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  • Writer's pictureMary Allen

On the Anniversary of Fr Marmaduke Stone SJ

Postcard showing a church tower and other buildings and trees with typed label St Mary's Lowe House, St Helens
St Mary's Lowe House

On 21 August 1834, Fr Marmaduke Stone SJ died at Lowe House, St Helens. Born in Draycott, near Painsley in Staffordshire, in 1748, and entering the Society in 1767, those who have some knowledge of British Jesuit history might realise that Fr Stone would have been witness to a particularly significant, and turbulent, period for British Jesuits and the Society as a whole.

Catholic education in England and Wales had been outlawed since Elizabethan times, so, in order to provide an education for English and Welsh Catholic boys, Fr Robert Parsons SJ founded St Omers College in 1593. Over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries, it grew to become the largest school in exile. It is in this setting that we first meet Fr Stone, as a pupil of the ‘Little School’ at Watten in France, and then at St Omers, just a few miles away. From there, he entered the Society at Ghent, aged 18, and then studied philosophy at Liege from 1771 until the Suppression of the Society by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. In 1774, he was appointed Master of Elements at the newly established English Academy in Liege (in modern day Belgium), and later became Prefect. The purpose of the Academy, which was 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. Those who lectured at the Academy were allowed to remain in their posts and continue a communal life, although they were obliged to abandon certain Jesuit customs such as the soutane (cassock). In 1775, he was ordained priest and remained on the staff at the Academy. It is for his work and actions in the period that followed that Fr Stone is most remembered.

Portrait of a seated young man looking to side. He wears a turban and  a red silk robe over a waistcoat and breeches.
Fr William Strickland SJ

In 1790 Fr William Strickland handed over the presidency of the Academy to Fr Stone, leaving the institution in sound administrative, financial and academic order, ready for whatever next came their way. Fr Stone held this position for 27 years, first in Liege and then, from 1794 at Stonyhurst: could he have foreseen, in 1790, that he would be the man to lead the suppressed English brethren to the long hoped for restoration of the English Province in 1803?

Political turmoil and unrest in the region and neighbouring France, where the Revolution was in full swing, meant a troubling time for the community and students in Liege in the early 1790s, so that by early 1794, friends of the English ex-Jesuits in Britain were beginning to make offers of accommodation, should Fr Stone decide to evacuate Liege. One such offer came from Thomas Weld (two of his sons would go on to join the Society), who proposed that the Society migrated to his Lancashire seat at Stonyhurst. Although Fr Stone tried to hold off for as long as possible, in July 1794, as the French army advanced to capture Liege, the total evacuation to Stonyhurst became imperative.

Despite the long journey, all the staff, scholars and servants survived, and classes began in a makeshift fashion at Stonyhurst on 21 October 1794, three months and one week after the final classes at Liege. The great hope of the community was that the English Province might one day be restored, and that the school at Stonyhurst would become a Jesuit college in its fullest sense. Therefore, an application was made to the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide for Stonyhurst to receive the privileges of the status of a pontifical college, which was accepted 14 February 1796. And, once the English Province had affiliated itself to the Jesuits of White Russia in 1803, Fr Stone renewed his vows and was appointed the first Provincial of the English Province, 19 May 1803. Fr Stone’s Provincialate, which lasted until 8 September 1817, also saw the restoration of the order by Pope Pius VII, which occurred in the August of 1814.

Manuscript document
First page of a letter from Fr Stone, Stonyhurst, to Fr Strickland, London, 27 December 1802, regarding the union with Russia and the entry of the English ex-Jesuits into the Society

Unfortunately, we don’t have a portrait of Fr Stone in the Archives, however a lively description of his appearance in his middle years can be found in Letters and Notices, by Stonyhurst alumnus, the politician Richard Lalor Sheil:

“He was a man whom neither his long vigils, nor his habits of abstinence, could reduce into the meagritude of sanctity; and who by his portly belly and his rosy countenance, seemed to bid defiance to the power of fasting and to the devotion of prayer… He was the most uninterruptedly devout person I have ever seen... for even in his ordinary occupations, at his meals, or whilst he took the exercise necessary for the purposes of health, his eyes were constantly raised, and ejaculations broke from his lips…”

On being succeeded by Charles Plowden, Fr Stone became Master of Novices at Hodder for a short time, and then Minister of Stonyhurst College until 15 June 1827. With his sight failing, he was sent to Lowe House, St Helens, in 1829, where he died, aged 86. Life for the English Jesuits since the restoration in 1814 had been far from certain since the majority of the vicars apostolic opposed the formal recognition of the Society in England, but on 1 January 1829, Pope Leo XII decided on 1 January 1829 that the Society would ‘enjoy all the privileges spiritual and canonical . . . which the other Religious Orders enjoy in England.’ Fortunately for Fr Stone, he would live long enough to witness both this, and the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829. Therefore, in August, we celebrate the life of Marmaduke Stone, the first President of Stonyhurst College, and first Provincial of the English Province.

For more information about Marmaduke Stone and other prominent Jesuits of the period, or about the work of the Jesuits in Britain Archives in general, please contact us. Further information about the Suppression and Restoration of the Society in England can be found in the publication Promising Hope (Rome, 2003), edited by Thomas M. McCoog SJ, copies of which are available via our website.

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