Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège

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Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège
Stonyhurst quadruple crest.JPG
TypeCatholic (Jesuit)
Established1593 (St Omer), 1762 (Bruges), 1773 (Liège)
Founded byFr Robert Parsons SJ
Succeeded byStonyhurst College

The Colleges of St Omer, Bruges and Liège were successive expatriate institutions for the Catholic education run by the Jesuits for English students.

Founded in 1593 by Father Robert Parsons SJ as the College of Saint-Omer in Artois, France (then part of the Spanish Netherlands),[1] the school was forced in the 18th c. to relocate twice due to the suppression of the Jesuit order, first to Bruges in 1762 and then Liège in 1773, before migrating a third and final time to Stonyhurst in England where it became Stonyhurst College in 1794.[1]


During the reign of Elizabeth I religious education for Catholics was subject to penal legislation in England. The English Catholic church had created several colleges in continental Europe to make up for this, at Douai, Rome, and Valladolid, but these primarily addressed the training of priests. Especially the English College, Douai was associated with the faculty of theology of the University of Douai. Robert Parsons (1546–1610), had been instrumental in founding the English College, Valladolid, but recognised a need for a school for juvenile laymen. Saint-Omer was chosen as a site conveniently close to England, just 24 miles from Calais, and ruled by Spain as part of Flanders. It was also near the University of Douai, where scholars had edited and published the Douay–Rheims Bible.

The college was founded in 1593 as the English Jesuit College at St Omer in Flanders (although an alternative tradition dates the founding to 1592).[2] In 1599, it gained the direct patronage of King Philip of Spain. After an initial period of growth and prosperity, the unrest caused by the English Civil War, the number of students dropped to as low as 24 in 1645. When stability returned to the English government, the school's effectiveness was also restored.

French rule[edit]

Saint-Omer College English Jesuit chapel

St. Omer and much of the province of Artois were formally ceded back to France in 1658. The Catholic French monarchy was as friendly to the school as the Spanish crown had been before. As the eighteenth century began, two fires ravaged the town and the university, but each time it was rebuilt, and even expanded. Buildings from the second reconstruction in the 1720s remained in use into the twentieth century, having served, moreover, as a military hospital in World War I.

The college enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity from around 1720 to 1762. During the period when formal sworn affiliation with the Church of England was required to attend Oxford and Cambridge, it provided advanced education for several generations of English Catholics. Since the colleges founded in the American colonies were also Protestant church affiliated, Catholic families from there also sent their young men to St. Omer to be educated.

Bruges, Liège, Stonyhurst[edit]

In 1762, the Jesuits were formally expelled from France, beginning the college's decline and eventual end. The expulsion split the college. The Jesuit faculty and many of the students fled to the Austrian Netherlands, now part of modern Belgium, moving first to Bruges, and then to Liège, operating under the protection of the Bishop of Liège from 1773. King Louis XV continued the college at St. Omer, under the direction of secular clergy. When the Jesuit order was suppressed everywhere in 1773, the dual system ended, but the college never regained its prominence.

In 1793, the French Revolution and the United Kingdom's declaration of war on France ended Saint Omer college. The English faculty and students were imprisoned until February 1795. English penal laws and resulting discrimination had changed regarding Catholic education in England, so once released, some of the staff and most of the then about 100 students went to England, to avoid the war on the European continent. A former student, Thomas Weld, donated a mansion and grounds at Stonyhurst, in Lancashire. The modern school, Stonyhurst College continues to this day as a direct lineal descendant of the College of Saint-Omer. The Lycée Alexandre Ribot now stands on the site of the former college in Saint Omer.

Heythrop College, University of London, the now defunct specialist Philosophy and Theology constituent College of the University of London, shared its (1614) foundation in Liège with Stonyhurst College.

Notable alumni[edit]

Alumni include: three Saints,[3] twelve Beati,[3] and twenty-two martyrs.[3]

Rectors and Superiors[edit]

Below is a list of College rectors from its foundation until the move to England.[8] Marmaduke Stone, the last President of Liège was also the first President of Stonyhurst College and helped to re-established the Society of Jesus in Britain in 1803 at Stonyhurst.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Robert Parsons, Catholic Encyclopaedia (1913). Retrieved 9 July 2008
  2. ^ The Authorities of Stonyhurst College, A Stonyhurst Handbook for Visitors and Others, (Stonyhurst, Lancashire. Third edition 1963) pp.11–12
  3. ^ a b c T.E. Muir, Stonyhurst, p.188
  4. ^ Warner, William W. (1994). "Part II: The Church". At Peace with All Their Neighbors: Catholics and Catholicism in the National Capital, 1787–1860. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-1589012431. Archived from the original on 9 September 2018. Retrieved 14 March 2018.
  5. ^ Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 89: Restoration and Eighteenth-Century Dramatists, Third Series. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by Paula R. Backscheider, University of Rochester. The Gale Group, 1989. pp. 265–280.
  6. ^ Burton, Edwin. "Charles Plowden." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 12 January 2019
  7. ^ a b c Whitehead, Maurice (2003). "In the Sincerest Intentions of Studying: The Educational Legacy of Thomas Weld (1750–1810), Founder of Stonyhurst College". Recusant History. 26: 169–193. doi:10.1017/S0034193200030764.
  8. ^ T.E. Muir, Stonyhurst College

External links[edit]