearable to the newcomer. Many times, in their huts, I have been obliged to run outside to breathe fresh air.”

In our own times, one of Anne-Marie’s followers describes a frightening scene, soon after she arrived to work among the lepers at Ducos, New Caledonia: “The cook himself, is a patient and has not enough of his fingers left to stir his miserable pots. His face is completely destroyed and he has no lips. He cannot prevent his saliva from falling into the dishes. Because of his leprosy, he cannot feel the heat and so there are many burns on his poor feet and arms.”

Deplorable Condition

It was for people like these, with grotesque and vile-smelling bodies, that Anne-Marie brought her nuns across the seas. The lepers’ condition was particularly deplorable as when she arrived, very few had managed to build grass huts, and so the strong, salty winds bit into their sores. Food was scarce and fresh water rare. It is little wonder that suicide was their only escape from a wretched, lawless life, where all kinds of immorality were practised.

One can imagine Anne-Marie’s joy when she was able to liberate the hundred lepers from their desolate prison. It was a goal which had taken three years to achieve – three years of brick-making, of floating the bricks by raft down the Mana River and back up the Acarouany to the proposed site; of mending clothes; of donating great stores of food supplies to tide the lepers over the unsettled period, before their own vegetable gardens could produce. Certainly, the colonists made great sacrifices for the lepers, thanks to the encouraging and ever-sacrificing Anne-Marie.

In Troubles and Distress

At the main Colony, success was not conspicuous. Letters from those settlers who had deserted began arriving, and within a year, only two families remained. So in 1833, Anne-Marie left the New Angouleme Colony and its failure. “From the looks of things, you would not think that I had done anything at all.” Five years’ work seemed lost.

If she left failure at the Colony, she turned towards trouble in France. The Bishop of the diocese where the Congregation was founded had taken it upon himself to become its Superior-General, and he was perfectly satisfied to use any means he could, to gain his end. Apparently, French bishops, at that time, believed that a bishop had such a right, when the Mother House of a Congregation was in his own diocese. Who was the Bishop of Autun? To the faithful he must have been a sad sight. Born a marquis, commissioned in the French army at 20, he became a priest after two years’ study, and four years after his seminary training, became Bishop of Autun. He had important friends, and the Church was to suffer as a consequence. Indeed, the struggle was to rage for 18 years between the bishop and the foundress. The story of this trouble makes sad reading and becomes far too involved for such a short biography. Suffice to say, Anne-Marie suffered much during this period at the hands of this man. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, still persecuting the prophets!

Meanwhile, much agitation was occurring over the issue of slavery.

A Second Try

At last the conscience of the world was feeling chafed. In 1831 a Bill freeing slaves was passed. Immediate liberation was impossible, as this would place a financial strain on the various of the French Colonies’ budgets, especially in the Caribbean area, so a seven-year probation period was decided upon, during which the slaves were to prove themselves suitable members of society or be returned to slavery. Back in French Guiana, 500 slaves walked off the plantations and headed to Cayenne, the capital, where they were put on the Government pay-roll and sub-leased back to their old plantations. They needed to learn how to use freedom. In 1835 the Government sought what they had been looking for, Anne-Marie – a person who could teach the slaves. Very soon they agreed that a colony should be set up, not on the New Angouleme site, but on the Mana plateau, which was cooler, less muggy, and closer to the leprosarium on the Acarouany. As there were only three years left before the probation expired, the Government suggested that two more years should be added. Everything was supplied – even priests and a doctor. Anne-Marie had complete charge; such was the confidence Government officials had in the 56 year old Cluny foundress. As King Louis Philippe exclaimed: “Madame Javouhey is a great man.”

En route for Mana, she inspected the religious houses at Senegal, and remembering that most of the 500 probationers were men, she gathered 60 African women and brought them to Cayenne – a matter which our own Australian Government neglected when they began extensive migration for young European males. Naturally, the French Governor was aghast. Five hundred unruly problems were enough, without increasing their numbers. Even the captain distrusted the slaves and was afraid to take them on his ship. Yet by the end of 1836, 520 Africans were safely installed in the Colony.


Life at Mana was much the same as it had been at New Angouleme. A town took shape, complete with houses in well-planned streets, a chapel, a clinic, a convent for the nuns, and a dormitory for the unmarried women. Naturally, the social life had its rules and regulations, as any hostel must.

Settling the town was not Anne-Marie’s only task. Large areas of land had to be cleared and divided into suitable blocks for the slaves soon to be freed. They dug irrigation channels and planted bananas and manioc (a plant with a tuberous root, similar to a parsnip), so that when the farms were finally occupied they would already be producing crops and would have a four months’ rice supply. The Colony added to the competition of the plantation owners by providing small monetary rewards for successful harvesting of crops, while slaves, still to be freed, fled to its protection. On one occasion, while Anne-Marie was visiting the leprosarium, the owner seized his slaves, seeking refuge at the Colony, and burnt one of them alive. When Anne-Marie returned to the Colony, there was no vessel to take her to Cayenne, so she completed a forced jungle march of 50 miles, by a route now known as the Javouhey road. Yet all was in vain. As the Governor pointed out, how does a court proceed when a black man is on trial before a white judge, white jury and white witnesses? Such jungle justice is not strange to our civilized times either. In 1964, some men were tried for the lynch-murder of three civil rights workers in America. On examining the bodies of the victims, a pathologist stated: “I have never seen bones so severely shattered, except in tremendously high-speed accidents, such as aeroplane crashes.” Negro leaders doubted if any of the accused would be convicted for this atrocity, because of the all-white jury. They were right. The murderers were acquitted and became heroes. More and more twentieth-century Anne-Marie Javouheys must step forward [as must twenty-first-century versions too].[Historical footnote: In 1966 eighteen individuals were tried for the ‘Mississippi civil rights workers murders’ case (sometimes known as the ‘Mississippi Burning’ case). Seven were convicted, and after appeals served between 3 and 6 years as their sentence. In 2005 one other (regarded by many as the true ring leader) was sentenced for 20 years on 3 counts of manslaughter.]

Disaster Averted

If civil rights defenders are called “n—— lovers” today, they were called negrophiles in her day. Anne-Marie was accused of being one such person, and for a variety reasons, plantation owners, bishops and priests united in an attempt to remove her, yet, strangely enough, each attempt was blocked by the arrival of some Government personage. Although still unaware of the unison and collaboration of her enemies, she was moved by the Holy Spirit to make a drastic change. She ordered Sister Rosalie to return from Senegal to France as Superior-General. This unorthodox move actually saved the Congregation from disaster.

The scandalous behaviour of her enemies makes poor reading in this story of love, so I have avoided it. Nevertheless, the following will serve to demonstrate the hatred her enemies bore her. One night, before leaving the leprosarium, a native warned her that one of the rowers of the boat in which she would return, was paid by the colonists to upset it and thus drown her, as she had not learnt to swim. Despite the warning, the lone white woman sat for four hours, head bowed in prayer, as always on this trip, and nothing extraordinary happened that time when they rowed from the leprosarium to Mana. The would-be murderer had faltered because of her fearlessness.

Slave of the Slaves

Then came the joyful day, 21st May, 1838, when, after Mass, 185 slaves were emancipated. As one of them admitted: “We are free now, but we will never be free from the debt we owe you. We can only repay you with this promise: you will never be ashamed of us.” We are told that on receiving their charters of freedom, the freed men immediately handed them to Anne-Marie, the one person they could trust, but to their simple minds, the proof of their freedom was not the parchment, but the right to wear boots. The comical expressions accompanying the effort to fit into the boots which Reverend Mother had provided, added to the joy of the occasion. “If you could only see this population, whose aspect was so formidable and uninviting just two years ago,” she wrote to Rosalie. “It is today so changed, so edifying and, for the most part, so virtuous that I cannot but see how truly it is the work of God.”

In 1841, Mana was truly prospering. Four hundred slaves had been emancipated. Anne-Marie’s irrigation channels had saved and produced the only bumper crops in Guiana during a severe drought, and, surprisingly enough, a convict at Devil’s Island whom she had met on her trip to the lepers, had now been liberated, and was supervising the rum distillery. The Mana community paid for a long shed, in which were four big vats, and a little railway joining the distillery with the canefields. About 200 other liberated slaves moved into Mana, which, without a single policeman, was quiet and law-abiding. Everyone was literate, and children received full education. It was to the nun who organized this idyllic settlement, that Bishop Guillier, aided in his beliefs by the sickening behaviour of his fellow colonists and the unreliable reports of Anne-Marie’s chaplains and the grasping Bishop of Autun, announced that this “white Queen” and servant of the devil must put aside her religious habit or suffer excommunication. No Communion! No Confession! Anne-Marie was excommunicated.

In Disgrace

For two years Anne-Marie, who had crossed the world and suffered so many times for God, remained in disgrace, a scandal to all. We are told that this holy nun used to take long walks in the scrub, long lonely walks, while she conversed with the Master. “When I think of what has happened to me here, and I realize the weaknesses behind it all, I have to laugh – and sometimes I have to cry,” she admitted. We are told that natives unexpectedly disturbed her in tears, yet a peaceful serenity remained with her always. She was no doleful creature; she had a smile for everyone. Under it all, the devil had managed to bring her very low. He never broke her. “I am always happy, even amid worries and contradictions. Sad I may be at times, but my heart is always buoyant. May my example be a guide to you always. Bear all for the love of God and thus you will find consolation and peace of soul.”

The years were fleeing into the past. The Government would not finance another such colony nor more schools for the black children, and so Anne-Marie’s stay at Mana ended. It was a sad farewell; a ship in the river surrounded by an ocean of bobbing canoes, in which the people, she had raised from slaves to free men, saluted her. They followed her ship down to the river-mouth. They could never forget her.

Now and At the Hour

Over 60 years old, she returned to France, where a bishop, appalled at her excommunication, freed her from the punishment, and the whole world recognized her greatness. The Queen visited her twice. Bishops, priests and laymen honoured her, and her Congregation grew and spread. She had over one thousand followers, but a few powerful enemies. The Bishop of Autun (France) still combining with Bishop Guillier (Guiana), realizing that his chances of controlling the Congregation were dwindling, set about to destroy it. One of his priests warned the 80 postulants and novices at Cluny that it was sinful to obey the orders of any of the Superiors – namely those who were loyal to Anne-Marie. All but seven of these young nuns stood by their Foundress. Next, the Bishop of Autun secretly scattered reports to all the bishops in whose dioceses the Congregation had houses. Bishop Guillier’s unfounded charges against Anne-Marie were of course included; only after a long time was Anne-Marie informed of the plot to defame her, and then she refuted the charges. The bishop continued his manoeuvres.

The Revolution of 1848 clutched France in another death-grasp, but Anne-Marie moved safely through the fighting. She organized the Sisters into a kind of ambulance-brigade which cared for the wounded. Two of the Cluny houses were offered for the children of the fathers who had fallen in the riots. The atrocities eventually ceased, but in their wake came a plague of cholera, and the old nun, almost 70, replaced nursing Sisters who had themselves been infected. At length the plague ended. “O my God, I thank you for the sorrows and crosses you have sent me. How good You are.”

The Ageing Heroine

During these last few years, when she was almost always sick, the elderly heroine drove herself harder and harder. There was still so much to be done: “If I don’t work, what would I do with myself?” People came: to her for advice; she was so united to God, that to speak with Anne-Marie “was like speaking to God”. “Let us love truth, straightforwardness. The truth may hurt sometimes, but never does harm.” Often during the bitter winter months of 1850-51, Mother General was heard to say: “My task is finished; the work I was called to do is done.” Yes, it was done. Yet she longed to do more. She had planned to go to Rome to finalize matters for her Congregation, but as she grew feeble, she realized: “I have another journey before me, which I must make alone.” So it was that on 15th July, 1851, the Mother General of 1,200 followers and Foundress of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny, Anne-Marie Javouhey died. She was 71 years old.

It is easy to write of the glorious days which followed – the miracles performed through her intercession, the papal declaration of 1908 acclaiming Anne-Marie Venerable, the formal day of Beatification, 15th October, 1950, but the fame and glories of “the woman God loved” seem far away and unrelated to us who have the battle to fight, promises to keep, souls to save and God to be glorified.

It is unnecessary to enumerate her virtues. Possibly her total forgiveness of the bishop, who for 18 years, worked to topple her labours, speaks for itself. Only half-an-hour before her death, she said to Sister Rosalie: “We ought to think of His Lordship as one of our benefactors. God made use of him to try us, when, as a rule, we were hearing round us nothing but praise.” In the month between his death and hers, she prayed for the repose of the soul of “that good bishop”. Such was her complete forgiveness.

The Modern Anne-Marie

If Anne-Marie was a light in yesterday’s darkness, where are today’s lights? Just look at the present darkness. War is just round the corner, and the last major one (World War Two) involved mass slaughters of soldiers and civilians. At the same time millions of Jews were butchered, simply because they were Jews. If the world suffered through Nazism then, we have Communism now; Communism, which cages men by a Berlin Wall, nests of concentration camps, a vigilant spy system and armed guards. Behind the ‘Bamboo Curtain’ the situation is as bad as in the worst days of Stalin. Communists infiltrate into religion and set man against man and religion against religion. Ironically, the thoughtful who point out the trickery of this ideology are despised and known as fanatics, as fools and as dramatists. And Catholic Italy, France and South America are falling prey to this sinister disease. Have we no fear for the world in which nearly half the people are starving? We build more siloes to house unmarketed food and some greedy business men would prefer to dump produce into the sea rather than risk a drop in the market-price – or feed the starving. Have you no fear for the world?

Racially speaking, atheism is victorious. The down-trodden Negro in America and England, or the abandoned Chinese in Hong Kong bears witness to this. And all about us, people on the street, in the paper, over the wireless and television, and on the screen flaunt a way of life which is both seductive and degrading, while we sit back, supposedly innocent, self-satisfied, and I fear, tainted. These are challenging times! We, Catholics, are the light of the world, where is our light? People are spiritually dead, we give them no truth. People are starving, we give them no food. People are ignorant, we give them no knowledge. People are hated, we give them no love.

What is Your Vision?

What is your vision, kind reader? Is it to be an Anne-Marie Javouhey in your own right? A light in the darkness? In Australia we need more Anne-Maries to staff the family cottages for orphans, the hospitals where our sick lie, and the schools where our children await the truth. The various Catholic Action Groups all grind to a halt, if certain people with the mind of Anne-Marie Javouhey do not come forth. And what of your family, young mother and wife; what of your fellow-students, Catholic pupil; what of your fiancé, young lady; what of that afternoon-tea circle, old lady; what of the people about you, Catholic of the 1960’s, [and you, too, Catholics of the twenty-first century,] if you don’t spark off their imaginations, so that they seek good? Spur yourself to live for others and whip others into action for the world. What challenging times!

