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FOCUSED ON THE LORD

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Saint Oliver Plunkett

Oliver Plunkett was born in County Meath in 1629 to a wealthy and well-connected family. At the age of 16 he was sent to Rome to continue his education, rather than to England, where Catholics were being persecuted. After his studies in the Irish College he was ordained a priest and spent the next 12 years lecturing in theology at the College of the Propagation of the Faith, in what seems to have been a happy and peaceful time.

At the age of 40 he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and returned to Ireland. The Penal Laws had by this time been relaxed to a degree, allowing Catholics publicly to practice their religion. Immediately he set up a Jesuit College in Drogheda and within a year he had 150 students. But then the Council of Ireland met and ordered that all bishops and those under the jurisdiction of Rome must leave the country. Rewards of £5 for priests and £10 for bishops were offered for anyone disclosing their whereabouts. The Jesuit College was levelled to the ground and persecution increased. Many senior churchmen left the country but Oliver Plunkett and others stayed.

Parliament in 1673 again ordered all bishops and regular clergy to quit the Kingdom but again Plunkett refused to comply and continued travelling the country dressed as a layman. By this time, after only four years, it is estimated that he had confirmed over 48,000 people, sometimes on mountains and in woods. On 6 December 1679 on his way to a friend’s house he was arrested and detained for six weeks in Dublin Castle under false charges that he had prepared 70,000 Irish Catholics to rise up and murder Protestants in a plot to restore Romish rule to Ireland. The trial was to take place in Dundalk but no Protestant juror would convict him. Oliver Plunkett was then sent to London where he was jailed for six months pending a new trial, at which he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered.

Knowing of the barbaric death he faced he wrote in one of his letters, “It has not caused me the least terror or deprived me of even a quarter of an hour of sleep. I am as innocent of all treason as the child born yesterday.”

Oliver Plunkett was the last Catholic to die at Tyburn and his remains rest part at Downside Abbey and part in Drogheda.

Here was a saintly bishop who had just one thing constantly before his mind that was to serve the Lord Jesus and witness to His love. Nothing could separate him from the love of Christ. If only we could be as focused on the Lord as he was. Let us ask Him to increase our love for the Lord.

Saint Oliver Plunkett, pray for us.