Friday, 14 November 2014

The Life Of Fr John Gerard S.J. (A Hunted Priest) Part 47.

1623 to 1637.

The good Countess derived an immense consolation from her foundation at Ghent, and that through the instrumentality of Father Gerard, when he was Rector there. Her son Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel and Surrey, who had been carefully brought up by her in the Catholic religion, "partly through fear, partly through desire of favour with the King," by whom he had been restored to his father's honours, "accommodated himself to the times much more than he ought to have done, to the incredible grief of his good mother." The consequence of this was that his two sons were brought up Protestants. The reconciliation to the Church of the eldest of these her grandsons is the only fact with which we are acquainted connected with the four years of Father Gerard's stay in Ghent. It is thus related in the book from which we have been quoting.

"James Lord Maltravers, the Earl's eldest son and heir, [was] a comely gentleman of Tare wit and extraordinary expectation, who died at Gant in Flanders in July 1624, being about eighteen years of age. This young nobleman coming out of Italy together with the Countess his mother, and his brother Henry, who succeeded him in title and birthright, being now in France, ready to come for England where they had sent most of their retinue, upon I know not what motive, they directed their journey towards Holland with intention to have kissed the hands of the Lady Elizabeth, sister to his Majesty, and taking the city of Gant in their way, there he sickened of the small pox and died. But before his death [he] was so fortunate as to be visited by Father John Gerard, a priest of the Society, who together with others lived there in the house which his grandmother a little before had erected, though neither he nor any of his company, nor perhaps any one of those who then lived in that house knew it was set up and maintained by her, so secret was it kept. By that Father he was in fine reconciled to the Holy Church, having never been a Catholic before, nor known to be so much as the least affected that way; because the man who by his father's appointment taught and tutored him both in England and Italy was not only an heretic but also a minister. At the hands of the said Father he received all the holy Sacraments necessary for a due preparation to death, which he received with so good a disposition that he left no small hopes of his going to a better life. When his grandmother had notice of his conversion and death, instead of lamenting the loss, as parents are wont to do in such cases, she gave God many thanks, rejoicing that he had made so good an end. And when considering that if he either came into England, or died in Holland or any other city almost of Flanders, France and Italy, he either could not at all, or not so conveniently, have had the like means of dying well as he had at Gant, she not only admired the providence of God therein, but took it as a special favour from Him, and as a sign He was well pleased with the work she then had there begun, and thereby was not a little animated to the finishing thereof, acknowledging moreover that thereby she was already abundantly rewarded for all that she had done. For had it been put to her choice, what she would have asked in this world in lieu of her reward, there was nothing which she would have demanded sooner than the conversion of some of her children, that being the thing which next after her own salvation she used most frequently to beg at the hand of Almighty God."

In a letter which the Countess wrote to her grandson Lord Maltravers before his conversion, and kept by her to be delivered to him after her death, she spoke of her foundation at Ghent. "She desired him if-he lived to see Catholic times in this kingdom, that he would favour and further the house she had set up at Gant (though not naming it) for the Society, and that he would leave the like order to his children and posterity, hoping that God would bless both him and them the more for it, and grant that she might have the more joy of them in heaven with an eternal happiness."

The letter to Henry Lee, Mary Ward's chaplain at Munich, quoted in the preceding chapter, was written by Father Gerard under the name of John Tomson in the year in which he left Ghent for Rome. It is dated " Gant, this 8th of March 1627," and it tells us that the Rector of the Tertian House at Ghent was Father Edward Bedingfeld alias Silisdon, the brother of his own successor as Rector and Master of Novices. " You will all have a good friend," he writes of Mary Ward's nuns and their chaplain, " in Mr. Doctor Atsloe. He is a great friend of Father Henry Silisdon, who is Rector at Watten and is my friend also, and writes to us both often. I think he knoweth Father Edward Silisdon, 2 Father Henry his brother, who is Superior of this house, 3 for he writes to me ever by the name of Rector of our house; whereas the Instructor of the Tertian Fathers is only Superior over them, but not of the rest of the family, as it is in a complete Noviceship, such as ours was at Liege." Of Mary Ward herself he writes, " I pray you tell your best friend and mine I do of purpose forbear to write to her, but much desire to see her here, which she may very well do, her brother [Father George Ward, S.J.] being here. But as for the Exercise for which she hath leave [that is, that Father Gerard might give her a retreat], I doubt it will not prove best. Pardon my scribbling, for my right hand with much writing shakes much."

From 1627 to 1637, the last ten years of his life, Father Gerard was confessor to the English College at Rome. As we have one fact to mark the period of his life at Ghent, so also we have one to commemorate this its last stage in Rome. He was the means of the conversion of Francis Slingsby, 3 who subsequently entered the Society and soon after his ordination to the priesthood died in the odour of sanctity at Naples on the 6th of December, 1642. After his death a collection of papers relating to him was made, which was in Rome in Father Grene's time, but has since the suppression of the Society found its way to the Burgundian Library 4 at Brussels. In this collection we find the correspondence of Father John Gerard with his Benjamin, the spiritual child of his old age, and these letters show that his activity and zeal continued to the last. It is very touching to read the mutual expressions of warm affection that passed between these two holy souls. Two long letters written by Father Gerard to Francis Slingsby are signed " Thomas Roberts,' and are dated the 2nd of March and the 16th of May, 1637, the latter but two months before his death. The "shaking hand," as he himself calls it, is the only sign of weakness they show. He was then, it seems, writing a book on " friendship, ,, and had sent another book to Flanders for publication.

