St. Oliver Plunkett: A Saint for Discerning the Lord’s Will in a Time of Church Crisis

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By: Fred Williams, Franciscan University

It seems to me that young men today, who are discerning a call to the priesthood face an interesting problem. With all of the turmoil in the church regarding scandal and sinful clergy, these young men face great fear. As a young man pursuing the priesthood, I myself have felt this same fear and even faced some persecution for desiring to be priest, God willing. Whenever I am faced with this fear of great persecution, I look to the saints for inspiration and uplifting. But there is one saint in particular that I would like to mention, as he is a shining example of a heroic saint who remained joyful during a time of persecution in the midst of him discerning God’s will. His name is St. Oliver Plunkett.
St. Oliver Plunkett was born in Ireland in the early sixteen hundreds.

When he grew up he went to Rome to study for the priesthood. He was eventually ordained a priest. But, there was great persecution of Catholics in Ireland. If he was to go back to his home, he would surely face death. So, he requested to stay in Rome and teach. This request was granted to him and he began to teach theology. Eventually, he was appointed as Archbishop of Armagh in Ireland. When he began his ministry in Ireland, he sought to revive the priesthood as many of the priests there were sinful men. He established himself as a public figure, but also as a servant. He was known to be a man of peace by the Catholics and Protestants alike. Through his work, thousands of people were confirmed into the Catholic church in only a few years.

After a few years, more persecution broke loose and St. Oliver went into hiding. Though he was in hiding, he still led his people with great courage and love of Christ. He was eventually falsely accused of treason and the authorities sought to arrest him and put him to death. Even still, he refused to abandon his people and continued to lead them. Eventually, he was found, arrested, and tried. He was found guilty of treason for promoting the Catholic faith and was sentenced to death. The moment that St. Oliver heard the verdict, he said these two very profound words in reply, “Deo gratias” which is Latin for “Thanks be to God”. In the face of death, St. Oliver found life, the joy of Christ. He knew that he had accomplished the Lord’s will
and thanked the Lord for the life, mission, and vocation that the Lord had given him. He was killed in 1681.

The life of St. Oliver brings a unique call to any young man who is pursuing the priesthood. St. Oliver sought out the Lord’s call for his vocation and started to pursue the priesthood. But in the midst of his discernment, there was a crisis in the Church. This is where many young men, including myself, find themselves today. As the church today is in a crisis because of scandals with clergy, we as young men of God must face this as St. Oliver did. He still continued to follow God’s will and kept on his pursuit of the priesthood, knowing that if he went home, there would be a bounty on his head. We can also see that this heroic saint was just like you or me. He was terrified. But in his fear, he still sought the Lord’s will. And this is what the Lord is calling us to do. Because of his openness to the Lord despite his fear, he was able to grow, and even without knowing, prepare himself for what Christ had in store.

We are not all called to be St. Oliver Plunkett. We each have a very unique vocation. The moral of this article is to show your fear how great, big, and powerful your God is. Fear is only a stumbling block to faith when we let it be. BUT IT IS HARD TO RESIST. This is why we, as the Church on Earth are part of the mystical body of Christ. We are united, we are not abandoned, and we are not alone in this fight. Pax et bonum.

St. Oliver Plunkett, pray for us.

Edited By: Rachel LeMelle

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