February : Venerable Francis Nevill, SJ

Venerable Francis Nevill, SJ

Born: Circa 1595
Died: Sometime in February 1679


Fr Francis Nevill’s family name was Cotton and he was born in Hampshire. He studied at the English College at Saint-Omer in Flanders and subsequently to the English College in Valladolid in Spain from 1613-1616. When he was twenty- one, he entered the English Jesuits at Witten, Flanders in 1616 and after his training and ordination in 1620 he was sent on the English mission in around 1622.

During his more than fifty years on the English mission, Fr Nevill took on many offices, including that of superior of various districts, although his core apostolate was in South Wales. He was affable by nature and most who met him was impressed by his extraordinary sanctity and holiness of life. For fifty years of his active ministry, Fr Nevill had evaded the snares of the priest-hunters until his arrest at a time when the Jesuits were being persecuted for their alleged complicity in a plot to assassinate Charles II, fictitiously concocted by Titus Oates, the renegade Anglican who was out to seek revenge on the Society of Jesus.

The record shows that sometime in February, 1679, while Fr Nevill was lodging at the house of a Catholic nobleman in Stafford, he was betrayed by an apostate Catholic. Although Fr Nevill managed to hide in the garret when the priest- hunters came but was eventually captured after they found him following a thorough search of the house. In their hatred, the priest-hunters threw the eighty-four year old priest down a flight of stairs and because of his age and exhaustion, Fr Nevill collapsed while being helped to the conveyance. As they were fearful that Fr Nevill might die on the way to jail, the hunters carried him back to his chamber but he succumbed to death peacefully a few days later. Some accounts showed that Fr Nevill died in his room, while others indicated that he died in prison.

Fr Nevill was declared Venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1886.