Spur yourself to live for others and whip others into action for the world in which 66 per cent of the people are the under-privileged and so many of them are non-christians as well. Perhaps you have a vision of coloured people as Anne-Marie once did? Then go to them. You can, you know, as a Lay Missionary! Whatever your skill, can you give a few years of your life? Spread the Good News of Christ everywhere. It is too good, too full of hope and certainty to be left unknown. Spread this Message as Anne-Marie did among the Africans. Become another Anne-Marie with the nurses, teachers, carpenters, plumbers, farmers, mechanics, pilots, doctors, dentists, orderlies and builders who are, even now, blasting their way to future glory. In her time, Anne-Marie accomplished her mission, but the times have rolled on. Now the coloured people look to us. What challenging times!

If only we realized that while we ponder about our lives, the destiny of souls is hanging in the balance; the whole of Eternity is poised; the lives of people yet unheard of are waiting, and the children yet unborn are depending on us while we hesitate on the brink. Why suffer an inferiority complex when the world is waiting for us, needing us? The gates have swung open; the green light is flashing; time for action has come.

Is It You?

I am also writing to someone else. Is it to you, young woman, between the age of 16 and 30? An ardent love, an overwhelming desire to be a religious is not a requisite for a religious. Simply a desire, the will to do something worthwhile with your life, to accomplish something which will leave an unforgettable mark on the world, or a desire to bring God, goodness and happiness to an unhappy world is all that is needed. Feelings do not count. Your act of the will does. Simply say: “Yes, Lord.” “Yes,” to the various works of Anne-Marie Javouhey which have spread into our times. Her followers battle for Christ in classrooms and mission villages; in hospital wards and leprosaria; in orphanages and mental homes and in caring for retired ladies. These “angels in blue habits”, these Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny, go wherever they are needed and they are needed everywhere. With 118 convents in Europe, 26 in Asia, 92 in Africa, 63 in America and 16 in Oceania, the spirit of Blessed Anne-Marie has reached Australian shores, where there are only three houses. Two of these are convents with a seminary.

“Go and Make Ready For Us, He Said, To Eat” – Luke 22:8.

The Sister’s life in a seminary is to co-operate closely in the training of tomorrow’s priests. Perhaps her life may not have the attractions of other vocations, but it has what all other’s lack: an intimate connection with the priesthood. It is nothing less than carrying out what Mary, our Mother, did for the first Priest. For the Sister cooks, sews, nurses, sets the students’ tables and prays for the priests of the twentieth and [twenty-first] century, as truly as Mary did for Christ, in the first century. Mary was never in the public eye, but she was always nearby, when she was needed. So too, the Sister’s most important work is not what men may see or weigh or measure, but her Masses, prayers and sacrifices which she offers for the future priests.

Then, when Ordination day comes, she shares in a mother’s joy, for she has somehow replaced the seminarian’s natural mother, and she has shared in Mary’s spiritual motherhood. The Sister knows that these young men, whom she has helped, even by her own shining example, are, at Ordination, priests forever, and they will always remember her in every Mass for the rest of their days.

The seminary Sister also knows that today’s chores are not only caring for the future Christs out in the dining-room, but, united with the sufferings of the crucified Saviour, are giving strength to Mother Rose who labours in an Indian hospital despite 180 m.p.h. winds and floods; courage to Sister Othilde, who, for 30 years, has heroically nursed the lepers of New Caledonia; consolation to the young Vietnamese soldier who lies mortally wounded in a rice-field; faith to the doubting convert; hope to the weary negro; love to the parent and child; patience to the priest and perseverance to the seminarian. Be sure that wherever good is done on earth, where an unbelieving soul humbly submits, where a loving parent joyfully accepts his own child’s handicap, where a sick person rolls in agony but trusts in the Holy Will of God, where you, reader, have success when you did not expect it, be sure that this grace, from God, was not inspired by your own good works, but by the offered seconds, minutes, hours and days of nuns like those in a seminary. Truly their convent is a powerhouse – no wonder, within the seminary, it is a peace within a peace. No wonder the gaiety of these nuns exposes the falsehoods of the grim, morose caricatures of convent life, which ignorant men love to portray in films and books.

There is accomplishment in the nun’s day and she knows it. Perhaps you, young lady, are destined to be another Mary, a Sister Marie-Therese or Assumpta, or even a Mother Camillus or a Mother Joseph. If so, I congratulate you on your destiny. And I suggest that all people, who live unspectacular lives, can accomplish extraordinary wonders if they, like the Sisters, offer the grace of every trivial act for some lofty motive. Passing through the doorway, racing for the train and glancing at a watch are all actions which can be coated with graces. So perform them with a will. One day you will be surprised when you are rewarded for the good that you have done. Lucky you!

Certainly very many people, religious and lay folk, are fighting a good fight, as all Catholics must. We are all conscripted to rout Satan on the dusty basketball court, in the sunlit church, before the inky typewriter, in the smoking compartment, down the lonely alleyway, within the convent walls. All of us are comrades in the war of all wars. We should do well, then, if we were to remember the words of General Javouhey, as she was once called in a riot-torn Paris street: “Come, my dear. Pluck up heart. Shake off your enemy indolence which tells you fairy-tales. Don’t listen to the pride which lurks beneath the (humble) violet; pride is so afraid of failure and the people may laugh at it. Pay no attention to ‘What will people say?’ none whatsoever;” and: “Never, never lose heart. Remember that Heaven is the prize and eternity is unending.”

– from the pamphlet The Adventurous Nun: The Story of Anne-Marie Javouhey, By Michael Richardson, Australian Catholic Truth Society #1467, 1965

The Mothers’ Saint: Gerard Majella, by Father John Hogan, C.SS.R.

Saint Gerard MajellaLetters arrive daily at our monasteries in Australia, and overseas with these requests: a medal of Saint Gerard Majella; the loan of his relic; prayers for a sick child or an expectant mother; to be enrolled in the League of Saint Gerard. They come from mothers and sometimes husbands. Mothers write for their married daughters. Friends write on behalf of friends.

There are letters of thanks, too. Plenty of them. Thanks to Saint Gerard for a successful confinement; thanks for the recovery of a sick child; thanks from a childless couple that their prayers have been heard.

Why this worldwide chorus of prayer and thanks to Saint Gerard Majella? Why so many children with the names Gerard and Majella?

Because Saint Gerard Majella, a Redemptorist Brother, is universally acclaimed as the Patron of Mothers, the Mothers’ Saint: a title to which he has proved his right thousands of times over.

How did this devotion originate? How is it that one who is a man and a religious should be the Patron of Mothers? How explain that so many of the favours granted are truly miraculous?

The answers to these questions are to be found in the interesting and extraordinary life of the saint.


Domenico Majella and his wife, Benedetta, lived in the small town of Muro in Southern Italy. Their first child, Gerard, died when only ten days old. Then they were blessed with three girls. The devout couple must have prayed for a son to take the place of their first-born; for, when he arrived on April 6, 1726, they gave him the same name, Gerard.

It looked as though he would share the same fate, too, because he was so delicate that he had to be baptised straight after birth. Somehow, he managed to survive; but remained sickly for the rest of his days.


Little is recorded of him until the age of six. Then it was brought home to the family that Gerard was a child specially favoured by God.

It happened this way. Two miles outside Muro, stood an old church in which was a statue of Our Lady nursing the Divine Infant. People often went out there to pray. Gerard got into the way of going by himself. On his return, he used to hand his mother a small loaf of bread. It was such good bread and so white that Benedetta was intrigued.

‘Who gives it to you?’ she asked.

‘A beautiful boy,’ was the reply.

One day his sister Anna, unable to restrain her curiosity any longer, followed him. The extraordinary story she told her mother induced Benedetta to go and see for herself. So she hid in the church before Gerard was due to arrive on his usual visit. Imagine the mother’s surprise when she saw the Divine Infant come to life in His Mother’s arms, climb down on the floor and play with the little boy. Before Gerard left, his Playmate handed him a small loaf. Now she knew where the bread was coming from and who the beautiful boy was.

Similar incidents were witnessed by quite a few people, including a priest.

But Gerard hungered for a better bread. He was refused it because at that time children had to be ten years old before making their First Communion.

The boy was only eight. However, such was his longing to receive God into his heart that one Sunday he went up to the altar rails with the people. The priest, recognising him, passed him by. Bitter were the tears he shed. He was still crying that night as he dropped off to sleep. Suddenly he was awakened by a light in the room: not the risen sun, as he thought, but the brightness of an angel. The Archangel Michael had come to give the boy his First Communion.

That this was no child’s dream is evident from other incidents, all fitting into the same pattern.

Gerard had now begun school. He was a general favourite, we are told, with both teachers and class-mates. Games do not seem to have appealed to him. His whole interest was in the church, in saying his prayers and in playing at priests. Such piety might well be put down to a child’s fancy caught up by the sound and the stir of the sacred ritual.

Not so his innumerable little sacrifices and acts of self-denial. Benedetta, fearing that he would undermine his already frail constitution, had to insist that he eat his meals. Yet, good mother that she was, she sensed his holiness.

As she said herself in later years, ‘he was born for heaven.’ So, with many a heartfelt ‘bless you my son’, she gladly cooperated with the Divine Artist in the moulding of a saint.


God, Who had so far lavished such favours on this child of grace, was now to give him a share of the Cross. As gold is purified by fire, so Gerard’s true worth was to be put to the test in the crucible of suffering.

Schooldays were brought to an abrupt end by the death of his father – a shattering blow to the Majella’s as to any other family. Although only twelve Gerard had now to make his contribution to the upkeep of the home. So he followed his father’s trade, becoming apprenticed to a tailor.

That was hard on a boy of such tender years; and life was not as easy then as it is today. Hours, too, were long and conditions bad.

To make matters worse the foreman took a dislike to the youngster. So much piety irritated him. He bullied and beat him unmercifully. During one of these thrashings, Gerard kept smiling. Unable to take the smile off the boy’s face, the brutal man asked him what he had to smile about. ‘I’m smiling,’ replied Gerard, ‘because in your hand I see the hand of God striking me.’ Which, of course, only infuriated his assailant the more.

This ill-treatment went on for a long time without the employer being aware of it. Chancing one day to come on such a scene he woke up to the situation and instantly dismissed the foreman.

Before he finished serving his time Gerard volunteered to become valet to a bishop. His Lordship had servant trouble. No wonder. He was so exacting and so hard to please that no one stayed in his employ more than a few weeks. – One would need the patience of a saint. Gerard showed he had that by sticking to the job for three years. He left only when released by the bishop’s death.

During this time, a charming incident occurred which shows on what familiar terms Gerard stood with God. His Lordship was out, so the valet decided to go to the public well to draw water. He locked the door and put the key in his pocket. By some mischance, it fell into the well.

‘What a storm there’ll be this time,’ he thought. Without further ado, he rushed over to the cathedral, took a statue of the Divine Infant from one of the cupboards in the sacristy, tied a rope around it and lowered it into the well. When the statue was hauled up, to the amazement of the curious bystanders it had the dripping key in its hand. The well is still called ‘Gerard’s Well’.

G. Majella – Tailor

On the death of the bishop, Gerard went back to tailoring. He started a business of his own. The name ‘G. Majella’ over the door must have attracted many of his father’s former clients because orders came rolling in. Never was a business run on more un-businesslike lines. Money seems to have been his last concern. He never charged the poor and allowed himself the barest margin of profit. This he divided into three parts: one-third he gave to his mother for household expenses; one-third was given to the poor; and with the rest, he had Masses said for the souls in purgatory.

Tailoring, however, was only a side-line. The affairs of his soul were his main preoccupation. Every morning he heard or served several Masses in the cathedral. After work he was back there again kneeling for hours before the tabernacle. Often he spent the whole night in adoration. He was able to do this because the sacristan was a relative and gave him the keys. Sometimes he refused to hand them over out of concern for the youth’s health. Not to be denied, Gerard would then climb in through a window.

Divine Call

A question that now arises is: if this saintly young man was more interested in the affairs of his soul than in the things of the world, why did he not think of leaving it?

He did, many times. The priesthood was out of the question. For one thing, he was not equal to the studies since he had had to leave school at the age of twelve. Besides, where was he to find the money to see him through the long seminary course? What he wanted to be was a Coadjutor Brother, a religious who looks after the temporal needs of the monastery.

When he was sixteen, and again at eighteen, he applied to the Capuchins. Despite the fact that he had an uncle in the Order able to put in a good word for him, he was turned down each time for the good reason that his health would never stand the rigours of Religious Life.

He even tried becoming a hermit. When his companion in the adventure deserted after a few days of starvation in the forest, Gerard also had to give up the idea.

Yet, behind these set-backs, the designs of God were slowly working out.

The would-be hermit was twenty-three when the Redemptorists arrived in Muro to give a mission. They belonged to an Order recently founded by Saint Alphonsus Liguori. With them was a Brother or two. Here was Gerard’s chance. He asked to join the Brothers. Like the Capuchins before him, the superior of the mission, Father Cafaro, needed only one glance at the pale, gaunt figure to reach a decision.

His answer was: ‘Definitely no! You are not strong enough for our kind of life.’ This time Gerard was not going to take ‘no’ for an answer. . . . He kept up his pleas all through the mission.

Strange that God should obviously be calling him into Religion, and yet place such obstacles in his way! A soul of weaker calibre would soon have given up the struggle. Not so Gerard.

‘If you won’t accept me,’ he said to Father Cafaro, ‘then I’ll follow you. I’ll live on your doorstep and you’ll have to take me in.’

The priest took the hint. He told Benedetta what time the missioners would be leaving the town. ‘Before then,’ said he, ‘lock him in his room.’

The anxious mother did not need to be told twice. Gerard foiled the ruse by making a rope out of the bedclothes and lowering himself from the upper-storey window. The brief note of farewell that he left on the table was prophetic. It read: ‘I have gone to become a saint.’

A Useless Brother

The missioners, who were proceeding on foot to the next town, had not gone far along the road when they heard someone running behind them. To their dismay, it was the ‘ghost of Muro’ – the nickname they had given Gerard.

The argument started all over again. Then Father Cafaro had a brain-wave. The best way to get rid of this importunate young man was to give him what he asked. And all he asked for was a try-out. So he was handed a note and told to deliver it to the superior of the nearby monastery of Iliceto. ‘I am sending you a useless Brother,’ Father Cafaro had written.

Unflattering credentials! But they gained him admission. And now that he was inside God’s House, he meant to stay. When the door closed behind him, it was farewell to the world forever. His first act was to throw himself on his knees before a statue of Our Lady to thank her for this triumphant answer to his prayers.

The community looked askance at the new recruit. With many wise nods to one another, they predicted he would have to give up in a week or two. And such enthusiasm! That couldn’t possibly last.

How wrong they were! Father Cafaro was the first to admit it. And Redemptorists had admitted it ever since. The ‘useless Brother’ whom they tried to bar from the Order became one of its greatest glories.


Gerard spent only six-and-a-half years in Religion. What the Church says of such youthful saints as an Aloysius, a Stanislaus Kostka and a John Berchmanns – ‘in a short time he fulfilled a long time’ – was true also of Gerard Majella. His few years as a Redemptorist were crammed full of holiness and crowned by countless miracles.

