St. Nicholas Owen, St. Deogratias, St. Nicholas of Flue, St. Lea
St. Nicholas Owen
Nicholas, familiarly known as "Little John," was small in
stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits.
Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many
priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes
punished Catholics for the practice of their faith. Over a period of about 20 years he used his
skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did
completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in
hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of
safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he
was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas
set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to
God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.
After many years at his
unusual task, he entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although—for very good
reasons—his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret.
After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally
caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics.
After being released following the payment of a ransom, "Little John" went back to his work. He was
arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing
death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and
sufferings soon were widely known.
He was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and
Other Saints of the