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(Town and University of Douai)


The town of Douai, in the department of Nord, France, is on the River Scarpe, some twenty miles south of Lille. It contains about 30,000 inhabitants and was formerly the seat of a university. It was strongly fortified, and the old ramparts have only been removed in recent years. The town flourished in the Middle Ages, and the church of Notre-Dame dates from the twelfth century.

To English Catholics, the name Douai will always be bound up with the college founded by Cardinal Allen during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, where the majority of the clergy were educated in penal times, and to which the preservation of the Catholic religion in England was largely due. Several other British establishments were founded there -- colleges for the Scots and the Irish, and Benedictine and Franciscan monasteries -- and Douai became the chief centre for those who were exiled for the Faith. The University of Douai may be said to date from 31 July, 1559, when Philip II of Spain (in whose dominions it was then situated) obtained a Bull from Pope Paul IV , authorizing its establishment the avowed object being the preservation of the purity of the Catholic Faith from the errors of the Reformation. Paul IV died before he had promulgated the Bull, which was, however, confirmed by his successor, Pius IV, 6 January, 1560. The letters patent of Philip II, dated 19 January, 1561, authorized the establishment of a university with five faculties; theology, canon law, civil law, medicine, and arts. The formal inauguration took place 5 October, 1562, when there was a public procession of the Blessed Sacrament, and a sermon was preached in the market-place by the Bishop of Arras.

There were already a considerable number of English Catholics living at Douai, and their influence made itself felt in the new university. In its early years, several of the chief posts were held by Englishmen, mostly from Oxford. The first chancellor of the university was Dr. Richard Smith, formerly Fellow of Merton and regius professor of divinity at Oxford ; the regius professor of canon law at Douai for many years was Dr. Owen Lewis, Fellow of New College, who had held the corresponding post at Oxford ; the first principal of Marchiennes College was Richard White, formerly Fellow of New College ; while Allen himself, after taking his licentiate at Douai in 1560, became regius professor of divinity. It is reasonable to suppose that many of the traditions of Catholic Oxford were perpetuated at Douai. The university was, however, far from being even predominantly English; it was founded on the model of that of Louvain, from which seat of learning the majority of the first professors were drawn. The two features already mentioned -- that the university was founded during the progress of the Reformation, to combat the errors of Protestantism, and that it was to a considerable extent under English influences -- explain the fact that William Allen, when seeking a home for a projected English college abroad, turned his eyes towards Douai. The project arose from a conversation which he had with Dr. Vendeville, then regius professor of canon law in the University of Douai, and afterwards Bishop of Tournai, whom he accompanied on a pilgrimage to Rome in the autumn of 1567; and the foundation took definite shape when Allen made a beginning in a hired house on Michaelmas Day, 1568. His object was to gather some of the numerous body of English Catholics who, having been forced to leave England, were scattered in different countries on the Continent, and to give them facilities for continuing their studies, so that when the time came for the re-establishment of Catholicism, which Allen was always confident could not be far distant, there might be a body of learned clergy ready to return to their country. This was of course a very different thing from sending missionaries over in defiance of the law while England still remained in the hands of the Protestants. This latter plan was an afterthought and a gradual growth from the circumstances in which the college found itself, though eventually it became its chief work.

