Nicholas was born in Oxford of a family of recusants, English Catholics who refused to accept the Church of England.
Saint Nicholas Owen
Lay Brother (✝ 1606)
Feast: October 25
In his youth, he trained as a master carpenter. Around 1560, Nicholas became one of the first Jesuit lay brothers in England. In the company of Father Henry Garnet, he traveled the country to serve the Catholics in hiding. Going by the names "Little Michael" and "Little John," he spent his days doing odd carpentry lobs. By night he labored in the dark, cramped spaces of the recusants' homes to construct "priest holes," ingeniously hidden rooms where priests could hide in the event that a house was suddenly searched.
In 1606, Nicholas was arrested on the unfounded charge that he had participated in the Gunpowder Plot. The authorities were overjoyed: here was a prisoner who could divulge information leading to the capture and arrest of hundreds of persons, both priests and those who helped them. But despite weeks of torture on the rack with weights on his ankles, Nicholas refused to give any useful particulars. The continuous torment, however, exacerbated the hernia from which he already suffered. At last, Nicholas' stomach split open, and he died in excruciating pain. One of the priests he helped later wrote, "I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who labored in the English vineyard."
Compassionate Father, through the intercession of Saint Nicholas Owen,
make me a stalwart laborer in your vineyard, even unto death.
Magnificat. "Saint Nicholas Owen." Magnificat (September, 2017).
Reprinted with permission of Magnificat.
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