However, it was not ecstasies and prophecies that made him a saint. It was the unremitting performance of his duties as a Brother, accompanied by the assiduous practice of the Christian virtues, that led him to the goal of sanctity.

Model Workman

The vocation of Redemptorist Brothers is a lowly but sublime one. They perform the household tasks of the monastery – such as cooking, cleaning and sewing – thus leaving the priests free for the work of the ministry. Theirs is a vital contribution to the missions. By combining the labours of Martha with the prayers of Mary, they not only sanctify themselves but bring down countless graces on the souls of others.

On being admitted to the monastery at Iliceto, the obvious way for Gerard to prove his usefulness to the community was by tailoring, at which he was expert. Instead, he was assigned to the garden. The spade and the hoe were a far cry from the needle and the scissors. Nevertheless, he tackled the backbreaking job with superhuman energy. The same earnestness and thoroughness he displayed in all his occupations. For he knew that God is not so much interested in what we do, but in why we do it and how we do it. And Gerard certainly performed all his humdrum duties for the love and glory of His Divine Master.

He was in turn gardener, sacristan, cook, tailor, doorkeeper, and at one stage clerk-of-works when a new building was being put up.

Saintly Religious

The Religious Life gave full scope to his soul’s yearnings for high sanctity. He practised the ordinary Catholic devotions and the ordinary virtues, but with this difference – he excelled in them. The Will of God was the object of his special homage. ‘O Will of God, O Will of God,’ he wrote, ‘You and I have become one and the same thing.’ Later, when dying, he had this notice tacked to his door: ‘The Will of God is done here, as God wills it and as long as He wills it.’

Like all the saints, his heart was aflame with love for Jesus and Mary. His prayers before the tabernacle he often prolonged far into the night. The Sacred Passion was the favourite subject of his meditations. He thirsted to become like his Crucified Lord. Those who lived with him relate that during Passiontide and especially on Good Friday, he seemed to suffer in his soul the agonies of the Crucifixion.

Even before he entered Religion, he had lost his heart to the Blessed Virgin. Once during a novena in honour of her Immaculate Conception, he was seen to rise from his seat in the cathedral of Muro and place a ring on the finger of Our Lady’s statue. To those nearby he said: ‘The Madonna has stolen my heart. See, I am now betrothed to her.’ As a religious, he tried to instil in the hearts of others his own love for Mary. The mere sight of her picture was enough to throw him into ecstasy. That happened on one occasion in the home of the Scoppa family at Melfi. The lady of the house showed him a painting of the Madonna she had hanging on the wall. Brother Gerard rose in the air to the height of the picture and seized it rapturously in both hands. The good woman, who had never before seen anyone in ecstasy, fainted. Few of the saints surpassed him in his love for Mary. His reward was to be a vision of her standing by his deathbed.

Virtuous Life

Obedience, humility, poverty, fraternal charity – all the virtues shone in his life. Purity he cherished above them all. From childhood, he kept his body and soul unsullied. By the vow of chastity, he consecrated this innocence to God. How painful, then, it must have been to be reported to Saint Alphonsus for a grave fault against this vow! When charged he remained silent. This seemed like an admission of guilt. The penalty was equally painful. He was forbidden to receive Holy Communion. Later his accuser fell ill and retracted the lie. Asked by Saint Alphonsus why he had not spoken up in his own defence, he replied: ‘How could I, Father? Does not the Rule forbid us to excuse ourselves?’ It was like an echo from the trial of Christ Himself.

After the example of the saints, Gerard was ruthless in chastising his own body. In some pictures of him, a bunch of chords is seen hanging over the end of a table. With those, he scourged himself every day, frequently to blood. Around his arms and legs, he wore chains bristling with sharp points. He fasted on bread and water several days a week, and always on Saturday in honour of the Blessed Virgin.

Yet, for all his austerities, Gerard was far from being a sour-faced ascetic. Full of good humour, he radiated cheerfulness wherever he went. Truly, a joyous and lovable saint, whom the Catholic world has taken to its heart.

Wide Apostolate

God raised up Gerard Majella, called him into the cloister and made him a saint, not for his own sake only, but also for the benefit of others. As a Redemptorist, he was pledged to work for the salvation of souls. However, it was not merely as an instrument of conversion and salvation that God used him. He sent him forth among the people, like the Redeemer Himself, performing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. For this end, He opened up to the saintly Brother a wide apostolate that had a tremendous impact because of all the striking miracles which accompanied it.


We might say that his apostolate began at the monastery door because when answering the bell he came in contact with people of all kinds, especially the poor. The beggars that besieged the monastery were legion. There were the blind and the lame, the aged and infirm, the ragamuffin and ne’er-do-well. The Brother loved them all, even the imposters. In a bad season, as many as two hundred would come daily begging for bread. He managed to feed them all though it often meant multiplying his meagre supplies, as Christ multiplied the loaves and fishes.

However, it was in the world far beyond the monastery door that he carried on his real apostolate. Gerard often accompanied the priests on missions, as was the custom for Brothers in those days. Besides, he was also sent on collecting tours because the Order was practically destitute. In these ways, he met vast numbers of people, amongst whom he went about doing good.

On missions, hardened sinners were his principal target. Good Shepherd that he was he went in search of these stray sheep. By his persuasiveness, he usually succeeded in leading them back to the fold. One case was of a man who had led a notoriously bad life, and although he was dying obstinately refused to have the priest. On entering the room, Gerard simply knelt down and recited the ‘Hail Mary’ aloud. Before he finished the man was pleading to go to confession. The prayer of the saint won for him the grace of a happy death.

Apostle of the Careless

To one class of sinners he was particularly drawn: those who were in the habit of making bad confessions. Theirs is perhaps the saddest plight of all, because they turn what is meant to be a remedy for the soul into a deadly poison. Of a sacrament, they make a sacrilege. Gerard had the gift of being able to read a person’s conscience. Thus, he could mention to the guilty ones sins that they had been concealing in confession for years: sins that were known only to themselves and Almighty God. Such a revelation of their innermost secrets usually had the desired effect. Many such cases are related. One must suffice.

Gerard and a priest went into a shop in Naples to buy some medals and rosary-beads. The shop-keeper, anxious to push his wares, indulged in a lot of pious prattle. Gerard could see behind the facade of hypocrisy. Calling the man aside, he confronted him with the sacrilegious state of his soul, because of such-and-such a sin he had been ashamed to tell. The poor fellow was so thunderstruck that when Gerard had stalked out of the shop he blurted out the whole story to the priest, and, we are told, lost no time in putting his conscience right.

The pious were also the object of his zeal. Many priests and nuns consulted him on the affairs of their soul. To all of them he proved an able spiritual director. Young people sought his advice about their vocation. He dispelled their doubts and persuaded many of them to consecrate their lives to God. In fact, he was like a recruiting officer for the convents. He believed in keeping them well filled because there, shielded from the temptations of the world, nuns could so easily become holy. To one convent in Saragnano, he personally conducted seven postulants. To another at Foggia he sent no fewer than fourteen.

Ministry of Healing

The ills of the body struck a responsive chord in his heart, as they did in the heart of his Divine Master. On behalf of the sick, he performed many of his most striking miracles.

For instance: a youth lay dying in Iliceto from advanced tuberculosis. Gerard was asked to visit him. The doctor happened to be there when he arrived. An argument ensued.

‘I tell you,’ declared the doctor bluntly, “there is no hope for him unless he gets a new pair of lungs.’

‘And can’t God give him new ones?’ was the rejoinder.

Gerard took leave of the boy saying, ‘I’ll pray for you.’

There and then, the patient began to get better. The doctor was the first to admit that the boy’s recovery was miraculous.

Like his Divine Master, Gerard had a special affection for children. He could not bear to see them suffering. His powers of healing were often employed to restore them to health. Like the little girl in Auletta. She was a helpless cripple from birth.

On going to see her, Gerard simply said: ‘Get out of bed and come here to me.’ The child obeyed and the mother watched spell-bound as she took a few unsteady steps and then ran over to the Brother.

Help to Mothers

Above all, he is justly renowned for the help he gave to expectant mothers, especially those in danger. At Senerchia, a mother was dying in childbirth. Gerard was asked to pray for her. At once, the danger passed and she safely gave birth to her child. This was evidently regarded by all as miraculous, because it figured in the cause of his canonisation.

Once when leaving the home of the Pirofalo family in Oliveto, a girl ran out with a handkerchief he had dropped in the house. ‘Keep it,’ he said, ‘some day it may come in handy.’ Sure enough it did. She later married and was at death’s door in her first confinement. Then, remembering the handkerchief that she had treasured, she asked for it to be brought to her. No sooner had she clutched it than she was safely delivered. All the mothers around the district insisted on getting a shred of it as a relic.

From what has been said, it can be seen that Gerard’s whole life was a chain of miracles. Besides those already mentioned, he made prophecies, which came true; he was seen in several places at the same time; he drove out devils from the possessed; he walked across the waters of the Bay of Naples to rescue a fishing boat; and he did so many other extraordinary things that he became known as ‘The Wonder-worker of the Eighteenth Century’.

Death and Canonisation

His short but saintly life came to an end in 1755. Consumption, a malady, which had been his constant companion, at last gained the upper hand. Weakened by frequent haemorrhages and wracked by fierce pain, he resigned himself to the Will of God.

‘I do not wish to live, nor do I wish to die. I only wish what God wishes.’ The call came towards midnight, October 15th. He yielded up his pure soul into the hands of Our Lady, whom he saw at his bedside waiting to receive it.

The people’s esteem for Gerard did not end when the slab was placed over his tomb. He lived on in their hearts and memories. Great as had been his influence with God when he walked among them, they knew it was far greater now that he was in heaven. So they just kept on doing what they had done when he was alive. They brought to him their worries and troubles, their ailments and their sorrows.

His life was spent in a small district of Southern Italy. Once he was in heaven, all barriers of time and place disappeared. As devotion to him spread from country to country, so did his miracles increase.

At last, Rome, impressed by the worldwide devotion to Brother Gerard and by the innumerable favours granted by him, approved the introduction of his cause.

He was beatified, January 29th, 1893; and canonised by Saint Pius X, December 11, 1904. His Feast is celebrated on October 16th.


Saints are given to us by God and the Church for our imitation and our intercession.

It might be thought that because Gerard’s life was one long chain of miracles, he is beyond our imitation. The miracles did not make him a saint. They were God’s seal of approval on his sanctity. We can become saints like him without the miracles. We may not be able to follow his way of life as a religious nor practise his austerities; but we can imitate his virtues. These are what made him a saint and will make saints of us.

Gerard did, although to an heroic degree, what all of us are commanded to do: – he loved God with his whole heart and with his whole soul and with his whole mind and with all his strength. Look at his ardent love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, his tender compassion for the sufferings of Christ and his childlike love for Mary. He had his trials – bitter ones they were, more so than ours. But he was never cast down; he never lost heart. Always and everywhere, he had serene trust in Divine Providence and abandoned himself entirely to God’s Will. We can all do that. Yes, Gerard’s life preaches most eloquently to all of us – do as I have done and you will become saints.

A Powerful Intercessor

As an intercessor in heaven, Saint Gerard is all-powerful. We have seen how God favoured him even from his tenderest years. Then, too, the number and extraordinary nature of the miracles he worked, show what power he wielded over the heart of God. Now that he is in heaven, he is still God’s favourite and his prayers for his clients are even more efficacious. Proof of this is the countless letters of thanksgiving that pour into our monasteries the world over. How often we meet people who say to us with heartfelt gratitude: ‘Saint Gerard has been a good friend to me!’ And knowing from experience what a powerful intercessor he is they are fired with zeal to spread devotion to him amongst others.

While Saint Gerard is only too ready to help everybody who prays to him and to grant every kind of request, there are some more than others in whom he has a special interest. The reason for this is to be found partly in his own life and partly in the arrangements of Divine Providence, Which entrusts certain classes of people to particular saints.

Because of the difficulties he had in following his own vocation, he is specially helpful to young people to know what theirs is and to follow it; hence, he is invoked as Patron of Vocations. Because by his gift of reading consciences he was able to induce many who had concealed sins to make a good confession, he is invoked as Patron of a Good Confession. Because he was so devoted to manual labour, giving the world an example of conscientious and painstaking toil, he has been hailed as the Patron Saint of Workingmen. Above all, because of his special help to mothers and their children, he has become widely known as the Patron Saint of Mothers – the Mothers’ Saint.

The Mothers’ Saint

Who, we ask, have greater need of a Patron than mothers? Theirs is a noble vocation because they cooperate with God in giving existence to human beings, who are to live forever. It is a responsible vocation for mothers have to train their children to be good citizens in this world and future citizens of heaven. And it is a difficult vocation because mothers have problems, disappointments and sorrows unknown to most others.

For example, a mother needs courage to go on having babies when she knows it might cost her even her life; she needs someone to help her carry her cross when she finds that her child is delicate or deformed; she needs someone to give her strength to nurse a sick child back to health; and she needs someone to give her confidence in bringing up a family today in the face of all the evil influences of a pagan world.

Yes, mothers need that someone – someone who is sympathetic, someone who is all-powerful with God.

Now, it is well known that that someone, the friend of mothers, is Saint Gerard Majella. Although he has not yet been officially declared by the Church to be the Patron of Mothers, still he is universally invoked by them; and they know from experience that he is indeed their heavenly friend and protector.

But why, it may be asked, should Saint Gerard be singled out? After all, he was a man and a religious.

One way of answering the question is simply to say that God has arranged it that way and seems to have entrusted Saint Gerard with the care of mothers. However, if we examine the matter more closely we see that there are other reasons.

When he learned in after years of the sad fact of his little brother’s death and of the danger that he himself was in, his heart must have ached for the anxiety and sorrow experienced by his own mother. Perhaps that is why he is so compassionate towards other children and other mothers in similar danger. During life, he showed a particular affection for children, and that together with his own childlike innocence makes him a fitting patron to watch over them. During life, too, as we have recorded, he worked several miracles in favour of expectant mothers who were in danger. Those miracles multiplied enormously after his death, so that he became known in Italy as ‘The Saint of a Happy Delivery’.

In fact, as one of the saint’s biographers wrote in 1804, there was not an expectant mother in Foggia and the surrounding district who did not invoke Brother Gerard for a safe and successful confinement. That he has lived up to his reputation is amply proven by the extraordinary assistance he still renders such cases, some of which we are about to relate. It will be noted, too, that as The Mothers’ Saint, his intercession is also particularly efficacious for sick children and for those whose marriage has not been blessed with a child.

Favours Granted

The following are a few of the favours granted by The Mothers’ Saint.

The first three are recorded in biographies of the Saint. They occurred overseas and evidently before he was canonised.

The Bishop of Surinam, in South America, tells of the wife of a local doctor who collapsed ten days after the birth of her baby. Three of his colleagues were called in. They pronounced the case hopeless. When the woman was already in her agony, a friend touched her with a relic of Brother Gerard. At once, she opened her eyes and began to feel better. The doctors who verified the cure were all non-Catholics, and all agreed that it was beyond medical possibility.

