Saint of the Day – 1 July – Saint Oliver Plunkett (1629-1681) Martyr, Archbishop and Primate of All Ireland, Confessor, Reformer. Born on 1 November 1629 at Loughenew, County Meath, Ireland and died by being hanged, drawn, and quartered on 1 July 1681 at Tyburn, England. PatronageS – archdiocese of Armagh, Irelanda, around 100 Churches, Apostolates, Schools, Sports facilities, Streets and Estates, even an aeroplane of the national airline.
Oliver Plunkett was born in Loughcrew, County Meath in the midlands of Ireland on 1 November 1625. At that time in Irish history, Catholics were being persecuted for their faith by their overlords, England. Many were evicted from their homes and forbidden to attend Mass. In all of Ireland there was only one active Bishop. Priests were hunted down and persecuted. Many fled to Europe. In 1647 Oliver Plunkett had to go to Rome to study for the priesthood because there were no Colleges or institutions of learning in Ireland.
In 1647 Oliver went to study for the priesthood under Jesuit guidance in the Irish College in Rome. Oliver was Ordained a Priest in Rome in 1654. Due to the religious persecution in his native land, it was not possible for him to return to minister to his people. Oliver remained in Rome and taught as a Professor of Theology at the Propaganda College. Because the persecution of Catholics was at a high point in Ireland, Oliver t could not be Consecrated Archbishop in Ireland but was Consecrated in Ghent by Bishop Eugene D’Allmont on 1 December 1669. He was installed as the then the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of Ireland.
Archbishop Plunkett returned to Ireland and began a ministry of reform and renewal of clergy and laity for the next eleven years. Archbishop Plunkett soon established himself as a man of peace and, with religious fervour, set about visiting his people, establishing schools, ordaining priests and confirming thousands. During the reforms he made many enemies, not least among the clergy and it was one of the renegade priests whom he had censured who later gave evidence against him at his trial.
1673 brought a renewal of religious persecution and Bishops were banned by a British Government edict. Archbishop Plunkett went into hiding, suffering a great deal from cold and hunger. His many letters showed his determination not to abandon his people but to remain a faithful shepherd.
The persecution eased slightly for a short while and he was once again able to move more openly among his people. In 1679 he was arrested and falsely charged with treason. Oliver was charged with plotting to bring 20 000 French soldiers to Ireland and levying a tax on the poverty-stricken clergy to support 70 000 armed men.
Such an absurd charge had no chance of sticking in Ireland. The government in power could not get him convicted at his trial in Dundalk, Ireland, so they brought him to London where he was again tried. He was unable to defend himself because he was not given time to bring his own witnesses from Ireland. Oliver was tried and with the help of perjured witnesses, was sentenced to death. The Judge, Sir Francis Pemberton, said in passing judgement: “You have done as much as you could to dishonour God in this case; for the bottom of your treason was your setting up your false religion, than which there is not any thing more displeasing to God, or more pernicious to mankind in the world”.. He was found guilty of high treason “for promoting the Roman faith.” The jury returned within fifteen minutes with a guilty verdict and Archbishop Plunkett replied: “Deo Gratias” – Thanks be to God.”
Numerous pleas for mercy were made but Charles II, although himself a reputed crypto-Catholic, thought it too politically dangerous to spare Plunkett. The French Ambassador to England, Paul Barillon, conveyed a plea for mercy from his King, Louis XIV. Charles told him frankly that he knew Plunkett to be innocent but that the time was not right to take so bold a step as to pardon him. Lord Essex, apparently realising too late that his intrigues had led to the condemnation of an innocent man, made a similar plea for mercy. The King, normally the most self-controlled of men, turned on Essex in fury, saying: “his blood be on your head – you could have saved him but would not, I would save him and dare not”.
With deep serenity of soul, Oliver prepared to die, calmly rebutting the charge of treason, refusing to save himself by giving false evidence against his brother Irish Bishops. Oliver Plunkett publicly forgave all those who were responsible for his death.
Oliver was hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn on 1 July 1681, aged 55, the last Catholic Martyr to die under the English persecutio. His body was initially buried in two tin boxes, next to five Jesuits who had died previously, in the courtyard of St Giles in the Fields Church. The remains were exhumed in 1683 and moved to the Benedictine Monastery at Lamspringe, near Hildesheim in Germany. The head was brought to Rome and from there to Armagh and eventually to Drogheda where since 29 June 1921 it has rested in Saint Peter’s Church. Most of the body was brought to Downside Abbey, England, where the major part is located today, with some parts remaining at Lamspringe. On the occasion of his Canonisation in 1975, his casket was opened and some parts of his body given to the Cathedral at Drogheda in Ireland.
In 1920 he was declared a Martyr for the Faith and was Beatified on 23 May 1920 in Rome by Pope Benedict XV and Canonised on12 October 1975 by Pope Paul VI,
Oliver was the first Irish Saint for almost seven hundred years and the first of the Irish Martyrs to be Beatified. For the Canonisation, the customary second miracle was waived. He has since been followed by 17 other Irish Martyrs who were Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1992.
As a spectacle alone, a rally and Mass for St Oliver Plunkett at London’s Clapham Common was a remarkable triumph. The Common was virtually taken over, for a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Plunkett’s Martyrdom. Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, twenty enrobed bishops and a number of Abbots mounted a stage beneath a scaffolding shelter on 1 July 1981. Ó Fiaich had flown there in a helicopter with Plunkett’s head. The occasion attracted thousands of pilgrims to the park.
In 1997 Plunkett was made a Patron Saint for peace and reconciliation in Ireland, adopted by the Prayer |Apostolate campaigning for peace in Ireland, “St Oliver Plunkett for Peace and Reconciliation.”