June 20th: Blessed William Harcourt, John Gavan, Anthony Turner, SJ

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June 20th: Blessed William Harcourt, John Gavan, Anthony Turner, SJ

Bl. William Harcourt, SJ;
Bl.John Gavan, SJ;
Bl. Anthony Turner, SJ

Died : June 20, 1679
Beatified : Dec 15, 1929

Frs Harcourt, Gavan and Turner were three of the five Jesuits who were caught in the web of lies concocted by Titus Oates who falsely accused them of assassinating King Charles III and attempting to overthrow the government. Although the story was patently fictitious, the Jesuits paid with their lives.

Fr William Harcourt’s real name was Barrow , but on the English mission he was known as Harcourt or Waring. He was born in Lancashire and as a youth, attended the Jesuit College in Saint-Omer in Flanders. He entered the English novitiate at Watten in 1632, completed his theological studies in Flanders and was ordained there in 1641. He returned to England in 1644 and was assigned to work in London. For the next six years, he served as procurator of the English Province and in 1678 became superior of the London Jesuits. When the alleged Jesuit plot against the king was revealed in 1678, he avoided capture although he was actively sought by the local officials. He persuaded his Jesuit brethrens to leave London and go elsewhere while he stayed on as he felt duty bound to remain with those imprisoned. He changed his residence almost daily and used many disguises. He was betrayed by a female servant at one of the houses where he lodged and the local officials came and arrested him on May 7, 1679, At the time of his imprisonment in Newgate, Fr Harcourt was nearly seventy and had served thirty-five years on the English mission.

Fr John Gavan, a Londoner studied in Saint-Omer, Flanders and was affectionately called “Angel” by his fellow-students because of his youth, innocence and candor. He entered the Jesuits at Watten in 1660 at twenty, pursued his philosophical studies at Liege and theology in Rome and was ordained in 1670. He returned to England the following year and worked in Staffordshire for the next eight years with Wolverhampton as the centre of his activity. As he was an accomplished preacher and tireless labourer in the Lord’s vineyard, he made many converts to the faith and was known as “Little Rome.” When the Oates’ plot broke, Fr Gavan’s name was mentioned and a 50 pounds reward was offered for his capture and priest-hunters were soon in hot pursuit of him. Disguised as a servant he left for London and from there, crossed over into Belgium. He was however discovered and was arrested and incarcerated within Gatehouse Prison in Jan 1670. He was just thirty-nine years of age.

Fr Anthony Turner was born in Leicestershire, son of a Protestant minister. He studied at Cambridge University, where he and his brother Edward were converted to Catholicism, following their mother’s example. After the death of their father, the two brothers went to Rome and entered the English College, intending to study for the priesthood. Later he went to Flanders and joined the novitiate of the English Jesuits, studied theology at Liege and was ordained in 1659. He returned to preach in England and exercised his priestly ministry there for eighteen years in the Worcestershire area. Having been raised a Protestant as a boy, Fr Turner was keen to discuss and convert those of the established Protestant religion. He longed to suffer for the Catholic faith, even if it meant martyrdom. His chance came when the Oates plot became public in Sep 1678 but his superiors urged him to leave the country. When he was unable to find a Jesuit who could give him the money to get out of the country, he gave his last coin away to a beggar before turning himself in as a priest and Jesuit. Although he was not mentioned in the Oates plot, the authorities put him in Newgate where he was tried with his Jesuit brethrens. His brother Edward followed him into the Society in 1657 and died in Newgate Prison in 1681. Fr Turner was 51 at the time of his imprisonment.

At the trial at Old Bailey on June 13, 1679, Fr Gavan was the spokesman for himself and for Frs Harcourt, Turner, Whitbread and Fenwick (the latter two Jesuits’ feast day fall on June 18. Although Fr Gavan adequately answered the fabricated testimonies of Oates and others, the truth was not believed and at the behest of the judge, the jury found the five Jesuits guilty of high treason.

All five remained unfazed and stood steadfastly by their faith and refused to accept the king’s pardon if they were to renounce their faith. They were all hanged until they were dead. Their quartered bodies were buried by their Catholic friends in the churchyard of St Giles-in-the-Fields. They were beatified by Pope Pius XI on Dec 15, 1929.