April 20th : Blessed Francis Page, SJ

Blessed Francis Page, SJ

Born : Date unknown
Died : April 1602
Feast Day : April 20
Beatified : December 15, 1929

Francis Page was born in Antwerp of well-to-do English Protestant parents. As a young man he embarked on a lawyer’s career and went to London to study law. He fell in love with the daughter of the Catholic lawyer for whom he served as a clerk, but she refused to marry him until he became a Catholic. His Catholic roommate had, as his confessor, Fr John Gerald, a Jesuit priest. So it was to Fr Gerald that Francis went for instruction. The more he studied religion, the more he felt drawn to the priesthood. Much to his fiancee’s sorrow, Francis called off the marriage as he began to think of the priesthood. When Fr Gerald was arrested and transferred to the Tower of London, Francis would stand outside the prison everyday just to get a glimpse of the priest and for his blessing. His suspicious actions led to a brief arrest and after his release, Francis decided to follow the call and joined the English College in Rheims, France. He was ordained in 1600.

Fr Page returned to London and was active in his priestly ministry for a year. He narrowly escaped arrest on one occasion just as he was about to celebrate Mass. He barely had time to remove his vestments, hid them, took a seat among the people who had come for Mass, when the priest hunters rushed in. The owner of the house who was hosting the mass helped him escape but she herself was arrested and later executed for harbouring a priest.

Fourteen months later Fr Page was less fortunate when he was recognized by a woman who pretended to be a Catholic but had betrayed several priests for the monetary reward offered by the government. He took refuge in an inn but she raised such an outcry that the Protestant innkeeper detained Fr Page until the constables arrived to seize him. At his trial, Fr page was accused of going overseas, of being ordained, and of returning to England as a priest. In his defence, Fr Page pointed out that he did not come under that law as he was born in Antwerp, not England. Nevertheless, he was found guilty of high treason and condemned to the gallows.

Fr Page had contacted Fr Henry Garnet about entering the Society of Jesus after returning to England as a priest and was told that he would have to go to Flanders for his noviceship. When he returned to his cell after his death sentence, he told Fr Henry Floyd, a Jesuit in a nearby cell: “ Share my joy in such a happy outcome, which opens up the way to unending happiness.”

On the eve of his execution, Fr Page was allowed to visit Fr Floyd and the two priests spent the night in prayer and early the next morning, Fr Floyd celebrated Mass. Fr Page wrote out the Jesuit vow formula and signed it in the presence of Fr Floyd. When morning came, Fr Page was dragged to Tyburn, the place of execution outside London with two priests, Frs Thomas Tichborne and Robert Watkinson. At the gallows a minister tried to engage him in a discussion on religion, but he would not hear of it. Instead Fr Page faced the people and then made a public profession of his Catholicism and expressed his happiness in dying for his faith and priesthood. He also announced that he had taken his vows as a member of the Society of Jesus just before he was hanged and then dismembered.