August 28th: Saint Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ

Saint Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ

Born: 1585
Died: August 28, 1628
Canonized: December 15, 1929
Canonized: October 25, 1970

Saint Edmund Arrowsmith, SJ, (1585 – 28 August 1628) is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Walesof the Catholic Church. The main source of information on St Edmund is a contemporary account written by an eyewitness and published a short time after his death. This document, conforming to the ancient style of the “Acts of martyrs” includes the story of the execution of another 17th-century  Recusant martyr, , Richard Herst.

Edmund Arrowsmith was born in Winwick, South Lancashire. His parents were persecuted for their steadfastness to the Catholic faith and because they had harboured priests in their homes, and refused to attend Protestant services. When his father died, Edmund was brought up by an old priest in the parish who took him into his service and undertook his education. He attended the local grammar school and recited the first half of Our Lady’s Office on the way to school and the other half on his return home.

At 20, Edmund went to the continent to study as all the schools in England were Protestants. His studies were interrupted because of poor health but he was eventually ordained a priest in 1612. A year later he was sent on the English Mission and spent 15 years in apostolic activities in Lancashire. He was known for his sincerity, a good talker and his indefatigability in fulfilling his priestly duties. He was however outspoken and was arrested after 10 years in England and imprisoned in Lancaster Castle for his bold arguments in religious questions with the Protestant Bishop of Chester, John Bridgeman. He was freed by a pardon issued by King James I.

Fr Arrowsmith entered the Society of Jesus in 1623 after making the spiritual exercises. He returned to Lancashire for the remaining 5 years of his life.

In 1628, he was again apprehended, this time betrayed by a young man whom he tried to help from an incestuous marriage. He was found guilty of being a priest, a Jesuit and for seducing others to the Catholic faith, which was viewed as high treason and was condemned to death. On hearing his sentence, Fr Arrowsmith fell on his knees and bowed his head, and said, “Thanks be to God!” He was dragged to the place of execution and as he approached the ladder to the gallows, he prayed, “I freely offer Thee my death, O sweet Jesus, in satisfaction for my sins, and I wish this little blood of mine may be a sacrifice for them”. He asked the Catholics present to pray for him. He then prayed for the King, forgave his persecutors and asked for forgiveness from all those whom he may have offended. His last words before the executioner pushed him from the ladder were,

“O good Jesus!”

Fr Arrowsmith died a martyr from hanging and later drawn and quartered. He was only 43 and had served 15 years in the English Mission and had been a Jesuit for 5 years.