Thomas Green (alias Reynolds) and Alban (born Bartholomew) Roe were missionary priests secretly serving Catholics in post-Reformation England. They were quite unlike in most respects, but they died as brothers, martyrs for their priesthood.
St. Thomas Reynolds, fat in body but suffering infirmities caused by his hard apostolic life, was about eighty when he was hanged. He was a secular priest, ordained at about thirty.
In 1606 the British government rounded up forty-seven Catholic priests, and because they were breaking the law just by being priests, it sent them into exile. Thomas, like most of the forty-seven, came back to England in secret and carried on his hazardous ministry for nearly fifty years.
Arrested as a priest once again in 1628, he was sentenced to death for that “crime,” but then kept in jail for fourteen years. He had served his flock lovingly, by example as well as by word. Despite that zeal, he was personally a timid man, afraid of the long-deferred death that he knew awaited him.
His companion on the scaffold was to be a Benedictine monk – Alban Roe. From his youth, Bartholomew Roe had been one of those daring people who thrive on adversity. As a Protestant student at Cambridge, Roe (born 1583) visited a Catholic jailed for his faith, apparently hoping to convert him. Instead, the would-be converter was himself won over to Catholicism.
Once received into the Church, Bartholomew went to the Netherlands to enroll at Douai seminary as a candidate for the Catholic priesthood.
Somehow or other, he got into hot water with the seminary authorities and was dropped for “insubordination” in 1611. Still desiring to become a priest, Roe, armed with testimonials in his favor from his fellow students at Douai, joined the English Benedictine community of St. Laurence, in Lorraine. Once ordained a priest, he was sent back to work on the English mission.
Dom Alban proved an able missionary during the few years he was free, despite the fact that he irked a few prim people by his easy manners. He was captured in 1612 and held five years in prison. The Spanish ambassador secured his release, but the government warned him to leave the country for good, or else… He did go to Douai, but soon sneaked back into England as Thomas Reynolds had. After only two years of work he was again arrested in 1627, and imprisoned at St. Alban’s prison – the very place where he had received the grace of faith.
The rest of his life he spent as a prisoner. However, when he was transferred to a minimum-security jail in London, he was able to carry on a valuable apostolate in the prison itself and even, to an extent, on the outside. This situation lasted until the days of the anti-Catholic Long Parliament. On January 19, 1642, he was tried as a priest and “seducer of the people,” and condemned to be hanged, drawn and quartered.
It was then that Thomas Reynolds and Alban Roe were brought together. Reynolds told Roe of his fears of dying. Roe replied with powerfully comforting words.
The two were told to get ready for the trip to the Tyburn Hill gallows on January 21, 1642. “Well, how do you find yourself now?” the monk asked his aged companion. “In very good heart,” Reynolds replied. “Blessed be God for it, and glad I am to have for my comrade in death a man of your undaunted courage.”
Having mounted the gallows, Reynolds stated that he forgave his enemies; and he moved the sheriff deeply by praying that he (the sheriff) would merit the “grace to be a glorious saint in heaven.”
Roe, in his turn, greeted the people cheerily. “Well, here’s a jolly company!” he exclaimed with a fine contempt for death. He told bystanders that his religion was the sole cause of his death. If he should reject Catholicism even now, he said, he would be released. His last word of conversation was a joking remark made to one of his prison turnkeys.
The two priests had already absolved each other. Now they recited the psalm “Miserere” alternately. As the traps were sprung and their bodies fell, each called out “Jesus!” They were allowed to die before their bodies were disemboweled and cut up. A gracious concession!
Saints Thomas Reynolds and Alban Roe had fortified each other in the cruel hour of death. God expects us all to be supportive of each other. That is love, isn’t it?
–Father Robert F. McNamara