Nicholas’ nickname was “Little John” for his small stature. It could have easily been “Little Fox” for all the times he deceived authorities to save Catholic priests and laymen from the religious persecution of the English crown. Over a period of 20 years Nicholas used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country.
Using his knowledge as an architect and builder he created places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls and impenetrable recesses where priests remained undetected by raiding parties. He was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design his hiding places, he began by receiving the holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process.
After many years at his unusual task, Nicholas entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although — for very good reasons — his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret. Having experienced several narrow escapes, he was caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, Nicholas refused to disclose the names of other Catholics.
After being released following the payment of a ransom, “Little John” went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known.
Nicholas Owen was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 martyrs of England and Wales.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini from: St. Nicholas Owen | Franciscan Media. (n.d.). Franciscan Media. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-of-the-day/saint-nicholas-owen