St. Edmund Campion first became a major part of my life when I was assigned to read Edmund Campion: Hero of God’s Underground by Harold C. Gardiner, S.J. I was in 4th Grade at the time and already fascinated by England thanks to my earlier love-affair with Robin Hood. But the story of Fr. Campion opened up a whole new dimension of interest for me. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales became my role-models for both their heroism and humanity, and the somewhat swashbuckling nature of Edmund Campion especially captured my imagination. This was a saint with sparkle; this was a man with know-how; this was the cream of Catholic England.
Edmund Campion was born on January 24, 1540, the son of a London book-seller on Paternoster Row near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Perhaps it was partly due to being reared among books that young Edmund was instilled with a love of learning early on. He become a star pupil at Christ Hospital School, at age 13, when the Catholic Queen Mary I came to make a visit to the city in August of 1553, he was chosen to deliver an welcome address to her. He went on to win a scholarship to St. John’s College in Oxford, becoming a junior fellow by 1557.
In 1560, he received his B.A. Degree, and since there was a new Protestant monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, he was made to take the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging her as Head of the Church in England. Even though he had been raised loosely Catholic and maintained High Church sympathies beneath the surface, he nevertheless ascribed to mandatory procedure. His future was far too promising to abandon a world of opportunity on a point of conscience, certainly this early in the game. So In 1564, he took a master’s degree in Oxford.