Our Great Patron
Who was Saint John Southworth?
Saint John Southworth was a priest and martyr grounded in service to the Catholic faith. He carried out most of his priestly work in Westminster and is commemorated for aiding those who fell ill, particularly during the plague. During his long ministry, Saint John Southworth was imprisoned frequently for his steadfastness, but in 1654 he was arrested for the last time, tried and executed. In 1929, he was beatified and canonized in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Saint John Southworth Family
John Southworth was born to a Catholic family in 1592 at Samlesbury Hall, near Preston in Lancashire. In 1534, Henry VIII renounced the authority of the Pope and declared himself the head of the Church of England. When Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne, she evolved the Church of England, shaping theology and liturgy across England.
At twenty-one, John Southworth went to French Flanders to study for his priesthood at the English seminary in Douai, northern France. He was ordained in 1618 and returned to England on 13 October 1619, where he remained until 1624 when he was recalled to serve as chaplain to Benedictine nuns in Brussels.
Saint John Southworth Life
In 1585 an act was passed commanding Catholic priests to leave the country, and returning to England was branded treasonable. The law was later extended to all who assisted such priests. John Southworth was arrested in 1627 and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle; he was later moved to the Clink in London. He was sentenced to death for professing the Catholic faith, but in 1630, at the insistence of Queen Henrietta Maria, he was reprieved and delivered to the French ambassador to be deported to France.
By 1636 he had returned to England and lived in Clerkenwell, London, during a plague epidemic. Epidemics were particularly hard on Catholics because the law excluded them from medical aid. However, Saint John Southworth attended to the plague victims in Westminster, administering the sacraments and raising money for the victims' families.
Saint John Southworth Martyrdom
In 1654 Saint John Southworth was arrested for the last time under the Interregnum and was tried at the Old Bailey under Elizabethan anti-priest legislation. Although, by the time of his execution, English officialdom was losing interest in executing Catholics, and he was advised to plead not guilty. However, he said to do so would be to disavow his priesthood, and thus declined. He was executed at Tyburn, London. His last words were:
"I was brought up in the truly ancient Roman Catholic apostolic religion, which taught me that the sum of the only true Christian profession is to die. This lesson I have heretofore in my lifetime desired to learn; this lesson I come here to put to practice by dying, being taught it by our Blessed Saviour, both by precept and example. To follow His holy doctrine, and imitate His holy death, I willingly suffer at present; this gallows I look on as His cross, which I gladly take to follow my dear Saviour."
Saint John Southworth's body is enshrined in Westminster Cathedral.