Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us. Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time. This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints. We began with Saint Athanasius. Go here to read about him. Next we looked at Saint John Fisher. Go here to read about him. Today we turn to Saint Oliver Plunkett.
Oliver Plunkett first saw the light of day on November 1, 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland, a scion of an Irish-Norman family. Educated by his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of Saint Mary’s in Dublin and a future bishop, Oliver decided at a young age that he wished to become a priest, and in 1647 he went to study for the priesthood in Rome at the Irish College. Ordained in 1654, he acted as the representative of the Irish bishops in Rome.
While performing duties as a Professor of Theology at the College of Propaganda Fide, he never ceased speaking out on behalf of the suffering Church in Ireland, enduring massacre and suppression under the brutal Cromwellian Conquest. On November 30, 1669 he was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh.
In Ireland he went at his duties with a will, traveling up and down the country confirming Catholics, the sacrament often being administered in huge open air masses. He joyously shared the sufferings of his persecuted flock, often living on a little oat bread as he brought Christ to his people. He attacked drunkenness as being a prime curse of the priesthood in Ireland and championed education for the youth of the Emerald Isle.
A renewed period of persecution struck Ireland in 1673, with the churches being closed, and the schools disbanded. The Jesuit college at Drogheda that Plunkett had established was leveled. With a price on his head, he refused to go into exile and traveled in disguise. The Archbishop carried on with his duties, undeterred that his episcopal palace was usually a simple peasant’s hut.