Houling, (Howlin), John (1543/4–1599), Jesuit and martyrologist, was born in Wexford and entered the priesthood at an unknown date. He is first recorded in 1577 when he was at Alcala de Henares, Spain (where he was a friend of William Walsh (qv), the exiled bishop of Meath). He was in Galicia in 1580 and in Lisbon in February 1583. Towards the end of that year he entered the Society of Jesus in Rome and was sent to Milan for his noviciate. In September 1589 he set out for Spain and was directed to a Jesuit house in Lisbon to take the place of Robert Rochford who ministered to Irish sailors and catholic exiles who landed at that port. Many of the exiles were unaccompanied youths and Houling’s concern for their welfare led him to envisage founding a college to provide them with an education. In 1592, he assisted Thomas White (qv), who had encountered similar problems at Valladolid, to establish a college for Irish students at Salamanca, with a royal guarantee of admission to the university.
Shortly after, having raised sufficient money to buy a disused convent, Houling brought his plans for Lisbon to fruition: on 1 February 1593, with the aid of Father Pedro Fonseca, he established the Irish College of St Patrick with an initial enrolment of thirty students. For the next six years he taught in the college and administered its affairs, overcoming its initial financial difficulties with funds provided by the viceroy of Portugal and the assistance of a local nobleman, Antonio Fernando Ximenes, who established an endowment to support fourteen students. In October 1599 plague broke out in Lisbon, and Houling and three fellow Jesuits busied themselves with visiting the sick and distributing food. All four died of the plague. Houling died in Lisbon, but the date recorded (7 March 1599) is clearly notional, having been assigned also to the deaths of a number of Jesuits who died about this time in different parts of Europe.
About 1589, Houling compiled the first native Irish martyrology, ‘Perbreve compendium’, a biographical listing of forty-six Irish people who had suffered for their religion between 1578 and 1588, thirty-nine of whom had died. Almost all were from Munster and south Leinster and most were Anglo-Irish. Rather more than half were lay people. Some of these were people of note, including the 15th earl of Desmond (qv), his brothers James and John (qv) and the brothers of Lord Baltinglass (qv), but there were ordinary people as well, among them a Wexford baker, Matthew Lambert (qv). Two were women, Margaret Ball (qv) and Margery Barnewall, who had suffered persecution for their faith.
Houling, in effect, was ascribing martyrdom to those he believed to have died for their faith in the Desmond, Baltinglass and Nugent rebellions or who had suffered in the aftermath. It is unlikely that he was in Ireland during the decade but he was personally acquainted with some of those whose stories he recorded, including Barnewall whose confessor he had been in Galicia, and his work provides an insight into the way in which exiles perceived events at home. It is preserved in the archives of the Irish College of Salamanca and was printed by Cardinal P. F. Moran (qv) in Spicilegium Ossoriense, i (1874), 82–109.