Friday, October 16, 2020

Preview: Saints Henry Morse and John Southworth

On Monday, October 19, Matt Swaim and I will continue our series of brief biographies of each of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales on the Son Rise Morning Show. The 50th anniversary of their canonization is coming up soon, on Sunday, October 25. 

Saint Henry Morse, SJ was martyred on February 1, 1645; Saint John Southworth on June 28, 1654, both at Tyburn. These two martyrs, both of whom served the people of London during a time of plague, spoke some of the most stirring words of  all the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales before their executions. 

According to Bishop Richard Challoner's Memoirs of Missionary Priests, Saint Henry Morse proclaimed:

I am come hither to die for my religion, for that religion which is professed by the catholic Roman church, founded by Christ, established by the apostles, propagated through all ages by an hierarchy always visible to this day, grounded on the testimonies of holy scriptures; upheld by the authority of fathers and councils, out of which, in fine, there can be no hopes of salvation.

After being interrupted, he continued:

The time was . . . when I was a protestant, being then a student of the laws, in the inns of court in town: till being suspicious of the truth of my religion, I went abroad into Flanders, and upon full conviction renounced my former errors, and was reconciled to the church of Rome, the mistress of all churches. Upon my return into England, I was committed to prison for refusing the oath of pretended allegiance;  and from prison, though I was then no priest, I was sent into banishment. I went to Rome, and after I had gone through the course of my studies for seven years, I returned into England, to help the souls of my neighbours; and here, amongst other charities, I devoted myself to the service of the poor Catholics and others, in the time of the late plague, and suffered nothing to be wanting that lay in me, to their spiritual comfort.

And then another interruption--he was chastised for bragging about his "works"--and Saint Henry Morse continued:

I will glory in nothing, replied the father, but in my infirmities; but all glory I ascribe to God, who was pleased to make use of so weak an instrument in so pious a ministry and who is pleased now to favour me so far, as to allow me this day to seal the Catholic faith with my blood; a favour which I have begged of him for these thirty years: and I pray that my death may be some kind of atonement for the sins of this nation; and if I had as many lives as there are sands in the sea, I would most willingly lay them all down for this end, and in testimony of the Catholic faith, which faith is the only true, the only certain faith, the only faith confirmed by miracles still continuing; in which to this day the blind see, the dumb speak, the dead are raised to life. For thy testimonies, O Lord, are made credible exceedingly.

After that statement of faith, Father Morse denied ever knowing or ever being part of any plot against King Charles I, said his prayers and was executed at Tyburn. He was hanged to death before the rest of the barbarities of his martyrdom were performed upon his body.

Saint John Southworth, the patron saint of the Diocese of Westminster in London, also spoke clearly at Tyburn before his execution. Again, Bishop Challoner transcribes his last words, spoken as Oliver Cromwell was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth:

Good people, I was born in Lancashire. This is the third time I have been apprehended, and now being to die, I would gladly witness and profess openly my faith, for which I suffer. And though my time be short, yet what I shall be deficient in words, I hope shall supply with my blood, which I will most willingly spend to the last drop for my faith. Neither my intent in coming into England, nor practice in England, was to act any thing against the secular government. Hither I was sent by my lawful superiors to teach Christ's faith, not to meddle with any temporal affairs. Christ sent his apostles; his apostles their successors; and their successors me. I did what I was commanded by them, who had power to command  me, being ever taught that I ought to obey them in matters ecclesiastical, and my temporal governors in business only temporal. I 'never acted nor thought any hurt against the present protector. I had only a care to do my own obligation, and discharge my own duty in saving my own and other men's souls. This, and only this, according to my poor abilities, I laboured to perform, I had commission to do it from him, to whom our Saviour, in his predecessor St. Peter, gave power to send others to propagate his faith. This is that for which I die, O holy cause! and not for any treason against the laws. My faith and obedience to my superiors is all the treason charged against me; nay I die for Christ's law, which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand or contradict. This law of Christ commanded me to obey these superiors, and this church, saying, whoever hears them hears himself. This church, these superiors of it I obeyed, and for obeying, die. I was brought up in the truly ancient Roman catholic apostolic religion, which taught me, that the sum of the only true Christian profession is to die. This lesson I have heretofore in my life-time desired to learn; this lesson I come here to put in practice by dying, being taught it by our blessed Saviour, both by precept and example. Himself said, 'he that will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.' Himself exemplary practised what he had recommended to others. To follow his holy doctrine, and imitate his holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows--looking up--I look on as his cross, which I gladly take to follow my dear Saviour. My faith is my crime, the performance of my duty the occasion of my condemnation. I confess I am a great sinner; against God I have offended, but am innocent of any sin against man; I mean, the commonwealth and this present government.

