Monday, September 27, 2010

The Jesuits and England

On September 27, 1540 Pope Paul III approved the formation of the Society of Jesus. Founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Society would have a great impact on post-Reformation England. Many of the English martyrs mentioned on this blog were Jesuits, including most famously St. Edmund Campion and St. Robert Southworth. Forty years after the order's formation, the Jesuit mission to England began. As the U.K. site for the Society of Jesus states:

The history of the Elizabethan Jesuits is the stuff of legends and hagiography: clandestine meetings, priest-holes, raids, escapes from the Tower of London, imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom.

There were also conflicts between the Jesuits and the secular priests over the strategy for perpetuating Catholicism in England. Some Catholics, the Appellants, wanted to demonstrate loyalty to the Queen and to England, while Father Robert Parsons, who came to England with Edmund Campion and then returned to the Continent, urged steps like the excommunication of Elizabeth I and the Spanish Armada. Jesuit colleges in France, Spain, and Italy trained young men for the mission in England.

The Jesuits in England were also involved in some manner in the plots to place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne of England and the Gunpowder Plot; then they were suspected in the so-called Popish Plot and supported the Jacobite rebellions after the Glorious Revolution--and therefore many of them suffered execution and/or martyrdom. On the other hand, Lord Baltimore asked the Jesuits to assist in the founding of Maryland in the New World.

The French Revolution drove the English Jesuits from the Continent to Stonyhurst in England in 1794, even though the Pope had suppressed the order in 1773. In 1801 the Jesuits were restored and in 1803 the English Province was restored. Finally, Catholic Emancipation in 1829 and the Restoration of the Hierarchy in 1850 led to the foundation of many Jesuit colleges--including Campion Hall in Oxford--and parishes throughout England.

Famed English Jesuits of the modern era include: Gerard Manley Hopkins, convert and poet; Frederick Copleston, the historian of philosophy; John Hungerford Pollen and Philip Caraman, historians and biographers who focused on the English recusant era of Jesuit martyrdoms; and Clifford Howell, who wrote on doctrine and worship. A more infamous Jesuit was George Tyrrell, the Modernist theologian.


  1. Thank you for the mention of Maryland... The school I attended growing up in St. Mary's County was named after the Jesuit priest - Fr. Andrew White S.J. - Who history remembers for saying the first Catholic Mass in the English speaking New World.

    I have been told that Fr. White's first Mass in Maryland was the Sarum Rite using a missal from the Salisbury Cathedral. I have also read else where that the Jesuits staunchly used the new Tridentine Missal. Could you offer any clarification in regard to this?

  2. Thanks for your post, Anonymous. I don't have any information about the liturgical rites used by the Jesuits in England, however. Perhaps there are some real specialists out there who know.