Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Widower Priest

The Recusants and renegades blog tells the story of Father Henry Hawkins, a widower who became a Jesuit missionary to England:

It’s unclear how Henry Hawkins spent the years immediately after his graduation from Oxford, though since he was said to be ‘intelligent in affairs of government, very learned in the English laws’, perhaps he attended the Inns of Court and was destined for public office. On 9th February 1604, when he was twenty-seven years old, Henry married the twenty-year-old Aphra Norton, daughter of Thomas Norton, at the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, Fordwich, a few miles to the east of Canterbury. The Norton family lived at Tancrey Island in Fordwich. Some commentators mistakenly suggest that Henry abandoned his wife to pursue his vocation as a priest: the source quoted above (a manuscript ‘status’ of the English College at Rome for 1613) claims that he had ‘left a wife, office, and many other commodities and expectations, to become a priest in the seminaries.’

However, the truth is rather more poignant. On 16th January 1605, less than a year after their marriage, Aphra Hawkins died and was buried in the church where they had been married. Her tomb is adorned with a female figure, and a plate with this touching inscription:

Here lyeth buryed the body of Aphra Hawkins, wife of Henry Hawkins, gent. and daughter of Thomas Norton, Esqr. who scarcely having arrived to 21 years of age, yet fully attained perfection in many virtues, departed this frayle life the 16th of January, 1605.

Henry Hawkins must have made his decision to join the Jesuits shortly after his young wife’s untimely death. When he entered the English College of Rome on 19th March 1609, using the pseudonym ‘Brooke’, he had already spent some time studying the classics at the college of the English Jesuits at St Omer. Henry received minor orders in 1613, was ordained priest soon afterwards, and, after spending two years in the study of scholastic theology, left for Belgium and entered the Society of Jesus in about 1615.

I don't think the Society of Jesus would have admitted a man who had proved unfaithful to the vows and vocation of matrimony! Father Hawkins survived being a missionary priest in England, although he was arrested and sent into exile--so he risked the not uncommon fate of being martyred for the faith. Read the rest of his story here. His Oxford DNB article is here. A copy of his Parthenia Sacra, an emblem book devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary was offered by Christie's in 2013 and sold well above its estimated price.

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