Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 45.

Old Liege
1609 to 1622.

That house, which Father Gerard called " the excellent seat far beyond Louvain," was like that of Louvain in this respect, that it was situated close to the ramparts on high ground commanding a fine view of the city. It was situated 1 on Mont S. Martin, close to the Citadel, and it had ten acres of ground attached to it, which were laid out in terraces up to the city walls. St. John's was only a rented house, but that at Liege was purchased. Its price was less than " 200/. in present money and the rent of 30/. with which the house and grounds are already charged, which then we may redeem by little and little, as we get friends to buy it out.' 2 As the rentcharge could be redeemed at fifteen years purchase, the whole price was thus under 650/.

Here Father Gerard was Rector and Master of Novices for eight years.3 His Socius or " Compagnion," as he calls him, was Father Henry More, subsequently the Historian of the Province, who thus fulfilled under Father Gerard those duties in the Noviceship that Father Gerard had performed at Louvain under Father Talbot. When discussing, before, his appointment, those fathers who were fitted for that office, after mentioning others, Father Gerard says, 4 " Father Nicholson is far short of either of them for my turn, for he is no good Latinist,. I think little better than myself, though he be much better scholar; neither hath he any other language but Spanish, of which I shall have small use. Father Henry More hath French well, Dutch prettily, and Italian sufficiently, besides Spanish very well, and Latin as I could wish him."

As to his first Novices, there were twelve, which made what he styled "a pretty beginning;" but his Community soon increased in numbers, for in 1617 Father More 5 says there were 45 in the College at Liege, of whom 30 were Novices. Of the first twelve he said 6 that they were "the two that expect at Liege, the two that are come from Rome, and four out of Spain, with Mr. Lewkner and Mr. Whitmore, besides Grafton, when he comes, and a tailor now servant in this house, who by all judgments here is as fit to be received, as Brother Silvester, the young tailor now in the Noviceship, is fit to be dismissed."

Of the "two that expect at Liege," a previous letter 7 had said, " Here be Mr. Mansel and Mr. Owen Shelley, by the names of Mr. Griffin and Mr. Tichborne; both expect, the first with some lothness to stay long, the second is wholly resigned. The first is a pious man, and to those that know his fashion will be profitable for some uses in the Society, but the second will be practical and fit for any thing, and in truth I think he will do very well." This Father Owen Shelley was afterwards Rector of the College of Liege, and his career justified Father Gerard's judgment of his character.

Amongst the "four which are come out of Spain" were two that must have constantly served to remind their Rector at Liege of the Gunpowder Plot, as the remonstrances of King James' Agent had managed to do at Louvain. "One of them," he says, 8 "is akin to Father Garnet, and of his name, though we call him Gilford, as he was called at St. Omers. [The other is] William Ellis, 9 but we call him John Williams, for he was page to Sir Edward Digby, and taken with him, though he might have escaped, for his master offered him horse and money to shift for himself, but the youth said he would live and die with him; and so, being taken, was condemned at Stafford, and should have been executed. He was offered to have his life if he would go to their church, which he refused. In the end they saved him and some others. He never [yielded] in the least point. He hath good friends near Sir Everard Digby's whom I know, and he is heir to 80/. a year, if his father do him right. ,,

At the close of this short notice of Father Gerard's Rectorship it will be but right to record an unfavourable judgment passed upon him, as it will help us to form a true appreciation of his character. It is the only instance that has come down to us of blame on the part of one of his own brothers in Religion. " I see a general fear in all ours, those of best judgment, of the success of Father Nelson's government, and unless he hath a companion that may moderate him, his zeal will, I fear, carry him too far; and I fear it so much the more because I see him loth to have anybody with him who is likely to propose anything to him contrary to his own zealous desires. ,, This is in a confidential letter 10 from Father Silisdon to Father Owen, dated October 31, 1614, so that as it was written before the transfer to Liege, it was a misgiving lest he should be indiscreet as a Rector, rather than a judgment on his actual conduct as a Superior. As he was left in office for eight years, and as, after that, he was placed in another position of great responsibility for four years more, we may be sure that the misgiving was not verified by the event.

Father Gerard's eight years of Rectorship at Liege were between 1614 and 1622. At the end of that time he was removed from Liege to Rome because his Superiors wished him no longer to give an active support to a new Institute of Religious women in the rise of which he had taken much interest. Their foundress was Mary Ward, a very remarkable person, whose life is now in process of publication, 11 so that in this place it will be enough to refer to the forthcoming work for the interesting details of her biography and for the vicissitudes of the Institute founded by her. The Convent of her nuns at Liege was opened in 1616, while Father Gerard was Rector of the English Jesuit College, and the first house occupied by them must have been very close to the College on Mont S. Martin. In 1618 they removed to a good house on the height of Pierreuse, like their former house not far from the Citadel, in the possession of which, in 1642, they were succeeded by the English Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre. 12

One letter remains in existence which was written by Mary Ward to "Rev. Father Tomson alias John Caret [John Gerard]." It is dated in the year 1619, and relates to a time when she was making a retreat under Father Gerard's direction. It is an interesting letter, but as it will appear in Mary Ward's life, with the narrative of the circumstances that called it forth, it is omitted here.

