Thoughts for the Feast of St Oliver Plunkett (July 1) from Fr Willie Doyle

As a child I was convinced that one day God would give me the grace of martyrdom. When quite small I read and re-read every martyr’s life in the twelve volumes of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and longed and prayed to be a martyr, and I have often done so ever since. As years went on, the desire grew in intensity, and even now the sufferings of the martyrs, their pictures, and everything connected with their death, have a strange fascination for me and help me much.

COMMENT: Today is the feast of St Oliver Plunkett. St Oliver was the last Catholic martyr of Tyburn. He was Archbishop of Armagh, and returned to Ireland from Rome at a difficult time for his country. He endured great trials in his attempts to organise and reform the Church in his diocese. 

I can find no mention of St Oliver in Fr Doyle’s writings, but it is practically certain that he would have had great interest in his life, especially because Fr Doyle had a great interest in the martyrs and because St Oliver’s beatification cause was nearing completion during Fr Doyle’s life. 

While reading some of St Oliver’s letters recently, I was struck by the following excerpt, written on June 24th 1681, one week before St Oliver’s execution. This was the feast of St John the Baptist, and St Oliver reflected on St John’s sufferings and penance, despite his innocence. These are sentiments that I am sure would have appealed to Fr Doyle.

St John the Baptist shed his blood although his life was unsullied by the least sin of the tongue. The original dirt he contracted, although he was free from all dust of even venial sins. What then shall we do who have cartloads of actual mire and filthiness? He had not even venials, and suffered prison and death; we have dunghills and mortals, and what ought we to suffer? But why should I speak of St John, whereas his Master who was free from all original, venial and actual sins, suffered cold, frost, hunger, prison, stripes, thorns, and the most painful death of the Cross for others’ sins, and compared to the death of the Cross, Tyburn, as I hear the description, is but a flea biting.

On this day we should pray for the Church in Ireland which suffers so much at this time. 

For those who wish to see Fr Doyle recognised more formally by the Church, it is also consoling to remember that St Oliver, a heroic martyr, died in 1681 and was only beatified in 1920 and canonised in 1975. 

Amazingly, St Oliver is the only canonised Irish person since before the Council of Trent over 500 years ago! Ireland needs more canonised saints. Let us pray and work for this, especially with respect to Fr Doyle. 

More information about St Oliver can be found ahttp://www.saintoliverplunkett.com/

Today is also the feast of Blessed Antonio Rosmini, the founder of the Institute of Charity. Blessed Rosmini was a renowned genius whose vast intellectual interests and writings spanned all of the natural, social and ecclesiastical sciences. Fr Doyle was a boarder in Ratcliffe College which was run by the Institute of Charity, and it is certain that he would have known about Antonio Rosmini.

Blessed Antonio Rosmini