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St. Robert Southwell

St. Robert Southwell

Feast date: Feb 21

Saint Robert Southwell, SJ (c. 1561 – February 21 1595,) an English Roman Catholic Jesuit priest, is one of the 40 martyrs of England & Wales murdered during the English anti-Catholic Reformation.

Robert was born in Norfolk, the youngest of eight children in a well-to-do family with Catholic sympathies in the midts of the anti-Catholic sentiment started by the Anglican reformation.

In 1576, he was sent to France to study with the Jesuits at the English college at Douai. After completing his education, he requested to join the Society of Jesus, but was rejected because he was too young and the Jesuit seminary was temporarily closed because of the growing confrontations between French and Spanish forces.

But in a show of his conviction, in 1578, set off on foot to Rome to make his case for becoming a Jesuit.

After being admitted to the probation house of Sant' Andrea on 17 October 1578, and after the completion of the novitiate, Southwell began studies in philosophy and theology at the Jesuit College in Rome, and was ordained in 1584.That same year, Queen Elizabeth had passed an edict establishing the death penalty for any British Catholic priest or religious who joined a religious order abroad to remain in England longer than forty days.

Two years later, Southwell requested to be sent back to England as a clandestine Jesuit missionary with Henry Garnet.

Southwell preached and ministered successfully for six years, publishing Catholic catechism and writing spiritual poetry that would make him one of the most important Barroque English poets.

But the Queen's cheif priest-hunter, Richard Topcliffe, pressured a young Catholic woman he had raped to betray Southwell. Once captured, he was initially jailed in Topcliffe's personal prison and tortured 13 different times, trying to get him to name Catholic families involved in the clandestine Catholic mission. Fr. Robert did not betray a single name.

Transferred to the infamous Tower of London, Southwell endured cold and solitude for two and a half years, reading the Bible, the works of St. Bernard and praying the Breviary. During that time he also wrote the most important portion of his poetry.

In 1595, Southwell was finally put on trial accused of treason. During the trial, he admitted being a Jesuit to minister to Catholics, but strongly denied ever being involved in “designs or plots against the queen or kingdom."

After the predictable guilty verdict, he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

On 21 February 1595, in Tyburn, the Jesuit was allowed to address the crowd about his mission as a Catholic priest, then pronounced the words of Psalm 30 prayed in Complines: in manus tuas commendabo spiritum meum (Into your hands i commend my spirit) and made the sign of the cross.

After he was hanged and his severed head presented to the crowd, the traditional shout of “traitor” was replaced by utter silence.

Soon after his martyrdom, his body of poetry started to circulate in manuscripts among Catholics, and later in 1595 his “St Peter's Complaint” and other poems were printed. By 1636, 14 editions had been printed, and other collections of poems, including “Mary Magdalen's Funeral Tears” and Maeoniae.

Southwell was canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Many critics believe that the poem that expresses the best of his dramatic message to his fellow persecuted Catholics in England is “Life is But Losse,” which he wrote in prison:

By force I live, in will I wish to dye;
In playnte I passe the length of lingring dayes;
Free would my soule from mortall body flye,
And tredd the track of death's desyred waies:
Life is but losse where death is deemed gaine,
And loathed pleasures breed displeasinge payne.


Come, cruell death, why lingrest thou so longe?
What doth withould thy dynte from fatall stroke?
Nowe prest I am, alas! thou dost me wronge,
To lett me live, more anger to provoke:
Thy right is had when thou hast stopt my breathe,
Why shouldst thoue stay to worke my dooble deathe?


Avaunt, O viper! I thy spite defye:
There is a God that overrules thy force,
Who can thy weapons to His will applie,
And shorten or prolonge our brittle course.
I on His mercy, not thy might, relye;
To Him I live, for Him I hope to die.

St. Peter Damian

St. Peter Damian

Feast date: Feb 21

On Feb. 21, Catholics honor Saint Peter Damian, a Benedictine monk who strove to purify the Church during the early years of its second millennium.

In his Sept. 9, 2009 general audience on the saint, Pope Benedict XVI described him as "one of the most significant figures of the 11th century ... a lover of solitude and at the same time a fearless man of the Church, committed personally to the task of reform."

Born during 1007 in the Italian city of Ravenna, Peter belonged to a large family but lost both his father and mother early in life. An older brother took the boy into his household, yet treated him poorly. But another of Peter’s brothers, a priest, took steps to provide for his education; and the priest's own name, Damian, became his younger brother’s surname.

Peter excelled in school while also taking up forms of asceticism, such as fasting, wearing a hair shirt, and spending long hours in prayer with an emphasis on reciting the Psalms. He offered hospitality to the poor as a means of serving Christ, and eventually resolved to embrace voluntary poverty himself through the Order of Saint Benedict.

The monks he chose to join, in the hermitage of Fonte Avellana, lived out their devotion to the Cross of Christ through a rigorous rule of life. They lived mainly on bread and water, prayed all 150 Psalms daily, and practiced many physical mortifications. Peter embraced this way of life somewhat excessively at first, which led to a bout with insomnia.

Deeply versed in the Bible and the writings of earlier theologians, Peter developed his own theological acumen and became a skilled preacher. The leaders of other monasteries sought his help to build up their monks in holiness, and in 1043 he took up a position of leadership as the prior of Fonte Avellana. Five other hermitages were established under his direction.

Serious corruption plagued the Church during Peter's lifetime, including the sale of religious offices and immorality among many of the clergy. Through his writings and involvements in controversies of the day, the prior of Fonte Avellana called on members of the hierarchy and religious orders to live out their commitments and strive for holiness.

In 1057, Pope Stephen IX became determined to make Peter Damian a bishop, a goal he accomplished only by demanding the monk's obedience under threat of excommunication. Consecrated as the Bishop of Ostia in November of that year, he also joined the College of Cardinals and wrote a letter encouraging its members to set an example for the whole Church.

With Pope Stephen's death in 1058, and the election of his successor Nicholas II, Peter's involvement in Church controversies grew. He supported Pope Nicholas against a rival claimant to the papacy, and went to Milan as the Pope's representative when a crisis broke out over canonical and moral issues. There, he was forced to confront rioters who rejected papal authority.

Peter, meanwhile, wished to withdraw from these controversies and return to the contemplative life. But Nicholas' death in 1061 caused another papal succession crisis, which the cardinal-bishop helped to resolve in favor of Alexander II. That Pope kept the Cardinal Bishop of Ostia occupied with a series of journeys and negotiations for the next six years.

In 1067, Peter Damian was allowed to resign his episcopate and return to the monastery at Fonte Avellana. Two years later, however, Pope Alexander needed his help to prevent the German King Henry IV from divorcing his wife. Peter lived another two years in the monastery before making a pilgrimage to Monte Cassino, the birthplace of the Benedictine order.

In 1072, Peter returned to his own birthplace of Ravenna, to reconcile the local church with the Pope. The monk's last illness came upon him during his return from this final task, and he died after a week at a Benedictine monastery in Faenza during February of that year.

Never formally canonized, St. Peter Damian was celebrated as a saint after his death in many of the places associated with his life. In 1823, Pope Leo XII named him a Doctor of the Church and extended the observance of his feast day throughout the Western Church.