Five Franciscans Executed for Their Faith

Five Franciscans Executed for Their Faith
On May 4, Franciscans recall the witness of five friars—Blesseds Thomas Bullaker, Henry Heath, Arthur Bell, John Woodcock, and Charles Meehan—who were executed in England and Wales in the 1640s because of their loyalty to the Catholic faith.

Staunch defenders of the faith

During the reign of Henry VIII, the Observant Franciscans had been staunch defenders of the king's marriage to Queen Catherine and Papal supremacy, and so were the first religious order in England to be suppressed in 1534. The friars met imprisonment, death or were scattered to the continent.

Founding an English Franciscan friary

During the latter part of the sixteenth century, a number of English Catholics came to Europe to join the Order, and in 1618 they founded an English Franciscan friary at the University of Douai, then in the Spanish Netherlands (English Catholic women also founded a Poor Clare monastery in nearby Gravelines).

Ministry a risky undertaking

Four of the friars honored today were members of this English Franciscan province-in-exile, who had returned to their homeland on mission to minister underground to the Catholic population. (The fifth, Charles Meehan or Mahoney, was an Irish friar executed in Wales.) Their work was a very risky undertaking: under an act of Parliament in 1584 a Roman Catholic priest ministering in England could be charged with high treason.

Beatified by Pope John Paul II

The friars remembered today are among some 85 martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987. For more detail on these friar martyrs, see http://stevenwood.com/reflections/franciscan/0504-34.htm.

Our common witness today

Today, Roman Catholics and Anglicans look back at the way we persecuted one another in the wake of the Reformation with great sadness. Several years ago Pope Francis commended the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission for their work, reminding them of our common witness today:

"There is a strong bond that already unites us which goes beyond all divisions: it is the testimony of Christians from different Churches and traditions, victims of persecution and violence simply because of the faith they profess. The blood of these martyrs will nourish a new era of ecumenical commitment, a fervent desire to fulfill the last will and testament of the Lord: ‘that all may be one’ (Jn 17:21).

 

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IMAGE: One of the Franciscan martyrs, Blessed Thomas Bullaker, educated at the College of St. Omer, France, and the English College in Valladolid, Spain. He entered the Order in Spain about 1622, with the religious name of John Baptist and was ordained in 1628. Sent on mission to England, he worked "underground" mainly in London and was executed in 1642. This seventeenth-century engraving features the Biblical quote from Philippians: "For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."