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Stonyhurst College

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The history of Stonyhurst as a school dates back to a period considerably prior to its foundation on English soil in 1794. Stonyhurst is the lineal descendant of the college founded by Father Robert Persons in 1592, at St. Omer in Artois, for English boys, compelled by the penal laws of Elizabethan times to seek on the continent that religious education which was denied them at home. Driven from St. Omer in 1762 by the hostility of the Parlement of Paris, the college was transferred to Bruges, where it remained under the protection of the Empress Maria Theresa till dispersed by the suppression of the Society in 1773. Within the same year, however, the staff and students had reassembled and continued their collegiate life at Liège under the patronage of the prince bishop of that city. The approach of the French revolutionary armies in 1794 again compelled the college to seek a new home, and this time it found one in its native land at the mansion of Stonyhurst Hall in Lancashire, which had been placed at the disposal of the community by Mr. Thomas Weld of Lulworth, heir of the Shireburns on Stonyhurst and himself a past student of the college at Bruges. By a strange coincidence Stonyhurst Hall had been rebuilt by Sir Richard Shireburn in 1592, the very year of the foundation of St. Omer; so that the scholastic life of the college, which has now been established at Stonyhurst for 117 years, but reaches back more than 200 years before that final settlement, is coeval with that of its present domicile.

The character of the education given at Stonyhurst has, needless to say, varied with the requirements of the time. The predominant position occupied by classical educational ideals in the earlier half of the nineteenth century — a predominance so congenial to the Ratio Studiorum of the Jesuits — has gradually been modified to meet the development of the study of modern languages and of science, and the demands of public examination. Hence the curriculum of Stonyhurst at the present day differs in no essential particular from that of the leading public schools in England. It includes classical literature and the chief European languages, history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, and law. At the Stonyhurst training college more advanced courses in these subjects are followed by students of the Society, who are engaged in such additional subjects as pedagogy, biology, anthropology, etc. The "Philosophers", numbering usually about thirty, possess the status of university students. They have private rooms and sundry privileges, and are quite separate from the rest of the school, though they may join the "Higher Line" in games. Their studies include courses of philosophy, law, and political economy, in addition to the usual literary and science classes. The rector of Stonyhurst is one of a limited number of headmasters to whom the War Office has granted the power of giving direct nominations to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. This privilege is reserved for those schools where the officers' training corps — of which Stonyhurst has three full companies — attains a certain standard of strength. The college has also been inspected and approved by the Royal College of Physicians (London) and the Royal College of Surgeons (England) as a school for preparing candidates for medical diplomas and exempting them from part of their professional course.

The influence exerted in the course of its history on Church, State, science and art, by a college which has for so long held a prominent place in the education of English Catholics, may best be gauged by the number of distinguished alumni who have risen to eminence in these departments. Among the early sons of Stonyhurst, when the establishment was still at St. Omers, are eighteen martyrs now bearing the title of Venerable — fourteen Jesuits, three Franciscans, and one secular priest — besides three who died in prison for the Faith. Father Emmanuel Lobb, who received into the Church the Duke of York, afterwards James II, and Father Edward Petre, the confessor of the same king, were St. Omer men. The unspeakable Titus Oates also spent some time there as a kind of "parlour-boarder", and contemporary letters make it clear that he was intensely unpopular with the boys. The peculiar dress worn at that date by the boys of St. Omers is referred to by Massinger in his play "The Fatal Dowry". Conspicuous among the St. Omer men of a later date are the first two archbishops of Baltimore, John Carroll and Leonard Neale. In more modern times Stonyhurst counts among its pupils Cardinal Weld, Bishop Riddell (Vicar Apostolic of the Northern District), Cardinal Vaughan, Bishop William Vaughan of Plymouth, Bishop Clifford of Clifton, Archbishop Porter of Bombay, Archbishop Gillow of Puebla (Mexico), and Archbishop Maguire of Glasgow. Among distinguished laymen who received their education here may be mentioned Charles Waterton, the famous naturalist (the "W" of Thackeray's "Newcomes"); Richard Lalor Sheil, the great parliamentary orator; Sir Thomas Wyse, a well-known and successful diplomat of the last century; Chief Baron Woulfe of the Irish Court of Exchequer, the first Catholic to be elevated to the Irish Bench, and Judge Nicholas Ball, the second Catholic to enjoy that dignity; the Hon. Charles Langdale, one of the foremost Catholic leaders of Emancipation days; Dr. George Oliver, the antiquary and Church annalist; Sir Frederick Weld, successively Premier of New Zealand, Governor of Tasmania, and Governor of the Straits Settlements, in which last-named colony another Stonyhurst man, Sir Thomas Sulgreaves, was Chief Justice; Sir William Hackett, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Ceylon; the Rt. Hon. Sir Nicholas O'Conor, British Ambassador at St. Petersburg and at Constantinople; General Sir Montague Gerard, doyen of the foreign military attachés with the Russian army during the Russo-Jaspanese War; General Sir Charles Chichester, brigadier- general under General De Lacy Evans in the British Auxiliary Legion in Spain in 1835; Admiral Arthur Jerningham, who was attached to the personal guard of Queen Victoria during the alarms of the Chartist disturbance; the late Mr. Justice Walton; Edward de Romaña, a former president of Peru; Thomas Francis Meagher, the orator of the Young Ireland movement and subsequently a general on the Federal side during the American Civil War. To this selection may be added in the domain of literature and art Mr. Percy FitzGerald, F.S.A., a personal friend of Charles Dickens, and author of many literary works; Father John Gerard, S.J., the widely known writer on scientific, historical, and controversial subjects; Bernard Partridge, the "Punch" cartoonist; Alfred Austin, the Poet Laureate.

