Historical account of Lisbon college/Chapter 1

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For the total suppression of the Ancient Faith in England, Queen Elizabeth at first was content to trust to the natural effect of the Oath of Supremacy which was imposed upon the clergy and certain classes of the laity, and to the substitution of the New Prayer Book for the Mass, both of which were enforced by most severe penalties. Very many of the Marian priests had fled the kingdom and many of them had been received into the houses of the gentry who still adhered to the Old Faith, and they do not seem to have suffered much molestation from the authorities. It was felt that, in a few years, death would have removed them, and that Catholicity in England would die a natural death from lack of pastors who might attend to the spiritual wants of the flock. This inevitable result was forced upon the attention of Dr. William, afterwards Cardinal, Allen, an Oxford divine and a dignitary in Queen Mary's reign, who had left his own country and was at that time residing in Flanders.

In the year 1568, with the assistance of a friend, Dr. Vendeville, who had invited him to Douay for the purpose of completing his degrees, he was enabled to carry out the project which had suggested itself to him for preventing the total extinction of the Catholic Faith in England. This was the establishment of a College for the education and training of priests who should devote their labours to the perpetuation and spread of the faith in their own country.

Means were found for the purchase of a house, and invitations were sent to numerous members of Oxford and Cambridge who, at that time, were scattered in the various Universities throughout France and Flanders. These were so readily responded to, that the College thus commenced was increased so rapidly by the numbers who flocked to it, that in a short time its members amounted to nearly one hundred and fifty, of whom eight or nine were eminent Doctors of Divinity, under Dr. Allen who was the first President.

The success of this first undertaking being thus assured, Douay became the Mother of other similar foundations in various countries of Europe. From Douay went forth bands of students to the newly-established Colleges at Rome and Valladolid, and later on it was from Douay that the College at Lisbon received its first contingent of students.

The design of establishing a College at Lisbon for Secular Priests who should serve on the English Mission, originated with a priest named Nicholas Ashton. He held a chaplaincy in the City, which had been instituted for the purpose of ministering to the spiritual wants of the English Catholics resident there, and was attached to the church of the Jesuit Fathers, to whom belonged the appointment of the chaplain. On his death he bequeathed to another priest, named William Newman, the house which he had purchased some five years previously, in trust for "the foundation of a seminary."

Father Newman, whose real name was Ralph Sliefield, belonged to a gentleman's family in Staffordshire, and in the early period of his life and towards the close of the reign of Elizabeth, was imprisoned for his faith and condemned to death. At the intercession, however, of a lady of the Court, he obtained the commutation of his sentence into that of perpetual banishment. He first went to the College of Seville, at that time, like other Continental Missionary Colleges, under the direction of the Jesuit Fathers, where after completing his education he was ordained priest. He was then sent to Lisbon by his Superiors who appointed him Rector of the English Chaplaincy, or Residence, as it was called, in succession to Father Ashton.

Here Newman formed an intimacy with a wealthy Portuguese gentleman named Don Pedro Coutinho, to whom he made known the contemplated design of establishing the seminary, and acquainted him also with the property which had been bequeathed by Father Ashton for that purpose. Coutinho, who had destined his own property for religious purposes, readily entered into the project and offered to erect at his own expense a regular College for the education of English Secular Priests. Immediately on receiving this offer, Father Newman communicated with his ecclesiastical Superiors in England, who at once nominated him their agent, with full powers to forward and conclude the charitable work. As soon as the main outline of the projected college was settled between Don Pedro and Father Newman, the latter repaired, in August, 1621, to Madrid, for the purpose of obtaining the necessary permission for its erection from Philip IV, who then held the united crowns of Spain and Portugal.

