These two men lived in England at a time when the practice of one’s Catholic faith meant imprisonment and possible execution. Ralph Milner was an elderly, illiterate farmer, the father of eight children, from Flacstead, Hampshire. He was brought up as a Protestant but was so impressed by the lives of his Catholic neighbors that he took instructions and was received into the Catholic Faith. On the very day of his First Communion, he was arrested for having changed his religion and imprisoned in the Winchester jail.
Farmer Milner’s behavior in prison was such that he gained the respect and trust of the prison guards and so was granted frequent parole during which he could come and go at will. He made use of these times to see to the spiritual and temporal needs of his fellow prisoners and to aid and escort undercover Catholic priests. This is how he came into contact with the secular priest, Father Roger Dickenson (sometimes spelled Dicconsen).
Father Dickenson was a native of Lincoln who had studied for the priesthood in Rheims, France. In 1583 he was sent on a mission to England and was imprisoned soon afterwards but managed to escape when his guards got drunk. He was not so fortunate the second time he was arrested, this time with Ralph Milner who had been escorting him around the local villages. The two men were put under close confinement at the Winchester jail; Father Dickenson was charged with the crime of being a Catholic priest, Ralph Milner for aiding him.
At their trial, the judge took pity on the elderly farmer and made several attempts to set him free, urging him to merely visit a Protestant church as a matter of form. Since to Ralph Milner this would have been tantamount to renouncing his new-found Faith, he refused, saying that he could not “embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maxims of the gospel.”
On July 7, 1591, the day of execution, Ralph Milner’s children were escorted to the gallows, begging him to renounce his Faith and so save his life, but again he refused. He gave them his final blessing, declaring that “he could wish them no greater happiness than to die for the like cause.” The two men were hanged, drawn, and quartered; it is said that they faced their deaths calmly and with great courage.
1. We may think that the days of dying for one’s faith are over, but a look at the news from around the world shows that it’s as much a reality today as it was in Ralph Milner and Roger Dickenson’s time. Let us pray fervently for the priests, religious, and lay people throughout the world who are suffering and dying for their Catholic Faith.
2. Ralph Milner was a simple, uneducated man who offered his help wherever he saw the need. Think of the wonderful example he set for his children, not only in his aid to his fellow prisoners and to priests, but in the inspiring example of his steadfastness in his Faith, in his loyalty to God. May all fathers today follow in his footsteps and teach their children by their own example of living always in the Truth.