Sunday, 11 December 2011


In Penal Times, when Catholicism was outlawed and seminaries closed, it was the intention of the Establishment that Catholicism would die out in this country. They reasoned that if there were no priests to celebrate holy Mass, to preach, and teach the faith, then it would be completely eradicated. Alas, the authorities reckoned without such as Cardinal William Allen!

Cardinal Allen’s solution to the lack of priests in England was to found seminaries on the continent for the education and training of boys and young men from that wounded country. The first of these seminaries was founded at Douai in Flanders in 1568. Then, in 1576, The Cardinal converted the English Hospice in Rome into a seminary and its first students arrived in 1577. Since this was a time of persecution in their homeland, it was expedient that the students assumed an alias. David Lewis entered the English College in 1638, when he was 21 years old, and assumed the alias of Charles Baker. He was ordained there in July 1642.

Many of the students at the English College had volunteered for the ‘English Mission’. After ordination they would return home to minister to their beleaguered Catholic countrymen who, despite Government hopes and penalties, clung resolutely to the Old Faith! The priests undertook this mission in the full knowledge that the rest of their days would be spent in peril, finding shelter where they could and tending to their flocks amid the ever present dangers of betrayal, arrest and execution.

The College produced a long line of priests who, for their faith, suffered imprisonment or exile. More than forty former students were martyred. The first, or protomartyr, was St Ralph Sherwin who was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1st December 1581. The last alumnus to suffer martyrdom was St David Lewis who was executed at Usk on 27th August 1679. Because of its many martyrs, the College has been known as The Venerable English College since 1818.

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