In a village some miles from Liege, Belgium, an infant died without baptism. The heart-broken mother called on Brother Gerard, promising that if he restored her child to life she would call it after him. To the amazement of the doctor, the baby began to breathe. He was baptised and little Gerard lived to gladden his parents.

There was a doctor in Luxembourg whose four-year-old son could neither walk nor talk. The father read the life of Brother Gerard. Impressed by the wonderful cures related in the book and at the same time saddened by the sight of the little cripple beside him on the floor, he murmured a prayer: ‘Brother Gerard, show your power and cure my son.’

Instantly the child jumped and threw himself into his father’s arms exclaiming, ‘Papa, papa.’ From that moment, he was as lively and as talkative as any other little boy of his age.

The following are extracts from letters received from people here in Australia. They are reprinted from ‘The Majellan’.


Dear Rev. Father,

I’m sure your prayers to Saint Gerard were answered. I am so proud to be able to tell you that I am the mother of a little daughter after waiting fourteen years. The doctor expected to operate, but all was over before he was ready to start. He was very surprised.

Yours sincerely, W. J.

Dear Father,

We wish to thank Saint Gerard for a great favour. For ten years, both my husband and myself prayed for the blessing of a fruitful marriage and our prayers have now been heard.

All praise to our Saint.

Sincerely, C. G.

Safe Delivery.

Dear Editor,

I have great reason to thank our Patron of Mothers, Saint Gerard. Some time after I married, an eminent specialist told me that I would never safely deliver a child.

In my distress, I told a Redemptorist Father, and he told me to pray to Saint Gerard. Well, after thirty-six years of married life I’m proud to tell you that I had nine healthy children and boast twelve lovely grandchildren.

My eldest son is named Gerard, and one of my little grandchildren is named Josephine Majella.

Yours sincerely, H. E. McD.

To The Majellan,

My sister was pregnant and a non-Catholic doctor told her that she could not have a child, as her health could not stand it. A well known Catholic doctor was called in, and after many prayers and Masses, she had twins – a boy and a girl. – I forgot to state that the non-Catholic doctor said that he would give myself $10,000 if she had a child. He was so sure it was not possible.

The Catholic doctor said she was every bit as bad as the first doctor said, but prayer could do it. Thanks to God and Saint Gerard, it did.

Yours faithfully, J. M.

Children Cured.

Dear Father,

Many thanks for all your assistance by Masses, prayers, relic, et cetera, in the fight to save our little son’s life. I’m delighted to be able to tell you that, thanks to our intercessor in heaven, our baby is progressing most satisfactorily. The doctors and nurses here tell us that Michael Gerard is a lucky little man to be alive, as this is the first person in Australia to recover from this operation (a four-hour operation when he was one day old).

They are very thrilled with their success but they don’t know the prayers that we have offered to Saint Gerard for his help. The Mothers’ Saint has been a great consolation to me in his month’s illness, as I never lost faith. I felt that Almighty God would not refuse the pleading of Saint Gerard and our Holy Mother.

Yours sincerely, M. B.

Dear Father,

I would like you to know how marvellous Saint Gerard has been to us. He has always helped us very much and especially in May last year.

I had no idea of the prayer for a sick child until, on 20th May, our little baby son contracted Influenzal Meningitis. He was very precious to us as we had four little daughters, and he was our baby boy. He was just 19 months.

A friend gave me a medal and I joined the League. We started the prayer and in June, our baby returned home completely cured. We still say the prayer every night for him.

Sincerely yours, T. H.

Dear Father,

My girl is aged eight. She is strong and intelligent. But at the age of two years, she developed a mysterious disease, which completely baffled the doctors. The child would frequently fall into a state of coma, which would last for about two hours. However, we had recourse to our heavenly patron and friend, Saint Gerard, and made his novena. Gradually the mysterious illness disappeared and she became quite healthy.

Yours sincerely, a Client of Saint Gerard.


For Motherhood

O good Saint Gerard, powerful intercessor with God, and Wonder worker of our day, I call upon you and seek your aid. You, who did always fulfil God’s designs, help me to do the Holy Will of God. Beseech the Master of Life, from Whom all paternity proceeds, to render me fruitful in offspring, that I may raise up children to God in this life and heirs to the Kingdom of His glory in the world to come. Amen.

For an Expectant Mother

O Everlasting and Almighty God, Who through the operation of the Holy Ghost did prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin Mary to be the worthy dwelling of Your Son, and through the same Holy Ghost did sanctify Saint John the Baptist before his birth: listen to the prayer of your humble servant who implores You through the merits and intercession of Saint Gerard Majella, to protect me (her) in the dangers of motherhood and to safeguard against the evil spirit the child whom You have vouchsafed to grant me (her), so that by Your saving hand it may receive Holy Baptism. Grant, also, that after living as good Christians in Your love and service here on earth, both mother and child may attain to everlasting happiness in heaven. Amen.

For a Sick Child

Good Saint Gerard who, like our Divine Saviour, did show children such loving tenderness and did deliver so many from various diseases and even from death: graciously look down upon distressed parents who implore you to restore their child’s health (if such be the Will of God), promising to bring it up a good Christian and to safeguard it by constant vigilance from the leprosy of sin. We implore this favour, O compassionate Brother, through that early love with which Jesus and Mary surrounded your childhood. Amen.

For Your Family

O glorious Saint Gerard, entrusted by God with the special protection of mothers and their children, I confidently invoke your powerful intercession for myself and my family: strengthen us to carry our daily Cross, fly to our aid in every danger to soul and body, gladden our home with the blessings of divine peace, and grant that by the faithful practice of our Holy religion in this world, we may all merit to be reunited around God’s throne in heaven for ever and ever. Amen.

For Mothers

O good and gracious Saint Gerard, invoked throughout the world as the Mothers’ Saint, well do you know the joys and sorrows, the fears and longings of a mother’s heart. Look down with tenderness, we beseech you, upon all mothers. Wipe away their tears and cheer them with radiant hope. Shield their virtue from the corrupt influence of a pagan world. Keep them true to the example of Mary, the model of mothers. Obtain for them the graces of their noble state in life, that by bringing up their children in the fear and love of God they may deserve to have those same children for their everlasting joy and crown. Amen.

In Time of Trial

O saintly Brother Gerard, whose heart went out to the unfortunate; who relieved so many poor, healed so many sick, comforted so many afflicted; behold me worried and troubled as I kneel at your feet. In vain do I turn to men to seek consolation and help. Therefore, do I have recourse to you, who are so powerful in heaven. Graciously assist me, Saint Gerard, that being freed from this trial or strengthened to bear it for the love of God, I may praise and thank God and serve Him with greater love and fervour. Amen.

For Good Health

O God, Who did bestow on Saint Gerard the power of healing all kinds of infirmities, deign to glorify Your servant, who was so merciful to human misery, by delivering me from my present sickness. Grant also that, being strengthened in body, I may take greater care to avoid sin and overcome my evil passions, the spiritual diseases that drag so many to everlasting death. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

– from the pamphet The Mothers’ Saint: Saint Gerard Majella, by Father John Hogan, C.SS.R.. Australian Catholic Truth Society #1436, 1964

Apostle of Mary: Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, by P. M. Fennessy

detail of a stained glass window depicting the meeting of Saint Louis Marie de Montfort with the Count and Countess of Garaye at Garaye Castle in 1706; by the workshop of G. Merklen, Angers, France, 1923; bay #20, south nave, Church of Saint-Malo, Dinan, Côtes-d'Armor, Brittany, France; photographed on 10 January 2017 by Emeltet; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsTowards the end of the seventeenth century, a young man named Louis Marie Grignon De La Bacheleraie decided to surrender all things for Christ – even his name. So for his family name he substituted MONTFORT, the place of his birth, and he has become famous since his canonization in 1947 as Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.

Controversial Doctrine

A “sign of contradiction” in his own time, even as the Crucified Master he served, he remains today a centre of controversy both among Christians and non-Christians. And this storm of opposition lashes continually, not so much at his own person, as against his spiritual doctrine of the “True Devotion”. The violence of the tempest has, in fact, completely obscured the valuable witness of his own life, so that even his friends see only a confused outline of the saint they acclaim as “Tutor of the Legion of Mary”, “Apostle of Mary”, and “Missionary of the Blessed Virgin”.

This short biography is an attempt to give at least a glimpse of the remarkable man who was Founder, Missionary, Doctor and Theologian, and the spiritual father of a multitude of Marian disciples. Some acquaintance with the saint and his time is an indispensable preliminary for an understanding of the full significance of his teaching. Perhaps, by way of introduction, the principal objections to de Montfort’s spirituality should be faced at the outset.

Principal Objections

His book on the “True Devotion” does not almost deify Mary, so that the role of Christ – His position as Mediator – is obscured. The basic ideas of his Marian teaching were centuries old when he combined them into his masterly synthesis. And in the introduction to his Treatise he writes:

“Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, of all things. We labour not, as the Apostle, says, except to render every man perfect in Jesus Christ. If then we establish the solid devotion to Our Lady, it is only to establish more perfectly the devotion to Jesus Christ, and to put forward an easy and secure means for finding Jesus Christ.”

The “True Devotion” is familiar enough from innumerable booklets and pamphlets on the subject. However, perhaps it is not fully realized that it represents only a part of de Montfort’s doctrinal structure on “Love of the Eternal Wisdom”. “True Devotion”, though certainly his most important, is not his most comprehensive work. “Love of the Eternal Wisdom” is the key to his spirituality, of which “True Devotion” formed the fourth part.

His principal theme is his teaching on Christ-Wisdom, which is a development of Saint Paul’s doctrine of the humility of the Incarnate Word. De Montfort follows here the guidance of Berulle, and his opinions are typical of the French School of spirituality of the 17th century. Berulle drew from the teaching of Saint Paul the practical conclusion that Christians should imitate the servitude of the human nature of Christ by offering themselves totally to the Word, and remaining completely dependent on Him. It is significant that de Montfort has made this idea the corner-stone of his own spirituality and, in his book on “Eternal Wisdom”, he develops it in a way which shows the broad sweep of his thought. Great importance is also given to the Passion of Christ and the need for renunciation, the purpose of which is clear from the concluding words: “Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is wisdom.”

Four Means

But the book is wide in its scope, and proposes four principal means that must be employed to possess and love Christ. A perfect devotion to Mary, Mother of the Incarnate Wisdom, is the fourth means which makes it possible for Christians to offer themselves totally to the Incarnate Word and remain completely dependent on Him. The other means are desire, prayer, and mortification. It was de Montfort’s compassion for our weakness in using these means of holiness, and in responding generously to God’s grace, that urged him to take the fourth part of his Treatise and enlarge it into a special study now known as “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin”.

While “True Devotion” is undoubtedly de Montfort’s most important and inspiring contribution to religious literature, it is not, as is often supposed, a complete expression of his teaching. To regard it as complete in itself is to condemn de Montfort’s spirituality as unbalanced, and to mis-understand both his life and his work. His principal theme is always Christ-Wisdom, and it is on this foundation that he has erected his system of spirituality. Devotion to Our Lady is not an end in itself, but a means, although a most perfect means, of possessing Jesus Christ.

Another Objection

Another objection is that de Montfort’s approach is no longer in tune with the temperament of modern Christians, or the spirituality of our time – particularly since the work of the Second Vatican Council in giving a new emphasis to Mary, not as Mediatrix, but as Mother of the Church. Yet Mgr. Mattenci, in a broadcast from Vatican Radio in October, 1963, pointed out that the desire of the Council was simply to express Mary’s maternal function in the Mystical Body and to encourage devotion to her as “the type of the Church”. For in the life of the Church, Mary fulfils an ecumenical, maternal role as Mother of unity, Mother of reconciliation, Patroness of the Council.

It will always be true, in spite of the shift of emphasis in the new theology, and in spite of difficulties caused by the poverty of language itself, that Mary has a vital part to play in the apostolic work of the Church, and in the life and devotion of every Christian. We would not now use de Montfort’s descriptions of Mary’s privileges; but Mary is no less our Mother. What, after all, could be more glorious or more meaningful, than the very first of Mary’s titles, “Mother of God”, bestowed on her at the great Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431?

And, despite his difficult style and intense spirituality, de Montfort himself is the most modern of saints – almost flamboyant in the zeal of his missionary experiments. One could easily imagine him as an 18th century Bishop Sheen or Father Peyton, making full use of the spectacular and the unconventional, if only it would lead men to Christ. He was one of the greatest of the preachers and missioners of the eighteenth-century Church, and one of the most dynamic opponents of the dangerous heresies of Jansenism and Calvinism. The antidote to this insidious poison – a corruption spreading from within Christianity itself – was not only Saint Margaret Mary’s revelations of devotion to the Sacred Heart, but also de Montfort’s teaching on devotion to Mary.

* * * *

When the spirituality of Louis Marie de Montfort is seen in its true perspective, his life can be appreciated for what it was – the life of “the herald . . . of the reign of God through Mary “. * [* Address of His Eminence Frederico Cardinal Tedeschini, after unveiling the statue of Saint Louis Marie in Saint Peter’s, Rome.]

Louis was the eldest of the eight children of John Baptist Grignion, and was born on the last day of January, 1673, in the little town of Montfort-la-Canne. At Confirmation he added the name of Mary, and later substituted Montfort, his birthplace, for his family name.

When he had completed his education at the Jesuit College in Rennes, he went to Paris at the age of twenty to prepare for the priesthood. Lack of means prevented him from gaining admittance to the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, and he became a student under Abbe de la Barmondiere. When the Abbe died, he was left in even more destitute circumstances, and joined a community of ecclesiastics who lived a life of Spartan discipline and extreme poverty.

Poverty, Sickness

He and his fellow-students had “the pleasure of poisoning themselves” (as one of them wryly admitted) with wretched and poorly-cooked food. So primitive were the conditions under which they tried to study, work and pray, that Louis soon became seriously ill. (Not long before he had earned a small stipend by keeping watch over the parish dead, and had spent almost the entire night – three or four times a week – in study, spiritual reading and prayer.)


In spite of the care that he received on his removal to hospital, his condition became rapidly worse, and there seemed no hope of survival. It was when he appeared to be on the verge of death that he calmly announced his complete recovery! Not long afterwards he began to improve, and was soon able to return to his studies. In the meantime, Providence had provided him with friends, whose generosity enabled him to be admitted to the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice.

Even before his early training was completed he had gained a reputation for heroism, love of the Cross and love of Mary, and it was at this time that the Queen of Heaven began to claim him as her own.

The Tree of Life

Someone placed in his hands Boudon’s work on “Slavery to the Blessed Virgin” and immediately he sensed the important influence it was to be in his spiritual life. He soon began to share his enthusiasm with the other students, and from such a small seed the “Tree of Life” grew to its present incredible dimensions. As he wrote later: [“The Tree of Life – its culture and growth,” by Saint Louis Marie de Montfort.]

