Friday, April 17, 2015

An OFM Martyr in 1643

From the website of the OFM (Order of Friars Minor aka Franciscans) in Great Britain:

Henry Heath was born to Anglican parents in Peterborough. He undertook university studies in Cambridge where he was noted for his piety and perspicacity in religious matters. After gaining his degree he was appointed University Librarian which gave him the opportunity to read Catholic and Protestant authors on the matters of greatest concern to his faith. His reading of the Church Fathers led him to seek reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

He then moved to London and on to Douai in Flanders. There he met the friars of the Province of England who had opened St. Bonaventure College and Friary there in 1618. He asked to join the friars. The founder of the college and Provincial Commissary John Gennings, was understandably wary about accepting him. Henry was a recent convert and the English secret service was apt to use pretend converts to gain information on those training for the mission. Henry convinced Gennings of the authenticity of his faith and so was admitted to the novitiate in 1623 or 1624 at the age of 24. He was given the name Paul of St. Magadelene. His penitential life of fasting and extended contemplation gained him the respect of his confreres and he was known for his devotion to the crucified Jesus and his holy Mother. He was ordained a priest and became in turn Guardian, Novice Master, a lecturer in theology known for his Scotism, then Provincial Commissary of Flanders where he promoted the Recollect reform.

When persecution broke out once more in England, after the defeat of Charles I in the English Civil War, he asked to return home to support his suffering brothers and compatriots. At London he was mistaken for a criminal and arrested but when it was discovered that he was a priest he was condemned to death and confined in Newgate prison. There he continued to give consolation to his Catholic compatriots and heard confessions until on 17th April 1643 he was led to Tyburn and hanged. As he was led to the scaffold the prayer heard on his lips was: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”.

This website has an additional detail (and is also the source of the portrait above):

There is a beautiful story relating to the martyrdom of Blessed Henry Heath. Several years previously, his aged father, John, visited him in Douai. So impressed was he that he not only converted to Catholicism but decided to remain at Douai as a lay brother. On the day of his son’s martyrdom, he saw a brilliant light ascending to Heaven and he knew at that moment that his son had paid the ultimate price. His premonition was proved some time later when the reports reached Douai of Heath’s death.

Henry Heath was beatified along with 84 other martyrs of England and Wales on 22nd November 1987 by Pope John Paul II. Read even more here about this brave martyr.

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