A few extracts from these letters will fitly close our narrative. They were addressed to Francis Slingsby, under the name of Lewis Newman, 5 at Dublin, where for a time, a little later, Slingsby was sent as a prisoner to the Castle for his religion. The first of Father Gerard's two letters says, "I was much joyed at the good of your worthy mother and sister, [that is, at their having just become Catholics,] whom I will now more often and more earnestly commend to God ut desideria, de ipsius inspiratione concepta, nulla possint tentatione mutari. I have sent by Mr. Ford [probably Father James Ford, S.J.] (who this day parted from hence to you) small but holy tokens to those your two kinswomen, whom now I must respect and love, as if they were to me in like degree as they are to you. To your mother a tooth of St. Gaudentia, Virgin and Martyr, and we will use so to write of her by that name, which she hath now cause to take and to be vere gaudens, being now filia Dei et hares regni cӕlestis, and going daily forward to take possession of it. May she therefore not say with the kingly prophet Lӕtata sum ? To your sister I have sent a relic of St. Xaverius, for I doubt not but she will be ever devout unto him, and he ready to protect and help her, she being born to God upon his day. I have sent also a poor token to yourself and one to Mr. Nugent [Father Robert Nugent, S.J.]. We all do pray for you, and your poorest friend will not fail to do it in that manner and measure as if all his friends were united in one. I beseech you, tell your two kinswomen that I will offer for them at these holy places, that being the best service I can do them. All happiness rest with you."

The other letter, dated May 16, 1637, was written to induce Francis Slingsby not to be deterred by temporal considerations from going at once to the Novitiate. "Yours of the 10th of February found me in the Spiritual Exercise, in which I had received from the goodness of God more comfort than I deserved. But indeed the reading of yours was a great increase unto them, to see the efficacy of His grace, and His bounteous hand so opened to a person so dear unto me, and to whom I much desired no less than the best. I received much comfort to see your so constant perseverance in perfect indifference, and your entire resignation to the Will of God, to be declared unto you by His substitute'. And the like contentment it gave to Scaevola [Mutius Vitelleschi, the General] himself, when he read the same twice repeated in your letter, which I delivered unto him translated, that he might judge the better of the case you proposed. . . . Scaevola is and will be much better pleased with my friend alone, and with the internal riches which he will bring with him, and which cannot be taken from him, and which will be much greater by this act of renunciation, than if, with less measure of interior goods, he brought with him a much greater proportion of exterior riches. Therefore it is his absolute desire {omnibus auditis et mature consideratis) that his Joseph do break away from the world, though he leave his cloak behind him. God hath clothes enow for His servants, and He that giveth feathers to the birds of the air and furs to the beasts that live within the earth, will not be wanting to those His chosen servants whom He loveth so dearly and who labour for Him."

We thus know that Father John Gerard's last Retreat was made three or four months before his death, and in the "Spiritual Exercise" that was so familiar to him he received, as he tells his dearest friend, " from the goodness of

God more comfort than he deserved." He died at Rome in the English College on the 27th of July, 1637, at the ripe age of seventy-three.

The last ten years of Father Gerard's life were thus spent as the spiritual father of aspirants to the English Mission, preparing them for its toils and dangers. His manly, earnest, faithful soul was the very stuff of which martyrs are made, and we may well conceive how the presence of the grand old man must have stirred the hearts of those "flores Martyrum, ,, the students of the English College at Rome. When Father Gerard came amongst them in 1627, twenty-nine who had been trained for the priesthood within those walls, had already given their lives for that priesthood on the gibbet and had bled on the scaffold in their native land. The lesson that George Gilbert's pictures round their chapel walls taught the students who were preparing themselves in Rome for the priesthood that in England it was high treason for them to have received, that same lesson they learned from the old man in their midst who had had personal experience of the torture-chamber, and of whom they could say, as good Father Christopher Grene afterwards said of him, Non ipse martyrio, sed ipsi martyrium defuit.

1 Ibid. p. 232.

2 This Rectorship of Father Edward Silisdon was unknown to Dr. Oliver, who gives a list of the Rectors of Ghent from which this name is omitted.

3 In 1625 Father John Norton alias Knatchbull was Rector, as we learn from a Provincial Catalogue of that date. A note attached to this Catalogue says that the Tertianship at Ghent had funds to maintain 15 in Community, though there were then but 7 in the house, none of whom were in their tertianship.

3 He was the eldest son of Sir Francis Slingsby of Kilmore near Cork, and of Elizabeth Cuffe his wife. He was converted at Rome in September 1633, entered the College there as a Con victor February 6, 1639, was ordained priest June 30, 1641, entered the Society Sept. 30 in the same year, and died early in the second year of his noviceship. Records, vol. vi. p. 348. Father Gerard, however, was dead before Francis Slingsby came to the College.

 MSS. 3824-5, nn. 18, 19.

5 His alias at the English College at Rome was Percy. Records, vol. vi. P. 348.