“If you cultivate (Mary) the Tree of Life, freshly planted in your soul by the Holy Ghost, it will grow so tall that the birds of Heaven will come to dwell in it. It will be a good tree, yielding fruit of honour and grace in due season, namely the sweet and adorable Jesus, who always has been, and always will be, the only fruit of Mary.”

Louis Marie de Montfort was ordained priest on June 5th, 1700, and spent the entire day in thanksgiving before the Blessed Sacrament. His first Mass was celebrated in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin in the parish church of Saint Sulpice. Not long before he had been one of two students chosen to make the annual pilgrimage to a Marian shrine, and at Chartres had placed his future work under the powerful protection of the Queen of Apostles; one of the most significant events of his early life.

As he had had previous experience and unexpected success giving catechetical instruction to the roughest of the Parisian children, he sought apostolic work which would call for strength and sacrifice – the total dedication that he was so eager to give.

Home Missions

So he applied for the dangerous and demanding Canadian missions, but his superiors refused the request, desiring that he should remain and dedicate himself to the home missions of France. Staying for a short time at Nantes with a priest-friend, who trained men for the home missions, he then continued to Poitiers – a place which, like Francis and Assisi, was destined to be inseparably associated with his name.

In the meantime, however, he had antagonized the Jansenists by his open opposition to their teaching. They held that Christ the Redeemer had shed his blood only for the predestinate, and that the conditions for the reception of the Sacraments (especially Penance and the Eucharist) should be as severe and exacting as possible.

Threat of Jansenism

De Montfort’s unfailing loyalty to Christ and His Church, his deep understanding of the immense love of God in the Incarnation and Redemption, made him a militant apostle of traditional theology against these subtle and dangerous innovations. The spirit of Jansenism had by this time eaten into the very vitals of Christianity, had penetrated monasteries, seminaries and convents, so that the Church (especially in France) seemed in danger of being undermined from within.

Friends of the Cross

As part of his campaign against the teachings of Jansenism, de Montfort later founded an association of “Friends of the Cross”, so that Catholics would be encouraged to fight the evils of the time and make reparation to the Sacred Heart. His devotion to the Sacred Heart was inseparable from his devotion to Mary: these were the two powerful influences which were to pour oil into the wounds of a stricken Christianity and restore its vigour.

The formation of this lay association was an example of de Montfort’s instinctive response to the grave spiritual needs of his century. Like a good general, he sensed immediately where the battle-line of the Faith needed strengthening and, without fear or favour, used the most efficient means of meeting an assault. Nor could he be satisfied with anything less than complete victory. It was the Marian lay apostolate in eighteenth century France!

In a letter to the association he wrote:

“Christian perfection consists:

1. in willing to become a saint – ‘If any man will come after Me’

2. in self denial – ‘let him deny himself’

3. in suffering – ‘let him take up his cross’

4. in doing – ‘let him follow Me’.”

It was a programme he was to follow faithfully throughout his life. Not that he was a plaster saint – he was far too rugged and uncompromising for that – but the challenge of the Cross never found him without a response. It was a manliness and courage purified to white-heat in the fire of the Holy Spirit.

* * * *

The old-world town of Poitiers, above the valley of the Clain, has been Christian since the Roman occupation of the country and is one of the earliest centres of Christianity in Europe. Its churches, in which saints such as Radegonde are venerated, date back to the seventh century, and it is famous for one of the most ancient burial-grounds. Although the countryside was ravaged by wars and revolutions it was to welcome the Cistercians in the eighteenth century and – in its “second spring” – Saint Madeline Sophie and her newly-formed Society of the Sacred Heart.

Arrival at Poitiers

Even with his extraordinary insight into the future and his prophetic powers, it is unlikely that de Montfort, on his arrival at Poitiers, had any realization of the important part the city was to play in his life, and in the history of the congregations he was destined to found.

Yet his impact on its citizens was dramatic and immediate. Those who assisted at his Mass in the hospital at Poitiers called out to each other: “Here is a saint. Here is the man for us. Let us detain him and try to keep him.” They petitioned the Bishop to appoint him as their chaplain and the appointment was finally confirmed.

Hospital Chaplain

De Montfort’s deep spirituality did not lessen his shrewdness, realism or masterly flair for organization. In this he resembles the great Saint Teresa who, after being elevated to the heights of mystical prayer, could conclude an eminently satisfactory business arrangement on behalf of the Reform.

The hospital was in a chaotic state both medically and financially and only a saint would have had the patience and wisdom to overcome the disorders. Typically enough, he gave up his own salary to provide more revenue for the inmates, ate the same food as the poorest of them and gave any money donated to him to the necessities of the patients and the upkeep of their chapel. Not satisfied with this, he even tramped through the city begging assistance on behalf of the sick, so that he soon became a familiar sight – his donkey ambling beside him laden with gifts.

All Things To All Men

What spare time he had left was entirely devoted to the needs of the patients, and no task was too menial for him – waiting at table, sweeping rooms, preparing beds, nursing those desperately ill, and ministering to the dying. It seemed as though this extraordinary man never slept and had the power of being everywhere he was wanted at the same time.


Unfortunately there is nothing like disinterested dedication to arouse jealousy and resentment, so that de Montfort’s very success gained him enemies. Two of his persecutors – the superior of the institution and a member of its committee of management – did everything possible to obstruct and discredit him. This did not surprise him in the least for, as he dryly admitted in one of his letters: “I entered this poor hospital or rather this Babylon, with a firm resolution of bearing, in company with Jesus Christ my Master, the crosses which I well foresaw would certainly befall me if the work were from God.”

Peace Follows

In the midst of the turmoil created by this pair of trouble-makers there was a sudden and unexpected calm, for both of them became seriously ill and died within a short time of each other. Such was the impression these strange circumstances created that de Montfort was finally left in peace.

The Chaplain’s work in the meantime had greatly increased but he somehow managed to extend it even further by preaching, catechizing and hearing confessions in many of the outlying parishes of Poitiers. It is difficult to imagine how he accomplished all this with such enthusiasm, yet he added the guidance of ecclesiastical students to his already incredible schedule.

It was at this time that he was obliged to journey to Paris to arrange his sister’s entry into a convent and during his three months’ absence the hospital again lapsed into chaos, due to appalling inefficiency and neglect. Yet de Montfort not only remedied the disorder soon after his return, but increased his missionary work in the churches of the city and carried on a large correspondence with those who continually sought his advice.

Persecution Follows

As a tribute to his amazing success in bringing about the spiritual reformation of the city, he now began to experience the unwelcome attentions of “the prince of this world”. Diabolic phenomena (similar to that which tormented the Cure d’Ars) added trials and terrors by night to the persecution he was already suffering by day. For de Montfort, as a missioner, had rapidly become famous in Poitiers, and the malice of his enemies had received a new stimulus.

The Daughters of Wisdom

In his despair at getting any effective co-operation in the management of the hospital, he founded “the Daughters of Wisdom”, a new congregation of women. Several girls, from amongst the poorest citizens of Poitiers, were chosen as pioneers of the movement, even though some of them were blind, crippled or in uncertain health. De Montfort gathered them together in a room of the hospital which he named “La Sagess” and placed in it a large Cross as their source of inspiration.

The rule of life he gave them was a well-balanced one of prayer and activity. Although he foresaw that he would not live to witness the growth of the congregation, the knowledge that he had at least made a beginning gave him immense consolation. For he realized the important role it was to play in the. life of the Church in later centuries, and was proud that the sick, the blind and the crippled had been the privileged ones summoned to the service of the King.

The bitter opposition to his work now became so serious and so dangerous that he felt compelled to resign his position.

A Home Missionary

Immediately the Bishop accepted his services as a home missionary and sent him to Montbernage, a suburb of Poitiers, notorious for its moral decay. Here de Montfort began in earnest his extraordinary career of apostolic activity. His methods were so modern in their approach that they alarmed and bewildered the more conventional clerics. Sometimes it would be the realistic portrayal, in dramatic form, of the truths of the Faith or the struggle of a soul to find salvation. Or it might be the burning of dangerous literature on a great pyre, surmounted by an effigy of the Devil as a society-woman! (The literature was not gathered by witch-hunts, but was brought voluntarily to the missionary by the repentant towns-people.)

What a scene this would make in the twentieth century (or the 21st) – a pile of the latest fashionable obscenities burnt outside the Cathedral with the effigy of a satanic society-woman on top of the pyre! It would immediately gain widespread publicity for the campaign for Christian literature by all the mass media of communication and would be worth a hundred sermons which was exactly the effect intended by de Montfort. But it takes rare courage to make such a gesture in any century.

Modern Means

Louis Marie de Montfort is very much of our time, and would have used radio, TV, mass rallies and pilgrimages with daring, imagination and skill. He was never concerned about what “they” would think – whether powerful or pious – and went to any lengths of flamboyance to drive home his message. Yet the response was not ephemeral or simply emotional; it was solid and lasting, because it was a response to the message of his own crucified life.

The results of his missions were soon evident in the many churches restored, the pilgrimage centres established, the contributions given to the poor, and in the real spiritual renewal brought about in the dioceses he had visited.

Other Parishes Follow

Montbernage was only the first of many parishes, almost on the verge of ruin, which he re-vitalized with the fire of his zeal for the Kingdom of Christ. It was here, also, that he erected the first chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under her new title of “Queen of All Hearts”.

These activities were accompanied by an amazing gift of prophecy, such as his prediction of the recovery of the Governor’s wife when she seemed almost at the point of death.

Crowds flocked to his confessional and thronged to hear him whenever he preached. The situation could only rub salt into the wounds he had already inflicted on the Jansenists. Misrepresenting his work, they complained to the Bishop of Poitiers and de Montfort was peremptorily ordered to discontinue his ministry in the diocese.

Pilgrimage to Rome

Without any attempt to justify himself, he accepted the curt dismissal with serenity. He even seemed glad of the opportunity it gave him of making a pilgrimage to Rome. For a long time he had wanted to obtain permission to volunteer for the missions overseas that he might offer his life for Christ. Martyrdom was never far from his hopes and desires although, in another form, he endured it daily.

Before leaving Poitiers, the scene of so many graces, he wrote a touching letter of farewell to his people, encouraging them to persevere. This message, so confident in the face of overwhelming adversities, was typical of the man:

Through Mary

“It is through Mary”, he wrote “that I look for and shall find Jesus, that I shall crush the serpent’s head, and that I shall overcome my enemies and myself to the greater glory of God.”

On the same day he set out on his pilgrimage in the spirit of the Gospels, with only a Bible, a Crucifix, a Rosary, an image of Mary, and his staff. The few coins he had he gave to the poor, trusting in God for his food and shelter.

It was a penitential pilgrimage of fasting, watching and prayer, and with only one pause along the way – that he might dedicate himself once more to Jesus through Mary at the Shrine of Loretto.

Rome at Last

At last the great dome of Saint Peter’s came into sight against the pale horizon and, taking off his shoes, de Montfort walked barefoot the two leagues that still separated him from Rome. There, after visiting the churches of the city and its places of pilgrimage, he sought an audience with Pope Clement XI.

On 6th June the request was granted and, for de Montfort, it was a momentous occasion. The Pope listened kindly to his enthusiastic plans for a missionary apostolate, and for the honour of being sent to a mission where he might shed his blood for the Faith. (The tenacious reformer of Poitiers was never a man for half measures!) He added that he would regard the Pope’s decision as the will of God, and that he was ready to work in any part of the world to which he was sent.

Mission in France

The Pope’s reply was swift and unexpected. Stretching out his. hands in the direction of France, he said: “You have in your own country a field worthy of your zeal.” He then explained the anxiety of the Holy See at the encroachments of Jansenism, which he had just explicitly condemned, and asked de Montfort to teach Christian Doctrine to the people, helping them to understand the spirit of Christianity by the renewal of their baptismal promises. Finally, he conferred on him the title of Missionary Apostolic.

Although dumbfounded at the Holy Father’s unexpected decision, de Montfort now felt certain of his vocation to the home missions. It was a keen disappointment to him that, for the second time, the door had been firmly closed on his own plans for a martyr’s death. Yet he was a man for whom God’s Will was the supreme value, even when it meant the sacrifice of his dearest desires. And if his longings for martyrdom could not be literally fulfilled, his enemies would try to provide him with its equivalent!

Little did they expect that the priest they had succeeded in removing from his diocese, and whose work they had so subtly undermined, would return as the chosen champion of the Holy See against their own teaching.

Return to France

After a short rest and retreat, and a pilgrimage to some of the French Shrines, de Montfort offered his services to the Bishop of his home diocese. As several priests were just beginning a mission in the town of Dinan, the Bishop sent him to join them. This mission, and one for the soldiers of the garrison, proved to be successful beyond all expectations, and he was asked to preach throughout the neighbouring districts.

At this time a strange incident occurred in de Montfort’s life, which we can understand only by recalling a prophecy made two and a half centuries before his birth.

Our Lady of Pity

Saint Vincent Ferrer the great missionary of the Middle Ages and the apostle of Brittany, was then preaching at a place called La Cheze, near Loudeac, when he happened to notice a large, ancient, but deserted and roofless chapel, almost in ruins, and overgrown with briars and nettles. He paused in his sermon, and seemed deeply touched by the sight of the abandoned sanctuary, which was known as the Chapel of Our Lady of Pity. Then he began to tell the people what a joy it would be to him if he could restore it to the worship of God and the Honour of the Blessed Virgin.

Suddenly he seemed inspired by a vision of the future, and understood that this very work was destined to be accomplished by another missionary in centuries to come.

Prophetic Vision

Looking around him as one filled with the light of the Spirit of God, Saint Vincent said; “This great undertaking is reserved by God for a man whom the Almighty will cause to be born in later times, a man who will come as one unknown; a man who will be greatly contradicted and laughed at; but a man, nevertheless, who will bring this holy enterprise to a happy issue.”

Prophecy Fulfilled

There could be no truer portrayal of Louis Marie de Montfort who, in 1707, went to La Cheze, preached to the people there, and felt inspired by God to rebuild the ruined chapel of Our Lady of Pity. Although he had no resources for the project nor any hope of assistance, he set to work to raise money for the restoration of the shrine, and his efforts met with extraordinary success. The rapid completion of the sanctuary astonished the people of the district, who flocked in hundreds in procession for the opening ceremony.

A number of other incidents occurred which convinced them that de Montfort had miraculous powers – that he had multiplied bread to feed the poor, and had restored invalids to health. Their enthusiasm was so great, and their demands on the missioner so incessant that, when he left the city, de Montfort felt the need for a quiet retreat where he could renew his strength.

Returns To His Diocese

So he retired to Saint Lazare and, after a period of prayer and silence, took up his missionary work once more in his own diocese. Crowds filled the churches, and no one could keep count of the number of conversions. Sometimes de Montfort’s simple gesture of placing a crucifix before the assembled people, and asking them to venerate it, produced an amazing change even in indifferent and hostile congregations. There are those who would dismiss it as mass hysteria, but the incredible influence of the man on his contemporaries cannot be so lightly explained.

