St. Robert Southwell (1561-95) was an outstanding poet, Jesuit missionary to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and martyr. His poem, "A Child My Choice," expresses his warm devotion to the infant Jesus.


A Child My Choice

St. Robert Southwell (1561-95) was an outstanding poet and Jesuit missionary to England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. He died as a martyr, faithful to the Church despite the threat of a horrible execution.

During his brief English career and the 40 years following it, Southwell's poetry enjoyed an extraordinary popularity. Contemporary writers seem to have been impressed by his clear, precise English, by the beauty of its rhythms, and by Southwell's gift for combining passion with moral and intellectual analysis. Some scholars make a strong case for his influence on his contemporaries, among them Shakespeare. He is the foremost representative of Roman Catholic letters in Elizabethan England.


By St. Robert Southwell SJ

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that child,

Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.

I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is he;

While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss.


Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,

To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.

He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due.

First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.


Though young, yet wise, though small, yet strong; though man, yet God he is;

As wise he knows, as strong he can, as God he loves to bless.

His knowledge rules, his strength defends, his love doth cherish all;

His birth our joy, his life our light, his death our end of thrall.


Alas! He weeps, he sighs, he pants, yet do his angels sing;

Out of his tears, his sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.

Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,

Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die.



Biographical note about St. Robert Southwell SJ

Southwell was born to a prosperous English family that was connected to other Catholics in Elizabethan Englands during a time when Catholic practices were forbidden and regard as acts of treason. In 1576, a teen-age Southwell left England to study in the Jesuit school at Douai, Belgium, where he discovered a vocation to the Society of Jesus, leading to his entering the novitiate in Rome in 1578. He finished his philosophy and theology studies in Rome, and then taught at the English College.

After he was ordained in 1585, the 25-year-old Jesuit was sent on the English mission in 1586, landing secretly with his fellow Jesuit Henry Garnet somewhere between Dover and Folkestone in early July.

He served as chaplain to the Earl of Arundel and other Catholics who had to practice their faith secretly because of strong persecution by the Protestant authorities in England. His An Epistle of Comfort was printed secretly in 1587; other letters circulated in manuscript.

Southwell was arrested in 1592 while celebrating Mass. He was tortured in an attempt to make him reveal the locations of other priests and imprisoned in in solitary confinement in the Tower of London. In 1595 he was tried for treason under the anti-Catholic penal laws and on Feb. 21, 1595, Southwell was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

In 1970, he was canonised by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.


A note about the image at the top of the page

The image of the Holy Family comes from a stained glass window at St. Matthew the Apostle Church in north St. Louis. Founded in 1893, St. Matthew is one of the 15 Jesuit parishes located within the Central and Southern Province. Jesuit parishes offer a rich spiritual and liturgical life and maintain a special focus on the poor. 

Emil Frei created the windows in St. Matthew's. Born in Bavaria in 1869, Frei settled in St. Louis, Mo., and founded the Emil Frei Art Glass Company in 1898. During his tenure, the studio became known for some of the highest quality Munich pictorial stained glass windows in the world. 



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