Bishop Challoner

Bishop Richard Challoner

1691   Bishop Challoner was born in Lewes to a Protestant Cooper (barrel maker).

After his father died, whilst still an infant, Richard moved to Firle, home of a Catholic family where his mother was employed.

1704  Aged 13 Richard moved to Warkworth.

1705  Aged 14 Richard went to Douai College, France. He did not see his beloved mother for 12 years.

1716   Richard was ordained priest.

1720  Aged 29 Richard was made vice president of Douai College.

1727   Richard presented his Thesis and is made Doctor of Theology.

1730  Richard left Douai and returned to England to start his missionary and pastoral work.

Though the penal laws were no longer enforced with extreme severity, the life of the Catholic priest was still a hard one. Disguised as a layman, Richard Challoner ministered to the small number of Catholics, celebrating Mass secretly in obscure ale-houses, cockpits, and wherever small gatherings could assemble without exciting remark. Richard would wear a brown suit and was often referred to as Mr Brown.

1734   Richard was appointed as Vicar General of London district, where 25,000 Catholics were secretly practising their faith.

As Richard was not allowed to preach in public, he often preached at the chapel of the Sardinian Embassy.

1740  Richard was consecrated Bishop responsible over Kent, Middlesex, Essex, Surrey, Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands, the West Indies and the new American Colonies.

1742   Richard began writing. He wrote several devotional books, many still in print and used today.

1745   Richard embarked on prison work, visiting and ministering to prisoners and their families.

1748  Richard starts translating Douai Bible. He also translated prayer books that had previously been in Latin so that they were accessible to the poor.

1759   Richard was spending most of his time in London. He regularly preached in a hired room at The Ship Tavern, Gate Street, Holborn, in secret. The pub still exists today.

1778   First Catholic Relief Act passed by parliament.

Towards the end of Richard Challoner’s life the penal laws which had, for so long oppressed Catholics in England, began to be lifted through what were called the ‘Relief Acts’.

1780  The Gordon Riots. Sadly there remained a minority of fanatics who bitterly opposed the easement of the Catholics. They tried to prevent parliament from passing the new Act intended to restore increasing normality.

Chief among these fanatics, and most skilled at striking up violent hatred, was Lord George Gordon, who organised his mob to stop MP’s from entering Parliament to pass the new law.

Riots broke out and widespread violent destruction took place for nearly a fortnight throughout London.

The chapels and houses of Catholics were wrecked and plundered by frenzied mobs. From his hiding-place the bishop, now nearly ninety years of age, could hear the howls of the mob, which were searching for him with the intention of dragging him through the streets. They failed to find his refuge, and on the following day he escaped to Finchley, where he remained till the riots came to an end. But he never fully recovered from the shock.

Richard returned to 44 Gloucester Street later in 1780 where he became increasingly frail.

1781   Richard became ill on 10th and died on 12th January 1781.

Richard was buried in the church vaults in the grounds of Milton Manor, the home of his good friend Brian Barrett.

1946  In May Richard’s body was transferred to Westminster Cathedral under the direction of Derek Warlock who would later become Bishop of Portsmouth. It was he who gave this school the name it proudly bears.

Bishop Richard Challoner’s remains are there in a chapel dedicated to Saints Gregory and Augustine. The late Cardinal Hume has since been buried beside him.