By Larry Peterson
Edmund Campion was born in England in 1540. His father was a bookseller, and Edmund’s love of books was instilled in him as a child. He had a brilliant mind and, at the age of thirteen, he was chosen to deliver a speech when Queen Mary visited London.
Soon after he became a student at St. John’s College in Oxford. He graduated with his B. A. degree in 1560 and at that time took his Oath of Supremacy to the Crown. In 1564 he received his Master’s Degree and was also ordained as an Anglican deacon. No one could see what was in his heart, but Edmund had serious misgivings about his professed Protestantism
In 1566, Queen Elizabeth visited the university and met Edmund. She instantly was drawn to the young man, and she saw to it that he was taken under the wing of two powerful men; William Cecil, and the Earl of Leicester, who was rumored to be the Queen’s future husband. Edmund had shared his concerns about Anglicanism to a few “friends,” and soon rumors of his “radical” opinions began to spread.
Edmund, fully aware of his fate if betrayed, left Oxford and went to Ireland. James Stanyhurst, the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, knew Edmund and hired him as a tutor for his son, Richard. But the Protestant party in Dublin had become aware of his presence and were searching for him. He was given another assignment on the east coast of Ireland. For the next three months, using the name of “Mr. Patrick,” he avoided his pursuers who were determined to find him.
Edmund had become convinced that Anglicanism was wrong and returned to Catholicism. This was about the same time that Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth. Elizabeth retaliated and initiated vicious persecution of Catholics in England. Edmund heard of the dreadful tortures and executions and in 1571 fled to Douai, France.
Edmund was accepted into the Jesuits in 1573 and began his novitiate in Austria, away from any English provinces. He began teaching at the University of Prague and was ordained to the priesthood there in 1578.
He remained in his teaching position for another two years at which time he received a unique assignment. He and Father Robert Persons were assigned to be the first Jesuits to go to the newly established mission territory of England. Their mission was to minister to the faithful English Catholics who were strictly forbidden to practice their religion. The year was 1580.
Father Campion and Father Persons entered England posing as merchants. They both had been given different locales to minister to and went their separate ways. Father Campion immediately began preaching, and his presence quickly became known to the authorities as well as the many Catholics languishing in the filthy prisons.
The authorities began spreading the word that Campion’s mission was political and that he was committing treason. Father Campion responded by writing what came to be known as Campion’s Brag. This work spelled out his love of Catholicism and gave his critique of Anglicanism. It was printed and 400 copies were found in the pews during the commencement exercises at St. Mary’s in Oxford. This caused such an uproar that the largest and most intensive manhunt in English history was begun.
On July 14, 1581, Campion was preaching in Berkshire at the house of Francis Yale. He was tracked down by a spy named George Eliot and taken into custody. With his arms tied behind his back and a sign on his hat reading, “Seditious Jesuit” he was paraded through the street of London to the “Tower.” His clandestine days of administering the sacraments, hearing confessions and preaching had come to an end. His legacy was just beginning.
Edmund Campion was offered great wealth and position if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Knowing the pain and torture he would endure for refusing to do so, he stood steadfast in defense of Catholicism. The torture began and lasted for over four months, but Campion never wavered. On December 1, 1581, he was taken to Tyburn and was hanged, drawn and quartered for the crime of being Catholic.
He was canonized a saint on October 25, 1970, by Pope St. Paul VI. Saint Edmund Campion is included among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Saint Edmund Campion, please pray for us
©Larry Peterson 2018