Allen's personality and influence soon attracted a numerous band of scholars, and a few years after the foundation of the college the students numbered more than one hundred and fifty. A steady stream of controversial works issued form Douai, some by Allen himself, others by such men as Thomas Stapleton, Richard Bristowe, and others almost equally well known. The preparation of the Douay Bible was among their chief undertakings. It is estimated that before the end of the sixteenth century more than three hundred priests had been sent on the English mission, nearly a third of whom suffered martyrdom ; and almost as many had been banished. By the end of the persecution the college counted more than one hundred and sixty martyrs. Allen had at first no regular source of income, but depended on the generosity of a few friends, and especially upon the neighbouring monasteries of Saint-Vaast at Arras, Anchin, and Marchiennes, which, at the suggestion of Dr. Vendeville, had from time to time subscribed towards the work. Many private donations were also received from England. After a few years, seeing the extreme need of the college and the importance of the work it was doing, Allen applied to Pope Gregory XIII , who in 1565 granted a regular pension of one hundred gold crowns a month, which continued to be paid down to the time of the French Revolution. Allen himself gave his whole salary as regius professor of divinity. The work of the college was not allowed to proceed without opposition, which at one time became so strong that Allen's life was in danger, and in 1578 the English were all expelled from Douai. The college was established temporarily at Reims ; but possession was retained of the house at Douai, and in 1593 it was found possible to return there. By this time Allen had been called to reside in Rome, where he died 16 Oct., 1594. Under his successor, Dr. Richard Barrett, the work was extended to include a preparatory course in humanities, so that it became a school as well as a college. In 1603 under Dr. Worthington, the third president, a regular college was built, opposite the old parish church of St-Jacques, in the Rue des Morts, so called on account of the adjoining cemetery. The town at this time formed a single parish. In the eighteenth century it was divided into four parishes, and the present church of St-Jacques dates from that time.

The English College was the first to be opened in connexion with the university. The Collège d'Anchin was opened a few months later, endowed by the Abbot of the neighbouring monastery of Anchin, and entrusted to the Jesuits. In 1570 the Abbot of Marchiennes founded a college for the study of law. The Abbot of Saint-Vast founded a college of that name. Later on, we find the College of St. Thomas Aquinas , belonging to the Dominicans, the Collège du Roi, and others. The remaining British establishments were all exclusively for ecclesiastics. The Irish College was originally a Spanish foundation. It was established before the end of the sixteenth century, and endowed with 5,000 florins a year by the King of Spain. The course of studies lasted six years and the students attended lectures at the university. The Scots' College has an unfortunate notoriety in consequence of the long dispute between the Jesuits and the secular clergy which centred round it in later times. It was established in 1594, not as a new foundation, but as the continuation of a secular college at Pont- à-Mousson in Lorraine, which, owing to the unhealthfulness of the site, had to seek a new home. In 1506, however, it moved again, and it was not till after several further migrations that it settled finally at Douai in 1612. The college was devoid of resources, and it was due to the zealous efforts of Father Parsons in Rome and Madrid, and of Father Creighton in France and Flanders, that numerous benefactions were given, and it was placed on a permanent footing. For this reason, the Jesuits afterwards claimed the property as their own, although it was admitted that in its early years secular clergy had been educated there. Appeals and counter-appeals were made, but the question was still unsettled when the Jesuits were expelled from France in 1764. The French Government, however, recognized the claims of the Scotch secular clergy and allowed them to continue the work of the college under a rector chosen from their own body. The Benedictine and Franciscan houses at Douai were near together and were both bound up in their history with the restoration of the respective orders in England. The Franciscan monastery was founded mainly through the instrumentality of Father John Gennings , the brother of the martyr. It was established in temporary quarters in 1618, the students for the time attending the Jesuit schools ; but by 1621 they had built a monastery and provided for all necessary tuition within their own walls. The Benedictines began in 1605, in hired apartments belonging to the Collège d'Anchin, but a few years later, through the generosity of Abbot Caravel of the monastery of Saint-Vaast, they obtained land and built a monastery, which was opened in 1611. The house acquired a high reputation for learning, and many of the professors of the university were at different times chosen from among its members.