The fame of the Stonyhurst Observatory, built in 1838, has been kept alive in scientific circles by a succession of distinguished astronomers, several of whom have been at various times selected by the British Government to take charge of important astronomical expeditions. The latest of these was the British Solar Eclipse Expedition to the Tonga Islands in 1911, which was placed under the charge of Father Cortie, one of the directors of the Stonyhurst Observatory. Perhaps the best known of the Stonyhurst astronomers is Father Stephen Perry, F.R.S., Francis Thompson's "starry amorist", who met his death in 1889 while engaged on solar observations for the Government in the West Indies. Among the contributions to Catholic literature the best known are the Stonyhurst series of Philosophical Textbooks, written by members of the professorial staff: Father Harper's profound work, "The Metaphysics of the School"; and Father Gerard's various writings on natural science and evolution, the Gunpowder Plot, and his remarkably successful reply to Haeckel's "Riddle of the Universe": the works of Father Joseph Rickaby on philosophic and ascetical subjects and the liturgical and historical writings of Father Thurston.

Stonyhurst, which is today the largest of the Catholic colleges in England, is the parent of a number of other flourishing schools in Great Britain and Ireland, of which the following is a list together with the approximate number of boys in each: Beaumont College near Windsor, and Mount St. Mary's College in Derbyshire, with more than 200 boarders each; St. Francis Xavier's College, Liverpool, a day-school with nearly 400 boys; St. Aloysius' College, Glasgow, with over 300 day scholars; Wimbledon College with some 150 scholars; St. Ignatius' Day College, Stanford Hill, London, with about 250 boys; the day colleges at Preston and Leeds with about 150 boys each; and Clongowes Wood College, in Ireland, with 250 boarders. Including the Philosophers and the younger boys at the preparatory school, the total number of boarders at Stonyhurst today is 345, with a professorial staff of 40. At the training college the students number about 70, with 8 professors. The college buildings, which are very extensive, are furnished with libraries and museums, numerous lecture rooms, physical and chemical laboratories, observatories, recreation and music rooms, a theatre, swimming bath, carpenter's shops and covered drill- hall. In the large library, which contains over 40,000 volumes, there is a very valuable collection of incunabula, numbering 250, of which some are unique; a First Folio Shakespeare; some priceless manuscripts; and very complete geological, entomological, and other scientific collections. In the museums and other parts of the building are a large number of valuable engravings by Rembrandt and Dürer, together with art treasures in ivory, alabaster, and precious metals; relics of the days of persecution; paintings by some of the Old Masters; and vestments of great intrinsic and historical worth.


GERARD, Stonyhurst College Centenary Record (Belfast, 1894); GRUGGEN AND KEATING, History of Stonyhurst (London, 1901); Memorials of Stonyhurst College (London, 1881); HEWITSON, Stonyhurst College Past and Present (Preston, 1878); FITZGERALD, Saxonhurst: a Story of Schooldays (London, 1901); British Association Excursion to Stonyhurst and Whalley (Southport, 1901); The Stonyhurst Magazine (school periodical); Stonyhurst and its Tercentenary (Clitheroe); three articles in Country Life (London, October, 1910): Moral Instruction and Training in Schools, ed. SADLER, I (New York and London, 1908), the articles, "Jesuit System of Education", and "Stonyhurst", by MAHER in The Teachers' Encyclopedia (London, 1911).

About this page

APA citation. Irwin, F. (1912). Stonyhurst College. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Irwin, Francis. "Stonyhurst College." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron and Susan Clarke. With thanks to Fr. John Hilkert and St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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