SAINT OLIVER PLUNKETT (1629-1681), bishop and martyr
The name of today’s saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English – and with good reason. Oliver Plunkett was found guilty in a London court and martyred for defending his Catholic faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution, and it is he whom the Church honors today.
Born into Irish nobility in County Meath in Ireland on September 30, 1629, Oliver was educated by the Jesuits at the newly established Irish College in Rome, Italy; and he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in the year 1654.
After some years of teaching and service to the poor in Rome, Father Oliver was appointed bishop of Meath and then archbishop of Armagh in Ireland in 1669. He ministered to the faithful, confirming more than 48,000 persons. To bring this Sacrament of Confirmation within reach of the suffering faithful, he had to undergo the severest hardships, often with no food other than some bread; he had to seek out their abodes on the mountains and in the woods far from any rural or urban settlements.
Four years later, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise, and to frequently live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile; schools were closed; Masses and other services had to be held in secret, and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, he was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners.
He was eventually arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. The Chief Justice of the London court stated for the record from the bench that there could be no greater crime than to endeavor to propagate the Catholic faith. After deliberating for only 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt.
On Friday, July 11, 1681, while standing on the scaffold awaiting execution, it was observed and recorded in writing that Archbishop Plunkett “displayed such a serenity of countenance, such a tranquility of mind and elevation of soul, that he seemed rather a spouse hastening to the nuptial feast, than a culprit led forth to the scaffold.” He was then hanged, drawn and quartered, receiving the martyr’s crown.
Oliver Plunkett was canonized a saint on October 12, 1975 by Pope St. Paul VI in Rome, Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on July 2.
(From saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, irelandseye.com and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for One Martyr)
“All-powerful, Ever-living God, You gave Saint Oliver the courage to witness to the Gospel of Christ, even to the point of giving his life for it. By his prayers, help us to endure all suffering for love of You and to seek You with all our hearts, for You alone are the Source of life.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”