Finally, after he made a plea for leniency for the Catholic laity who wanted only to practice their faith, he was told to prepare for his death. The Venetian Secretary reported on his execution: he was hanged, and was not dead when the executioner "cut out his heart and entrails and threw them into a fire kindled for the purpose, the body being quartered . . . Such is the inhuman cruelty used towards the English Catholic religious."

The Catholic Encyclopedia provides this biography of Saint Henry Morse, SJ:

Martyr; b. in 1595 in Norfolk; d. at Tyburn, 1 Feb., 1644. He was received into the church at Douai, 5 June, 1614, after various journeys was ordained at Rome, and left for the mission, 19 June, 1624. He was admitted to the Society of Jesus at Heaton; there he was arrested and imprisoned for three years in York Castle, where he made his novitiate under his fellow prisoner, Father John Robinson, S.J., and took simple vows. Afterwards he was a missionary to the English regiments in the Low Countries. Returning to England at the end of 1633 he laboured in London, and in 1636 is reported to have received about ninety Protestant families into the Church. He himself contracted the plague but recovered. Arrested 27 February, 1636, he was imprisoned in Newgate. On 22 April he was brought to the bar charged with being a priest and having withdrawn the king's subjects from their faith and allegiance. He was found guilty on the first count, not guilty on the second, and sentence was deferred. On 23 April he made his solemn profession of the three vows to Father Edward Lusher. He was released on bail for 10,000 florins, 20 June, 1637, at the insistence of Queen Henrietta Maria. In order to free his sureties he voluntarily went into exile when the royal proclamation was issued ordering all priests to leave the country before 7 April, 1641, and became chaplain to Gage's English regiment in the service of Spain. In 1643 he returned to England; arrested after about a year and a half he was imprisoned at Durham and Newcastle, and sent by sea to London. On 30 January he was again brought to the bar and condemned on his previous conviction. On the day of his execution his hurdle was drawn by four horses and the French ambassador attended with all his suite, as also did the Count of Egmont and the Portuguese Ambassador. The martyr was allowed to hang until he was dead. At the quartering the footmen of the French Ambassador and of the Count of Egmont dipped their handkerchiefs into the martyr's blood. In 1647 many persons possessed by evil spirits were relieved through the application of his relics.

The same source provides these details about Saint John Southworth:

English martyr, b. in Lancashire, 1592, martyred at Tyburn, 28 June, 1654. A member of a junior branch of the Southworths of Samlesbury Hall, Blackburn, he was ordained priest at the English College, Douai, and was sent on the mission, 13 October, 1619. He was arrested and condemned to death in Lancashire in 1627, and imprisoned first in Lancaster Castle, and afterwards in the Clink, London, whence he and fifteen other priests were, on 11 April, 1630, delivered to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad. In 1636 he had been released from the Gatehouse, Westminster, and was living at Clerkenwell, but frequently visited the plague-stricken dwellings of Westminster to convert the dying. In 1637 he seems to have taken up his abode in Westminster, where he was arrested, 28 November, and again sent to the Gatehouse. Thence he was again transferred to the Clink and in 1640 was brought before the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical, who sent him back there 24 June. On 16 July he was again liberated, but by 2 December he was again in the Gatehouse. After his final apprehension he was tried at the Old Bailey, and as he insisted on pleading "guilty" to being a priest, he was reluctantly condemned by the Recorder of London, Serjeant Steel. He was allowed to make a long speech at the gallows, and his remains were permitted to pass into the possession of the Duke of Norfolk's family, who had them sent to the English College at Douai. The wonderful recovery in 1656 of Francis Howard, seventh son of Henry Frederick, Earl of Arundel, was attributed to these relics, which were secreted during the French Revolution, and the present location of which is now unknown.

His remains were found, however, after this great encyclopedic work was published, and they are venerated in Westminster Cathedral.

Saint Henry Morse, pray for us!
Saint John Southworth, pray for us!

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