A city in the North of France memorable to English-speaking Catholics as a center of education and missionary activity during penal times. Following Queen Elizabeth I's accession in 1558 and her Protestant religious settlement, Catholic exiles took refuge there because of its newly founded university, its proximity to the English Channel, and its location in the safely Catholic part of the Spanish Netherlands. For these same reasons William allen in 1568 chose Douai as the location of an English college for the education of priests. Though its later claim to be the first seminary founded after the Tridentine decrees on the formation of the clergy fails to take into account several earlier Italian seminaries, it was surely the first such institution in northern Europe.
From its small beginnings the English College grew rapidly and within ten years as many as 20 students were ordained annually. The first seminary priest to go to England was Louis Barlow (1574) and the first one to die for the faith was Bl. Cuthbert mayne (1577). The real beginning of the Catholic revival in England must be dated from those years. By the end of the century Douai had sent into England more than 400 priests of whom 103 merited the martyr's crown.
The very success of the seminary caused financial problems. In 1575 Pope Gregory XIII allotted a monthly pension and later Philip II of Spain promised an annual contribution, but the payment of this latter was erratic due to the religious wars in the Netherlands. These same wars forced the College in 1578 to move to Reims, a university town in that part of France under the protection of the dukes of Guise. It returned to Douai only in 1593.
One means of relieving the financial pressure was to found other such institutions. Douai rightly claims to be the mother of the English seminaries since the first students of the English colleges in Rome (1577) and Valladolid (1589) were old Douai men. In Douai itself there were Irish and Scotch seminaries before the end of the century. Soon after, the English Benedictines (1604) and Franciscans (1618) established houses of study there. The town was also the most important publishing center for those proscribed books that nourished the piety and sharpened the controversial skills of the English Catholics during these times. The most famous of these publications was the Douai Old Testament (2 v. 1609–10).
By this time the heroic period of the English College was over. Its founder and first president, William (later Cardinal) Allen, had been able to govern the seminary without rules, but his successors, Richard Barrett (1588–99) and Thomas worthington (1599–1613), understandably lacked Allen's charismatic gifts. Both were plagued with debts and accused of being too favorable to the Jesuits, a charge that was repeated, with even less foundation, against almost every successive president. The English secular clergy were better satisfied with the administration of Matthew Kellison (1613–41), but he in turn was accused of favoring the dangerous teachings of Thomas White (alias Blacklo).
After 1622 Douai was under the supervision of the Congregation of Propaganda. The complaints about frequent visitations, the accusations of Jansenism, and the bickering for control among various factions of the English secular clergy that fills the correspondence of these years should not blind us to the solid if unspectacular results obtained throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. In an average year there were from 70 to 90 students, some of them laymen profiting from the humanities course in the minor seminary.
Douai was thus the alma mater not only of most of England's early bishops, but also of some of her outstanding Catholic laymen. The French Revolution in 1791 drove the seminary, along with most of the other British religious houses, back to England where the repeal of some of the harsher penal laws made it possible to continue the work of education at Crook Hall (later transferred to Ushaw) and St. Edmund's, Old Hall.
Bibliography: p. k. guilday, The English Catholic Refugees on the Continent, 1558–1795 (New York 1914). The First and Second Diaries of the English College, Douay, ed. fathers of the congregation of the london oratory (London 1878). The remaining College Diaries are published in Proceedings of the Catholic Record Society 10–11 (1911); 28 (1928).
[t. h. clancy]