Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sacrificing Them All: Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ

Today's English Catholic martyr, Thomas Holland, SJ sounds like a brilliant man: fluent in many languages; a scholar and a diplomat:

He was probably son of Richard Holland, gentleman, was educated at St. Omer's College and subsequently in August, 1621, went to Valladolid, where he took the missionary oath 29 December 1633. When the abortive negotiations for the "Spanish Match" were taking place in 1623, Holland was sent to Madrid to assure Prince Charles of the loyalty of the seminarists of Valladolid, which he did in a Latin oration.

In 1624 he entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus at Watten in Flanders, and not long after was ordained priest at Li├Ęge. After serving as minister at Ghent and prefect at St. Omer's he was made a spiritual coadjutor at Ghent (28 May 1634) and sent on the English mission the following year. He was an adept in disguising himself, and could speak perfect French, Spanish, and Flemish.

He was eventually arrested on suspicion in a London street 4 October 1642, and committed to the New Prison. He was afterwards transferred to Newgate, and arraigned at the Old Bailey, 7 December, for being a priest. There was no conclusive evidence as to this; but as he refused to swear he was not, the jury found him guilty, to the indignation of the Lord Mayor, Isaac Penington, and another member of the bench named Garroway. On Saturday, 10 December, Sergeant Peter Phesant, presumably acting for the recorder, passed sentence on him. On his return to prison Holland heard many confessions.

On Sunday and Monday he was able to say Mass in prison, and soon after his last Mass was taken off to execution. There he was allowed to make a speech and to say many prayers, and when the cart was turned away, he was left to hang till he was dead. His brethren called him "bibliotheca pietatis".

He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15, 1929. Note that he was found guilty on the flimsy evidence of not implicating himself of a crime: he would not swear that he was not a Catholic priest. Otherwise, there was no positive evidence and therefore, the Mayor and another Judge were angry at the injustice of the proceedings. The court sergeant passed sentence, I presume because the recorder refused to do so. You might note that Isaac Pennington had children who became Quakers. If Penington shared their beliefs, he was opposed to the swearing of oaths!

This site details those last words and prayers of Blessed Thomas Holland, SJ:

He recited his acts of faith, hope, charity and contrition and then prayed for King Charles I and the nation “for whose prosperity and conversion to the Catholic faith, if I had as many lives as there are hairs on my head, drops of water in the ocean, or stars in the firmament, I would most willingly sacrifice them all.”

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