St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit Priest and Martyr
Historically, today is the feast of St. Edmund Campion, Jesuit martyr, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, also called “the Pope’s Champion”.
Edmund Campion was born in London on January 25, 1540. He was raised a Catholic and had such a powerful intellect that at the age of only 17 he was made a junior fellow at Saint John’s College at Oxford University.
On visiting the university, Queen Elizabeth I was so taken by Edmund’s brilliance, as were a few of her dignitaries, that she bid him to ask for anything he wished. The exaltation of so many fed his vanity and led him away from his Catholic faith. He took the Oath of Supremacy, thus acknowledging the Queen as head of the church, and became an Anglican deacon.
However, his brilliant intellect and his conscience would not allow him to be reconciled to the idea of Anglicanism for too long, and after a stay in Dublin he turned back to his faith and returned to England. He was at this point suspected of being too Catholic. On witnessing the trial of a soon to be martyr, he was shaken to the conviction that his vocation was to minister to the Catholic faithful in England during this time of persecution and to convert Protestants.
He set off to Rome barefoot and entered the Society of Jesus in 1573, was ordained in 1578 and had a vision in which the Virgin Mary foretold him of his martyrdom. When he returned to England he made an immediate impression, winning many converts.
On July 17, 1581, he was betrayed by one of the faithful who knew his whereabouts and was thrown into prison. The queen offered him all manner of riches if he would forsake his loyalty to the pope, but he refused.
He was sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering. His martyrom in Tyburn on December 1, 1581 sparked off a wave of conversions to Catholicism. He was canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.