I recently finished reading The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest by Fr. John Gerard, SJ, (Ignatius Press) and happily came across an article in Crisis Magazine that reinforced my opinion that this is one fine book!
John Gerard was ordained a Jesuit priest during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603). During her governance, 87 Catholic priests were executed for treason for not submitting to the Act of Supremacy which declared her head of the Church of England.
Fr. Gerard spent his early priestly years ministering to the remnant of Catholics who remained faithful to the Church in England, hiding in “priest-holes” which devout Catholics built into their stately homes to safeguard the priests who administered the sacraments to them. John won many converts but was ultimately betrayed by a traitor in one of the households and was subjected to brutal tortures before he finally escaped and then left England for good.
When Fr. James Schall, SJ, first heard about Fr. Gerard, he thought it an interesting adventure story but surely one that could not happen in this country. Now he is not so certain. Practicing Catholics were pursued relentlessly in Elizabethan England and is it so different today?
One of the interesting sidebars in the book is a brief mention of Mary Lady Lovel, a pious woman who devoted her life to good works, gave money to the Jesuits and in Antwerp founded (as benefactress) the first English Carmelite monastery. Young English women throughout the ensuing decades fled to Belgium to take up religious life. It was only at the end of the 18th century that the Carmelites could return home and establish the first English Carmelite monastery on English soil at Lanherne in Cornwall.
Eleven Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate now occupy the monastery, the Carmelites having left the site in 2001. Here, St. Cuthbert Mayne celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (using the altar which is now in their small choir) and ministered to the faithful. A friend of St. Edmund Campion, St. Cuthbert was martyred in 1577. For more information on this holy site, please visit Friends of Lanherne.
Through the intercession of the English martyrs, may God bless England with many holy vocations.