Oliver Plunkett

The saint that I am going to explain the spiritual journey of is Oliver Plunkett who was a bishop and martyr. First of all |I understand that a saint is a holy person who is close to God. Saints, to me, always help other people before themselves, so they give other people a better way of living.

Oliver Plunkett was born into a wealthy Catholic family on 1st November 1625 in Loughcrew, near Oldcastle in County Meath, Ireland. Oliver had an older brother called Edward and three younger sisters. In the early years life was basically untroubled. Oliver received his education from Dr. Patrick Plunkett, a cousin of his mother. Dr. Patrick was a priest and, probably because of his advice, Oliver decided to study for the priesthood. In 1647, he went to the Irish College in Rome to study.

In the 1640s, there was a lot of trouble in Ireland. Cromwell had invaded the country and Catholic landowners were expelled from their estates and replaced by English Protestants. Among those who lost their property was Oliver's eldest brother who had inherited his father's estate.

After Oliver was ordained, he continued his studies at the university where he later got his doctorate in canon and civil law. In November 1657, he was appointed professor of theology at Propaganda College. In 1669 Pope Clement IX appointed him Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland.

Oliver arrived in his new diocese in March 1670. Before his departure from Rome a priest said to him:

"Monsignor, you are now going to shed your blood for the Catholic faith".

There were very few bishops in Ireland at the time. Oliver Plunkett was a natural leader of his people. By 1673, records show that he had personally confirmed 48,655 people. Catholic education was a high priority for him. Within a year he established a school in Drogheda. It included among its student's Catholic youths and members of the leading Protestant families. However, it was later pulled down in a new wave of persecution.

In August 1672, a new viceroy, the Earl of Essex, was appointed to Ireland. By October, he had ordered the closure of all the Catholic schools and religious houses and banished all bishops. Oliver decided not to comply, and was forced to go into hiding. He wrote the following letter on the 15th December 1673:

"We would rather die from hunger and cold than abandon our flocks. It would be a shame if spiritual soldiers reared and trained in Rome should become hirelings. The thing that has caused me the greatest sorrow is to see the destruction of the schools I founded, after so much hard work had gone into them. We have so many talented young Catholics: what are we to do now?"

In December 1679, Oliver was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle for eleven months. He was then transferred to Newgate Prison in London and kept in solitary confinement in an unheated cell for seven months. During this time, it became clear to Oliver that the intention of his enemies was to find him guilty of treason and execute him. Oliver showed his true strength of character. The charge against him was high treason. He was accused on being one of the leaders among the Catholics to stir up rebellion in Ireland. Before the trial, he was not told what the exact charges were and he was not allowed to bring witnesses from Ireland. When the jury announced that he was found guilty and sentenced to death, he replied, 'Thanks be to God'. The sentence was carried out at Tyburn in London on 1st July 1681. The last weeks of his life were a period of peace.

When it came to the time of his execution he delivered a moving speech, he forgave his enemies, especially the priests who had testified against him. He was an example of the love of Christ. He preached a message of pardon and peace. He deserved to become a saint because he helped others to follow their faith. He had been through a lot and didn't deserve to die. He was canonised by the Catholic Church in 1975,

Sarah McIlroy, Year 9
St. Michael's Convent School,
Barnet, North London.