Feast of Saint Oliver Plunkett
Today’s Saint was one of the last martyrs of the English “reformation” that was first set into motion by King Henry VIII. He was born into a well heeled family in County Meath and he desired to become a priest.
Oliver went to Rome for his priestly studies and was ordained in the Eternal City, but due to Cromwell’s reign of terror against Catholics in England and Ireland, he was unable to return and stayed as a theology professor in Rome.
Oliver was eventually appointed as Bishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. He returned in 1670 to an Ireland that was more tolerant of Catholics, but not completely safe and free. Oliver set about reforming the Irish church that had been persecuted for decades, he established a college and began the training of new priests, but a new round of persecution would see this college closed and demolished in 1673, forcing him into hiding.
On trumped up charges of a “Popish Plot,” there was a new wave of anti-Catholic hysteria unleashed across Ireland and Britain that eventually swept Bishop Plunkett up in its wake.
Charged with high treason, he was tried in Dublin but the government soon realized they would not be able to convict the beloved Bishop on his home soil, so the trial was swiftly moved to London.
The trials in London were staged and heavily weighted towards the prosecution. Bishop Plunkett was denied legal council, and all of his procedural objections were slapped down by the judges, who themselves showed deadly contempt for the Catholic Faith. Even the many Protestant clergy who witnessed the trial were disgusted by this obvious miscarriage of justice and were quoted as being ashamed for their country. In late June 1681, Bishop Oliver Plunkett was found guilty of high treason for “promoting the Roman faith” and was sentenced to die at Tyburn, to which Plunkett replied “Deo Gratias.”
Calls for clemency fell on the deaf ears of King Charles II, who was Himself believed to be a secret Catholic, and he even told the French ambassador that he believed Plunkett to be innocent but was in no position to pardon him.
Bishop Oliver Plunkett was hanged on July 1st 1681 at Tyburn, the site of hundreds of other martyrdoms since the early 1500s. Thankfully, he died on the gallows before the executioner disemboweled his body and then quartered him (this was the standard mode of execution for Catholic clergy as a final show of disrespect).
His body was first moved to Germany, and then returned to England where he was buried at Downside Abby. His head was given to Ireland where you can visit to pay your respects at Saint Peter’s church in Drogheda Ireland.
Saint Oliver Plunkett, pray for us, and for all Catholics facing persecution for their faith.