Remembering the English College at Douai

Mass at the Church of St Pierre
Credit St Edmund's Ware Facebook

Fr Provincial Damian Howard SJ took part in celebrations last weekend to mark the 450th anniversary of the founding of the English College at Douai by William Allen in 1568.

William Allen was one of a small group of Catholic exiles from Protestant Elizabethan England, where it was treason for Catholic priests to celebrate Mass.  Allen persuaded Pope Pius V to allow him to establish a College at Douai, then in the Spanish Netherlands, where English students could train as priests. The “College des Grands Anglais”, as it became known, was key to the English mission for the re-conversion of England. Over 130 former students from Douai were put to death under the penal laws, among them the Jesuit saints Edmund Campion, Alexander Briant, Henry Walpole, Ralph Sherwin and Robert Southwell

Allen later travelled to Rome to set up the English College there and was created a cardinal in 1587.

Scholars of the English College were responsible for the Douay-Rheims English translation of the Bible published between 1582 and 1610. During the French Revolutionary wars in 1793 the College fled to England and was established in Hertfordshire as St Edmunds College Ware - now a co-educational Catholic school which retains strong connections with its Douai origins.

Douai is likewise proud of its English connections and the town is holding a number of events to celebrate the anniversary. The students from the local school, Institution Saint-Jean, played hockey and rugby fixtures against St Edmund’s College on Friday 28 September.

The English College altarAn exhibition on Douai’s English literary heritage opened at the Library Marceline Desbordes-Valmore and runs from September 29 to October 27.  The choir and orchestra of St Edmund’s College gave a concert at the Henri Dutilleux auditorium and sang at a Solemn Mass on Saturday 29 September celebrated by the Archbishop of Cambrai, Vincent Dollman, in the Collegiate Church of Saint-Pierre. The restored altar and tabernacle of the English College, all that remains of the building, were blessed.

Fr Damian said: “It was a privilege and a joy to be part of such a special day. It’s important for us today to remember how much the Catholic Churches of these islands have been shaped by the experience of exile, and how generously our ancestors in the faith were treated in their hour of need in places like Douai and Saint-Omer. The Jesuits of Britain will always look back with gratitude to those days of adversity when our brothers joined with so many other Catholics in witnessing to the faith by giving their lives. May the martyrs continue to support us with their example and their prayers.”