The English Jesuits who resisted the Suppression

POST BY GClapson

William Strickland SJ

Throughout 2014, the Society of Jesus worldwide has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of its restoration by Pope Pius VII. As the year comes to a close, Emeritus Archivist Tom McCoog SJ recalls the contribution of two English Jesuits: Marmaduke Stone SJ and William Strickland SJ.

When Pope Clement XIV dissolved the Society of Jesus in 1773, the members of the now suppressed English Province were not exactly left like sheep without a shepherd. Those who lectured at the English Academy in Liège (in modern day Belgium) were allowed by the prince-bishop to remain in their posts and continue a communal life, although they were obliged to abandon certain Jesuit customs such as the soutane (cassock). The purpose of the English Academy (formed by the merger of the theologate and the college that had migrated from St Omers to Bruges) was to train Catholic priests for the English mission in Protestant Britain.

Back in England, the vicars apostolic named specific former Jesuits to serve as a liaison to facilitate a transition from religious life to secular clergy. And a few former Jesuits even suggested that they band together to form a congregation similar perhaps to the Sulpicians (the Society of Saint Sulpice), with the English Academy adding to their numbers. Fortunately, two Jesuits resisted such proposals, doing more than simply dreaming dreams: they were William Strickland and Marmaduke Stone.

Born in Westmorland, north west England, on 28 October 1731, Strickland returned to England from Liège after his ordination to work in Lancashire and the north. Ten years after the suppression, in 1783, he was recalled to the English Academy to serve as its president. In 1790, Strickland returned to London once again to serve as agent for the former Jesuits and was succeeded in Liège by 42-year-old Father Marmaduke Stone. Stone had been studying theology at Liège when the Society was suppressed and, once ordained, he remained on the college staff. When the French revolutionary armies began their advance in the mid-1790s, it was Stone who, in the summer of 1794, supervised the Jesuits’ flight from Liège to Stonyhurst.


Once the English Province had affiliated itself to the Jesuits of White Russia in 1803, William Strickland renewed his vows as a Jesuit and served as procurator. In this position, he worked energetically to preserve the financial resources of the former province – always in the hope and expectation that the Society would be restored. He eventually witnessed that restoration on 7 August 1814, when Pope Pius VII issued the papal bull Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum. Strickland died in the London Jesuit residence of 11 Poland Street, Soho, on 23 April 1819, and was buried in the old St Pancras churchyard.

Marmaduke Stone had been appointed English Provincial on 19 May 1803 and served in that role for 14 years. He lived at Stonyhurst until 1827, retiring due to ill health to St Helens in 1829. Both Stone and Charles Plowden (who succeeded him as Provincial) struggled with Rome to obtain definitive, written approbation of the English Province’s existence to soothe the qualms of the vicars apostolic; they had to wait until 1829 before it finally arrived. After his death in St Helens on 21 August 1834, Marmaduke Stone was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Windleshaw.

The Greeks have Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri; the Romans, Romulus and Remus; the Christians, Peter and Paul. The English (now British) Province has Stone and Strickland. According to Jesuit historian Brother Henry Foley SJ: “Both of these patriarchs of the restored English Province must ever retain a high place in the gratitude and affection of its members.”

PHOTO: Fr William Strickland SJ, painted by George Romney. Sizergh Castle/National Trust