The Life of St. Oliver Plunkett

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Following his canonization in 1975, St. Oliver Plunkett became the first Irish saint in almost 700 years. Read more at Suite101: The Life of St. Oliver Plunkett: The Patron Saint of the Irish Peace Process.

Oliver Plunkett was born into a wealthy Anglo-Norman family in County Meath, Ireland on October 12, 1625. At the age of 16, Plunkett was sent to Rome to continue his studies, as a result of anti-Catholic sentiment in Ireland.

Plunkett was admitted to the Irish College in Rome in 1646 where he proved to be a capable student. He was eventually ordained in 1654 and became the representative for the Irish bishops in Rome. Meanwhile, Oliver Cromwell had invaded Ireland and Father Plunkett found himself unable to return to Ireland.

While in exile Father Plunkett became a professor of theology at the College of Propoganda Fide. In July, 1669, Father Plunkett was summoned before the Congregation of Propoganda Fide, at which point he became Archbishop of Armagh, in Ireland. He was also given the title Primate of Ireland. Bishop Plunkett was consecrated on November 30th by the Bishops of Ghent and Fern. Bishop Plunkett was able to return to Ireland in March, 1670, thanks to a greater tolerance for Catholics that had come about as a result of the English Restoration. 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.

Bishop Plunkett Returns to Ireland

Following Bishop Plunkett’s arrival in Ireland, he began to rebuild and reorganize the Catholic Church. Bishop Plunkett 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.” Thanks to the relaxation of the Penal Laws, which had placed most of the power in the hands of the English Protestant minority, Bishop Plunkett was able to establish a Jesuit College in Drogheda, in 1670.

In 1673, the Test Acts were passed. The Test Acts were a series of English Penal Laws designed to serve as a religious test for people seeking to hold public office. Bishop Plunkett objected to the Test Acts for doctrinal reasons and his Jesuit college was burned down as a result. Following this, Bishop Plunkett went into hiding, traveling only in disguise. He refused a government edict to register at a seaport, where he was to await passage into exile.

In 1678, the so-called Popish Plot led to further anti-Catholic sentiment in England. Following the arrest of Irish Archbishop Peter Talbot, Bishop Plunkett again went into hiding. Despite being a fugitive, Bishop Plunkett refused to abandon his parishioners. He was finally arrested in Dublin in December, 1679. Bishop Plunkett was tried for treason against the state. During his trial, Bishop Plunkett was accused of plotting a French invasion of Ireland. He was also accused of planning to incite an Irish uprising.

After a grand jury found no evidence to justify Bishop Plunkett’s indictment, it was decided that Bishop Plunkett would never be found guilty in an Irish court. Consequently, the Earl of Shaftsbury arranged to have Bishop Plunkett transferred to Newgate Prison in England. Bishop Plunkett was kept in solitary confinement for six months while evidence was gathered.

Bishop Plunkett’s Martyrdom

Bishop Plunkett’s second trial would prove to be such a miscarriage of justice that Lord Shaftsbury had a change of heart, and petitioned King Charles II to intervene. Because he was held incommunicato for six months, Bishop Plunkett was not able to bring witnesses from Ireland and was not able to defend himself. Because of this, Bishop Plunkett’s trial was condemned by observers as a farce. In spite of this, Bishop Plunkett was found guilty and sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered.

Bishop Plunkett was put to death at Tyburn, on July 1, 1681. Following his execution, Bishop Plunkett was initially buried next to the remains of five Jesuits who had been martyred before the courtyard of St. Giles Church in London. In 1683, Bishop Plunkett’s remains were moved to the Benedictine Monastery at Hildesheim, in Germany. Bishop Plunkett’s head was sent to Rome, then Armagh, before eventually being enshrined at St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda. Today relics from Bishop Plunkett can be found in England, Ireland, France, Germany and the United States.

The Canonization of St. Oliver Plunkett

Bishop Plunkett was beatified in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV and canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1975. St. Oliver’s declaration of sainthood was unusual because the Vatican waved the usual requirement of a second confirmed miracle.

St. Oliver Plunkett is the patron saint of peace and reconciliation, as well as the patron saint of the Irish peace process. His feast day is July 11.

Sources

Moran, Patrick Francis Cardinal. “Blessed Oliver Plunket.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 23 Feb. 2010

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