The saint for March 22
Saint Nicholas Owen
Mar. 22 Memorial of Death--Local Only
Dec. 1 as 40 Martyrs of England and Wales--Memorial, Roman Calendar

Born c. 1550 at Oxford, England
Died March 2, 1606, at the Tower of London, London, England

Canonized 1970

Born into a pious Catholic family, his parents were "recusants", that is, among those who chose to face heavy fines and discriminations rather than abandon their Catholic faith. Nicholas had two brothers who became priests, and another who ran an illegal Catholic printing press. So it was only natural that Nicholas, too should be fervent for the faith.

Nicholas was trained as a carpenter, and put his talents to a special use in the service of priests in hiding. Nicholas's specialty was to construct elaborate and cleverly concealed hiding places within the houses of the well-to-do Catholic citizens, where priests could escape detection for prolonged periods of time. Some were even equipped with feeding tubes so that food could be conveyed to those hiding within. He would sometimes construct a false hideout that could be easily discovered, while the real hidaway would go undetected. It is believed that some of these hideaways have yet to be found!

Part of what makes St. Nicholas Owen's labors so amazing is that he was a very small man, nearly as short as a dwarf. In addition, he suffered greatly from a severe abdominal herna, for which he wore an iron brace, and was futher crippled by an accident in 1599 in which a packhorse fell on top of him. He always worked alone, in order to avoid detection, doing innocuous carpenter work for the household during the day, and his real work at night. Nor were the walls he was hewing through the flimsy stuff of today's homes, but stout beams and often solid stones.

Nicholas took no pay for his labors, he did this for love. Because of his unique situation, it was not possible for him to complete a regular course of study or novitiate, but he greatly desired to join the Society of Jesus, and worked closely with them to complete instruction, becoming a Jesuit lay-brother in 1577.

As Nicholas traveled about doing his work of saving priest's lives, he used a variety of aliases, known variously as "little John", "little Michael" and Draper, among others. He was first arrested for speaking out about the innocence of Father Edmund Campion, but the authorities had no idea who they had, and so they let him go. Indeed, though they knew of the existence of the "priest holes" scattered throughout the country, they had no idea how many there were, or who was making them.

In 1606, Nicholas was captured for the final time, after more than twenty years of constructing bolt holes, and occasional incarceration. Persecution was fierce at the time, because of the fear of revolt occasioned by the Gunpowder Plot. Nicholas had been in hiding for weeks with two other men, priests. When they were forced to sneak out, for lack of food, Nicholas was caught. He at first claimed to be a priest, so as to throw the guardsmen off the scent of the two actual priests, but this ruse failed.

Nicholas and his fellows were taken to the Tower of London. The authorities knew now who they had, and what he could tell them, if they could make him talk. Nicholas underwent unspeakable tortures, but did not betray his knowledge. So horribly was he racked that his abdomen burst asunder, spilling his entrails out onto the floor, and he was left to die in horrible agony. The torturers tried to let on the he had killed himself with a table knife. but in fact he had been so brutalized he could not have picked up or held anything with his hands, let alone stabbed himself.

This brave lion of a man may have done more to keep the Catholic faith alive in Great Britain during the time of the persecution than any other.

Pray to St. Nicholas Owen for personal bravery,
as well as for The Underground Church and Those Persecuted for their Faith
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