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And today we celebrate...

Friday, March 22
Saint Nicholas Owen

Carpenter who saved hunted priests

Nicholas Owen
Public Domain
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Jesuit Lay Brother (d. 1606)

His life

+ Nicholas was born in Oxford, England, and learned carpentry from his father, a faithful Catholic living in the age of the English Reformation.

+ As a young man, Nicholas began working with the Jesuit priests who were ministering in secret throughout England and he became a lay brother in the Society of Jesus in 1597.

+ Affectionately known as “Little John” or “Little Mike” because of his short stature, Nicholas also suffered from a limp (from a badly set broken leg) and from a severe abdominal hernia brought on by years of manual labor.

+ Nicholas is most especially remembered as the designer and builder of “priest holes,” secret compartments in English houses where priests could be safely hidden from authorities. Most could hold one or two men for several days and they are celebrated for the high quality craftsmanship they display. Nicholas never discussed this work or asked others to assist him in their construction, insuring secrecy and security.

+ In 1605, Nicholas and three Jesuits had taken refuge in a house in Worcester. More than one hundred men searched the house and it was only after a week that Nicholas gave himself up, hoping to spare his companions; the priests were found after a second full week of searching and subsequently executed.

+ Nicolas was mercilessly tortured for six days in the hopes he would reveal the other hiding places. He gave nothing away, simply repeating the names of Jesus and Mary. He was subsequently killed on March 22, 1606, and was canonized with 39 other martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.

For reflection

No Man can be said to have done more good of all those who labored in the English vineyard.”—John Gerard, SJ, superior of the Jesuits’ English Mission

Prayer

Almighty, eternal God,

you chose from the people of England and Wales

Saint Edmund, Saint Robert, [Saint Nicholas,] and their companions

to be made like Christ,

who died to save the world.

Listen to their prayers:

strengthen your Church by the same faith and love

that strengthened them,

and bless it always with your gift of unity.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

(Prayer for the liturgical memorial Saints Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell and their companions [including Saint Nicholas Owen] from the Supplement to the Divine Office for the Society of Jesus)

Saint profiles prepared by Brother Silas Henderson, S.D.S.

Access our archives of daily saint biographies here
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