July 22nd: Saint Philip Evans, SJ

July 22nd: Saint Philip Evans, SJ

Born: 1645
Died: July 22, 1679
Beatified: Dec 15, 1929
Canonized: Oct 25, 1970

Fr Philip was born in Gwent, Wales. At 20 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Flanders in 1665. He studied philosophy and theology there and was ordained in 1675. He belonged to the English mission and worked in South Wales for 4 years.

During his relatively short period as a priest, Fr Evans was known for his zeal and charity and enjoyed great popularity and success. He feared no danger when it involved God’s glory and the neighbour’s salvation.

With the renewed persecution of Catholics, occasioned by the Oates’ plot of 1678, whereby the Jesuits were falsely accused of plotting to assassinate King Charles II, Fr Evans was specially hunted. Instead of the usual reward of 50 pounds for the arrest of a Jesuit, the local magistrate, John Arnold, a staunch Calvinist, offered an additional 200 pounds for the arrest of Fr Evans. Instead of fleeing the country, Fr Evans stayed to serve the Catholics in Wales and was eventually captured. He refused to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy and was imprisoned in Cardiff castle.

Fr Evans spent the first 3 weeks in prison in solitude in an underground cell. He met Fr John Lloyd, a diocesan priest who was captured a month earlier. They became companions, in prison and in martyrdom.

After 5 months in prison, they were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. On hearing the sentence, Fr Evans bowed his head, thanked the judge and jury and returned to his cell, where he picked up his harp and played for himself and his fellow prisoners.

Many Welsh Catholics came to see the two priests for the last time. Rather than allowing the people to express their sorrow, the priests encouraged them to remain steadfast and have patience in their suffering.

Just before his execution, Fr Evans said a few prayers in silence and mounted the ladder and spoke: “This is the best pulpit a man can have to preach in, therefore, I cannot forbear to tell you again that I die for God and for religion’s sake”. He turned to Fr Lloyd and said “Adieu, though for a little time, for we shall shortly meet again. Pray for me all; and I shall return it, when it pleases God that I shall enjoy the beatific vision”. Then in a loud voice, imitating our Lord on his cross, he said, “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit”.

Fr Evans was 34 years old, and had been a Jesuit for 14 years at his martyrdom. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI on December 15, 1929 and canonized by Pope Paul VI on October 25, 1970.