Saints of Lent: Saint Oliver Plunkett

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Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us.  Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time.  This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints.  We began with Saint Athanasius.  Go here to read about him.  Next we looked at Saint John Fisher.  Go here to read about him.  Today we turn to Saint Oliver Plunkett.

Oliver Plunkett first saw the light of day on November 1, 1625 in Loughcrew, County Meath, Ireland, a scion of an Irish-Norman family.  Educated by his cousin Patrick Plunkett, Abbot of Saint Mary’s in Dublin and a future bishop, Oliver decided at a young age that he wished to become a priest, and in 1647 he went to study for the priesthood in Rome at the Irish College.  Ordained in 1654, he acted as the representative of the Irish bishops in Rome.

While performing duties as a Professor of Theology at the College of Propaganda Fide, he never ceased speaking out on behalf of the suffering Church in Ireland, enduring massacre and suppression under the brutal Cromwellian Conquest.  On November 30, 1669 he was consecrated Archbishop of Armagh.

In Ireland he went at his duties with a will, traveling up and down the country confirming Catholics, the sacrament often being administered in huge open air masses.  He joyously shared the sufferings of his persecuted flock, often living on a little oat bread as he brought Christ to his people.  He attacked drunkenness as being a prime curse of the priesthood in Ireland and championed education for the youth of the Emerald Isle.

A renewed period of persecution struck Ireland in 1673, with the churches being closed, and the schools disbanded.  The Jesuit college at Drogheda that Plunkett had established was leveled.  With a price on his head, he refused to go into exile and traveled in disguise.    The Archbishop carried on with his duties, undeterred that his episcopal palace was usually a simple peasant’s hut. 

In England anti-Catholicism was kept at a boiling pitch.  It was a popular flail that adversaries of the Merry Monarch, King Charles II, who was suspected of being a secret Catholic, wielded against him.  They found a useful tool in Titus Oates, a man who lied fluently.  Oates had been ordained an Anglican clergyman, and later, after an alleged conversion, attempted to become a Catholic priest.  Wherever he went he engaged in crimes including forgery, perjury and buggery, and both Anglicans and Catholics who had contact him ultimately agreed that Oates was a complete villain.

After being expelled from the Catholic seminary at Saint Omer, Oates returned to England in 1678.  For reasons of financial gain, he claimed that he had converted to Catholicism to learn of the nefarious schemes of Catholics in England and began producing a long and convuluted series of fables implicating Catholics in England in what became known to history as the “Popish Plot”.  Charles II, who had severe moral failings but who was no one’s fool, personally interviewed Oates, caught him out in several lies, and ordered his arrest.  It was to no avail.  Seized upon by Protestant enemies of the King, Oates lies quickly inflamed anti-Catholic hysteria in England, and over three years 15 men would pay with their lives as a result of completely fabricated allegations by Oates.  The last victim of this shameful episode was Archbishop Plunkett.

On completely perjured testimony the Archbishop was arrested and thrown into jail in Dublin on December 6, 1679.  He was accused of plotting rebellion against the English crown.  Realizing that no jury would ever convict him in Ireland, the authorities brought him to England and imprisoned him in Newgate Prison in London.  The first grand jury convened against him refused to return a true bill of indictment.  Eventually he was brought to trial, and in direct defiance of English law allowed no counsel.  The alleged offenses for which he was tried were beyond the applicable statute of limitations  He defended himself with skill, pointing out that the men who accused him were convicted criminals and perjurers.  To no avail.  Chief Justice Francis Pemberton who presided over this Kangaroo Court was determined to see him dead.  Accurately Lord Brougham in his magisterial Lives of the Chief Justices of England said that this trial was a disgrace to Pemberton and to England.

In this atmosphere the verdict of the English jury, all Protestant, was a foregone conclusion.  Chief Justice Pemberton in a statement from the bench said there was no greater crime in the world than propagating the Catholic faith, thus giving away the true reason why the Archbishop was being judicially murdered.  After the gleeful Pemberton pronounced sentence of death, Plunkett responded loudly and joyously with two words:  Deo Gratias!

On July 1, 1681 the Archbishop was taken to Tyburn for execution.  Observers report that he was calm and serene, as if was merely going for a stroll.  From the scaffold, he gave a speech in his defense and forgave those who were responsible for his death.  He impressed the vast crowds that came to witness his death with his eloquence and raw courage.  He was then hanged, drawn and quartered, the traditional barbarous penalty for treason to the English crown.

He was the last person executed for the Faith in England.  With his death the tide of public opinion turned against Oates.  Men Oates accused began to be acquitted by judges and juries, as hysteria subsided and Oates’ lies were no longer taken as gospel by fools;   and the knaves who had backed Oates began to back away from him.

On May 23, 1920 the Archbishop was beatified by Pope Benedict XV and he was canonized on October 12, 1975 by Pope Paul VI.

While he was in prison in Tyburn, Saint Oliver wrote in one of his letters that what he was suffering was a “flea bite” compared to the sufferings of Christ.  He was not afraid to suffer as Christ suffered while He was on Earth, and now he lives forever in everlasting bliss with Christ.  May we have the courage to accept the suffering and the faith to gain the bliss.


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  1. St. Oliver Plunkett, pray for us. “. . . they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve Him day and night in His temple; and He who sits on the throne will spread His tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat;’. . . ” Revelation 7:14 – 17. Not totally apropos , but it touches the heart.

  2. Archbishop of County Armagh.


    Thanks for the post.
    A future cousin or nephew perhaps, Joseph Mary Plunkett, the poet?
    I wonder.

