Saint of the Day – 4 July – Blessed John Cornelius SJ (1557– 1594) Martyr, English Priest of the Society of Jesus, Missionary. Born in 1557 as John Conor O’Mahony at Bodmin, Lanherne, Cornwall, England on the estate of Sir John Arundell and died by hanging and being hacked to pieces on 4 July 1594 at Dorchester, Oxfordshire, England. Additional Memorials – 29 October as one of the Martyrs of Douai, 1 December as one of the Martyrs of Oxford University. Also known as – John Mohun and John O’Mahony.
John Corneliu, actually John Conor O’Mahony latinised his middle name. He was born of Irish parents in Bodmin, Cornwall. His father worked for Sir John Arundell who took great interest in young John and it was through him, that John was admitted to Exeter College, Oxford. After his expulsion from Oxford for “popery” i.e. for maintaining Catholic beliefs, John went to the English College in Rheims, France and, a year later, to the English College in Rome. His scholastic achievements were so outstanding, that he delivered the College’s Christmas address before Pope Gregory XIII on the Feast of St Stephen, 26 December 1581. He was Ordained in Rome in 1583 and returned to England the same year.
Fr Cornelius made the home of Sir Arundell in London as his operations centre and was responsible for getting the latter, back to his faith, as well as his own Mother back to the Church. His strong zeal to bring people back to Catholicism and for celebrating Mass, soon made him the prime target for government spies who were out to apprehend him.
All this while Fr Cornelius’ longstanding wish was to become a Jesuit as he came to know them during his student days in Rome and had resolved to enter the Society when time permitted. His years on the English mission only strengthened that desire and he wrote to the Jesuit General in Rome to seek admission. As the custom then was for all English candidates to go to Flanders for their Novitiate, Fr Cornelius’ admission had to be delayed as he couldn’t leave his flock without a Priest. He, nevertheless, kept in contact with Fr Henry Garnet, the Superior of the English Jesuits and placed himself under his direction.
Fr Cornelius was betrayed by William Holmes, a servant of the Arundell’s household whom he had previously reprimanded for annoying one of Lady Arundell’s maids.
When apprehended, the Sheriff said, “I’m glad that I finally have you in my hands.” to which Fr Cornelius replied, “And I, more so, for having been captured.”
Fr Cornelius and three laymen from the Arundell household, were arrested with him and pending trial, he discussed religion with the Trenchard’s household, the arresting Officer and it was reported that he converted Trenchard’s sister-in-law. At the Marshalsea Prison in London, Fr Cornelius was tortured on the rack to reveal the names of Catholic households that had given him hospitality and the names of those who had attended his services but he revealed nothing. Knowing that his time was fast approaching, Fr Cornelius pronounced the vows of the Society before two laymen and a Jesuit and instructed them to make this fact known to Fr Garnet, the Jesuit Superior in England.
Fr Cornelius was sentenced to die for high treason and to be hanged and quartered, because he was a Priest, had celebrated Ma, and had reconciled Protestants to the Catholic Church. His three lay companions were condemned to be hanged for having aided and assisted a Priest and were executed first. The first to ascend the scaffold was John Carey; he kissed the rope, exclaiming “O precious collar,” made a solemn profession of faith and died a valiant death . Before his execution, Patrick Salmon exhorted the spectators to embrace the Catholic faith, for which he and his companions were giving their lives. Then followed Thomas Bosgrave, who delivered a stirring address on the truth of his belief. When it was Fr Cornelius’ turn, he approached the gallows and knelt at the foot of the ladder, prayed, then kissed the ground and the feet of his three dead companions and turning towards the scaffold said, with the words of St Andrew,“O good cross, so long desired.” Once on the ladder, he prayed for his persecutors and the Queen and though forbidden to speak further, he revealed to the bystanders that he was a Jesuit, just before he was pushed from the ladder. His body was subsequently quartered.
All the bodies were retrieved and given proper burial by Lady Arundell. Fr Cornelius and his three companions, the Martyrs of England, were Beatified by Pope Pius XI on 15 December 1929.