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Charles Plowden

B. at Plowden Hall, Shropshire, 1743; d. at Jougne, Doubs, France, June 13, 1821

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Plowden, CHARLES, b. at Plowden Hall, Shropshire, 1743; d. at Jougne, Doubs, France, June 13, 1821. He was lineally descended from Edmund Plowden, the celebrated lawyer. The family adhered steadily to the Catholic faith, contributed ten members to the Society of Jesus, and numerous subjects to various female orders (see Foley, “Records of the English Province”. Plowden Pedigree, IV, 537). Educated at St. Omer’s, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1759, and was ordained priest, at Rome, in 1770. At the suppression of the Society, in 1773, he was minister of the English College at Bruges: the Austro-Belgic government, in its execution of the decree of suppression, kept him imprisoned for some months after the closing of the college. He wrote an account of its destruction. After his release from confinement, he was for a time at the Academy of Liege, which the prince-bishop had offered to the English ex-Jesuits. Returning to England, he became a tutor in the family of Mr. Weld, and chaplain at Lulworth Castle, where he assisted at the consecration of Bishop Carroll, in 1790. He preached the sermon on the occasion, and published an account of the establishment of the new See of Baltimore. Father Plowden had a large share in the direction of Stonyhurst College, founded in 1794, and by his ability and virtue, “he promoted the credit and welfare of that institution” (Oliver). Richard Lalor Shiel, who had been his pupil, speaks of him as “a perfect Jesuit of the old school”. After the restoration of the Society in England, he was the first master of novices, at Hodder. In 1817, he was declared Provincial, and, at the same time, Rector of Stonyhurst, holding the latter office till 1819. Summoned to Rome for the election of the general of the Society, he died suddenly on his journey homeward, and, through mistaken information as to his mission and identity, he was buried with full military honors. His attendant had gathered the information that he had been at Rome in connection with business concerning a “general”, and the town authorities, mixing things, concluded that he was a general of the British army,—hence the military funeral.

In addition to his many administrative activities and occupations, Father Plowden was a prolific writer. Sommervogel gives a list of twenty-two publications of which he was the author, besides several works in manuscript which have been preserved. He was a lifelong correspondent of Bishop Carroll and wrote a beautiful eulogy on the death of his friend in 1815. A large collection of the letters which they interchanged, originals or copies, exists at Stonyhurst and Georgetown Colleges, as also in the Baltimore diocesan archives. He was a protagonist in the polemics that distracted the Catholic body in England, in relation to the Oath proposed as a preliminary to the Catholic Relief Bill. It was “a desperate life and death struggle of Catholicism in England, during one of the most insidious and dangerous assaults upon its liberties to which it had ever been exposed”. Writers on both sides, in the heat of controversy, employed language which subsequently necessitated explanation, apologies, and retractions. Plowden was too outspoken and perfervid in some of his utterances, but his spirit was that of loyalty to the vicars-Apostolic and to Catholic traditions.


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