Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Witness of Martyrdom: Blessed William Freeman

Saints, both Confessors and Martyrs, provide us examples and models. We see the goodness of the Confessor Saints in how much they love God and neighbor and want to emulate them in our own lives. But Martyrs, while still providing the same model of love of God and neighbor through their service also offer a heroic pattern to follow: being willing to suffer and die for those same reasons. We may read about the suffering of the Confessors as they face obstacles and setbacks, but hearing about how the martyr endures torture and execution is more drastic. 

Witnessing the brutal execution of hanging, drawing, and quartering: the agony of being partially strangled,  eviscerated while still alive, and being beheaded and chopped up after death--and then deciding to take up the same mission and dangers that led to that horrific death is even more remarkable.

I've written before about how St. Edmund Campion's trial and passion influenced both St. Henry Walpole and St. Philip Howard--and how Walpole imitated Campion so completely that he endured torture, engaged in theological disputations, and suffered martyrdom just like his model. Today's martyr, Blessed William Freeman, witnessed the execution of Blessed Edward Stransham, and it changed his life.

He was born in East Riding, Yorkshire, he studied at Oxford and was converted to Catholicism in 1586 by the martyrdom of Blessed Edward Stransham at Tyburn. (His parents were recusant Catholics but he had conformed to the established church.) He went to Reims, France, where he was ordained in 1587. He went back to England the following year, and labored for the English mission in Worcestershire and Warwickshire until arrested in early 1595 in Stratford-on-Avon. Seven months later he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Warwick on August 13. William was beatified in 1929. 

Blessed Edward Stransham was born at Oxford about 1554; suffered at Tyburn, 21 January, 1586. He was educated at St. John's College, Oxford, becoming B.A. in 1575-6; arrived at Douai in 1577, and went with the college to Reims in 1578, whence he came back to England owing to illness. In 1579, however, he returned to Reims, and was ordained priest at Soissons in Dec., 1580. He left for England, 30 June, 1581, with his fellow-martyr, Nicholas Woodfen, of London Diocese, ordained priest at Reims, 25 March, 1581. In 1583 Stransham came back to Reims with twelve Oxford converts. After five months there he went to Paris, where he remained about eighteen months at death's door from consumption. He was arrested in Bishopgate Street Without, London, 17 July, 1585, while saying Mass, and was condemned at the next assizes for being a priest. Stransham was also beatified in 1929 while Woodfen was in 1987.

Blessed William Freeman, pray for us!
Blessed Edward Stransham, pray for us!
Blessed Nicholas Woodfen, pray for us!

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