St. Paige?

Paige was one of the most popular baby names in the previous generation, following the trend of giving girls surnames of unrelated persons for given names.

(As opposed to the Southern and English-ancestry custom of naming girls and boys after the surnames of relatives, particularly their mothers’ maiden names; or the generalized custom of using the surnames of persons admired by their parents.)

The surnames of Page, Paige, Padgett, etc. are occupational names, given to the families of men who served as “pages” in their youth. Latin “pagius” meant “servant,” and probably derived from Greek “paidion,” boy. (A similar path was followed by words like “knight,” “knave,” “garcon,” etc.)

But that doesn’t mean that the Paiges of the world don’t have a glorious patron! In fact, they have two!

Blessed Francis Page (or in Latin texts, Franciscus Pagius) was an English Jesuit who was martyred in 1602. He has an interesting story!

He was born in Antwerp of Protestant English merchant parents, but was sent to England to study English law with a friend of his parents, who was Catholic. He fell in love with this lawyer’s daughter, but she refused to marry him unless he became Catholic. (Which was reasonable enough.) He agreed and he must have seemed trustworthy, because they put him into contact with a Jesuit, Fr. John Gerard, for more religious instruction.

However, at this point he discovered that he felt the call to be a priest, as often happens to young converts. He started to discern whether he had a vocation. If times had been better, he might have become a priest and a missionary, or he might have ended up discerning a call to marry the girl.

But times were bad, and Fr. Gerard was found out and arrested by the authorities in 1594, moved around, and then thrown into the Tower of London. In his worry, Mr. Page went to stand outside the prison every day and get Fr. Gerard’s blessing. Eventually he got arrested for being suspicious, but was then released, thanks to Gerard pretending not to know him. Page decided this was a sign to get on with his vocation, and he went to Rheims to study at the English College.

(Fr. Gerard was unbroken by extreme torture, as the Tower’s own records indicate. He escaped the Tower later that year, probably with the help and planning of St. Nicholas Owen. He continued to work as a hunted English missionary for decades, though eventually he had to leave England and do Jesuit assignments in Europe instead. He also wrote his autobiography (in Latin, but it was translated into English by Philip Caraman), where he said that he felt that in heaven, the martyred Fr. Page was still anxious for his safety. The saintly but unmartyred Fr. Gerard died in bed in 1637 at the English College in Rome, aged 73.)

So there was Francis Page, studying away in the seminary in Rheims. He was ordained in 1600 as a normal diocesan priest and missionary, and headed back to London, where his secret ministry continued uneventfully for over a year. But while getting ready to celebrate Mass in the house of Anne Line, the priesthunters arrived. He quickly took off his vestments and sat down among the congregation, pretending to be just another guy waiting for the priest to show up. (Just trying to go to Mass wasn’t a capital crime, whereas hosting a Mass or being a priest meant death.) Anne Line and the rest of the Catholics kept their mouths shut, even though St. Anne Line was martyred for it later that year.

Fr. Page continued his ministry for the next fourteen months. But eventually he ran afoul of an ex-Catholic who had decided that turning in priests was a good way to make money. She saw him in the street and raised a hue and cry, then followed him to an inn and got the innkeeper to keep hold of him until the authorities arrived. (For a cut of the reward, presumably.) He was condemned for treason on April 19, 1602, and sentenced to die.

Fr. Page had dreamed of entering the Jesuits as well as being a priest, but he was never able to go back to Europe to enter their novitiate. The night before his execution, prison officials let Page stay in a cell with an imprisoned Jesuit. Fr. Page took Jesuit vows before him as well as letting the other man hear his Confession, and thus he died proudly proclaiming himself to be a Jesuit. He was hung, drawn, and quartered.

The Jesuits in Britain official site about Francis Page, S.J. It includes an audio excerpt about Page from Gerard’s autobiography, read by a woman. (The first bit read by a man is not from the autobiography.)

A woodcut picture of Blessed Francis Page being “drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution” at Tyburn. (If you ever wondered what that looked like.) Basically this was an extra punishment, because it wasn’t a fun way to travel and it made you a perfect target for missiles from the crowd. Also, it forbade you the dignity of walking or riding or being carried in a cart. (But the original version of the treason sentence had been being dragged by a horse without anything between you and the ground, so the late medieval introduction of hurdles was actually nicer.)

A woodcut holy card of Blessed Francis Page at the British Museum. A 1754 redo at Getty Images.

Blessed Anthony Page (also spelled Antony Page) was an earlier English priest. He was born in Harrow on the Hill, in the county of  Middlesex. He entered the college of Christ Church, Oxford, in 1581. At some point he left Oxford. Then he entered the English College at Rheims in 1584, received minor orders in 1585, was ordained a deacon in 1590 (at Laon), and was ordained a priest in 1591 at Rheims.

Challoner read the manuscript of the unpublished Annales Elizabethae Reginae by his classmate at Rheims, Anthony Champney; and Challoner said it described Bl. Anthony as being an unusually nice guy with unusual learning, who was loved by everyone at the college for his “singular candor of mind and sweetness of behavior.”

(The Annales ms is currently in the Westminster Diocesan Archives, and should be digitized!!)

Off Anthony went to England as a missionary, and was caught almost right away. During his time in prison, he was made to argue with a lot of Anglican ministers, and came off well because he was so learned. He was hung, drawn, and quartered on April 20, 1593. (That’s the same day of the year as Bl. Francis, yes. The way the English court system worked, they had certain days they liked to use for big trials and executions – the “Assizes.” These were often at market time, so they could get juries, witnesses, and/or crowds together.)


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