21st January 1623 Fr. General Vitelleschi issued a decree
canonically establishing the English Province of the Society of Jesus. Four
hundred years to the day after this decree was issued Jesuits, lay-people and
other religious working alongside us in our ministries, as well as a large
group of friends and well-wishers, gathered at the Farm Street church in
central London to celebrate a thanksgiving Mass for the Province’s fourth
500 people packed into the church for the Mass. Cardinal Vincent Nichols,
Archbishop of Westminster, was the principal celebrant, the Provincial, Fr.
Damian Howard SJ, preached the homily, and the celebration was introduced by Fr.
Michael Holman SJ, Superior of the Jesuits in London. Fr. Antoine Kerhuel SJ,
the Secretary of the Society, joined us with a message from Fr. General, and
the Benedictines, the Dominicans, and the Congregation of Jesus were all
Province was established at a time when the Roman Catholic church in this
country was suffering extreme persecution. Edmund Campion had been martyred at
Tyburn, less than a mile from Farm Street, forty years earlier, and 28 Jesuit
priests and brothers, now recognised as saints and blessed, would share his
fate between 1573 and 1679. Campion had, on returning to England a year before
his capture and death, issued a challenge to the Privy Council to openly debate
questions of faith. A musical setting of part of this challenge, popularly
known as “Campion’s Brag”, was commissioned from Sir James MacMillan, a notable
composer, to mark the celebration, receiving its world premiere at this Mass.