John Fenn (priest)

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John Fenn (born at Montacute near Yeovil, Somerset; d. 27 December 1615) was an English Roman Catholic priest and writer, in exile under Elizabeth I of England. He was the elder brother of James Fenn, the Catholic martyr, and Robert Fenn.


After being a chorister at Wells Cathedral, he went to Winchester School in 1547, and in 1550 to New College, Oxford, of which he was elected Fellow in 1552. Next year he became head master of the Bury St Edmunds Grammar School, but was deprived of this office and also of his fellowship for refusing to take the oath of supremacy under Elizabeth.

He went to Rome where after four years' study he was ordained priest about 1566. Having for a time been chaplain to Sir William Stanley's regiment in Flanders, he settled at Leuven, where he lived for forty years.

In 1609, when the English Augustinian Canonnesses founded St. Monica's Priory in Leuven, he became their first chaplain, until in 1611 when his sight failed. He continued to live in the priory, until his death.


He contributed to the publication, in 1583, by John Gibbons, S.J., of various accounts of persecution of English Catholics, under the title "Concertatio Ecclesiae Catholicae in Angliâ". This was the groundwork of the larger collection published by Bridgewater under the same name in 1588.

Besides his "Vitae quorundam Martyrum in Angliâ", included in the "Concertatio", he translated into Latin John Fisher's "Treatise on the penitential Psalms" (1597) and two of his sermons; he also published English versions of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, Jerome Osorio de Fonseca's reply to Walter Haddon's attack on his letter to Queen Elizabeth (1568), Guerra's "Treatise of Tribulation", an Italian life of Catherine of Sienna (1609; 1867), and Gaspar Loarte's "Instructions How to Meditate the Misteries of the Rosarie".

He also collected from old English sources some spiritual treatises for the Brigettine nuns of Syon House.

James Fenn[edit]

James Fenn
Born c. 1540
Montacute, Somersetshire
Died February 12, 1584
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Beatified December 12, 1929, Rome by Pope Pius XI
Feast February 12
Influences John Fenn

James Fenn was born about 1540 and in 1544 became a chorister at the New College, Oxford, where his singing won him a place at Corpus Christi College. Although eligible for a Bachelor's degree in November 1548, he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. As insistence on the oath at that time would have affected the status of the majority of the Fellows and most of the Heads of Colleges, the requirement was temporarily suspended by the Privy Council. Fenn took his degree in November 1548, but the following year was expelled and his degree revoked.[1]

He became a tutor in Somersetshire, married, and had children. While visiting his father in Wells, Bishop Gilbert Berkeley had him arrested for again refusing to take the oath, but released him when it was pointed out that there had been no occasion for exacting it.[1] His father had given him the house in Montacute and he moved there with his family. The local vicar wanted him charged under the Act of Uniformity for not attending services. On advice of a relative, he went into hiding for two months, during which his wife died. Making provision for his children, he left the area and took a job as agent for Sir Nicholas Poynta of Gloucestershire.[1]

While there he met a priest, probably John Colleton, who suggested Fenn consider the priesthood. James left for Rheims in 1579 and was ordained at Châlons in April 1580. He returned to Somersetshire the following month, where he worked unmolested for over a year. In July 1581, Edmund Campion and Father Colloton were arrested at Lyford Grange, along with some prominent people of Somersetshire. In the general excitement this caused, Fenn was arrested as a suspected recusant and eventually wound up at the Marshalsea. Given relative freedom, Fenn ministered to the other prisoners for about two years before he was recognized, possibly by the spy Thomas Dodwell.[2]

On February 7, 1584 Fenn and George Haydock, (whom Fenn had only met the day before in the dock) were tried and convicted of conspiracy and sedition, among other charges. Fenn was executed at Tyburn on February 12, 1584, along with George Haydock, John Munden, John Nutter and Thomas Hemerford.[3] Noticing his daughter Frances in the crowd, he attempted to bless her as well as his pinioned hands would allow. His head was mounted on London Bridge and his quarters displayed above the four main gates of London[2]

James Fenn was beatified December 15, 1929 by Pope Pius XI. He is commemorated on February 12.[4]


External links[edit]

  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "John Fenn". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.  The entry, written by Edwin Burton, cites:
    • John Pits, De Illustribus Angliae Scriptoribus (Paris, 1623);
    • Charles Dodd, Church History (Brussels, 1737–42), I, 510;
    • Anthony à Wood, ed. Bliss, Athenae Oxonienses, II,;
    • Joseph Gillow, Bibl. Dict. Eng. Cath., s.v. ;
    • Thompson Cooper in Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ;
    • Adam Hamilton, Chronicle of the English Augustinian Canonesses of St. Monica's Louvain (London, 1904).