I've used the expression "in the clink" often but never gave its origin much thought -- until last night when I came across "The Clink" while reading Clare Asquith's book on Shakespeare's coded language, Shadowplay. She mentioned The Clink, a notorious prison in Southwark, England not far from the Globe Theatre. Shakespeare apparently visited a friend there. And, in fact, some famous Catholic recusants were imprisoned in The Clink including Fr. John Gerard, S.J. He was one of the few Catholic priests who escaped the "hanging tree" at Tyburn during Elizabeth I's draconian persecution. Many English priests were hanged, drawn, and quartered as a gruesome reminder to others. And why? because they refused to give up the Mass. Would that we loved the Mass as much today!
Fr. Gerard was imprisoned temporarily in The Clink (Summer 1594 to Spring 1597) before being moved to the Tower of London from which he made an amazing escape. After fleeing to the continent, Fr. Gerard's superiors instructed him to write down his story, and he did in a fascinating book called The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest.
The chapter on The Clink relates the blessing of being in a prison filled with Catholic prisoners. A friendly guard was bribed and coaxed "not to pry too closely into our doings" and Fr. Gerard was able to hear confessions and engage in apostolic work during his time there. In the same chapter he describes the capture and death of Ann Line, one of the English martyrs who harboured priests and frequently held illegal Masses in her home. She had a "priest hole" where clergy hid when Mass was invaded by the queen's agents.
Fr. Gerard describes his work in prison saying, "During this period God used me as His instrument to turn many hearts from worldly ambitions to the love of God and the following of Christ's counsels....I was able to send many young men and boys to the seminaries. Some of them are now Jesuits and are working in England, others remain in the seminaries training more labourers for the mission."
Next time you hear that someone's "in the clink," especially a group of pro-lifers like the dear ones arrested at Notre Dame who face serious persecution, remember where the term comes from. Defenders of the faith, imprisoned and persecuted for the good they do, walk in the footsteps of Fr. Gerard and his martyred brothers and sisters imprisoned in the infamous English prison.