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St. Thomas Garnet

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Protomartyr of St. Omer and therefore of Stonyhurst College; b. at Southwark, c. 1575; executed at Tyburn, 23 June, 1608. Richard Garnet, Thomas's father, was at Balliol College, Oxford, at the time when greater severity began to be used against Catholics, in 1569, and by his constancy gave great edification to the generation of Oxford men which was to produce Campion, Persons and so many other champions of Catholicism. Thomas attended the Horsham grammar school and was afterwards a page to one of the half-brothers of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, who were, however, conformists. At the opening of St. Omer's College in 1592, Thomas was sent there. By 1595 he was considered fit for the new English theological seminary at Valladolid, and started in January, with five others, John Copley, William Worthington, John Ivreson, James Thomson, and Henry Mompesson, from Calais. They were lucky in finding, as a travelling companion, a Jesuit Father, William Baldwin, who was going to Spain in disguise under the alias Ottavio Fuscinelli, but misfortunes soon began. After severe weather in the Channel, they found themselves obliged to run for shelter to the Downs, where their vessel was searched by some of Queen Elizabeth's ships, and they were discovered hiding in the hold. They were immediately made prisoners and treated very roughly. They were sent round the Nore up to London, and were examined by Charles, second Lord Howard of Effingham, the lord admiral. After this Father Baldwin was sent to Bridewell prison, where he helped the confessor James Atkinson to obtain his crown. Meantime his young companions had been handed over to Whitgift, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, having found that they encouraged one another, sent them one by one to different Protestant bishops or doctors. Only the youngest, Mompesson, conformed; the rest eventually escaped and returned to their colleges beyond seas after many adventures. We are not told specifically what befell young Garnet, but it seems likely that he was the youth confined to the house of Dr. Richard Edes (Dict. Nat. Biog., XVI, 364). He fell ill and was sent home under bond to return to custody at Oxford by a certain day. But his jailer not appearing in time, the boy escaped, and to avoid trouble had then to keep away even from his own father. At last he reached St-Omer again, and thence went to Valladolid, 7 March, 1596, having started on that journey no less than ten times.

After ordination in 1599, "returning to England I wandered", he says, "from place to place, to reduce souls which went astray and were in error as to the knowledge of the true Catholic Church ". During the excitement caused by the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 he was arrested near Warwick, going under the name Thomas Rokewood, which he had no doubt assumed from Ambrose Rokewood of Coldham Hall, whose chaplain he then was, and who had unfortunately been implicated in the plot. Father Garnet was now imprisoned first in the Gatehouse, then in the Tower, where he was very severely handled in order to make him give evidence against Henry Garnet, his uncle, superior of the English Jesuits, who had lately admitted him into the Society. Though no connection with the conspiracy could be proved, he was kept in the Tower for seven months, at the end of which time he was suddenly put on board ship with forty-six other priests, and a royal proclamation, dated 10 July, 1606, was read to them, threatening death if they returned. They were then carried across the Channel and set ashore in Flanders.

Father Garnet now went to his old school at St-Omer, thence to Brussels to see the superior of the Jesuits, Father Baldwin, his companion in the adventures of 1595, who sent him to the English Jesuit novitiate, St. John's, Louvain, in which he was the first novice received. In September, 1607, he was sent back to England, but was arrested six weeks later by an apostate priest called Rouse. This was the time of King James's controversy with Bellarmine about the Oath of Allegiance. Garnet was offered his life if he would take it, but steadfastly refused, and was executed at Tyburn, protesting that he was "the happiest man this day alive". His relics, which were preserved at St-Omer, were lost during the French Revolution .

[ Note: In 1970, Thomas Garnet was canonized by Pope Paul VI among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, whose joint feast day is kept on 25 October.]

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