Saint Oliver Plunkett (1625-1681), bishop, and martyr for the faith. During his life, Saint Oliver braved hardship, exile, persecution and death—all the while holding firmly to his faith in the Lord and thanking God "Who gave us the grace to suffer for the chair of Peter." Saint Oliver’s shepherding of his people, and his faith during times of suffering, earned him a martyr’s death and a rightful place in heaven.
Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew, Meath, Ireland in 1629 to privileged parents of good lineage and land ownership. Until the age of 16, he was educated by his cousin, the Abbot of Saint Mary’s in Dublin. In 1645 he set out for Rome under the care of Father Scarampo of the Roman Oratory, and stayed at the Irish College where he had a brilliant academic career. The Rector later said that Plunkett “devoted himself with such ardor to philosophy, theology, and mathematics, that in the Roman College of the Society of Jesus he was justly ranked amongst the foremost in talent, diligence, and progress in his studies… and was a model of gentleness, integrity, and piety.” He was ordained a priest in 1654, and elected by the Irish bishops to act as their representative in Rome.
As anti-Catholic sentiment grew throughout England, Oliver was unable to return to Ireland. He asked to stay on in Rome and, in 1657, became a professor of theology at the College of Propaganda Fide. In 1669, he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, the leader of the Church in Ireland. After pleading his case, he was allowed back into Ireland as laws were becoming slightly more tolerant. He was also granted the right to wear the Pallium, a strip of white cloth made from lamb’s wool collected by Trappist monks, and a sign of Papal authority.
Following Bishop Plunkett’s return to Ireland, he began the rebuilding and reorganization of the Catholic Church. Saint Oliver oversaw the construction of new schools and seminaries. He also denounced the drunkenness that was common among the Irish clergy, saying, “Let us remove this defect from an Irish priest and he will be a saint.” Following the easing of Penal Laws, Saint Oliver was able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda, in 1670.
The second trial, held in London, was a “kangaroo court.” Lord Campbell, writing of the judge, called it a “disgrace” to himself and his country. Plunkett was found guilty of high treason “for promoting the Catholic faith,” and was condemned to a gruesome death: ” . . . through the City of London to Tyburn; there you shall be hanged by the neck but cut down before you are dead, your bowels taken out and burnt before your face, your head shall be cut off, and your body divided into four quarters to be disposed of as her majesty pleases. And I pray God to have mercy on your soul."
Shortly before his death, Saint Oliver penned the following letter:
“The kindness and charity of your lordship are such that you have been pleased to express appreciation of my poor service in cultivating the vineyard of the Lord in this afflicted country and in corresponding with the Holy see, venerated and loved by me with a spiritual affection and reverence, as also with an earthly affection because as a good mother it nourished me for many years in Rome while I lectured there, as well as with other honors too great for my weakness to bear. God knows that I think of nothing else, day and night, than the service of souls, which is the service desired of me by the Sacred Congregation and the Holy See. Political or temporal matters have no part in my life: neither in my mind nor on my lips nor with my pen are they given any place. God knows how I labored last year, 1670, in visiting six large dioceses, in holding a provincial council and various diocesan synods, and how I labored this present year in the dioceses of Clogher, Down, and Dromore, as well as my own.
We are in greater fear and trembling here now. In Scotland parliament has decreed that for the future it will be a lese-majesty to hear Mass. It seems as if the times of Nero, Domitian, and Diocletian have come round again. We shall have martyrs’ blood to irrigate and fertilize the Church. These edicts do not as present include Ireland, because it is not named by the King in them, but I am sure that, as usual, we shall not be forgotten.
Sentence of death was passed against me on the fifteenth. It has not caused me the least terror or deprived me of even a quarter of an hour’s sleep. I am as innocent of all treason as the child born yesterday. As for my character, profession and function, I did own it publicly, and that being also a motive of my death, I die most willingly. And being the first among the Irish, I shall, with God’s grace, give good example to the others not to fear death. I expect daily to be brought t o the place of execution where my bowels are to be cut out and burned before my face, and then my head to be cut off. What speech I will have at my death will be sent to you. If I had obtained sufficient time to have brought my witnesses from Ireland, I think I should have defended myself as regards these romances of treason; but it was not granted to me, and I was brought to my trial destitute of all legal ways of defense.”
A well respected young woman, from a highly regarded Catholic family, Elizabeth Shelton, petitioned the King to recover Saint Oliver’s remains immediately after the execution. She, accompanied by the faithful, received the head and other 'quarters' after the bowels had been cast into the fire. Some parts were buried in the north wall of Saint Giles cemetery. She saved the head and two forearms, which were eventually entrusted to the Sienna Nuns of the Dominican Convent at Drogheda. They are presently on view, enshrined in Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Drogheda, as is the door of the cell the saint occupied at Newgate. Pilgrims visit this holy site, and miracles have been reported at his intercession.
St. Oliver Plunkett: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, Archbishop of Armagh: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, Primate of all Ireland: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, martyr for the faith: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, first of the canonized Irish saints: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, model for the Irish Priesthood: Pray for us
St. Oliver Plunkett, who risked the chance of death and returned to Ireland in penal times: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, model of the Christian life: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, last to die at Tyburn for the faith: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, who like Jesus prayed for his persecutors: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, who faced martyrdom with serenity: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, protector of the holy faith planted by Saint Patrick: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, whose message was one of serenity and peace: Pray for us.
St. Oliver Plunkett, who was a model of reconciliation: Pray for us.
O God, who rejoices with the memory of Saint Oliver Plunkett, Bishop and Martyr, mercifully grant that we may be assisted by his merits, by whose life we are illumined. Through Jesus Christ, your Son Our Lord. Amen.
Year 2: Day 192 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Comfort in our suffering; Union with Christ.
Requested Intentions: For a daughter’s successful examination results (A); Occupational success, health and safety of family (S); Reduction in anxiety for husband, financial freedom (S); Healing for a sister-in-law (J); For a family experiencing a difficult child custody case (M); Reunification of a family struggling with separation (M): For a son struggling with mental illness (M); Successful examination results (B); To be freed from the chains of sin (J); Admission to a good university (M); For successful surgery (T); For a mother’s mental health and for kindness and forgiveness, for housing problems, for dental health (T); For the soul of a departed friend (X); Restoration of health (D); Successful employment for couple (N); For employment for children (K); For health of friend, for successful relationships for children, for safe pregnancy for daughter (C); For the health of a mother (J); Virtue for daughter (V); Successful acceptance to college for nephew (M); For the health of a cousin (T); Freedom from legal difficulties for husband (S); Husband’s freedom from illness (L).
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."