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The Catholic Defender: Saint Oliver Plunkett


Oliver Plunkett, a 17th-century Irish martyr, became Ireland's first new saint in nearly 700 years after being canonized in 1975. In 1997, he was deemed the country's patron saint for peace and reconciliation.


The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution. Born in County Meath in 1629, Oliver studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654.


In 1679, Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and falsely charged with treason. This man of peace was accused of plotting to bring 20 000 French soldiers to Ireland. He was taken to London to stand trial and because he was not given time to arrange his defense. Archbishop Plunkett was found guilty and sentenced to death.


The name of today’s saint is especially familiar to the Irish and the English—and with good reason. The English martyred Oliver Plunkett for defending the faith in his native Ireland during a period of severe persecution.


Born in County Meath in 1629, Oliver studied for the priesthood in Rome and was ordained there in 1654. After some years of teaching and service to the poor of Rome he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland.


Four years later, in 1673, a new wave of anti-Catholic persecution began, forcing Archbishop Plunkett to do his pastoral work in secrecy and disguise and to live in hiding. Meanwhile, many of his priests were sent into exile, schools were closed, Church services had to be held in secret, and convents and seminaries were suppressed. As archbishop, Plunkett was viewed as ultimately responsible for any rebellion or political activity among his parishioners.

1673 brought a renewal of religious persecution, and bishops were banned by 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. He thanked God "Who gave us the grace to suffer for the chair of Peter."


Archbishop Plunkett was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle in 1679, but his trial was moved to London. After deliberating for 15 minutes, a jury found him guilty of fomenting revolt. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered in July 1681.


Pope Paul VI canonized Oliver Plunkett in 1975.


Stories like that of Oliver Plunkett seem to fit history. “Things like that don’t happen today” is often our thought. But they do. False accusations, prejudice, anti-Catholic sentiments, racism, sexism, etc. are still an active reality in our day. Perhaps a prayer to Saint Oliver for peace and justice might be appropriate.

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