Persistent and determined

Today, 19 June 2012, is the memorial of Blessed Thomas Woodhouse, an English priest and martyr during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. His persistence in defence of the truth and his determination to win martyrdom make him a very inspiring Saint. Because even the prison walls could not contain his desire to evangelise, he took to throwing stones out of the prison window wrapped in paper messages.

Blessed Thomas Woodhouse was born around 1535 in Lincolnshire, England. During the very brief reign of Queen Mary Tudor, (1553-1558) Thomas began studying for the diocesan priesthood and was ordained. After about a year happily ministering in a small parish of Lincolnshire, Queen Mary died and the brief resurgence of Catholicism in 16th century England died with her. Unable to serve under a regime that did not acknowledge the Pope, Thomas resigned his parish and went off to Wales, supporting himself as a tutor.

Presumably it was his zeal for the faith and his unwillingness to compromise that had him arrested in Wales while saying Mass in 1561. To the Fleet Street prison Thomas was carted off. In prison, during the early part of his incarceration, Thomas managed to continue to say Holy Mass, pray his Office and to take an active role in evangelising his fellow prisoners and anybody who stopped to listen outside the prison window.Taking every opportunity which presented itself, Thomas wrote letters and threw messages through the prison window wrapped around rocks. 

One year, probably 1563, the prisoners were taken to the jailer’s country residence in order to escape the plague. When Thomas found out that the jailer was eating meat on Fridays, he refused to stay and returned to his normal cell where he could keep Lent properly. If a Protestant grace was used before meals, Thomas refused to eat. Those outside the prison cell would yell through the window to keep the prisoners abreast of news on the outside world. In this way Thomas heard about the intrepid Jesuits evangelising in England despite the risk of bringing on a traitor’s death. He was so inspired that he wrote to the Jesuit provincial asking for the gift of being able to become a member of the Society of Jesus despite the impediments that being in prison raised.

Despite the best part of 12 long years in prison, Thomas’ love, devotion and zeal only grew and didn’t diminish. Thomas was accepted into the Jesuits, perhaps in 1572, and this seems to have made him even more focussed on winning a martyr’s crown. Now he started writing letters, following Queen Elizabeth’s excommunication in 1570, calling for her to submit to the Pope. The treasurer, Lord Burleigh, got wind of these treasonous letters and came to investigate Thomas for himself. Thomas refused to call him by his title, because it had been given by an improperly annointed queen, calling him Mr Cecil instead, and thus getting him annoyed. Convinced that God’s majesty far outweighed the queen’s, he reminded Mr Cecil of this. Other investigations and interrogations followed culminating in a trial. After witnessing his faith, and being considered a fanatic, Thomas was brought to trial on 16 June 1573 and found guilty of treason.  

His execution was set for 19 June, and to make sure that the crowd wanted him dead he prayed out loud in Latin, and in English urged the queen to repent. Succeeding in getting the crowd against him, they became so furious that they wanted him to be as conscious during the hanging, drawing and quartering as possible. In particular Thomas was still alive when the ‘drawing’ procedure reached his heart.   

The Church honoured this brave, intrepid and zealous martyr with beatification in 1886. May those in need of miraculous healing seek Blessed Thomas Woodhouse out in prayer, so that one day soon we might see him honoured in canonization.

Blessed Thomas Woodhouse, pray for us.