St. Edmund Campion & Companions (Feast: December 1)
Edmund Campion’s father was a bookseller in London. The future martyr was born around 1540, and at the age of fifteen was given a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he was known for his intelligence and his sweet, yet fiery, disposition.
Gifted with oratory, he was chosen to lead a public debate before Queen Elizabeth, and readily won her goodwill and patronage as well as that of the powerful William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester.
He had taken the oath of royal supremacy and was persuaded to receive the diaconate from the Anglican Church. But he had harbored doubts about the same Church, and his conscience disturbed, he left the country for Ireland in 1569 where he wrote a history of that country.
By 1571, he was a suspected person in England. Reconciled to the Catholic Church in France, he was received into the Society of Jesus in Rome in 1573. As there was not as yet an English Province, he was assigned to the Austrian Province and entered the novitiate in Brunn, Moravia.
For six years the young Englishman taught Rhetoric and Philosophy at the Jesuit College in Prague. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1578.
In 1580 he was chosen to accompany Fr. Robert Persons on a mission to England. As superior, Fr. Persons was to counterbalance Campion’s fervor and impetuosity. Surprised to be selected for this endeavor, Edmund expressed the fear that he lacked constitutional courage.
Campion arrived in England disguised as a jewel merchant and went right to work. In Lancashire he preached almost daily with conspicuous success. Pursued by spies and several times almost apprehended, he managed not only to make many converts, but also to write his “Ten Reasons” in which he challenged Protestants to openly debate religion with him. This treatise was printed in secret and widely distributed, causing quite a commotion.
Campion was betrayed while saying Mass at a house in Norfolk and was captured with two other priests in a hideout above the gateway. During his imprisonment in the Tower of London, Edmund was labeled, “Campion, the seditious Jesuit,” a title which did not deter the Queen herself from attempting to dissuade him from his convictions.
Twice, before his trial, he was racked. Notwithstanding his torments, Campion led his own defense as well as that of his companions. His fortitude and courage so touched the heart of Phillip Howard, the Earl of Arundel – another of the Queen’s favorites – that this nobleman made a full conversion and later received the crown of martyrdom.
Prior to his sentence of death being read, Campion boldly addressed the court with this final challenge:
“In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings; all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”
On December 1, a wet, muddy day, Frs. Campion, Ralph Sherwin and Alexander Briant were taken to the scaffold at Tyburn and there were executed with the usual barbarities. As he was being hung, drawn and quartered, some of Campion’s blood splattered on one of those present at his execution.
The onlooker's name was Henry Walpole. He too became a Jesuit and was canonized with Campion as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.
SAINT OF THE DAY
Here we discover something akin to the “Secret of Mary,” of which Saint Louis de Montfort speaks.