Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 39.


" I WILL now add a few words about myself before closing this narrative. I have stated in the other treatise of which I spoke, that a proclamation was issued against three Jesuit Fathers, of whom I was one ; and, though the most unworthy, I was named first in the proclamation, whereas I was the subject of one, and far inferior in all respects to the other. All this, however, I solemnly protest was utterly groundless ; for I knew absolutely nothing of the Plot from any one whatsoever, not even under the seal of confession, as the other two did ; nor had I the slightest notion that any such scheme was entertained by any Catholic gentleman, until by public rumour news was brought us of its discovery, as it was to all others dwelling in that part of the country.

"When I saw by that long search of nine days that I was sought after and aimed at in particular, I wrote a public letter, as if to some friend, in which by many arguments, and by protestations beyond all cavil, I maintained my entire innocence of the charges brought against me. Of this letter I caused many copies to be taken, and to be dropped about the London streets very early in the morning. These were found and read by many persons, and a copy was shown to the King by one of the Lords of Council, who was no enemy either of mine or of my cause. The King, as I heard, was personally satisfied by this. Afterwards, however, when information was given them of Father Garnet's hiding-place, and they conceived hopes of catching him, and of turning the whole charge on the Society, they thought it necessary to publish the names of some of ours as the principal contrivers of the Plot. So they put my name down, as well as those of the other two Fathers, of whom they had heard from a certain servant of Master Catesby. This man, however, before his death, repenting of this injury he had done them, confessed that he had been induced to say what he did of them against his conscience, by the fear of death on the one hand, and by the hope of pardon, and by the persuasions and suggestions of Secretary Cecil on the other. And it is possible that some persons at that time had a real suspicion that I was privy to the thing, because they knew that many of the gentlemen who had been taken were friends of mine, and were in the habit of visiting me at my London house. This, indeed, was acknowledged by one of them in his examination, though at the same time he affirmed that I knew nothing of their scheme. Nor did they ever get a single word against me from any of their examinations. Sir Everard Digby, indeed, who was known to be most intimate with me, and for that reason was most strictly examined about me, publicly protested in open court that he never dare mention a syllable of it to me, because I should never have permitted him to go on with it. When I had heard of all this, and besides, had learnt several particulars concerning Father Garnet, which proved that any knowledge he had was under seal of confession, and imparted to him by the only priest of the Society who knew of it, and that also only in confession ; it seemed to me that I was sufficiently cleared of the charge, and in order to bring this fact into notice, I prepared three letters to three Lords of the Council, a little before the death of the condemned conspirators, in which I showed more at full that I was completely ignorant of the whole matter, and pointed out how they might satisfy themselves of the same while those gentlemen were yet alive. Whether they did so or not, I do not know: but this much I know, that in the whole process of Father Garnet's trial, in which after the receipt of these letters they tried their utmost to defame the whole Society, and in particular to charge this Plot on the English Mission, they never once mentioned me. They spoke indeed of three Fathers as guilty, but they named those two who had heard of it in confession, and Father Oldcorne, not as privy to the Plot beforehand, but as an accomplice post factum.

" Nevertheless I took the greatest precaution to remain hidden ; and I lay at a place in London known to no one. So by the protection of God I continued safe, and if it had seemed good, I could have remained so still longer. I did not therefore leave England to avoid being taken, but as in that great disturbance it was no time for labouring, but rather for keeping quiet, I took a favourable opportunity that presented itself of passing over into these parts, and reposing a little, that after so long a period of distracting work in all kinds of company, I might open my mouth and draw my breath, 1 and recover strength for future labours. Why, even at that very time when I was keeping so close, and when nearly all my friends were either in prison, or so upset that they could scarcely help themselves, much less me, though I had lost the house I had in London, through the fault of one who disclosed it, as I have said, and though strict watch was kept everywhere, and danger beset one on all sides; yet, before I had settled to leave England, I managed to hire another house in London very fit for my purpose, perhaps more so than the former. I managed also to furnish it with everything necessary, and made some good hiding-places in it; and there I remained in safety the whole of Lent before my departure. Besides this house I also hired another, finer and larger than this, which I intended should be in common between Father Antony Hoskins and me. This house after my departure was used by the Superior of the mission for a considerable time.

