The Chideock Martyrs

(entered heaven this day in 1594)

Dear Jack,

Frankly, the tone of your last email was disturbing.  Look, DISCERNING a vocation is not supposed to mean TOYING with a vocation.  If I were the devil (which I’m not), I would love to have you stay at home on your couch, reading lovely devotional treatises, wondering abstractedly about your calling, and spending your evenings with attractive young ladies who are trying to convince you that the world needs good husbands as much as it needs good priests.  I would hate for you to actually do something about your vocation, like commit yourself to serious spiritual discipline with a trustworthy spiritual director, or go and live in a seminary for a month, or actually make some kind of COMMITMENT to Christ as part of your discernment… My dear nephew, you need to be reminded of a basic truth.  And today’s Blessed is just the one to do the reminding.

Actually, John Carey was one of four martyrs who gave their lives for Christ on July 4th, 1594, in Dorchester, England.  At that time in England it was a crime of high treason to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest (since the national Church was no longer Catholic) and it was plain treason to assist a Catholic priest in any way.  The penalty for helping priests varied with the locality – some places you could be hanged for buying a priest a drink, other places you would just be rapped on the knuckles for hiding and feeding him.

John Carey was the Irish servant of an English gentleman by the name of Thomas Bosgrave. Thomas was a Catholic.  On April 24th, 1594, together with his two servants, John Carey and Patrick Salmon, he happened to be at his uncle’s estate (Sir J. Arundell was the uncle, husband of the famous Lady Arundell, and the estate was the famous Chideock Castle, just ruins today) at the same time as a Catholic priest by the name of John Cornelius (who had been ordained in Rome four years before and was, among other things, Lady Arundell’s chaplain).  Someone had tipped off the sheriff about the priest’s proximity, and so he surprised the whole crew and arrested the hapless cleric.  While he was being dragged away, Thomas Bosgrave took off his hat and put it on the priest’s head, declaring his inability to let the man of God be carted off bareheaded.  Bosgrave and his servants were arrested on the spot for abetting a Catholic priest.

Eventually the whole gang was tried and condemned.  They were offered their freedom if they would renounce their Catholic faith.  None did.  On July 4th they were executed.  The priest was hanged and then hacked to pieces.  The nobleman, Bosgrave, and his English servant (Salmon) were hanged, drawn and quartered, and John Carey, the Irish servant, was merely hanged.  When he climbed the scaffold John took the noose in his hands and kissed it, calling it his “precious collar”.

The nobility of the priesthood shines through this history, wouldn’t you say?  The priesthood is the fountainhead of all the sacraments, and most especially of the Eucharist, whence the Church draws its strength and its very life.  The enemies of the Church understood this clearly enough – thus even the servants of a man who paid public respect to a priest for the sake of his being a priest lost their lives because of it.

And so, my wishy-washy nephew, if you think God may be calling you, the thing to do is ANSWER, not DAWDLE!

Your loving uncle,


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