Saint of the Day – 30 August – Blessed John Roche (Died 1588) Lay Martyr Born in Ireland and died by being hanged on 30 August 1588 at Tyburn, London, England. Also known as – John Neele, John Neale. Patronages – boatmen, mariners, sailors, watermen. Additional feast days – He is counted among the English Martyrs on 22 November and is also venerated in Ireland where his feast is celebrated on 20 June.
John Roche was born in Ireland and, as a young man, he went to London where he found work as a servant and a waterman. As was common at that time, Catholics often worked under an alias and Roche sometimes used the name of John Neale. A devout Catholic, he became involved with Margaret Ward and others who were aiding persecuted Priests. One such Priest was Fr William/Richard Watson.
Fr Watson had been arrested and tortured and, upon learning of this, Margaret Ward began visiting the Priest in Bridewell Prison. Eventually she devised a plan to help him escape. She smuggled a length of rope into the prison and , at a prearranged time, he was to let himself down from his cell which was at the top of the prison building. She found two Catholic watermen who would be waiting nearby with a boat to spirit the Priest away. However, the two watermen lost their nerve and backed out. Margaret did not give up! She approached John Roche who readily agreed to assist the Priest. Disastrously, the rope was too short and the Priest had to jump the remaining distance. He crashed down onto a shed below, breaking his right arm and leg. Immediately, John Roche ran to his assistance and carried him to the boat.
Of course, the clatter had alerted the jailor and others and the rope, still dangling from the cornice, was discovered. Margaret Ward, being Fr Watson’s only visitor, was swiftly arrested.
John had managed to get the Priest to safety and he was recuperating in John’s house. When he had recovered, John swapped clothes with him and the Priest got safely away. Sadly, John, in the Priest’s clothes, was spotted by the jailor who arrested him. He was vigorously interrogated and eventually admitted his role in the escape of Fr Watson. He was charged with treason and condemned to death. Offered a full pardon if he would seek the Queen’s forgiveness and attend a Protestant service, John Roche refused both!
On 30 August 1588, John Roche and Margaret Ward were hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Four other Catholics, including Welshman Richard Flowers, were executed with them that day.
On 15 December 1929, Pope Pius XI Beatified John Roche.