"The first of these last-mentioned houses I brought into some little danger, about the end of Lent, in order to rescue one of our Fathers from imminent danger. The thing happened in this wise. The good Father, by name Thomas Everett, had gone to a gentleman's house in London, where there were some false brethren, or else some talkative ones; for the fact reached the ears of the Council. And as he is something of my height, and has black hair, Cecil thought it was I of whom notice was given him, and said to a private friend of his, ' Now we shall have him,' meaning me. However, he had neither the one nor the other. For I, learning that the Father had gone to this place, where he could not possibly remain hidden, asked my friend, in whose house I had myself been concealed before I had procured and furnished my new abode, to fetch him and keep him close in his house for a time, which he did. Here he remained while the house he had just left was undergoing a strict search. Now it so happened that, after a few days, a search was also made in the very place to which he had been brought, on account of some books of Father Garnet's which had been seen, and which this gentleman used to keep for him. After rifling the place well and finding no one, for Father Everett had betaken himself to a hiding-place, they carried off the master and mistress of the house, and threw them into prison. Now when I heard this, and knew there was no Catholic left in the house, fearing lest the Father should either perish with hunger, or come forth and be taken, I sent persons from my own house, to whom I described the position of his hiding-place. They went thither, and called to him, and knocked at the place, for him to open it: he, however, would neither open nor answer, though they said that I had sent them for him. For, as he did not know their voices, he was afraid that this was a trick of the searchers, who sometimes pretend to depart, and then after a time return, and, assuming a friendly tone, go about the rooms, asking any who are hidden to come out, for that the searchers are all gone. The good Father suspected that this was the case now, and therefore made no answer. My messengers remained a long time trying to reassure him, and at last were obliged to return, but so late that they fell into the hands of the watch. They were detained in custody that night, and got off with some difficulty the next day. One of them, however, was recognized as having formerly lived with a Catholic, and was therefore believed to be a Catholic himself, and as it was now known where he lived (namely, in the house I had hired), this brought that house into suspicion, though it had been ostensibly hired by a schismatic, who was under no suspicion at all. The consequence was that some four days later the chief magistrate of London, who is called the mayor, came with a posse of constables to search the house.

" In the meantime, hearing that Father Thomas would not answer, and knowing well that he was there, to prevent his perishing from starvation, I sent another party with the man who had made the hiding-place and knew how to open it. The place was thus opened and the good Father rescued from his perilous position. They brought him to my house, and there he remained. I myself, however, before he arrived, had gone to a friend's house, a very secure place, with the purpose of staying there a little, as I had some fears that the apprehension of my servants a day or two back might bring the searchers to my house. My fears were well founded : for on Holy Thursday, while Father Everett was saying mass, and had just finished the offertory, there was a great tumult and noise at the garden gate; and the mayor used such violence, and made such quick work of it, as to have entered the garden, and the house, and to be now actually mounting the stairs, just as the Father, all vested as he was and with all the altar-furniture bundled up, had entered his hiding-place. So near a matter was it, that the mayor and his company smelt the smoke of the extinguished candles, so that they made sure a priest had been there, and were the more eager in their search. But of the three hiding-places in the house they did not find one. So they departed, taking with them those men whom they found in the house, and who acknowledged themselves to be Catholics, and the schismatic also who passed for the householder. After this, having again released Father Everett from his hiding-hole and advised him to leave London, I determined not to use that house again for some time. And seeing that the times were such as called us rather to remain quiet, than to gird ourselves for work, I took the first opportunity of crossing the sea and coming into these parts.

