Medal honour for historian of East Anglian Catholicism

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Medal honour for historian of East Anglian Catholicism

The leading historian of Catholicism in East Anglia for nearly 60 years, Joy Rowe, has been honoured for her huge contribution to the Diocese of East Anglia with the presentation of a Diocesan Medal on the occasion of her 90thbirthday.

Joy was presented with the medal at Ixworth Abbey in Suffolk by her parish priest Fr David Finegan on September 17, while the Secretary of the recently formed East Anglian Catholic History Society, Francis Young, explained a little about Joy's achievements and the reasons for the award.

In the 1950s, Joy Rowe taught History at a convent school run by the Religious of the Assumption at Hengrave Hall in Suffolk, and she produced a brief but ground-breaking history of Catholicism in the Bury St Edmunds area in 1958.

In the 1960s she worked on the life of Thomas Cornwallis, a controversial Suffolk recusant, and served as mentor to the well-known church historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, who grew up in her home village of Wetherden. Professor MacCulloch was present at her birthday party to witness the Diocesan award.

In the 1970s, Joy continued her research, and saved important Catholic parish records. Having been elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, over the next several decades Joy made important contributions to the journal of the Catholic Record Society, Recusant History, enriching our understanding of the treatment of Catholic prisoners under the Elizabethan regime.

In the 1990s she authored important chapters on eighteenth-century Catholicism in Norfolk and Suffolk. Her research challenged the view (then generally accepted) that in the south of England Catholicism was confined to the wealthy landed aristocracy. Joy demonstrated that there was always a small but vibrant population of committed Catholics in rural East Anglia, served by a network of travelling missionary priests.

Joy Rowe contributed chapters on recusants to historical atlases of Norfolk and Suffolk and, in 2004, eight of her articles on East Anglian Catholics appeared in the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. This was crucial in ensuring that important figures in our Catholic history who might otherwise have been forgotten received recognition in this standard historical reference work.

Most recently, Joy was the general editor of Francis Young's edition of the papers of the recusant Rookwood Family for the Suffolk Records Society, and contributed a chapter on Elizabethan recusants to the recently published history of the Diocese, Catholic East Anglia.

Besides her historical work, Joy has been a stalwart supporter of her parishes and of the Diocese of East Anglia from its inception. Francis Young pointed out that, without Joy Rowe's pioneering work on the history of East Anglian Catholicism, there would be no research into the area and certainly no East Anglian Catholic History Society (which now numbers over 100 members).

Pictured above, Joy Rowe (seated) with her son John (centre), Dr Francis Young (left) and Fr David Finegan (right).