July 19th - St John Plessington, Priest & Martyr
As the son of Queen Henrietta Maria, King Charles II was naturally
imbued with Catholic sympathies; and the story of his deathbed, when
Fr Huddleston brought the Blessed Sacrament to him from Queen
Catherine of Braganza’s chapel is well known.
Yet during the collective mania whipped up by Titus Oates under the
pretense of a “Popish Plot” (1678-79), King Charles did little or
nothing to save Catholics who found themselves in mortal peril. The
only potential victims on whose behalf he intervened were the Queen
and Louis XIV’s emissary Claude de la Colombière, SJ, of prior note.
Some 35 Catholics were executed, nearly all of them entirely innocent
of treason. Of course, Charles was under intense pressure from skilful
and unscrupulous politicians such as Lord Shaftesbury, who knew how to
manipulate the mob.
The essential point, though, was that the Merry Monarch had no
intention of going on his travels again. It is not easy to warm to the
complacency with which he appeared to regard the deaths of so many
falsely accused men.
One of these was John Plessington. The youngest of three children, he
was born in 1636 into a Catholic family at Dimples Hall, Garstang,
near Preston in Lancashire. His father fought for the King in the
Civil War and was taken prisoner.
John’s vocation may have been inspired by a family chaplain called
Thomas Whitaker, who was captured and executed in 1646. At all events,
Plessington, having attended the Jesuit school at Scarisbrick Hall,
near Ormskirk, followed Whitaker in being educated at Saint-Omer and
Valladolid. While abroad, he went under the name of William
Scarisbrick. In 1662 he was ordained in Segovia. The next year,
however, ill health brought him back to England.
For a while he served at the shrine of St Winifred in Holywell, North
Wales. Then in 1670 he moved to Puddington Hall in the Wirral, as
tutor to the Massey family.
For a while Plessington was able to minister openly to the local
Catholic population. But when the scare of the Popish Plot extended to
the north, a timeserver called Thomas Dutton collected a reward for
There was no charge against Plessington, beyond his occupation as a
Catholic priest, which sufficed for a death sentence. When the
executioner came to measure him, Plessington joked that he was
ordering his last suit.
According to a local tradition, St John was implicated at the
insistence of a Protestant landowner simply because he had forbidden a
match between his son and a Catholic heiress. Three witnesses gave
false evidence of seeing St John serving as a priest: he forgave each
of them by name from the scaffold.
He was hanged, drawn and quartered in Chester on July 19 1679. His
speech from the scaffold at Gallow’s Hill in Boughton, Cheshire was
printed and distributed: He said: “Bear witness, good hearers, that I
profess that I undoubtedly and firmly believe all the articles of the
Roman Catholic faith, and for the truth of any of them, by the
assistance of God, I am willing to die; and I had rather die than
doubt of any point of faith taught by our holy mother the Roman
“I know it will be said that a priest ordayned by authority derived
from the See of Rome is, by the Law of the Nation, to die as a
Traytor, but if that be so what must become of all the Clergymen of
the Church of England, for the first Church of England Bishops had
their Ordination from those of the Church of Rome, or not at all, as
appears by their own writers so that Ordination comes derivatively
from those now living.”
--St John Plessington Speech1
St John was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas’s, Burton, after
Puddington locals would not allow his quarters to be displayed.
Attempts to locate and exhume his body, as recent as 1962, have been
unsuccessful but vestments associated with him are kept at St
Winefride’s in Neston and a small piece of blood-stained linen is
treasured as a relic in St Francis’s Church in Chester.
Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul
in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue
except in mere appearance.
--Saint Augustine of Hippo
50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig
tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” 51 And
he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven
opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of
man.” (John 1: 50-51) RSVCE
Make Me Like Yourself, Mary My Mother
By St Louis-Marie de Montfort (1673-1716)
My powerful Queen,
you are all mine, through your mercy
and I am all yours.
Take away from me, all that may displease God
and cultivate in me, all that is pleasing to Him.
May the light of your faith,
dispel the darkness of my mind,
your deep humility,
take the place of my pride,
your continual sight of God,
fill my memory, with His Presence.
May the love of your heart
inflame the lukewarmness, of mine.
May your virtues, take the place of my sins.
May your merits, be my enrichment
and make up for all which is wanting in me, before God.
My beloved Mother,
grant that I may have, no other spirit but your spirit,
to know Jesus Christ and His Divine Will
and to praise and glorify the Lord,
that I may love God, with burning love like yours.