By coincidence (?) I was in the midst of reading about a saint named Fr. Tom (one of today's saints) when I received a message about another Fr. Tom. The first Fr. Tom, the saint, is Fr. Thomas Garnet who was put to death under Queen Elizabeth I. The second Fr. Tom (a different kind of saint) is our own Fr. Thomas McGrath who is thankfully still with us and, we hope, will meet a gentler end. Also, by coincidence (?) both Fr. Tom's are members of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.
Before I share what I want to say about Fr. Tom McGrath, who recently celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest, let us learn a bit about Fr. Thomas Garnet. Copied at the end of this post is the full entry about his life as found in Butler's Lives of the Saints. But immediately below is the part about his execution:
...he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor. June 23rd dawned, the day appointed for his execution. Eyewitnesses were all struck by Thomas’s resolute and positively cheerful demeanor. On the scaffold he said, “I am a priest out of the blessed Society of Jesus, though I am most unworthy and one of the worst of them all.” And he added: “I am the happiest man this day alive. This is the happiest day that ever I did see.” He forgave and prayed for those who had betrayed and condemned him. As he sang the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, the cart was driven away. Well-wishers weighed down the hanging body, to ensure his immediate death, before the barbaric disemboweling could commence. A friend, posing as a madman, made off with his clothes and other relics.
For those who don't know. The English would let their victim hang until near death, then would cut him down, lay him out, saw off his arms and legs, and then cut out his inner parts while the victim was yet alive. His guts would be thrown to the dogs and his head and other body parts, stuck on poles and left until the birds had picked the parts clean. His crime: being a Catholic priest in Elizabethan England. (BTW, reading stories like this give me no patience for any whimpering from the neocats about being persecuted. Grow up!)
As mentioned, we do hope Fr. McGrath has a much different end, but anyone who knows Fr. McGrath knows that he has served God and his church as a priest with the same dedication and commitment as such forebears as the sainted Fr. Garnet.
Fr. Tom would admonish me for saying this but it is not a secret that he is one of the hardest working priests on Guam as well as one of the quietest. Everyday he serves the people of God with little notice and has done so now for 50 years. Given especially his ministry to the sick and dying, he is one of the greatest priestly assets this Archdiocese has.
Fr. Tom would further admonish me for noting that at his anniversary Mass this past Saturday evening, not a single official representative of the Archdiocese he has served so faithfully was present. Fr. Tom was joined by Msgr. James Benavente and Deacons Martinez and Tenorio, but no Vicar General, no Chancellor, not even the Vice-Chancellor (the Archbishop is off-island).
Fr. Tom is not the type of person to care. Be we care. We care, because the allegiance of the whole leadership of this Archdiocese - as demonstrated time and again - belongs first to the Neocatechumenal Way and then to the rest of the Church.
Given those priorities it is probably better that none of them showed up anyway. But, the Archbishop should appoint at least one member of the Chancery who is NOT also a member of the Neocatechumenal Way so that our Church can be officially represented at events that matter to the rest of us.
But aside from all this: THANK YOU FR. TOM.
St Thomas Garnet (1575-1607) (from Butler's Lives of the Saints)
Thomas Garnet, who was born in 1575 or 1576, came of a staunch Catholic family. His father had been a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, but had been expelled for his Catholicism before Thomas was born. His uncle was the Jesuit superior in England, Father Henry Garnet.
Thomas spent part of his boyhood in Horsham, where he attended the Grammar School (now Collyer’s School), and it appears that when he was about thirteen the whole family found themselves for a time in Horsham gaol (jail).
The year was 1588, a year when the threat of the Spanish Armada brought suspicion on any known Catholics. At some time, also, he was a page in the household of one of St Philip Howard’s half-brothers, probably Lord William Howard.
At the age of eighteen Thomas had made up his mind that he would offer himself for the English mission as a secular priest. He went first to the newly-opened English school at St Omer in Flanders, and in 1596 began his theological studies at the English College at Valladolid in Spain.
He was ordained in 1599, and very soon returned to England. He spent the next six years ministering to the Catholics in this country. Little is known about his movements – naturally enough, since he was defying the law of Elizabeth I which made his presence in England as a priest a capital offence. His superior was the Archpriest Blackwell, of whom we shall hear more.
In the year 1605 he approached his uncle, Henry Garnet, asking to be admitted into the Society of Jesus. He was accepted, but before he could go abroad for his novitiate both he and his uncle were arrested. Henry was charged with complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and executed. Thomas was imprisoned, in the Gatehouse and then in the Tower, and subjected to constant interrogation, in an attempt to find something to incriminate himself or his uncle.
After eight months even Cecil, the head of the Commission, accepted that he had nothing to do with the Plot, and after he was released into banishment. Those eight months, spent in the cold and damp of the Tower, brought on rheumatism or sciatica, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. Even after his release, he was presented with a letter purporting to be written by his uncle, admitting some of the charges against him. A word from Thomas would have validated the letter, but he scornfully rejected it as the forgery it was.
Back on the Continent, Thomas eventually (1607) arrived at the newly-opened Jesuit Novitiate House in Louvain. He was professed after five months, his period of imprisonment being accepted as part of his novitiate. And so Thomas returned to England, a Jesuit priest. But this time he was not as fortunate as he had been before. Instead of six years, he had barely six weeks before he was betrayed by an apostate priest and was once again lodged in the Gatehouse prison. There he was interrogated by a Commission headed by the Bishop of London.
Ordered to take the Oath of Supremacy, he refused. This was a new oath, requiring the person to “abhor, detest and abjure as impious and heretical the damnable doctrine and position that the King of England, if excommunicated” (as Elizabeth had been) “may be deposed or murdered by his subjects.”
The Bishop of London put it to Thomas that the Archpriest Blackwell had taken the oath (which was true). Thomas hesitated, but after consideration refused “because he thinketh that it were a violation of the Catholic faith to abjure anything as heretical which the Church hath not defined as heretical, or is not manifest by the word of God to be heretical.”
These interrogations went on for eight months, to June 1608. Finally the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Wade, was added to the commission, and soon got Thomas transferred to Newgate – the prison for those whose destiny was death at Tyburn.
From Newgate he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on four charges. First, that he was a priest and had come into England against the statute of Elizabeth. The prosecution pointed to the words “Thomas Garnet, priest” scratched on the wall of the cell in the Tower where he had been imprisoned two years before. But no proof could be adduced that he was the writer.
Second, that he was a proscribed Jesuit; since Thomas would admit nothing, this was also unproved. The third charge was that he had seduced the King’s subjects from their duty and allegiance. This Thomas hotly denied, and produced a form of the Oath which he was ready to take. This paper was torn from his hand and destroyed. The final charge was that he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance; this he admitted, and on that ground he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor.
June 23rd dawned, the day appointed for his execution. Eyewitnesses were all struck by Thomas’s resolute and positively cheerful demeanour. On the scaffold he said, “I am a priest out of the blessed Society of Jesus, though I am most unworthy and one of the worst of them all.” And he added: “I am the happiest man this day alive. This is the happiest day that ever I did see.” He forgave and prayed for those who had betrayed and condemned him.
As he sang the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, the cart was driven away. Well-wishers weighed down the hanging body, to ensure his immediate death, before the barbaric disembowelling could commence. A friend, posing as a madman, made off with his clothes and other relics.
Thomas Garnet, first martyr from the School of St Omer’s, first novice of the English Jesuits’ house at Louvain, was canonised as one of the forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.