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Born in London, White entered a Spanish seminary, studied at the College of Martyrs' at Douai, France, was ordained a priest in 1605, and risked a cruel death during a period of renewed Catholic persecution by becoming a missionary to Protestant England.

In 1606 he was captured and banished from England following the Gunpowder Plot, and joined the Society of Jesus the next year. Between 1610 and 1630 he divided his time between pastoral work in England and teaching scripture, dogma, Greek, and Hebrew at the Jesuit colleges at Louvain and Liege. By the late 1620s or early 1630s, he was advising George, and later Cecil Calvert about colonization in America.

On Nov. 22, 1633 he accompanied the first settlers to Maryland as the superior of the Jesuit mission. He celebrated the first Catholic mass in English America on March 25, 1634, and for the next decade labored to convert Indians and colonists alike.

He wrote one of the most valuable and famous accounts of early Maryland and composed a grammar, dictionary, and catechism in the local Algonquian dialect. When Maryland was invaded by Richard Ingle in 1645, Father White, then 66, was transported back to England in chains and remained in Newgate prison until January, 1648. Although he pleaded to return to his 'dear Marilanders,' he never did, and died in England in 1656.