He had no pulpit oratory to win the admiration of the crowds, and always spoke of the fundamentals of the faith in the most straightforward terms. Frequently he simply recited the 15 decades of the Rosary with the people, and then gave them the Crucifix to kiss. Yet the results of his missions were astounding, and the conversions made proved, in most cases, solid and lasting. Again there is a modern touch – he composed some 160 poems, and a number of rousing hymns, using many of them as a simple and effective means of instruction. Even in the years of revolutionary France, these were to keep a flame of Christianity alive in the hearts of the people. His own nuns chanted one of these hymns as they travelled in the tumbrels to the guillotine, so that even the depraved mob felt strangely moved and clamoured for their release.

Devotion To The Sacred Heart

He was one of the earliest preachers to recognize the significance of the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and to use its message in the struggle against Jansenism. By this means and by encouraging devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our. Lady, he restored a well-balanced Christianity to areas which for years had withered in the clutches of harsh and erroneous doctrines. During every mission, an act of public reparation was made to the Blessed Sacrament, and the success of the mission left in the hands of Mary.

Apostle of Mary

“The love of Mary” said one of his fellow-missioners, “seemed to have been born with him.” And it is as the Apostle of Mary that he is mainly remembered, for we have seen the fruits of his treatise on “The True Devotion” in the miraculous growth of the Legion of Mary. This book, which de Montfort predicted would be “enveloped in the silence of a coffer” was not discovered until 1842, 126 years after his death. The inspiration it has given to the Marian lay apostolate amply fulfils de Montfort’s prophecy that * “in those latter times, God will raise up mighty saints, servants, slaves and children of Mary . . . who shall kindle the fire of divine love everywhere . . . like sharp arrows in the hand of the powerful Mary to pierce her enemies.” [* “True Devotion,” by Saint Louis de Montfort.]

True Devotion

“True Devotion” has always borne the stigma of “Marian exaggeration” but it is interesting to recall that, when De. Pusey pressed this accusation, the champion of de Montfort’s teaching proved to be no less a figure than the learned and saintly Cardinal Newman. Probably Saint Louis Marie would not state his teaching today in the same theological terms, but he would insist on the same profound relationship between Mary and each member of the Church.

Diocese of Nantes

De Montfort continued to work fruitfully in his native diocese until harried by the Jansenists and forced to leave. He then offered his services to the great diocese of Nantes, and his missions there met with the same remarkable response. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of the crowds, he decided to erect an immense Calvary which, rising from the vast plain that surrounds Pontchateau, would be visible for miles around. It was to be a centre of pilgrimage, and a perpetual reminder of the promises the people of the district had made to God during the mission.

The project was greeted with joy, and 500 labourers immediately volunteered. Soon the work was completed and proved its worth, not only by continuing to stimulate local devotion, but by drawing crowds from other areas – hundreds of people who found here the inspiration for the reformation of their lives. Once again de Montfort showed that he understood and respected the need men have of finding God through the windows of the senses – through what is tangible, moving and essentially human.

Opposition by Jansenists

A mass pilgrimage was arranged for the opening ceremony, and the hidden power of the Jansenists in clerical circles is indicated by the fact that they managed to get it cancelled the night before. (The feast-day chosen for the event was the Feast of the Holy Cross.)

They then spread the incredible story that the shrine was built as a fortress where de Montfort and his misguided followers could entrench themselves, threatening the law and order of France. Even more incredibly these accusations were believed, and the civil authorities demanded the destruction of the shrine. In spite of protests by the townspeople and their refusal to carry out the order, the work of demolition was brought about by force and, after three months, not a trace remained of the once famous Calvary. However, the townspeople had at least one consolation – they managed to detach the figure of Christ from the Cross before it could be desecrated or destroyed.

De Montfort received this public humiliation with his usual calm. He even foretold that a new Calvary would rise again on the site of the old one. This prediction was finally fulfilled in 1825, when a crowd of 20,000 pilgrims, bearing white standards, surrounded the hill and made a public act of reparation at the restored Calvary.

The missionary again retired to renew his spiritual strength, and made a retreat at the Jesuit house at Nantes. Before leaving the diocese, he personally led a courageous and heroic rescue of flood-bound householders, whose district had been inundated by the waters of the Loire.

The Diocese of La Rochelle

Towards the end of March, 1711, he agreed to a request to give missions to the diocese of La Rochelle, where his work as a home missioner was destined to reach its most amazing climax. His preaching created such scenes of fervour and enthusiasm that he earned the bitter hatred of some of the Calvinists, who determined to assassinate him. When he arrived at the street they had chosen for the attempt, he felt compelled, without understanding why, to retrace his steps and take a long detour to his destination. “My heart became as cold as ice” he told a companion, “and I could not take a step forward.”

This was not his only escape from death. An attempt was later made to poison him and, although he survived the dose, his system became so weakened that he suffered its effects for the rest of his life.

Pastoral Work Continues

These persecutions formed a dark background to the increasing brilliance of his pastoral success. Jansenists, Calvinists, even pirates (who unsuccessfully tried to capture him while en route to a mission at the Isle-Dieu) could only interrupt, but never stop, the mighty tide of graces that seemed to accompany his work everywhere, and particularly at La Rochelle. Here the accounts of cures, miracles and conversions remind one of the days of the early Church. While due allowance must be made for exaggerated enthusiasm, it is still an extraordinary record of pastoral activity – one which gives increasing evidence of the sanctity of this untiring and courageous man.

The De Montfort Fathers

Realizing that he had little time left on earth, he now began to organize a society of priests to continue his work. The rule of life he drew up was approved and he chose, from the community of Saint Esprit, a seminarian who was later destined to be the first member of the Company of Mary to work with him – Pere Vatel. The new society known as the De Montfort Fathers was soon to become one of the most enterprising of the missionary congregations, making foundations in many countries of Europe, Asia and America.

The Daughters of Wisdom Again

De Montfort, with his usual thoroughness and dedication, also completed his plans for the Daughters of Wisdom, and selected as their Superior Mme. Trichet, afterwards known as Sister Marie-Louise of Jesus. As the saint predicted, the nuns were given the administration of the hospital at Poitiers, where the congregation had been founded, and later became equally famous not only in other cities of Europe, but also in missionary countries throughout the world.

A severe illness from which de Montfort suffered in 1713 was treated by the barbarous methods of the time, and his survival of the ordeal seemed almost miraculous. His cheerfulness during these operations, performed without anaesthetics, was only an expression of the spirit of penance which had characterized his whole life. At this time he told a priest friend that “God had favoured him with a very special grace, which was the abiding presence of Jesus and Mary in the depth of his soul.” He did not attempt to explain it theologically, and it is doubtful if he could have done so. It seemed a wholly mystical experience of his union with Jesus, through Mary, which had been the inspiration of his life and apostolate.

He was destined now for a final glorious spring of missionary activity – preaching and praying the rosary in churches, shrines and streets, and even in the midst of a ribald crowd aboard a market boat. He established innumerable Rosary Confraternities; and it was his great love for the rosary which led him to become a Dominican Tertiary.

A Lasting Impression

In spite of ridicule and opposition, his work grew to immense proportions and had a lasting effect on the French Church. As an example of the fruits of his missions, the Cure of Saint-Lo testified that many of his parishioners still practised the devotions they had learned at these missions 60 years after the saint’s death!

Yet not content with this prodigious activity, he established hospitals and schools, and still had time and energy for the foundation of the Company of Mary, the Daughters of Wisdom, and the Association of the Friends of the Cross.

The once-Calvinist stronghold of La Rochelle was to be the crown of his missionary achievements, and it was there that he was revered as another Saint Paul. He was besieged at all hours, by people from all classes of society, seeking spiritual advice; and many of his visitors claimed to have seen his face transfigured. This occurred publicly as he was preaching in the Dominican church on the glories of Mary on the Feast of the Purification. The phenomena of levitation has also been recorded, although de Montfort took every precaution to avoid discovery. So great were the crowds that flocked to hear him that, during one mission, the pulpit had to be placed in the open air at the foot of a large tree.

His Death Approaches

In January, 1716, he resumed his missionary work in the neighbouring parishes, and it seemed that he was at the peak of his powers, spiritually and physically, but it was at this very time that he foretold his own death, which he said would occur before the end of the year. His last project, and perhaps the one dearest to his heart, was the organization of a mass pilgrimage to the Shrine of Notre Dame des Ardilliers to obtain the blessing of the Queen of Heaven on the new Company of Mary, and its future work. Pere Vatel and Pere Mulot, destined to be the first two priests of the Company, led the pilgrimage. Having followed in their steps to the Shrine, in spite of the ill-health which now became painfully obvious, de Montfort resumed his missionary work at Saint-Laurent-sur-Seine. He had left the future of his two congregations in Mary’s hands, and felt his work on earth had at last been completed.

During the month of April, 1716, as the missionaries were preparing for a visitation by the Bishop of La Rochelle, de Montfort suddenly collapsed. Although he was gravely ill, he managed to preach a last sermon on the Compassion of Jesus. Those who heard him (with no realization of the gravity of his condition) remarked that he seemed to be delivering a farewell message to his people.

His Final Message

It is significant that his final sermon should have been on this very subject – the Mercy, Compassion and loving-kindness of Christ. It was the rock of his teaching against which the bitter fury of his enemies beat in vain, just as that same fury had lashed aimlessly against the rock of Peter.

But his victory could only lead to his crucifixion in the cause of Christ.

It was largely due to the labours of de Montfort, and his fellow-missionaries, that the influence of false doctrines in the French Church was finally overcome. And through the intercession of a Woman “fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array”, (Song of Songs 6: 10), the Spirit of Truth renewed and vivified the heart of Christian Europe.

He Receives the Last Sacraments

After his farewell sermons, de Montfort was obliged to admit the seriousness of his illness. He received the Last Sacraments, expressed the wish to die as he had lived – a slave of Jesus and Mary. Even at this moment he was not granted peace or privacy, and the room in which he lay was soon crowded with people, begging his blessing. It is typical of him that he cheerfully obliged, even adding a few words of consolation and trying heroically to join them in a song. The effort was too much and he lapsed into unconsciousness. His last words were the names of Jesus and Mary, an expression of his confidence in their power against the forces of evil, and the joyful announcement that he had “finished his course – it is over now, and I shall never sin again.”

He Dies, His Work Lives On

It was eight o’clock on the evening of 28 April, 1716, and he was 43 years old. (After his canonization in 1947, this date was chosen as his feast-day.) But this was only the beginning of his work, for it was continued by the Company of Mary and the Daughters of Wisdom and, in spite of persecution, the de Montfort Fathers (as they later became known) gave 430 missions in the 63 years before the French Revolution. The reformation they brought about in France was similar to that achieved in Italy, at the same period, by the Redemptorists. Soon their apostolate was to find a fruitful harvest-field in several continents.

The Daughters of Wisdom are now numbered in thousands, and have foundations throughout the world devoted to charitable activities.

The Legion of Mary

The latest developments of de Montfort’s apostolate have been in our own 20th century – the foundation of the Priests of Mary and the Legion of Mary. The association of the Priests of Mary is dedicated to the preaching and practice of the “True Devotion”. The Legion of Mary is one of the most flourishing organizations of the lay apostolate, and is based on the teachings of the saint adapted and brilliantly applied to the spiritual needs of our own 20th and 21st century by Frank Duff.

The Confraternity of Mary, Queen of All Hearts, was first established in Canada, and canonically erected in 1913. It is another manifestation of de Montfort’s spiritual influence on the interior life of Christians in our time. Its object is “to establish within us the Reign of Mary as a means of establishing more perfectly the reign of Jesus Christ in our souls.”

Yet perhaps it is in the apostolate of the Legion of Mary that we can best see the genius of de Montfort in action in this 20th century, effecting a reformation as powerful, and inspiring martyrdoms as heroic and as fruitful as in eighteenth century France. Legionaries are surely in the vanguard of those whom the saint foretold would transform Christian society in preparation for the coming of the Kingdom of Christ through His Blessed Mother.

Papal Commendation

In spite of criticism of “True Devotion”, it should be remembered that six Popes have recommended it, while Leo XIII renewed the Act of Consecration on his deathbed, and Saint Pius X both practised the devotion and granted the Apostolic Benediction to all who would read the treatise.

The number of interior transformations it has encouraged and inspired cannot be calculated, but the Confraternity alone numbers several hundred thousand members throughout the world.

Devotion to Mary is the royal highway to the establishment of Christ’s Kingship for, as de Montfort assures us: “Our union with Jesus always and necessarily follows our union with Mary, because the spirit of Mary is the spirit of Jesus. When we have once found Mary, and through Mary, Jesus, and through Jesus, God the Father, we have found all good.”

Perhaps we could re-read his last great prophecy in the light of the spiritual transformation the Marian apostolate has brought about in the present [20th] century: “Through Mary God came into the world the first time . . . . . may we not say that it is through Mary also that He will come the second time, as the whole Church expects Him, to rule everywhere and to judge the living and the dead?”

As most of us are not theologians, we do not have to construct speculative theological systems about Mary. For if we live the total consecration to Mary, as Montfort did, we have the words of Saint Pius X as our light and encouragement: “Who does not know that there is no more certain and easy way than Mary to unite all with Christ and to attain through Him the perfect adoption of sons, that we may be holy and immaculate in the sight of God?” *

The Church Today

But what of the Church today? What is the mind of Pope Paul VI? The best answer to these questions is the following extract from the second part of the Holy Father’s Encyclical Letter: “Ecclesiam Suam”:

“This vision of humble and profound perfection leads our thoughts to Mary most holy, for she reflects the vision most perfectly and wonderfully in herself; she lived it on earth and now in heaven she rejoices in its glory and beatitude. Devotion to Mary is happily flourishing in the Church today; and we, on this occasion, gladly turn our thoughts to her to admire in the Blessed Virgin, Mother of Christ (and, therefore, the Mother of God and the mother of us) the model of Christian perfection, the mirror of true virtues, the pride of true humanity.”

“We regard devotion to Mary as a source of Gospel teaching. In our pilgrimage to the Holy Land we wished to learn the lesson of real Christianity from her, the most blessed, loveable, humble and immaculate creature, whose privilege it was to give to the Word of God human flesh in its pristine and innocent beauty. To her now we turn our imploring gaze as to a loving mistress of life, while we discuss with you, venerable brethren, the spiritual and moral regeneration of the life of Holy Church.”

Mary, Mother of the Church

As though to confirm these words the Holy Father, in his address at the solemn closing of the Third Session of the Second Vatican Council, proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary “Mother of the Church”. He said:

“Thus to the glory of the Virgin and to our own comfort we proclaim the Most Holy Mary as Mother of the Church – that is, of all the people of God, as much of the faithful as of the pastors, she whom we call the Most Loved Mother.”

“And we wish that with such a sweet title the Virgin shall from now on be still more honoured and invoked by all the Christian people.”

Later that same day – the Feast of Our Lady’s Presentation- he visited the basilica of Saint Mary Major and prayed before the ancient image of Mary “Salvation of the Roman People”.

