St. Edmund Campion, SJ (1540-1581)

Edmund CampionSt. Edmund Campion, SJ, ministered to Catholics in England at a time of Catholic persecution. Under the Tudor monarchs Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, the Catholic Church was displaced by the Church of England. The English monasteries were dissolved by 1541, and Catholic clergy and laity were persecuted and killed.

Edmund Campion could have been the brightest star in Elizabethan England. He impressed Elizabeth with his welcoming oration when she visited Oxford University in 1569. Under her promised patronage his path to power and prestige was assured. Campion first thought to follow that path, being ordained originally as an Anglican deacon. But his heart was rooted in the Catholic faith. In 1571 Campion traveled to Douai, France, to study in the Catholic seminary. Several years later he walked to Rome, where he was accepted by the Jesuits. The next years Campion taught in Vienna and Prague.

Campion could have stayed safely in Prague, but he heard the call to minister to Catholics in England. He could only do this traveling in disguise, celebrating the sacraments in secret, and avoiding the many spies who sought him out. But Campion did not keep his mission a secret. He wrote and circulated the Challenge to the Privy Council to debate him on all issues between Protestants and Catholics. His mission began in 1580 but soon ended with his arrest in 1581.

After his arrest, Campion was convicted of treason, suffered the dislocation of his bones on the rack, and still held his own in debates against his persecutors. Showing her esteem for his person, Elizabeth I met him, trying to draw him back into the Church of England. Campion remained steadfast in his Catholic faith. Finally, Campion was hanged, drawn, and quartered on December 1, 1581.

Edmund Campion, SJ, was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

Related Link

Selected Biographies of Jesuits Saints and Blesseds