    The poem; I see His blood upon the rose, is a golden thread.

    I see His blood upon the rose, And in the stars the glory of His eyes.
    His body gleams amid eternal snows, His tears fall from the skies.
    I see his face in every flower. The thunder and the singing of the birds are but His voice – and craven by His power Rocks are His written words.
    All pathways by His feet are worn, His strong heart stirs the ever beating sea.
    His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn, His Cross is every tree.

    Loving and compassionate.
    The families from County Armagh.
    I miss you Mom. Joan Taylor Nachazel
    d. November 9th 2016. The feast of the Bishop of County Armagh, Saint Benignus. d.467 ( a disciple of St. Patrick.)

  3. “He was the last person executed for the Faith in England.”

    That is true, but the next century witnessed a persecution of the Catholic clergy in Scotland, with a savagery unknown in Europe, since Clovis was sealed with the Cross.

    Of the priests who had accompanied the Prince in the Jacobite Rising of 1745, Rev Mr Colin Campbell of Morar was killed at Culloden; although unarmed, he was shot down in cold blood by Hessian mercenaries, whilst trying to rally the fugitives for one last charge. Rev Mr Allan MacDonald, rector of the seminary at Scalan, near Glenlivet was imprisoned for a year in a military garrison and then ordered to leave the country. Scalan itself was burned on the orders of the Duke of Cumberland, as a “nest of traitors.” Rev Mr Aeneas McGillis of Glengarry was put to the horn (outlawed) and fled the country.

    Of those who had stayed at home, but had “prayed for the Pretender,” Rev Mr Neil McFie of the Rough Bounds, Rev Mr Alexander Forrester of Uist and Rev Mr James Grant of Barra were bundled on board ship and deported to France, without the formality of a trial. Rev Mr William Harrison of the Rough Bounds was later captured carrying Jacobite dispatches and similarly deported.

    In 1756, Bishop Hugh MacDonald, the Apostolic Visitor for the Highlands was put on trial under the obsolete act “anent Jesuits, priests, or trafficking papists” His real offence, in the eyes of the London government was the simple act of blessing the Prince’s standard, when he raised it at the memorable gathering at Glenfinnan on 19 August 1745. Sentenced to be banished furth of the realm, with certification that if he ever returned, being still papist, he should be punished with death, he ignored the sentence and the local authorities in the Highlands winked at it.

  4. It seems as if I have eccentric and eclectic interests. One of which is readings on Irish, English, Spanish “interactions” in the 16th and 7th centuries. One book, The Twilight Lords, I own reports on the November 1580 siege and massacre (after surrender) of 700 Italian soldiers at Fort del Oro, Smerwick, on the extreme west coast of Ireland.

    A namesake of Oliver Plunkett was present at the fort. He cruelly lost his life. His arms and legs were broken. HE was left to lie for three days without food or water. Then, he hanged, drawn, and quartered. It was meant as a warning. After the Saxons left, the local people buried the dead, raised a cross in their memory, and “resigned themselves to undying hatred,” according to the author, Richard Berleth.

    Another point of information from my readings is that 17th century Ireland was not untouched by the religion of peace. In 1631, Algerine/Muslim pirates raided the village of Baltimore, County Cork kidnapping 107 Irish men, women and children who were sold into slavery in North Africa. Twenty-first century American and Europeans elites have precious little concern for the interests or safety of the common man. In 1631, the local Anglo-Irish aristocrat, Richard Boyle, refused to ransom the 107 poor souls.

  5. Donald R McClarey

    You may find the sequel not without interest. Bishop Hugh had to rebuild the Church in the Highlands and Islands more or less from scratch. Himself the son of Alexander MacDonald of Morar and of Mary, daughter of Ranald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart, he recruited his priests mostly among the Highland gentry; ordained ad titulum patrimonii sui and unpaid, they stayed with relatives, or with influential friends, and served their native place. Thus we have Alexander MacDonald of the Scotus family living in Knoydart; Austen MacDonald of Glenaladale in Moidart; Allan MacDonald of Morar’s family living in the Morar area; James MacDonald, son of John MacDonald of Guidall in the Rough Bounds, and so on. Bishop Hugh was succeeded by his nephew, John MacDonald.

  6. MPS,
    Perhaps you can clarify… Clan Lamont, which was one Scottish clan that remained Catholic, faced severe persecution and was forced to sell their land and leave. Maybe you know more about it. My mother is a McLuckie, a relation of the Lamonts.

  7. “Twenty-first century American and Europeans elites have precious little concern for the interests or safety for the common man.” -T. Shaw

    If common man describes Muslims I would disagree. The elites children will be subject to Sharia law and praising Allah, the false one, or face extreme consequences. This is islamophobia, they would say, but the history of Islamic conquest begs to differ.

    A political cartoon that was posted a week or so ago had made the poetic parallel of immigration into the U.S. and the extreme vetting of the entrance into Heaven. Walls? Yes sir. Gate? Pearly ones at that. Gate keeper? Absolutely.

    The point of course is privilege.
    The destruction and mayhem of certain EU city districts who have “mercifully,” opened the boarders is case in point.
    Demanding and arrogant to the point of rape and pillage.

    No thanks.

    President Trump hold fast!

  8. Penguins Fan wrote, “Clan Lamont, which was one Scottish clan that remained Catholic…”
    Indeed it did. The current Chief of the Name and Arms of Lamont is Fr Peter Noel Lamont, a parish priest in Sydney. The family emigrated to Australia at the end of the 19th century.

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