While the Pope’s action implied no new dogma or doctrine, it was evident that his proclamation would add to Catholic devotion to Mary.

It was especially welcomed in Australia, for the title was already familiar and dear to Catholics in this country. At the twenty-eighth International Eucharistic Congress in Sydney in 1928, it had been used by Rev. Stanislaus Hogan, O.P., as the most appropriate description of Mary’s maternal relationship with the Mystical Body of her Son.

And throughout the Christian world the proclamation was greeted with joy and gratitude, for it is in Mary’s powerful intercession that her children have placed their confidence for the ultimate success of the Council, the reunion of Christians, and the salvation of mankind.

– from the pamphlet Apostle of Mary: Saint Louis Marie de Montfort, by P. M. Fennessy, Australian Catholic Truth Society #1452, 1965; is has the Nihil Obstat of Bernard O’Connor, Diocesan Censor, and the Imprimatur of Archbishop Justin D Simonds, Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia, 30 March 1965

An Outline of the English Reformation, by L R Gardiner, B.A.

The Pilgrimage of GraceThe tragedy of the English Reformation is part of the wider tragedy of the Reformation in Europe, a tragedy for Catholics and Protestants everywhere.

The sad effects of this tragedy are known to us all today when Christians are beginning to discover each other as possible religious allies and partners. The deepest causes of the tragedy are perhaps known only to God; the more immediate causes are becoming better known, and are constantly being debated by historians. Catholic and Protestant historians are now reaching a larger measure of agreement on what happened, and on why it was important.

For example, Catholic historians now generally recognize the important religious content of Luther’s and Calvin’s teaching. These teachings were developed to the disastrous point of heresy, and were condemned by the Church. Yet, Luther and Calvin, in the words of one modern Catholic historian,

“rediscovered these neglected truths, that human effort as such can do nothing to save us, that salvation is wholly and solely God’s free gift in Christ to be received by a self-surrendering faith, that God’s sovereignty is absolute, shared by no creature, His glory alone is the end and raison d’être (purpose) of the entire creation and of man in particular; Scripture as His word to man, addressed to each and every Christian.” (E. I. Watkins: Roman Catholicism in England. 1957, page 2.)

Protestant historians also recognize the tragedy of Luther’s departure from the Church from which he had drawn so much.

“Luther was a Protestant before there was any Protestantism. He lacked that support and stay which a living theological, liturgical and devotional tradition brings to a Christian man, from within his own household of faith. . . . There was for him no ‘Matthew Passion’ of J. S. Bach, no hymns of Rinkhart and Gerhardt, none of that rich and many-sided tradition which was to stem from his own life and deeds. He had to make it up as he went along, and how he made it – a German Bible, a Children’s Catechism, a few dozen hymns – all events in European history which counted for more than all the battles of Gustavus Adolphus and Oliver Cromwell. To speak thus is not to forget his deep debt to the past, the many signs that to the end of his days he was nourished by great debts incurred during his monastic training, the deep levels of mediaeval doctrine and theology and liturgy to which he always owed more than he knew and more than most Protestant historians have ever brought themselves to acknowledge.” (Gordon Rupp: The Righteousness of God. 1953, page 346.)

This growing sense of bereavement among Catholic and Protestant historians augurs well for the future understanding of what happened at the Reformation.

The Tragedy of the English Reformation

The Tragedy of the English Reformation was smaller but not simpler than that of the whole Reformation. On all sides there was spiritual endeavour, heroic effort as well as much that was short-sighted, selfish and sordid.

The three successive stages of the English Reformation were:

(i) the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) and his son, Edward VI (1547-53), when Catholic life, doctrine and worship were first set aside;

(ii) the reign of Henry’s elder daughter, Mary (1553-58), when Catholic doctrine and worship were restored without an accompanying spiritual revival;

(iii) the reign of Henry’s younger daughter, Elizabeth I (1558-1603), when Catholic life was once more pushed underground. At Elizabeth’s death, English Catholics could work and hope for relief from persecution, but prospects of an early Catholic recovery of the English Church had disappeared.

Five Distinct Stories in the English Reformation

Five distinct but not altogether separate stories make up the complicated tragedy.

1. Ambitious Laymen

Firstly, there is the ever-present background story of ambitious laymen reacting strongly against the dominating influence of the clergy who ran so much of fifteenth and early sixteenth century society; the universities and education; most of the government service; all questions of business principle (defaulting business contractors could be prosecuted for perjury in church courts); and parish priests had been known to use charges of heresy as the most efficient debt collecting devices against parishioners refusing to pay their dues. Then, great wealth in the hands of the clergy induced itching fingers among laymen. Schemes for unlocking church land and, using it for lay education or the relief of the poor were usually fig leaves covering naked greed.

2. Royal Power

Secondly, there is the ever-present foreground story of the power and prestige of reigning Kings and Queens, who were feared, flattered and fawned on as never before. The reigning King or Queen was thought to be God’s Prime Minister, whose commands had to be obeyed, and whose leadership was in fact decisive at every crisis of the English Reformation. The course of the English Reformation was changed more by a change of monarch than by a monarch’s change of mind.

3. Catholic Deficiency

Thirdly, there is the story of shortcomings among English Catholics. The Church does not fail, but some of its members may falter. Spiritual inadequacy was visible before the Reformation, and partly led to the Reformation. English Catholics, proud of their saints, have little reason to dwell on the fifteenth century as a century of sanctity. How many English persons who died in the fifteenth century have been canonized?

Too many clergy made a business career out of their pastoral obligations. Too many religious relaxed comfortably in their material security. The spiritual life of too many laymen seems to have been a round of devotional practices, mechanically performed. The Bible itself was not well known to laymen by direct reading, although Biblical events and characters were familiar from preaching, paintings and popular stories. No English Bible was printed before the Reformation, because the bishops feared that free reading would stimulate free doctrine. Advanced study of the Bible, the Latin Vulgate, continued on traditional lines. A revision of study methods was probably overdue. The old way had been very fruitful and was still useful, but its elaborate style made simple reading more difficult. When John Colet lectured in 1497 on Saint Paul’s Epistles considered as immediate words to living men, he was thought to be a startling revolutionary in England.

4. Protestant Religious Movements

Fourthly, there were the Protestant religious movements which inspired the English Reformation. Significantly, they began before the Catholic spiritual revival had any wide effect. They derived from three distinct sources.

A. Lollardy

The Lollards followed the teaching of the fourteenth-century heretic, John Wycliffe who urged men to read and interpret the Bible for themselves. His translation, secretly studied, was used to attack the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, and understandably frightened the bishops off freely circulating English translations of the Bible. The Lollards, mainly poor men, were more active than was earlier supposed. In the diocese of London alone between 1527 and 1532 over 200 heretics, mainly Lollards, were made to abjure their heresy. Of the 273 burned for heresy by Mary Tudor between 1555 and 1558, and commemorated in his Book of Martyrs, John Foxe gives little more than the bare names of two-thirds. Many of these may have been Lollards.

B. Early Cambridge Reformers

Lollard heresy was strongly reinforced intellectually by the spread of Luther’s teaching among influential Cambridge scholars. Hugh Latimer, a Cambridge don, in 1524, recalled how “from that time forward I began to smell the word of God and forsook the school doctors” (i.e., the traditional scholastic theologians). William Tyndale helped out from Oxford. His translation of the New Testament, printed in Germany in 1526, was one of the great instruments of the English Reformation. Concentrated Bible reading and Lutheran views were the main support of the Cambridge reformers. Tyndale deftly provided both at once.

Others from Cambridge were Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533 to 1556, whose graceful style lives in the Book of Common Prayer; Nicholas Ridley, Protestant Bishop of London, 1551-1553, whose theological eminence was acknowledged by an opponent’s claim that “Latimer leans to Cranmer, Cranmer leans to Ridley, and Ridley to the singularity of his own wit”; John Bradford, scholar and preacher, whose gentleness won acclaim from Robert Persons, S.J. ; John Rogers, translator and editor of “Matthew’s Bible”, issued in 1537 partly because “the dissemination of Bibles would put a stop to the religious disputes then rife in the realm”! In Bradford’s phrase, Rogers “broke the ice valiantly” as Mary Tudor’s first victim in 1555, and was attended by his “wife with her eleven children who formed the tragic little retinue at the place of execution”. These five Cambridge scholars and theologians were all burned as confirmed heretics by Mary Tudor between 1555 and 1556. By then, however, their work had been done, and their legacy lived on in the Church of England. A later sixteenth-century follower, Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600), the author of the most important Anglican apologia, intended, according to his first biographer, “to show such arguments as should force an assent from all men, if reason, delivered in sweet language, and devoid of any provocation, were able to do it.” The Catholic reader will not agree, but he will gratefully remember Hooker’s reasonableness and gentleness and his warning against narrow-minded zeal.

C. Later Cambridge Reformers

During Elizabeth’s reign and beyond, two further waves of Cambridge reformers led the way towards a Puritan “New Jerusalem”. Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603) and Walter Travers (c.1548-1643) carefully constructed and expounded a complete Calvinistic church system to be made supreme in England. A great organizer, John Field (1545-1588) from Oxford, brought them near, but not near enough, to success. Then followed a succession of Cambridge Puritans who concentrated more on Calvinistic religious ideas and behaviour than on Calvinistic Church organization. Some of these were: William Whitaker (1548-1595), whose portrait hung in the study of his admirer, Saint Robert Bellarmine, S.J.; William Perkins (1558-1602), whose passing bell was heard with unrepentant joy by one listener whose conscience would no longer be troubled by the preaching of Perkins; William Ames (1576-1633), whose library was shipped, after his death, to a grateful colony in New England; Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), of whom one admirer wrote –

“of this blest man let this just praise be given. Heaven was in him before he was in Heaven”;

and John Preston (1587-1628), who, when visiting the barber, characteristically went on reading the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and who would blow the falling hairs off the page and read on keenly.

It is difficult to exaggerate the influence of such “marching and counter-marching of learned doctors on the printed page” in early Puritan America and on the English Puritan Revolution in the seventeenth century.

5. Catholic Spiritual Recovery

Fifthly, there is the story of English Catholic spiritual recovery in the reign of Elizabeth I. This story has rarely failed to move those interested in English history.

The beginning was disappointing. In the early years of Elizabeth, Catholics in large numbers went to the Protestant Established Church. William Allen, an Oxford scholar ordained in the Netherlands in 1567, worked for a solution. He insisted on a way “to train Catholics to be plainly and openly Catholics; to be men who will always refuse every kind of spiritual commerce with heretics.”

Catholic Missionary Movement

Allen’s solution was to found at Douai in 1568, the first seminary to train priests “the greatest religious achievement of Elizabethan England”, Father Philip Hughes has said. The English Catholic religious recovery owed much to the Catholic Reformation on the continent of Europe. Douai, now in France, near the border of Belgium, then in the Spanish Netherlands, lay in the heart of a religiously rejuvenated society. From Douai, Edmund Campion, in 1572, assured an English Protestant friend that “every age, rank and sex” in the Spanish Netherlands were a spiritual example “worth six hundred Protestant Englands”.

Priest Martyrs

Between 1568 and 1603 hundreds of young Elizabethan Catholics flocked to the college to be trained and ordained for the dangerous duty of missionary priests. From 1574 to 1603 four hundred and thirty-eight Douai priests returned, ninety-eight of them to martyrdom. Twenty-five other martyr-priests also suffered.

Sir Richard Grenville, the hero of the fight of The Revenge, in 1591, was knighted not for his exploits at sea, but for his determination, in 1577, in capturing, and ensuring the execution of, Douai’s first martyr, Saint Cuthbert Mayne (1543-77).

In 1580, the Society of Jesus sent two priests, Saint Edmund Campion (1540-81), and his superior, Robert Persons (1546-1610), to join the English mission. Campion, outstanding in character and intellect, knew what to say, Persons knew how to pass on the message to Elizabethan England, just as he knew how to contact Catholics after a lonely arrival in 1580. He went straight to the chief London prison holding Catholics. Campion closed this first Jesuit mission with words at his trial and death which aroused devout response among Catholics. Elizabethan authorities who had to use perjury to convict him under the existing treason laws were also affected but with dismay at the public effect of his words.

“If our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise we are, and have been, as good subjects as ever the Queen had.”

According to William Cecil, a leading Elizabethan statesman, Campion was “one of the diamonds of England”. The setting of this diamond included distinction at Oxford, the conversion of Cuthbert Mayne, compassion for Sir Philip Sidney, “the poor wavering soul”, the friendship of William Allen, Douai’s founder, and of Gregory Martin, the first Catholic translator of the whole Bible into English.

Lay Martyrs

The Elizabethan Catholic revival also went deep among lay people. Fifty-nine died for their faith.

Saint Margaret Clitherow (c. 1556-86), the wife of a York butcher, was converted in 1574. She made her house a centre for priests and, in order to save her family and friends from appearing as witnesses at her trial, she refused to plead guilty or not guilty. She resolutely suffered the legal penalty of being crushed to death for contempt of the law.

Saint John Rigby, a London solicitor, martyred in 1600, readily admitted that he had been “reconciled to the Catholic Church”. His spiritual advisor, Father John Gerard, S.J., recollected that Rigby “had been told that it was always sinful not to confess his Catholic faith and he may not have known that it was lawful to throw the burden of proof on the prosecution, as Catholics who are wise to it do”. Rigby told his judges, more tellingly, that if the law held it treason “for a man fallen into the displeasure of God through his sins to be reconciled to God again,” then, “if this be treason, God’s will be done.”

Campaign of Spiritual Reading

Dedicated missionary work and vigorous lay response were supported by a Catholic translation of the Bible and a campaign of spiritual reading. Father Gregory Martin’s translation of the New Testament appeared in 1582, and the translated Old Testament in 1609. These translations together gave three thousand readings to the Authorized Version of 1611. Gregory Martin, in his preface, warned that translations were not necessary, nor was indiscriminate reading without danger. His warning was perhaps excessively heeded as Bible reading did not become widely established among English Catholics. The fourth edition of this New Testament, 1633, was the last, as was the second edition of the Old Testament in 1635. Catholics were then to wait until Bishop Challoner revised the work in the 18th Century.

Robert Persons’ The Christian Directory (1582) has claims to be ranked with Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ (1471) and Saint Francis Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life (1609). Ironically enough, while English Protestants vilified Persons as a “lurking wolf” they pirated his spiritual message from The Christian Directory by as many as fifteen editions before Persons’ death in 1610.

The Progress of the English Reformation 1509-53

Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, 1509-53

The most striking Reformation development in the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47) was the denial of the Pope’s authority over the Church in England. This renunciation took place in 1533-4 and replaced the Pope’s authority by the supremacy of the King. The main motive for this change was Henry VIII’s resentment at the Pope’s failure from 1527 to annul Henry’s marriage with Catherine of Aragon so that Henry could marry Anne Boleyn. If the Pope was held to be only a bishop, like any other bishop, then Henry’s case might then be tried in England by English bishops under the vigilant eye of Henry, the newly decreed Supreme Head. Indeed, after this was asserted in 1533 the six years of Papal delay were ended by English bishops in under three weeks and in Henry’s favour. This revolution in the Church won influential support amongst leading lords and gentry. Their secular and anti-Papal feelings were reinforced by gifts and sales of the property of religious houses, seized between 1536 and 1540.

