Ralph Sherwin is the first member of the Venerable English College in Rome to die for the Faith on December 1, 1581 (Feast Day). Nestled in the center of Rome lies a small seminary for English students, founded during the Catholic persecutions under Elizabeth I. Agreeing to study there meant a contract to return to England to uphold the Faith.
A marble monument names the 40 students of the College known to have suffered martyrdom.
Sherwin was born at Rodsley, Derbyshire, educated at Eton College and nominated for a fellowship at Exeter College, Oxford. A talented classical scholar, Sherwin graduated Master of Arts in1574, and the following year converted to Roman Catholicism and fled abroad to the English College at Douai, where he was ordained a priest on 23 March 1577. On 2 August 1577, he left for Rome, where he stayed at the English College, Rome for nearly three years and continued his education.
On 18 April 1580, Sherwin and thirteen companions left Rome for England. His apostolate was brief. On 9 November 1580, he was arrested while preaching in the house of Nicholas Roscarrock in London and imprisoned in the Marshalsea, where he converted many fellow prisoners; and on 4 December was transferred to the Tower of London, where he was tortured on the rack and then left to die in the snow.
Allegedly he was offered a bishopric by Elizabeth I if he would deny the pope; but refused.
After recovery he spent a year in prison before he was finally brought to trial with the notable Jesuit St. Edmund Campion on a charge of treasonable conspiracy. He was convicted in Westminster Hall on 20 November 1581. Eleven days later he was taken to Tyburn on a hurdle along with Alexander Briant and Campion, where the three martyrs were hanged, drawn and quartered.
Sherwin’s last words were “Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesus!”
He was canonized on 25 October 1970 by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales with a common feast day of 25 October.