Plessington, John (William), St.

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Priest, martyr; b. Dimples Hall, Lancashire, England, c. 1637; d. Chester, England, July 19, 1679. His family, always Catholic and royalist, maintained a chaplain in their house. Until the age of nine John was probably instructed by (Bl.) Thomas whitaker (later a martyr), who was chaplain at Dimples. Later John went to a Jesuit private school at Scarisbrick Hall, near Ormskirk, before crossing to St. Omer in Flanders to complete his education. Then he joined the English seminary at Valladolid, Spain, and was ordained at Segovia (March 1662). Leaving Spain in April 1663 he was sent as a missionary to Holywell in Flintshire, the shrine of St. Winefride, and a center of pilgrimage all through penal times. From his headquarters in Ye Crosse Keyes Inn he worked in Flintshire and the neighboring counties. It is uncertain when he left Holywell for Paddington Hall, the home of the Massey family, in the Wirral Peninsula, but he was certainly established there by 1670. For at least eight years Plessington was at Puddington, officially as tutor to the Massey children, in reality as a missionary. It was his firm stand against the marriage of a Catholic heiress to a Protestant that led to his betrayal and arrest at the time of the Titus Oates plot. The authorities were not able to involve him in the plot, but he was charged with being a priest. His popularity was so great that no witnesses could be found to charge him until three apostates came forward; one was the mentally deranged Margaret Plat; another he swore he had never seen before; the third was a valid witness. After condemnation for his priesthood he remained nine weeks a prisoner in an underground cell of Chester Castle. When visited by the undertaker sent to measure him for his coffin, he remarked to a friend that he was now giving an order for his last suit. He was executed at Chester on July 19, 1679. After a spirited speech the cart was drawn away, and he was heard to call out, "O Jesus, be to me a Jesus." His quartered body was returned to Puddington with instructions that it should be exposed on the four corners of the house. The Masseys flagrantly disobeyed this order and reverently buried the body in the neighboring churchyard of Burton. Although the burial was recorded in the Burton register, when the traditional grave was opened in 1962 no remains that could be certainly identified as the martyr's were discovered. Plessington was beatified by Pius XI on Dec. 15, 1929, and canonized by Paul VI on Oct. 25, 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Feast: June 20; Oct. 25 (Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales); May 4 (Feast of the English Martyrs in England).

See Also: england, scotland, and wales, martyrs of.

Bibliography: m. waugh, Blessed John Plessington (Pustalation Pamphlet; London 1961). r. challoner, Memoirs of Missionary Priests, ed. j. h. pollen (rev. ed. London 1924). j. gillow, A Literary and Biographical History or Bibliographical Dictionary of the English Catholics from 1534 to the Present Time 5:322 (London-New York 18851902; repr. New York 1961). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 2:599600.

[g. fitz herbert]