Older Views

Earlier opinion, Catholic and Protestant, deduced that Henry VIII’s Reformation was, essentially, a schism, a denial of Papal authority without further alteration of Catholic doctrine. As the disappointed reformer, John Hooper, declared, Henry VIII has destroyed the Pope, not popery. According to this view, other important religious changes were introduced only in the reign of Edward VI.

Today our understanding has been altered or enlarged in four ways.

1. Earlier Protestant Tendencies

Catholic and Protestant scholars have clearly shown that more Protestant tendencies were encouraged in Henry VIII’s reign than were once thought. We have noted that Protestant reformers were active in England from at least the 1520’s. Then in the later 1530’s and 1540’s disputes arose about the validity of some Catholic beliefs challenged by Lutherans. Prayers for the dead, Purgatory, the number of Sacraments, the purpose of good works and the meaning of Justification were some vexed issues. No sixteenth-century government could allow religious disputes to continue unchecked, as they would lead to brawls and, perhaps, to civil war when loyalty to the state meant loyalty to official religious doctrine.

2. Henry’s Protestant Tendencies

Henry’s government, denying itself any appeal to the Pope, decided for itself. On five occasions between 1536 and 1547 Henry, with the help of the bishops, issued pronouncements “to abolish diversity of opinions”. These pronouncements not all consistent with each other are not entirely reassuring about Henry VIII’s Catholic beliefs. His friend, Archbishop Cranmer, later admitted that Henry, before his death, was thinking of further changes in religion. And Henry did, after all, place his son and successor, Edward, in the hands of educators and advisers with Protestant sympathies. This decision led directly to extensive Protestant changes by the governments of Edward VI.

3. Materialist Outlook

The sordid outlook of Henry VIII’s England also needs to be given greater stress. “It is difficult to think of an age in which unselfishness, devotion to an ideal, faithfulness to a master or a friend were rarer in public life, or one in which lust for material gain was greater.” And, according to Dom David Knowles again, even one of the great exceptions to the prevailing spirit, the martyr of 1535, Saint Thomas More, appears to have come late to his sanctity. He developed “very markedly in purity of vision” only when he abandoned his interests and endured hardship, treachery, loneliness and “the ultimate solitude of misunderstanding from those he loved most”.

4. The Bishops

Henry VIII’s bishops must be seen against the background of career making and profit seeking, with the shining exception of Saint John Fisher (1469-1535), and to a much lesser extent of William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1503 to 1532, whose stature, like More’s, grew in adversity. Warham was, in many ways, the typical Henrician bishop, whose promotion in the Church was a reward for dedicated service to the King. His outlook reflected his career as lawyer, administrator and diplomat. His frequent maxim was “the wrath of the Prince is death”. Such bishops, servants and dependants as they were, needed the King’s additional protection against the rising tide of anti-clerical feeling, dangerously expressed in Parliament from 1529 and skilfully directed from 1532 by Thomas Cromwell, a master of ecclesiastical revolution. Such bishops could not lightly risk royal displeasure and nearly all did not.

The strongly exercised secular spirit, with its distrust of Papal power politics of the early sixteenth century, would probably have led to some change in the exercise of Papal control of the Church in England even without Henry VIII’s divorce arrangements. Papal control in England was more extensive in 1530 than in Catholic France or Spain. In these countries Pope and King had rearranged the Papal exercises of control.

The clear duty of the bishops was to prevent such rearrangement injuring the Pope’s essential spiritual authority. In England, only Bishop Fisher stood resolved on this from the beginning to the point of martyrdom in 1535. Archbishop Warham finally abandoned his deference to Princes. Before he died in 1532, he penned a noble protest against royal intrusion into the rights of the Church. At the last, he appreciated his position as successor to Saint Thomas Becket, the victim of earlier royal aggression. Old man that he was (he was nearly eighty), Warham died just too soon. Had he lived his final resolution might have made an impression on the other bishops from whom Fisher was set apart by his sanctity. Warham’s portrait reveals the man whose steadfast integrity was long overlaid by monumental patience with the arrogant claims of others and by a sad worldly realism. The tragedy of Henry VIII’s Reformation lines his face.

Edward VI 1547-53

The Reformation in the reign of Edward VI, 1547-53, was the natural climax of the Henrician Reformation. Protestant Reformers gathering strength under Henry VIII won an expectedly clear victory over the schismatic bishops, who had vainly trusted Kings to safeguard the Mass, the Sacraments and Catholic devotional life. Such bishops, as Stephen Gardiner, Cuthbert Tunstall and Edmund Bonner, were defeated as well as discredited. Reformers, aided by royal power, now openly abandoned Catholic fundamentals. They substituted a new form of worship contained in the Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 and Protestant doctrines contained in the 42 Articles of 1553, the forerunner of the 39 Articles.

The Reformers, however, had to depend on the politicians and the age of materialism reserved its most blatant specimens for the reign of Edward VI. For example, Richard Rich, whose perjury betrayed More in 1535, crowned an infamous career in 1548 by occupying Moor’s old office of Lord Chancellor. The Reformers wanted things to be otherwise. John Hopper desperately nailed the leading politician of the reign, John Dudley, as a “most holy and fearless instrument of the Lord”. Dudley willingly advanced Reformation measures, but the Reformation could hardly have prospered for long under the patronage of this “incarnation of the hypocrisy and self-seeking which marred the Reformation”.

Reign of Mary Tudor, 1553-8

Under the Catholic Queen, Mary Tudor, the importance of royal leadership was seen in the speedy restoration of Papal authority and in the speedier undoing of the Reformation measures, except that, by Papal insistence, the restoration of confiscated religious property was not demanded.


The new beginning was soon marred by serious governmental errors. Indeed, one of the unending pursuits of historians of this reign is to attempt to blame or exonerate one or other leading figures for the major blunders.

Spanish Alliance

One blunder was Mary’s marriage to Philip II of Spain. A Catholic or Spanish alliance was not unpopular in itself, but Mary allowed a fiercely independent England to be subordinated to Spanish Continental policies. It was a disastrous confusion of foreign interest with Catholic interest.

Burning Heretics

Another blunder was the implacable drive against those convicted of unrepudiated heretical opinion. This was more than blunder. In many instances it was a crime. Many of those convicted of heresy were brought up from 1534 in a heretical society. They were not properly Catholic from the first. They had not renounced the Catholic faith. They had never been taught it. In Father Philip Hughes’ words, “Many of those tried and convicted and burned were not, by the canon law, really liable to these penalties, whatever their beliefs, and whatever the obstinacy with which they clung to them.”

To make matters worse the judges of heresy were those bishops of whom nearly half had been responsible, in Henry VIII’s reign, for creating or furthering the heretical climate in which many of their victims were brought up.

Not all Mary’s victims, however, were brought up in a heretical society. Most of the famous names were technically heretics. Cranmer, Latimer, Ridley, Rogers, Bradford and Hooper were all adult before 1534. Moreover, many of the victims ought more suitably to have been tried for treason rather than heresy.

Mary’s Failure

The Marian Restoration, for all its interest in burning, failed to light the fires of spiritual fervour among Catholic clergy and laity or to warm English hearts with ardent Papal loyalty. Wayward leadership was made ultimately futile by bitter hostility from the failing, 80 years old Pope Paul IV. He detested everything Spanish, including Mary’s England, suspected Mary’s Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Pole, of heresy, and refused to help him further. On this depressing note Mary’s reign ended in November, 1558, with vacancies in five bishops’ sees and the English Church insufficiently prepared for the coming challenge.

Reign of Elizabeth I, 1558-1603

Under Elizabeth I, royal leadership proved once more important, and this time decisively important, in the English Reformation. This was not as clear at the time as it is now. In 1559 the Royal supremacy once more replaced Papal authority in England and the Prayer Book service once more replaced the Mass. In 1563, the 39 Articles, a revised edition of the 42 Articles of Edward VI, reimposed Reformation doctrine.

In vain, all the surviving Marian bishops, except one, refused to accept the revival of Royal supremacy, and were sent to die in the Tower and were replaced by Protestant bishops. Most of the clergy acquiesced in the change.

How long would the new arrangements last? The English Catholics wondered as they waited.

Six issues must be noticed.


The Elizabethan government constantly aimed at the destruction, not the toleration, of the Catholic faith in England. English Catholics, as far as possible, were to be assimilated into the Elizabethan Church. This was to be brought about in three ways.

+ The Elizabethan Church was made as attractive as possible to Catholics even if some Protestants, especially Puritans, were affronted. Vestments were used. The main service sounded familiar and inoffensive and reassuring statements were made about the meaning of the Royal supremacy.

+ Strong government pressure, backed by fine and imprisonment, (and fire), was used to force Catholics to attend the Elizabethan Church.

+ Catholics were to be spiritually starved by being denied the ministrations of Catholic priests. By 1585 to give or receive such ministrations became a capital offence.


The Elizabethan policy, in intent, was both political and religious. Politically, it accepted the common sixteenth-century assumption that all good citizens had to profess the same official religion for the sake of public peace. Furthermore, those who rejected this religion rejected half the duty of citizens and were suspect on the other half.

Religiously the Elizabethan policy accepted the usual sixteenth-century governmental view that one religion was true, its own, and all others were false. False religion, offensive to God and dangerous to souls, must be suppressed.

In all this Elizabethan policy was basically no different from other sixteenth-century governments: “One King, one Faith, one Law,” as the French put it.

Of course, within Elizabethan government, various individuals differed. Elizabeth herself was probably moved more by political interest although she could use the religious argument. She said to Parliament in 1585, “if I were not persuaded that mine were the true way of God’s will, God forbid that I should live to prescribe it to you.” Her chief minister, William Cecil, whose outlook was strongly political, seems to have been moved by marked religious hostility to the Catholic faith. Some others, like Francis Walsingham, appear to have been so obsessed by hatred of the Catholic Church as to be constant advocates of a “holy war”.

The public pronouncements of the Elizabethan government against Catholics concentrated, however, on political arguments and spoke of the mildness and patience of Elizabethan religious policy.


The Catholic Church could never accept the Elizabethan religious policy, however commonplace it was in Europe, and however gently the Elizabethan pressure might have been applied compared with the large numbers killed by other sixteenth-century governments savagely trying to stamp out religious opposition.

The Catholic Church had to forbid its members to attend Prayer Book services whatever the penalties for absence.

The Catholic Church had to supply priests for England even if they had to be smuggled in to work under cover, at the risk of being mistaken for foreign agents, spies or plotters and of being killed for being priests.

The Catholic case had also to be put clearly in pamphlet and book to answer the Protestant case and to persuade public opinion. In the new lay society opinion was best won by spiritual leadership and force of argument. Campion’s Ten Reasons, Allen’s True, Sincere and Modest Defence of English Catholics, Persons’ Christian Directory, and even the Douai Bible itself, to mention a few, all armed and fortified Catholics in the great battle of the books.


Religious efforts to rescue Elizabethan Catholics under persecution were complicated by Catholic political and military efforts in the same cause.

Between 1568 and 1586 a series of resistance movements and plots were concocted to replace Elizabeth by her Catholic cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. In 1570, to ease Catholic consciences, Pope Saint Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth and absolved her Catholic subjects from obedience to her. In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII’s Secretary of State, in a private answer to a private question, held it no sin to kill Elizabeth but a glorious and meritorious deed if done “with the pious intention of doing God service”. In 1579 Pope Gregory XIII, the great patron of seminaries and missions, sent a small military expedition to Elizabethan Ireland to raise revolt. This embarrassed Campion and Persons in England in 1580. In 1588, an attempt to restore the Catholic faith by force was defeated, to the unmistakable relief of Pope Sixtus V, when the Spanish Armada was dispersed before it embarked invasion troops.

No doubt some of the plots were hopelessly organized and many known in advance to the English secret service. But in the sixteenth century the desperate weapon of assassination often succeeded and usually on unexpected occasions. The current Catholics’ method of trying to explain away the plots is less convincing than to point to the obvious loyalty and distaste of most English Catholics for plots and invasions, whether these schemes were Papal, English or Spanish.


The schemes provided a golden opportunity to the Elizabethan government to identify all Catholic activity as treason, and to carry out its unswerving policy of exterminating the Catholic faith under the cover of patriotism and protection of the realm. For example, early missionary martyrs, like Mayne and Campion, could only be convicted on trivial technicalities or trumped up charges of conspiracy. But by 1585 the atmosphere changed enough to support legislation allowing priests to be convicted merely for being priests.


Can we know when the Catholic opportunity of recovering England faded? No certain answer is possible. Yet it seems to have been in Elizabeth’s reign and it seems to have little to do with the prospects of success of militant activities like Catholic plots or the Spanish Armada:

Pope Sixtus V’s doubt about the recovery of England by Spanish troops came from a sound instinct. Catholic religion could not effectively be restored by violence triumphant, while violence that failed would leave a long legacy of hatred of all things Catholic.

Two factors were apparently more important.

A. Elizabeth’s Long Reign

The unexpectedly long reign of Elizabeth. This enabled a new generation to grow up to accept the Elizabethan Church, and enabled the puritan movement to imbue Protestant Englishmen with a moral purpose, more widespread than earlier Protestant influences and determinedly hostile to Catholic claims.

B. Restricted Activity of Catholic Missionaries

The Catholic missionaries in England for all their dedication, heroism and suffering, necessarily moved in a very restricted field. Unlike, say, Saint Francis Xavier, S.J., who died near China in 1552, and who is said to have made 700,000 Asian converts, the English missionary had no wide opportunity of preaching or influencing large numbers. He was tied to his host’s family and friends as he moved secretly from country house to country house. Father John Gerard, S.J., even declared that while in the Clink, a London prison, between 1593 and 1597, “We had, by God’s grace, everything so arranged that I was able to perform there all the tasks of a Jesuit priest, and provided only I could have stayed in this prison, I should never have wanted to have my liberty again in England.” Furthermore, those they converted or whose faith they confirmed were marked men in society and excluded, as far as possible, from positions of public influence.

Catholic recovery of England was hardly possible under these circumstances. The missionaries did not achieve what the world calls success, yet they did not fail.

Saint Robert Southwell, S.J. (c. 1561-95) abandoned a great career as a poet for the greater career of martyr-missionary. He knew that in Elizabethan England the love of God was love in a cold climate. One of his poems speaks to Catholics and Protestants alike.

“As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surpris’d I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty Babe all burning bright did in the air appear;

‘Alas!’ quoth he, ‘but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I.
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on, and Mercy blows the coals;
The metal in this Furnace wrought are men’s defiled souls;’
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind that it was Christmas Day.”

– from the pamphlet The English Reformation, An Outline, by L R Gardiner, B.A., Senior Lecturer in History, University of Melbourne, Australian Catholic Truth Society, #1432, 1964