It has been said that it was to withdraw Father Gerard entirely from all connection with Mary Ward and her Institute that he was called to Rome. By the help of a money transaction in which he was concerned with them and the mention in the same affair of his successor as Rector, we are able to approximate to the date of his departure from Liege. Among the St. Omers' papers at Brussels there is one which says that there was a mortgage of 3,000 florins on some houses belonging to the Society at Liege made by Father John Gerard, as security for money raised by Mary Ward. Father Blount, the Vice Provincial, at once transferred the houses to Thomas Sackville, who was jointly responsible with the Nuns for the debt, and this deed is dated April 26, 1621 ; and four days afterwards Father Gerard declared the houses to be their property. By a deed dated March 10, 1622, Thomas Sackville conveyed the houses to Dame Barbara Babthorpe the Superioress, and as this deed mentions Father Henry Silisdon as then Rector, we see that by that date 13 Father Gerard had ceased to be Rector, and probably had already left Liege for Rome.

But Father Gerard carried his sympathy for Mary Ward and her Institute with him, as some letters 14 of his witness which are preserved in the Convent of the "English Ladies" of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Nymphenburg in Bavaria. One of them is addressed to a nephew of his old friend Father Roger Lee, Henry Lee, who was a secular priest, acting as Chaplain to Mary Ward and her " Company " at Munich. In it he says with St. Raphael that God particularly tries those whom He especially loves; and then adds, " This I have always seen to be their case, and though I have kept silence to them, as it was needful I should, and must still continue to do so, yet I have pleaded their cause where only I can avail them, that is with Him Who is best able to help them, and Who will not despise the humble and earnest prayers, though of His unworthy servants. To Him I have, and do, and will continue to offer my poor and instant petitions many times every day, and no day but they have a chief part in my masses, and many times the whole when I have not other obligations. Other helps I cannot afford, either in spiritual or corporal assistance, my hands being tied. Thus much for my opinion of their patience and my good wishes to their persons, not to be altered but by their altering from God's service, which I am confident never will be." This letter is dated from Ghent, or " Gant" as the English called it then, where he wrote it on the 8th of March 1627. Father Gerard when he wrote this letter was looking forward to the confirmation of their Institute, though not " in this Pope's time;" and he tells them to be "very wary not to speak of any great differences which have been between them and our English Fathers, for besides that charity requires it, with most hath been but mistakings, and such things as we read to have happened among the saints." This was written in the absence of the Superior but by his leave ; and there are details respecting Father Gerard's position at Ghent which will be useful to us in our next chapter.

There is another letter from him written after he had again returned to Rome, dated the 13th of August 1628, and addressed "To the Reverend Mother Mrs. Winifred Campion, Vice-rectrice of their College in Monachium, at Monachium " [Munich], In this letter he speaks of Mary Ward as at Rome; for after asking some questions of the number of their novices and scholars, he says, "These things if you mention in any letter to Mother Superior here, it will be as much as I can wish, and with less trouble to yourself. I hope those grand crosses which God did permit to be raised against you by those complaining letters which were written against you, will by God's providence be allayed, Who will be sure to turn all such things to the good of His servants, dans nivem sicut lanam, and make it keep warm the roots of corn and to bring forth a greater harvest in due season." Father Gerard mentions among those " who be of my acquaintance my very good daughter Mrs. Francis 15 Brooksbie and Mrs. Bedingfeld, which two are indeed very dear to me in our Lord Jesus, and I hope they will be very profitable in your company. ,, And he bids his correspondent " remember my service to the Reverend Mr. Dr. Ansloe," their chaplain, whom he had mentioned in the former letter also.

Besides these, in the Convent at Nymphenburg there is a very long letter which exists in German only, without a signature, dated the 6th of October 1629, written in like terms of warm friendship. This letter has no passages of historical interest. It is endorsed in German, " We have the strongest reasons to believe that this letter was written in the English language by Father John Tomson (Gerard). It has been translated into German—is to be kept in secret and not shown to many."

1 The English College may be distinguished, in the accompanying view of  ancient Liege, as the large building, the tower of which (surmounted by a short spire and a ball), comes out of a quadrangle, at the right hand corner of which, and below the front, are long flights of steps. The city wall, descending from the citadel, will be seen to be not far behind the building. Three sides of the square of buildings still exist, and are used for military stores, but it is said that they are doomed to speedy destruction.

2 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl. A, vol. iv. n. 23.

3 Father Nathaniel Southwell, Catalogus primorum pat rum, p. 32.

4 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl A. vol. iv. n. 20.

5 Hist. Prov. p. 424.

6 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl. A. vol. iv. n. 29.

7 Ibid. n. 23.

8 Ibid. n. 29.

Examination of William Ellis, servant to Sir Everard Digby, taken November 21, 1605. P.R.O., Gunpowder Plot Book, n. 108.

10 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl. A. vol. iv. n. 31.

11 In the Month Mary Ward's Iife is being Published under the title of A Yorksfore Lady. It is announced that these chapters will be republished in a separate form.

12 This Convent was transferred in 1665 to the house called the Maison des Coquins or Hopital de St. Christophe in the faubourg d'Avroy. At the French Revolution the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre were obliged to leave Liege, and they settled at New Hall, near Chelmsford, in Essex, in 1799,

13 This accords with the Florus Anglo-Bavaricus, p. n, and corrects Dr. Oliver's statement that Father Silisdon succeeded Father Gerard as Rector and Master of Novices in 1620 and transferred the Novitiate to Watten in 1622. The error arose from a misunderstanding of Father More, Hist Prav. p. 416. The transfer to Watten took place in 1624. Vide supr. p. 486.

14 These letters have been copied by the kind permission of Madame Mary Paur, the General Superioress of the Institute.

15 The feminine form Frances is modern.