You only live once so you might as well be brave
When you read this column, I will be home in Ireland with my family. While there, I will visit the shrine of St. Oliver Plunkett (born 1 Nov 1621) who, like all pastors, is a martyr! He was an outstanding priest and bishop who spent his life one step ahead of the hangman simply because he was a Catholic priest and bishop. Eventually caught and charged with treason, he was taken to London because no Irish jury would find him guilty. There, he was held in Newgate prison, tried at Westminister Hall, and executed at Tyburn, London (1 July 1681).
The children of noble Irish Catholic families were typically taken from their parents and given to English families to be raised in the reformed religion. So, young Oliver was sent out of Ireland as a child by his parents to be educated on the Continent of Europe, where he eventually was ordained a priest (1654), was a professor at the Propaganda Fide University, became Rector of the Irish College in Rome, before being sent back to Ireland by Pope Clement IX as Archbishop of Armagh (1681). He was, therefore, the successor of St. Patrick. The country, church, clergy, and people were in a terrible state, so he set about bring hope and comfort to a desperate, despised, and downtrodden people. He celebrated the sacraments in secret, and when possible, publicly. In an attempt to bring about reform and good order, he held synods with the few clergy and bishops who remained in Ireland. He ordained new priests and bishops, baptized and confirmed adults and children; he even established schools, where and when possible, teaching both Catholic and Protestant children (although it was illegal to educate Catholic children). He negotiated with the civil authorities, when possible, in times when the penal laws were relaxed. By all accounts, he was a kind, generous, and faithful man who dearly wanted peace for his people. He had a reputation for kindness and generosity toward everyone and he was learned, gentle, full of energy, and love for the faith.
With a return of anti-Catholic hostilities in Britain, unless they conformed to the state religion or left the country within a short period of parole, all Catholic clergy in Ireland became hunted men. St. Oliver refused to leave, and for a prolonged period of time, “went on the run.” Taking different disguises, he traveled throughout the country baptizing, confirming, ordaining, celebrating Mass, and encouraging his priest and people to be faithful. His constant refrain was: “we will not abandon the sheep.” Imagine, he suffered all things rather than leave his people. The good shepherd searches for the lost, lifts up, carries and binds the wounded, and refuses to leave the sheep to the wolves. Of course, we see this every day in priests and bishops, possibly! But certainly, in mothers and fathers. The truth is that we are all called to be shepherds like this, like Jesus, like Oliver Plunkett. We are called to care for all the sheep, others as well as our own.
No doubt St. Oliver was a heroic figure who lived a life worth living. We can do the same. Be heroic, be a shepherd, be a good shepherd.
I will place the names and the intentions of our parishes and our people at the shrine of St. Oliver, at St. Peter’s Church, in Drogheda. I will pray for you and would appreciate your prayer for me.