Sunday, July 26, 2015

Another Martyr in July: Blessed William Ward (William Webster)

Blessed William Ward was born William Webster in Thornby, Westmorland around 1560 and was raised as an Anglican. Although there isn't any record in the sources I found of his educational career, he became a teacher and then traveled to Spain with a Catholic friend. Something happened while he was in Spain--perhaps the expressions of faith, attending Mass with his friend, the art and culture influenced him--and William Webster became a Catholic.

Back home, he converted his mother--under laws passed by Elizabeth I's government, both his efforts and her conversion were treasonous felonies. Webster was repeatedly imprisoned for professing his faith--paying fines for his recusancy and refusal to attend Church of England services. When he was over 40 years old he went to Belgium to study for the priesthood; he arrived there on 18 September, 1604; received the minor orders on 16 December, 1605; the subdiaconate on 26 October, 1607; the diaconate on 31 May, 1608; and the priesthood on the following day, taking the name Father William Ward. On 14 October he started for England, but was driven on to the shores of Scotland, arrested, and imprisoned for three years.

Upon being released, he worked the next 30 years in and around London, secretly ministering to the Catholic population and the poor in general. According to Bishop Challoner, "he was zealous [with a] fiery temperament, severe with himself and others, and especially devoted to hearing confessions. Though he had the reputation of being a very exacting director his earnestness drew to him many penitents. So mortified was his personal life and so secret his numerous charities that he was even accused of avarice." Father Ward was frequently jailed or banished during the reigns of both James I and Charles I, as those periods of relative tolerance ebbed and flowed. He was in London when Parliament issued the proclamation of 7 April, 1641, banishing all priests under pain of death, but refused to retire, and on 15 July was arrested in the house of his nephew. (Charles I had to accept this proclamation because he needed funds from Parliament to fight the rebels in Ireland.) Six days later he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey and was condemned on 23 July. Martyred at age 81 on July 26, 1641, he died uttering the words: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, receive my soul!” 

He was among the 162 English Martyrs Pope Pius XI beatified in 1929.

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