History of WJU Campion House


The first of the English Jesuit martyrs, Edmund Campion was born in London in 1540. The son of a Catholic bookseller, Campion received his early education at Christ's Hospital school in London. At the age of fifteen, he was awarded a scholarship to St. John’s College in Oxford. Two years later, he became a fellow of the University, and his scholarly aptitudes and rhetorical abilities came to the notice of several of England's leaders, including Queen Elizabeth. He took an Oath of Supremacy acknowledging Elizabeth as head of the church in England and accepted when the Queen offered a deaconate in the Church of England.

Doubts about Protestantism began to trouble Campion, and he traveled to Ireland in 1569 to distance himself from the Anglican Church. While in Ireland, Campion continued his scholarly work and wrote "the History of Ireland," while awaiting the reopening of Dublin University. In Dublin, he also helped found what would later become Trinity College. Further study led Campion to a rediscovery of his own dedication to the Catholic Church. Deciding to lend his support to the ongoing Catholic struggle in England, he returned to London in disguise.

In London, Campion witnessed the unjust trial of an early martyr, John Storey. Storey's refusal to denounce the Catholic Church, even under threat of execution, inspired Campion to join the priesthood. He traveled to the seminary in Douai, France, where he studied theology and English. In 1573, while still in France, he joined the Jesuit order. In 1578, Campion was ordained as a priest in Prague.

Shortly after his ordination, Campion was one of the first Jesuits selected for a mission to England. His original mission was to support Catholics suffering under governmental tyranny, but his zeal led him to attempt conversion of Protestants. In 1580, while in London, he wrote a description of his new mission in which he explained his work was religious, not political. This work became known as Campion’s Brag. Widely distributed, it encouraged many Catholics to remain loyal to their faith.

After a short time in England, Campion was arrested in Lyford and held in the Tower of London. Technically charged with treason and refusing to desert his religion, Campion was tortured, hanged, drawn and quartered in December of 1581. Parts of his body were displayed at each of the four city gates as a warning to other Catholics.

Campion was canonized a saint by Pope Paul IV in 1970 as one of forty English and Welsh martyrs.  His feast day is celebrated on December 1.

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