What madman would exchange present gifts for those unseen? You fly from real blessings, blessings unreal you chase. Purge, I pray, these vain dreams from your fevered mind, and drive the hope deep-embedded far from your heart."
Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, wrote these lines in 1753, while at St. Omer’s College, in a poem recently discovered at the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst College in England.
This discovery came from the oldest surviving museum collection in the English-speaking world, and its directors are eager to make its riches more available through digitizing and expansion.
On a visit to the United States, Lord David Alton, a prominent British Catholic and pro-life leader and an advocate for religious freedom, and Lord Nicholas Windsor, cousin to Queen Elizabeth II and a Catholic convert, said they see this collection of artifacts, relics and art as a critical reminder of what religious freedom costs, namely the blood of martyrs.
And she goes on to explain the significance of the poem and of Carroll's attendance at St. Omer's, along with his cousin John:
Both Charles and John Carroll, inspired by their knowledge of English Catholic history, fought for the right of Catholics to practice their religion at a time of strong anti-Catholic sentiment.
Knowing more about the history of the English Catholic struggle can better prepare us for the work of re-evangelization and defending our own religious freedom. Remembering our past will give us hope for the future.
Curator Jan Graffius said that Charles Carroll was 17 when he wrote this poem in Latin for a recitation on the feast of St. Cecilia. The tyrant Amachius, having sentenced Cecilia to death, pressured her to worship Roman gods in order to save her life, her youth and her beauty. The poem shows that young Charles saw clearly the corrosiveness of compromise.
Recitation formed an important part of the Jesuit education that started in the school, originally called St. Omer’s, which was founded in 1593 by Father Robert Persons during the persecution of Catholics by Queen Elizabeth I. There were no Catholic schools allowed in England, so the boys were smuggled out of their country to the school outside of Calais in France, then under Spanish rule. If they were caught leaving England, the penalty was imprisonment or death.
The school’s brave mission is engraved above the door: "Jesus, Jesus, convert England; may it be, may it be." Many students became priests and went back to England to preach the faith.
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