St Peter Damian (1007 – 1072)
He was born in Ravenna in 1007 and studied theology and canon law, becoming a renowned teacher in both Parma and Ravenna. In his late twenties he abandoned all this and joined the hermitage of Fonte Avellana, near Gubbio, where he became prior in 1043: a position he held until his death. He strongly promoted the religious life in many parts of Italy. The Church at that time was in a terrible state and he supported the Popes in their efforts at reform, both by his writings and as a papal envoy. Pope Stephen IX named him a cardinal and Bishop of Ostia. He died on 21 February 1072 and was immediately acclaimed as a saint. See the article in Wikipedia.
Other saints: St Robert Southwell (1561 – 1595)
Although a Norfolk man by birth, Robert Southwell spent part of his boyhood at Roughway (now Roffey) Place near Horsham, which belonged to his mother’s family. She was a Copley, and her own mother a Shelley – both staunch Sussex Catholic families. Robert’s cousin Margaret Copley married John Gage of Firle. It was she who pressed through the crowd to ask Robert’s blessing on his way to Tyburn, and who was subsequently imprisoned for harbouring priests.
At the age of fifteen, in 1576, Robert was sent to school at Douai and then to Paris. Before he was seventeen, he had decided to apply to join the Jesuits. The Belgian novitiate was closed because of the war between Spain and the Netherlands, so he walked to Rome and was accepted there. He was ordained priest in 1584 and for a time was Prefect of Studies at the Venerable English College in Rome.
His great desire was to return to England, and in 1586 he was sent here with Father Henry Garnet. Before the end of the year he was established at Arundel House in the Strand, as chaplain to Anne, the wife of St Philip Howard, who was then imprisoned in the Tower. From Arundel House Robert conducted a remarkable apostolate. He had great gifts as a writer. His letters to St Philip Howard played a great part in strengthening Philip’s resolve during the long years of his imprisonment. Later they were printed, from a secret place in London, as “An Epistle of Comfort”. He also wrote many poems, the best-known being “The Burning Babe”, and among his prose works was “A Humble Supplication to Her Majestie”, on behalf of persecuted Catholics. His writings were widely read and held in high esteem by the literary men of the time.
Robert was an organiser as well as a poet, and was reckoned by the authorities as “the chief dealer for the papists in England”. He was responsible for getting candidates for the priesthood out of the country for their training abroad, and for finding accommodation for those returning to work here. Small wonder that he was the priest most ardently sought by the infamous priest-hunter, Richard Topcliffe.
By 1592, after Robert had spent six years in England, Topcliffe was hard on his heels. He knew that Robert had been at Roffey that year, but did not attempt to arrest him in that Catholic stronghold. But later that year Topcliffe put pressure on a Catholic girl, Anne Bellamy, to betray Robert. She asked him to come to see her at her home near Harrow. Topcliffe and his men arrived, and surrounded the house. When Robert realised that he had been betrayed, he came forward. Topcliffe had to be forcibly restrained from killing him there and then.
Robert Southwell was a great prize. Topcliffe took him to his own house, and there had him tortured ten times over a space of four days, “worse than the rack”. Constantly questioned under torture to betray his friends, he consistently refused to give any names, even at the beginning his own. He was then moved to the Gatehouse Prison, and after a month there in the most squalid conditions he was committed to the Tower, where he remained for two and a half years. All this time he had not been brought to trial, and in the end he asked that he should be tried. In February 1595 he was tried for treason, on the ground that he was a priest remaining in the country against the law of 1585, and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. The following day, 21 February 1595, the sentence was carried out. As he stood on the cart at Tyburn, after praying for the Queen, he said: “I acknowledge that I am a priest (I thank God most highly for it), and of the Society of Jesus. I commend into the hands of Almighty God my poor country, desiring him for his infinite mercy’s sake to reduce it to such perfect insights, knowledge and understanding of the truth that they may learn to praise and glorify God, and gain their soul’s health and eternal salvation.” Then he died, aged 33, and we are told that there was not one bystander to cry “Traitor”.
Some time before his arrest he had written to his Superior General: “It seems to me that I see the beginning of a religious life set on foot in England, of which we now sow the seed in tears, that others hereafter may with joy carry in the sheaves to the heavenly granaries. We look for the time (if we are not unworthy of so great a glory) when our day shall come.” He was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.
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SAINT PETER DAMIAN
Bishop and Doctor of the Church
St. Peter Damian was born in 1007, and lost both parents at an early age. His eldest brother, in whose hands he was left, treated him so cruelly that a younger brother, a priest, moved by his piteous state, sent him to the University of Parma, where he acquired great distinction. His studies were sanctified by vigils, fasts, and prayers, till at last, thinking that all this was only serving God by halves, he resolved to leave the world.
He joined the monks at Font-Avellano, then in the greatest repute, and by his wisdom and sanctity rose to be Superior. He was employed on the most delicate and difficult missions, amongst others the reform of ecclesiastical communities, which was effected by his zeal.
Seven Popes in succession made him their constant adviser, and he was at last created Cardinal Bishop of Ostia. He withstood Henry IV. of Germany, and labored in defence of Alexander II. against the Antipope, whom he forced to yield and seek for pardon.
He was charged, as Papal Legate, with the repression of simony; again, was commissioned to settle discords amongst various bishops, and finally, in 1072, to adjust the affairs of the Church at Ravenna. He was laid low by a fever on his homeward journey, and died at Faenza, in a monastery of his order, on the eighth day of his sickness, whilst the monks chanted matins around him.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.