Saint of the Day – 14 November – St Laurence O’Toole (c 1128 – 1180) – Archbishop of Dublin, Abbot, Reformer, Mediator, Preacher, Apostle of Charity, Papal Legate to Ireland, he established new Churches and monasteries – born Lorcan Ua Tuathail in 1128 at Castledermot, County Kildare, Ireland and died on 14 November 1180 at Eu, diocese of Rouen, Normandy, France of natural causes. Patron of the Archdiocese of Dublin.
Saint Laurence was the son of the king of Leinster in Ireland. His birth caused such great joy to his father, that in thanksgiving, to honour Christ, he pardoned a vassal who was an enemy and even chose him for sponsor of the child. They were stopped on the way to church by a man who was regarded as a prophet and who told them in verse that the child would be magnificent on earth and glorious in heaven and that his name must be Laurence. Though the king had decided otherwise, the infant was indeed given that name.
When only ten years old, his father delivered him up as a hostage to a rival prince who required this of his sincerity when there was a question of a treaty of peace but who treated the child with great inhumanity, leaving him to suffer hunger and cold and other inhuman conditions until his health was nearly ruined. His father, hearing of this, by menaces obliged the tyrant to put him temporarily in the hands of the Bishop of Glendenoch in the county of Wicklow. The holy youth was soon cured and, by his fidelity in corresponding with the divine grace, he grew to be a model of virtues. When his father came for him, he declared he desired to enter into the service of the Church and remain with the good bishop. To this his father willingly agreed.
On the death of the bishop, who was also Abbot of a monastery of the same city, Saint Laurence was chosen Abbot in 1150, though only twenty years old and doubting his competence. Nonetheless, he governed with a paternal spirit, employing all his revenues during a famine in the province, to procure food for the needy, remedies for the sick and aid of all kinds for the unfortunate. Never did he use his revenues, even when prosperity returned, for anything but care of the poor, repairs for ruined or decrepit churches or the construction of new ones and the foundation of hospitals. When the see of Glendenoch became vacant once more in 1161, it was Saint Laurence who was chosen to fill it and although he could not resolve to accept that new dignity, he was obliged soon afterwards to become Archbishop of Dublin and he was told that to refuse would be to resist the Will of God.
He established a regular life for the Canons of his cathedral, according to the example of Saint Augustine and he himself followed all the rules with exactitude, sharing their table, their prayer and their silence. Each Lent he returned to Glendalough to make a forty days’ retreat in St. Kevin’s Cave on a precipice of Lugduff Mountain over the Upper Lake.
About the year 1171 Saint Laurence was obliged, for the affairs of his diocese, to go to England to see the king, Henry II, who was then at Canterbury. He was received by the Benedictine monks of Christ Church with the greatest honour and respect. On the following day, as the holy Archbishop was advancing to the altar to officiate, a maniac, who had heard much of his sanctity and who thought it would be a gift to the Church to make of him another martyr in the likeness of Saint Thomas Becket, struck him a violent blow on the head. All present concluded that he was mortally wounded but the Saint recovered his senses and asked for some water, which he blessed. He then requested that the wound be washed with it, and the blood was immediately stanched and the archbishop celebrated Mass. He obtained the offender’s pardon from the king . His prayers brought about many miracles, including the return to their senses for those who had become alienated, a miracle rare in the history of religion. After he attended a General Council in Rome in 1179, the Pope made him his legate for all of Ireland and he visited all its provinces to re-establish ecclesiastical discipline everywhere.
In 1175 Henry II of England became offended with Roderick, the monarch of Ireland and prudence that he granted him everything he asked and left the whole negotiation to his discretion.
After a stay at the Monastery of Abingdon south of Oxford – necessitated by a closure of the ports – he landed at Le Tréport, Normandy, at a cove named after him, Saint-Laurent. He fell ill and was conveyed to the Abbey of St Victor at Eu. Mortally ill, it was suggested that he should make his will, to which he replied: “God knows, I have not a penny under the sun to leave anyone.” His last thoughts were of his people in Dublin : “Alas, you poor, foolish people, what will you do now? Who will take care of you in your trouble? Who will help you?” He died on 14 November 1180.
The Saint is described as tall and graceful in figure. He was well known as an ascetic, wore a hair shirt, never ate meat and fasted every Friday on bread and water. In contrast to this, it is said that when he entertained, his guests lacked for nothing, while he drank water coloured to look like wine so as not to spoil the feast.
Due to the great number of miracles that rapidly occurred either at his tomb or through his intercession, Lorcán was canonised only 45 years after his death in 1225 by Pope Honorius III.
St Laurence’s heart was preserved in a reliquary in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin from the 13th century. His skull was brought to England in 1442 by a nobleman named Sir Rowland Standish who had fought at Agincourt. The bones were interred at the parish church of Chorley in England, now named St Laurence’s, until they disappeared in the English Reformation. Lorcán’s heart remains in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. The reliquary was stolen in 2012, with the Dean of Christ Church saying “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father”. It was recovered in Phoenix Park in 2018 after a tip-off to the Garda Síochána. Media reported that the unidentified thieves thought it was cursed and caused family members’ illnesses. At a special ceremony in Christ Church on 26 April 2018, the heart was returned to it’s home.