Saint of the Day|
There's hiding and being discovered
St. Nicholas Owen may have hidden priests, but he never hid his faith
By Tony Staley
Throughout this Jubilee Year, we are called to reconciliation,
which is also a theme for Lent and Renew 2000. One particular
area of reconciliation Pope John Paul has pointed to is Christian
This week's saint, in particular, calls our attention to the
divisions, angers and misunderstandings that have divided
Christians over the years.
St. Nicholas Owen was born at Oxford, England, and through the
practice of his craft -- carpentry -- played a key role in saving
the lives of numerous priests during the persecution of Catholics
under King James I.
For two decades, Nicholas -- who also went by the names Little
John, Little Michael, Andrewes and Draper -- assisted Jesuit
priests by building hiding places for them in the mansions of
Catholics throughout England.
These hiding places were behind walls, in underground chambers
and inaccessible passageways. He not only designed these hiding
places, he built them -- after receiving Communion and while
engaging in constant prayer -- even though it often meant moving
huge stones all by himself. He also kept their locations secret.
He himself had become a Jesuit lay brother in 1580. He was
arrested in 1594, along with Fr. John Gerard, but neither one
would reveal the names of any of their Catholic colleagues,
despite repeated, brutal torture.
Eventually, Nicholas was released when a wealthy Catholic paid
the ransom so that Nicholas could resume his work of providing
hiding places for the clergy.
His brush with the authorities didn't deter Nicholas, who is
believed to have engineered Fr. Gerard's escape from the Tower of
London in 1597.
He avoided further arrest until 1606, when he, St. Fr. Henry
Garnet (whom he had served for 18 years), Blessed Fr. Edward
Oldcorne and Blessed Br. Ralph Ashley were imprisoned in the
Tower of London. Actually, Nicholas' capture came only when he
allowed himself to be caught instead of the priest he had hidden.
Nicholas died on March 2, 1606, from the vicious torture to which
he was subjected. Blessed Oldcorne and Ashley were executed a
month later, and St. Henry was martyred the next year.
Nicholas was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the
Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. We celebrate his feast on
The life of St. Nicholas Owen reminds us of how much work remains
to be done in reconciling the various Christian churches more
than 400 years after the divisions began.
(Sources: Butler's Lives of the Saints, Dictionary of Saints and