Returning now to the English College, we come upon the unfortunate disputes between the seculars and regulars in the seventeenth century. Dr. Worthington , though himself a secular priest, was under the influence of Father Parsons, and for a long time the students attended the Jesuit schools and all the spiritual direction was in the hands of the society. A visitation of the college, however, laid bare many shortcomings in its administration and in the end Worthington was deposed. His successor, Dr. Kellison (1631-1641), succeeded in restoring the reputation of the college, while he gradually arranged for the necessary tuition to be given within its walls. In the latter half of the seventeenth and the early years of the eighteenth century, the English College went through a troubled time. During the presidency of Dr. Hyde (1646-1651), the University of Douai obtained certain controlling rights over the college, which claim, however, he successfully withstood. His successor, Dr. George Leyburn (1652- 1670), fell out with the "Old Chapter ", in the absence of a bishop, governing the Church in England. He attacked one Mr. White (alias Blacklo), a prominent member of their body, and procured a condemnation of his writings by the University of Douai. In the end, however, he himself found it necessary to retire in favour of his nephew, Dr. John Leyburn, who was afterwards vicar Apostolic. Hardly was the dispute with the "Blackloists" (as they were called) finished, when a further storm of an even more serious nature arose, the centre being Dr. Hawarden who was professor of philosophy and then of theology at the English College for seventeen years. His reputation became so great that when a vacancy occurred in 1702 he was solicited by the bishop, the chief members of the university, and the magistrates of the town to accept the post of regius professor of divinity. His candidature, however, was opposed by a party headed by the vice-chancellor. The Jesuits also declared against him, accusing him, and through him the English College, of Jansenism. In the end, Dr. Hawarden retired from Douai and went on the mission in England ; and a visitation of the college, made by order of the Holy See, resulted in completely clearing it of the imputation. In 1677, Douai was taken by Louis XIV, and since that date has been under French control, except for the short time that it was held by the English after the siege of the Duke of Marlborough in 1710; but it was retaken by the French the following year.

During the rest of the eighteenth century, there were no important political changes until the Revolution broke out. The hopes which the English Catholics had rested on the Stuart family had now vanished, and the only prospect open to them lay in their foreign centres of which Douai was the chief. To these centres they devoted the greater part of their energy. Under the presidency of Dr. Witham (1715-1738) who is considered a second founder, the English College at Douai was rebuilt on a substantial scale and rescued from overwhelming debt ; it had lost nearly all its endowment in the notorious Mississippi scheme, or "South Sea Bubble". The Irish College was rebuilt about the middle of the century, and the English Benedictine monastery between 1776 and 1781. But all were destined to come to an end a few years after this, under the Reign of Terror.

As a town, Douai suffered less than many others at the beginning of the Revolution. The university kept up its Catholic character to the end, and it was one of the five typical Catholic universities to which Pitt appealed for an authoritative declaration as to the Catholic doctrine on the "deposing power" of the pope. During the Reign of Terror, however, it suffered the same fate as many similar establishments. When all the clergy of the town were called upon in 1791 to take the "Civic Oath ", the members of the British establishments claimed exemption in virtue of their nationality. The plea was allowed for a time; but after the execution of Louis XVI, when war was declared between England and France, it was not to be expected that this immunity would continue. The superiors and students of most of the British establishments took flight and succeeded in reaching England. The members of the English College, with their president, Rev. John Daniel, remained in the hope of saving the college ; but in October, 1793, they were taken to prison at Doullens in Picardy, together with six Anglo- Benedictine monks who had remained for a similar purpose. After undergoing many dangers and hardships, they were allowed to return to Douai in November, 1794, and a few months later, by the exertions of Dr. Stapleton, President of St. Omer (who with his students had likewise been imprisoned at Doullens), they were set at liberty and allowed to return to England. The English collegians never returned to Douai. The Penal Laws had recently been repealed, and they founded two colleges to continue the work of Douai -- Crook Hall (afterwards removed to Ushaw ) in the North, and St. Edmund's, Old Hall, in the South. The Roman pension was divided equally between these two until the French occupied Rome in 1799, when it ceased to be paid. Both these colleges exist at the present day. After the Revolution, Bonaparte united all the British establishments in France under one administrator, Rev. Francis Walsh, an Irishman. On the restoration of the Bourbons, a large sum of money was paid to the English Government to indemnify those who had suffered by the Revolution ; but none of this ever reached Catholic hands, for it was ruled that as the Catholic colleges were carried on in France for the sole reason that they were illegal in England, they must be considered French, not English, estqablishments. The buildings, however, were restored to their rightful owners, and most of them were sold. The Anglo-Benedictines alone retained their ancient monastery ; and as the community of St. Gregory was then permanently established at Downside, they handed over their house at Douai to the community of St. Edmund, which had formerly been located in Paris. These Benedictines carried on a school at Douai until 1903, when in consequence of the Associations' Law passed by the Government they were forced to leave. They returned to England, and settled at Woolhampton, near Reading.

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