“Stonyhurst 1799”

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851),
watercolor, 385 x 260 mm
Stonyhurst College Archives, Stonyhurst, England (UK)
Courtesy of the Stonyhurst Governorate

The prodromes of Stonyhurst College date back to 1593, on the continent, by Fr. Robert Persons of the Society of Jesus, who founded it as a school for the children of the English Catholic nobility, because at that time, and for a long time afterwards, Catholics were excluded from education in England. The first seat was at St. Omer, at that time in the Spanish Netherlands, but 85 years later, the region was ceded to France. After another 85 years, the Jesuits were expelled from France and the school moved to Bruges, then to the Austrian Netherlands. After the suppression of the Jesuit Order by Pope Clement XIV, in 1773, the school moved to Liège, where it remained until 1794 when, with England now at war with France, the college was forced to go beyond the Channel’s Sleeve with the advance of the Napoleonic Army . The ancient residence of Stonyhurst Hall in Lancashire was offered as a shelter until the return to the mainland was considered safe and so, for the first time, it took the name of Stonyhurst College.
This situation occurred because the family that had built and occupied the residence had been extinct in the years 1750 and the building and its property had passed tp another family who lived on the South coast of England thanks to a marriage. The head of the family was a former pupil of the College of St Omer (and Bruges), and his sons had been educated at the College of Liège. This until August 1794, when the persecutions against the Catholics had mitigated and the college, thereafter known as Stonyhurst College, could settle on the English soil, where it remained until today.
During the construction of the old mansion, heavy sanctions were imposed on the Catholic family for its rectification (refusal to participate in the functions of the English Church) and the construction of the residence was abandoned, when it was not complete even In half. The asymmetry of the incomplete building can be seen in this watercolor of the ancient West Wing.
Since then the building has extensively expanded, as it appears today (Figure 1).
In the same College campus is Mary’s Hall (Figure 2), which was initiated in 1830 as a seminary for young Jesuits in preparation for the priesthood. It continued as a seminary until 1926, when the seminarians were transferred to Heythrop Hall in Oxfordshire, after which it remained empty until the Second World War, when it was occupied by the community of Venerable English College in Rome. It became a primary school in 1946.
Secchi spent his stay at Stonyhurst studying English and improving his knowledge of natural sciences, as well as tutoring few young Jesuit refugees. He remained at Stonyhurst College until October 1848, when he was encouraged by Fr. De Vico (Figure 3) to sail from Liverpool to the United States with other confreres, to escape a looming epidemic of cholera and seize the opportunities offered in the New World to Jesuit refugees.

David Knight, Stonyhurst College

T. E. Mult, Stonyhurst, revised edition, 2006.