Although I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, I spent more than 25 years living in England. After being received into the Catholic Church I started to learn more about the English saints.
As an Anglican I had already come to know and love the English saints from before the Reformation — St. Alban, the Venerable Bede, St. Etheldreda, Thomas Becket and many more.
Apart from St. Thomas More, however, the Anglicans are understandably silent about the huge number of Catholic saints from England and Wales. That’s because they were martyrs — slaughtered under the Tudor regimes for their loyalty to the Catholic faith.
After returning to the United States as a convert I had the chance to learn about the American saints.
The difference between the English and American saints is that (for the most part) the Americans were missionaries and the English were martyrs.
Missionaries and martyrs! Take St. Rose Philippine Duchesne — what a life! She comes to the new world from France, winds up in New Orleans and travels up the river to St. Louis where she starts a school in a log cabin. The bishop asked what she was seeking. She said, “A cross.” He said, “That’s all I have to offer you!”
The Native Americans named her, “Woman Who Prays Always.” This tall, dignified Frenchwoman would pray all night straight-backed and watching and waiting for the Lord. Once a school girl crept in and placed paper scraps on the back of the saint’s legs as she knelt. They wanted to see if the paper would be moved by morning when the saint got up. It was still there in the morning.
Think of the other missionaries of the Americas: Isaac Jogues, Francis Xavier Seelos, Bishop John Neumann, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Damien of Molokai. Their example and their lives remind us what true missionary work consists of. If it is not literal martyrdom, it is the martyrdom of self-sacrificial service.
In England, on the other hand, the most memorable saints are literal martyrs. We remember Margaret Clitherow (crushed slowly for hiding a priest) and Ann Line (who before she was hanged for harboring a priest cried out that she would gladly have harbored a thousand priests).
We remember Ambrose Barlow (the Benedictine), Cuthbert Mayne (the convert priest) and Nicholas Owen (the dwarf and master craftsman who was tortured and killed for crafting nooks and crannies for hiding priests).
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