It was the desire and intention both of Newman and Coutinho that the Lisbon College should be placed under the direction of Secular Superiors. To this the Jesuits, who at that time had the superintendance of all the Continental Missionary Colleges, were, perhaps, naturally averse, and they offered strenuous opposition at the Court of Madrid to the College as projected.[1]

Coutinho, however, persisted in his design, and positively declared that if the Jesuit direction was insisted upon, he would altogether abandon the undertaking. Every opposition was eventually overcome, and Father Newman returned to Lisbon. Very soon after, on the application to the Holy See made by the Rev. John Bennett who was agent in Rome of the English ecclesiastical authorities, a Brief, dated September 22, 1622, was obtained from Pope Gregory XV, conferring upon Lisbon College all the privileges enjoyed by other establishments of the same kind. One or two extracts from this Brief may, perhaps, be interesting, and may be seen in Appendix No. I.

Though in this Brief the new foundation was considered and called a College, in reality no College as yet existed. The founder, old and whimsical, did not know his own mind for two weeks together, and after holding out prospects of the most flattering kind, limited his benefaction to the purchase of the ground on which the College now stands, with a few adjoining houses, to the erection of a small and imperfectly built church, and to a donation of £150 a year in the public funds. This establishment, such as it was, he formally made over to the English clergy in the person of their agent, thus constituting it British property, but at the same time coupled the gifts with the perpetual and onerous obligation of three quotidian Masses. This obligation remained in force until 1879, when a petition was drawn up and presented to the Holy See by the Lisbonian Society, in the name of the priests of the Lisbon College at that time working on the Mission. Vid Appendix II.

The completion of the work was committed by Dr. William Smith, Bishop of Chalcedon; to the Rev. Joseph Harvey (alias Hynes), the Archdeacon of the English Chapter, who was sent out to Lisbon to co-operate with Father Newman. As soon as matters were finally settled and the buildings ready to receive inmates he returned to England, was nominated first President of the College and the same year, 1627, went to Douay for the purpose of obtaining students. On November 14, 1628, he arrived again in Lisbon with a body of ten students from Douay, who were sent for the purpose of commencing the course of their Theology in the College.

The following are their names:
Edward Daniel, alias Pickford, native of Cornwall.
Francis Oglethorpe, alias Pavier, Yorkshire.

Nicholas Fortescue, alias Foster, Worcestershire.
"Rev. Joseph Harvey"


William Ellis, alias Edward Waring, Warwickshire.

Humphrey Ellis, alias Stephen Waring, Warwickshire.
Peter Nelson, alias Metcalf, Yorkshire.
Edward Stanley, alias Biddlecorn, Dorsetshire.
William Talbot, alias Day, Suffolk.
Antony Morgan, alias Saunders, Northampton.
Richard Arundel, alias Charnock, Bedfordshire.

These were accompanied by the Rev. Mark Harrington who held the Degree of Bachelor of Divinity in the Sorbonne University, whose duty it would be to assist as vespertine lecturer in delivering the Theological lectures. The President had also solicited the services of a Dr. Mayler, an old and intimate friend, as Theology Professor. At this time Mayler was attached to the service of the Prince of Metz, and was with him at the siege of Rochelle but, on receiving this invitation, he immediately and generously complied with it, notwithstanding the labours and inconveniences with which it was attended. He arrived at the College on the Eve of Christmas Day, 1628, in spite of a quartan-ague which he had contracted in his journey through Spain.

Everything being thus in readiness, February 22, 1629, the Festival of the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch, was fixed upon for publicly opening the schools. Every heart exulted at the prospect of so auspicious an event. The hopes, however, of the new Community were on this occasion dashed by a severe and unexpected stroke. On that very day, after a fortnight s illness the President, Father Harvey, broken down by his exertions and labours, departed this life, verifying in his own case, as so often happens, our Lord s words: "It is one man that soweth and it is another that reapeth." He lies buried in the College church. He left about 800 crowns to be divided between the College and Dr. Mayler, the first Professor of Theology, who, however, as the Annals remark, was obliged by the narrow circumstances in which he found the establishment to surrender for its use his own share of the legacy. Dr. Mayler opened the schools on the Twenty-fifth of the following April, and during this and the succeeding year gave lectures in Theology, in which he was assisted by the Rev. Mark Harrington, who had accompanied Father Harvey and the first ten students from Douay to Lisbon.

  1. Vid. Dodd, Ecclesiastical History, vol. iv., Appendix 51.