Saint of the Day – 7 April – Blessed Edward Oldcorne SJ (1561-1607) Priest Martyr. Born in 1561 at York, North Yorkshire, England and died by being hanged, drawn and quartered on 7 April 1607 at Worcester, Worcestershire, England.
Edward Oldcorne (1561-1606) had a long and fruitful pastoral apostolate in England operating out of the same residence for 16 years. Ralph Ashley (birthday unknown, 1606) entered the Jesuits in Valladolid, Spain, as a brother and was urged to return to his native England to recover his good health, a prescription that worked well until he was arrested with Father Oldcorne whom he assisted for eight years.
Oldcorne was born in York of a non-Catholic father and a Catholic mother, whose courage when she was imprisoned for her faith ,set an example for her son who dropped medical studies to travel to Rheims, France in August 1581 in order to study for the priesthood. In 1583 he moved on to Rome where he finished his studies and was Ordained a Priest. Soon afterwards, he asked to enter the Society of Jesus, was accepted and was allowed to complete his novitiate in a very short time because of the difficult conditions he would face, upon his return to England. He landed on a remote beach near Norfolk in November 1588 and joined a group of sailors travelling to London where he stayed with Father Henry Garnet, the Superior of the Jesuits in England. After a few months there, he was assigned to Hinlip Hall just outside Worcester ,where he would enjoy one of the longest periods of any Jesuit ministering in England during the many years of the persecution of the heretical Elizabeth.
The master of Hinlip Hall, was an ardent Catholic who was in prison and had left the property in the care of his sister, Dorothy, a Protestant, who had been at Elizabeth’s court and merely tolerated the presence of the Priest guests in her brother’s residence. Several Priests had tried, unsuccessfully, to convert her back to her family’s Catholicism but she resisted all efforts. Finally Oldcorne began fasting for her conversion; when she learned of his fast, she yielded to God’s grace and became an encouragement for many others in the shire to return to the Catholic religion. The Hall became the Jesuit’s base of operations where many people came to seek the Sacraments and hear Fr Edward’s preaching. His success was accompanied by poor health ever since he returned to England. He had a throat cancer that left him with a hoarse and painful voice but this did not keep him from preaching. He made a pilgrimage around 1591 to St. Winifred’s Shrine seeking a cure. He returned with the cancer healed.
Catholics looked forward to the end of persecution when Queen Elizabeth died and James I became King on 24 March 1603. He had promised he would be more tolerant but ,in fact, the persecution increased. Some angry Catholic laymen plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the King’s visit there on 5 November 1605. Discovery of the plot intensified hatred of Catholics; the government was determined to implicate Jesuits in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot,” despite the fact, that the men behind it had already been captured. The Jesuit Superior, Father Garnet, decided to leave London and seek shelter at Hinlip Hall, which had more hiding places than any other mansion in England. Brother Nicholas Owen, (Saint), who had constructed those places, accompanied him. The two Jesuits joined Oldcorne and Ashley.
On 20 January 1606, the Sheriff of Worcestershire and over 100 men, arrived at the Hall and spent several days fruitlessly searching for the Priests. A man arrested for being involved in the plot against Parliament, tried to curry favour by telling authorities he could lead them to Father Oldcorne. Finally, on the fourth day, hunger forced Brother Ashley and his companion, St Owen, to leave their hiding place. Four more days later, the two Priests emerged weak and ill, from their hiding place. All four were imprisoned in the Tower of London.
When efforts to spy on the conversation between the prisoners failed to yield any damning evidence, Fr Edward was tortured on the rack five hours a day for five consecutive days. He refused to say anything. When he and Ashley were put on trial, the Jesuit Priest denied the charge of being involved in the Gunpowder Plot so well, that the charge against him was changed to simply being a Jesuit Priest. He was found guilty of high treason and ordered to be executed. Just before he was hung, his betrayer asked for pardon, which Fr Edward readily granted. Fr Edward also prayed for the King and royal family, for his accusers, the judge and the jury who had condemned him. He was pushed from the ladder but was cut down before he was dead; he was then beheaded and quartered. Brother Ashley followed him to the gallows as did St Owen.
It is said, that, as Oldcorne waited on the ladder to die, Ashley kissed his feet and said, “What a happy man am I to follow in the steps of my sweet father”. Oldcorne died with the name of St Winifred on his lips. When Ashley came to die, he prayed and asked for forgiveness and noted that like Edward, he was dying for his faith and not as a traitor.
Blessed Edward’s portrait was painted after his death for the Church of the Gesù. A number of his relics survived including one of his eyes which he lost, when the executioner decapitated him:. The force of the blow was so great, that his eye flew out of its socket. A secondary school, Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College, named in his honour, is in Worcester. His right eye and the rope that bound him ,are kept as relics at Stonyhurst College. They believe, that the eye was taken by a Catholic sympathiser while his body was being parboiled after he was quartered.
Edward Oldcorne was Beatified on 15 December 1929 by Pope Pius XI.