John Wall, in religion Father Joachim of St. Anna,
was the fourth son of Anthony Wall of Chingle (Singleton) Hall, Lancashire. He
was born in 1620, and when very young, was sent to the English College at
Douai. From there he proceeded to Rome, where he was raised to the priesthood
in 1648. Several years later he returned to Douai and was clothed in the habit
of St. Francis in the convent of St. Bonaventure. He made his solemn
profession on January 1, 1652. So great was the estimation in which he was
held by his brethren, that within a few months he was elected vicar of the
convent, and soon after, master of novices.
In 1656 he joined the English mission, and for 12
years he labored on Worcestershire under the names of Francis Johnson or Webb,
winning souls even more by his example than by his words. At Harvington to
this day the memory of Blessed Father Johnson is cherished, and stories of his
heroic zeal are recounted by the descendants of those who were privileged to
know and love the glorious martyr.
Some of the charges raised against Father Wall when
he was captured, were that he had said Mass, heard confessions, and received
converts into the Church. He was accidentally found, in December 1678, at the
house of a friend, Mr. Finch of Rushock, and carried off by the sheriff's
officer. He was committed to Worchester jail, and lay captive for five months,
enduring patiently all the loneliness, suffering, and horrors of prison life,
which at that time were scarcely less dreadful than death itself.
On April 25, 1679, Father John was brought to
court. His condemnation was a foregone conclusion. He was sent back to prison
till the king's further pleasure concerning him should be known; and for
another four months he languished in captivity. It was during this period that
he was offered his life if he would deny his faith, "But I told them," said
the martyr, "that I would not buy my life at so dear a rate as to wrong my
One of Father Wall's brethren in religion, Father
William Levison, has the privilege of seeing the martyr for the space of four
or five hours on the day before his execution. Father William tells us: "I
heard his confession and communicated him, to his great joy and satisfaction.
While in prison he carried himself like a true servant of his crucified
Master, thirsting after nothing more than the shedding of his blood for the
love of his God, which he performed with a courage and cheerfulness becoming a
valiant soldier of Christ, to the great edification of all the Catholics, and
admiration of all the Protestants."
Father Wall's martyrdom took place on Red Hill,
overlooking the city of Worcester, on August 22, 1679. His head was kept in
the convent at Douai until the French Revolution broke out and the community
fled to England. What became of it, then, is not known. The Catholics of
Worcester found consolation in remarking, as a proof of his sanctity, that his
grave always appeared green, while the rest of the churchyard was bare. A
large crucifix was raised in the little Catholic churchyard at Harvington to
the memory of this saintly son of St. Francis, Father Joachim of St.
Father Joachim of St. Anna was beatified under the
name of Blessed John Wall, December 15, 1929, together with a fellow
Franciscan, Father Godfrey Maurice Jones, and 134 companions.
ON THE VALUE OF THE SOUL
1. The human soul bears
the stamp of nobility. God created the universe with one word. "Let it be
made," He said, and it was made. But for the creation of man the Holy Trinity
holds, as it were, a consultation: "Let us make man to Our own image and
likeness" (Gen 1:26). And according to His image and likeness God created man.
"Remember, O man," St. Bernard cries out, "your dignity!" Your soul is the
image of God. Therefore the Holy Spirit warns us: "Keep your soul and give it
honor according to its desert" (Eccli 10:31). Do not let material baubles dim
the image of God that is in you,, nor let the evil spirit mar it. -- Have you
preserved this image in yourself?
2. The soul has been bought at a great
price. Jesus Christ came down from heaven, led a poor life here on earth for
33 years, endured untold pains, and finally shed His precious blood on the
cross to redeem the souls of men. The church reminds us of this when she
teaches us to pray in the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus: "Through Thy
labors, through Thy fainting and weariness, through Thy agony and passion,
through Thy cross and dereliction, deliver us, O Jesus!" But if Jesus did so
much to save the souls of men, what sacrifice can be too great in our effort
to save our souls? Ought we not, according to the admonition of the Apostle
(Heb 12:4), strive against sin even unto blood?
3. The value of the soul
surpasses that of all created things. Christ said: "What does it profit a man
if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" (Matt 16:26).
The soul outweighs all the things of earth, all treasures, honors, riches.
Blessed John strove for a correct appreciation of material things, which are
valueless when compared with our immortal souls. -- Have you always manifested
this correct appreciation and given evidence of it in your action?
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O God, who did marvelously
create human beings, and still more marvelously redeem them, grant us Thy
grace that with the knowledge Thou has given us, we may resist sinful desires
and deserve to attain eternal bliss. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Franciscan Book
of Saints, ed. by
Marion Habig, ofm., © 1959 Franciscan Herald