" I recommended my friends to different Fathers, asking them to have special care of them during my absence. As for my hostess [Mrs. Vaux], she was brought to London after that long search for me, and strictly examined about me by the Lords of the Council; but she answered to everything so discreetly as to escape all blame. At last they produced a letter of hers to a certain relative, asking for the release of Father Strange and another, of whom I spoke before. This relative of hers was the chief man in the county in which they had been taken, and she thought she could by her intercession with him prevail for their release. But the treacherous man, who had often enough, as far as words went, offered to serve her in any way, proved the truth of our Lord's prophecy, 'A man's enemies shall be those of his own household,' for he immediately sent up her letter to the Council. They showed her, therefore, her own letter, and said to her, ' You see now that you are entirely at the King's mercy for life or death ; so if you consent to tell us where Father Gerard is, you shall have your life.'

" 'I do not know where he is,' she answered, 'and if I did know, I would not tell you.'

" Then rose one of the lords, who had been a former friend of hers, to accompany her to the door, out of courtesy, and on the way said to her persuasively, ' Have pity on yourself and on your children, and say what is required of you, for otherwise you must certainly die.'

" To which she answered with a loud voice, ' Then, my lord, I will die.'

"This was said when the door had been opened, so that her servants who were waiting for her heard what she said, and all burst into weeping. But the Council only said this to terrify her, for they did not commit her to prison, but sent her to the house of a certain gentleman in the city, and after being held here in custody for a time she was released, but on condition of remaining in London. And one of the principal Lords of the Council acknowledged to a friend that he had nothing against her, except that she was a stout Papist, going ahead of others, and, as it were, a leader in evil.

" Immediately she was released from custody, knowing that I was then in London, quite forgetful of herself, she set about taking care of me, and provided all the furniture and other things necessary for my new house. Moreover, she sent me letters daily, recounting everything that occurred ; and when she knew that I wished to cross the sea for a time, she bid me not spare expense, so that I secured a safe passage, for that she would pay everything, though it should cost five thousand florins, and in fact she sent me at once a thousand florins for my journey. I left her in the care of Father Percy, who had already as my companion lived a long time at her house. There he still remains, and does much good. I went straight to Rome, and being sent back thence to these parts, was fixed at Louvain. What happened to me there may be read, together with the labours of others, in the Annual Letters.

" I have received two signal benefits on the 3rd of May, through the intercession, as I think, of Father Garnet, who went to Heaven on that day. The first was as follows. When I had come to the port where, according to agreement, I was to embark with certain high personages in order to pass unchallenged out of England, they, out of fear, excused themselves from performing their promise. And in this mind they continued till within an hour of the time for embarking. Now just at that time Father Garnet's martyrdom was consummated at London, and he being received into Heaven remembered me upon earth; for the minds of those lords were so changed, that the ambassador himself came to fetch me, and with his own hands helped to dress me in his livery, so that I might be taken for one of his attendants, and so pass free. All went well, and I do not doubt that I owed it to Father Garnet's prayers.

"The other and greater benefit is that three years later, on the same 3rd of May, I was admitted into the body of the Society by the four vows, though most unworthy. This I look upon as the greatest and most signal favour I have ever received, and it seems to me that God wished to show me that I owed this also to the prayers of Father Garnet, from an exact similarity in the circumstance of time between my profession and his martyrdom. For the day originally fixed for both had been the first day of May, the feast of the Holy Apostles SS. Philip and James, and in both cases unforeseen delays postponed the event till the 3rd of May.

" God grant that I may truly love and worthily carry the Cross of Christ, that so I may walk worthy of the vocation whereto I am called. This one thing I have asked of our Lord, and this will I continue to ask, that I may dwell in the house of God all my days, until I prove myself grateful for so great a favour, and though hitherto unfruitful, yet by the fertility of the olive tree in which I have been grafted, I may at length begin to bear some fruit!

"Praise be to God, to the Most Blessed Virgin, to Blessed Father Ignatius, and to my Angel Guardian. Amen."

1 Ut aperirem os meum et attraherem spiritum.—MS. Psal. cxviii. 131.