On December 1, 2012, the Venerable English College celebrated Martyr's Day with a special ceremony since it was the 650th anniversary year of the College's founding as a guest house for Englishmen visiting Rome on pilgrimage. The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester represented Queen Elizabeth II with this message:
In 1362, English residents in Rome established a‘Hospice of the English’ to care for English pilgrims. The Royal Arms of King Henry IV still adorn your walls to mark the 50th anniversary of that foundation and the close relationship with the Crown. The English Hospice was the origin of what has now become the Venerable English College, following its re-foundation by Pope Gregory XIII in 1579.
The presence of the Duke of Gloucester at your Martyrs’ Day Feast in this 650th anniversary year is a sign of the strength of the relationship between the United Kingdon and the Holy See. It is also recognition of the high esteem in which the Venerable English College is held as a training ground for pastors, priests and future leaders of the Catholic Church of England and Wales. You have always served as a generous and hospitable home away from home for generations of visitors to Rome, even in the most difficult times.
My good wishes go to you all, alumni, staff and students of the Venerabile, past, present and future, for your continuing prosperity.
Two days later, members of the College met then Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican:
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop Emeritus of Westminster (and himself Rector of the Venerabile from 1971-77) and his successor as Archbishop of Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, led the group of bishops and staff and students of the Venerabile to meet Pope Benedict on 3rd December in the Sala Clementina of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. Present also with them were the Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Archbishop Arthur Roche, Emeritus Bishop of Leeds; and Archbishops Peter Smith of Southwark and Bernard Longley of Birmingham. All four Archbishops are themselves former students of the Venerabile. Bishops Michael Campbell of Lancaster and Terence Drainey of Middlesbrough were also in attendance.
On entering the Sala Clementina, Pope Benedict paused to venerate the precious relic brought from the College for the occasion. This was the relic of their Protomartyr (first martyr) Saint Ralph Sherwin. Sherwin was martyred on 1st December 1581 at Tyburn in London – just yards from the site of today’s Marble Arch.
Pope Benedict recalled the spirit of the martyrs, especially St. Ralph Sherwin of the College:
Potius hodie quam cras, as Saint Ralph Sherwin said when asked to take the missionary oath, "rather today than tomorrow". These words aptly convey his burning desire to keep the flame of faith alive in England, at whatever personal cost. Those who have truly encountered Christ are unable to keep silent about him. As Saint Peter himself said to the elders and scribes of Jerusalem, "we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard" ;">Acts 4:20). Saint Boniface, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Francis Xavier, whose feast we keep today, and so many other missionary saints show us how a deep love for the Lord calls forth a deep desire to bring others to know him. You too, as you follow in the footsteps of the College Martyrs, are the men God has chosen to spread the message of the Gospel today, in England and Wales, in Canada, in Scandinavia. Your forebears faced a real possibility of martyrdom, and it is right and just that you venerate the glorious memory of those forty-four alumni of your College who shed their blood for Christ. You are called to imitate their love for the Lord and their zeal to make him known, potius hodie quam cras. The consequences, the fruits, you may confidently entrust into God’s hands.
And he also cited St. Philip Neri's greeting to seminarians of the College during the sixteenth century:
Please be assured of an affectionate remembrance in my prayers for yourselves and for all the alumni of the Venerable English College. I make my own the greeting so often heard on the lips of a great friend and neighbour of the College, Saint Philip Neri, Salvete, flores martyrum! Commending you, and all to whom the Lord sends you, to the loving intercession of Our Lady of Walsingham, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of peace and joy in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you.
Read the rest of the report from last year here.