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St. Oliver Plunkett (1629-1681) was both the last Catholic to die as a result of Titus Oates’ Popish Plot and (in 1975) was the first Irish saint to be canonized in 700 years.

He was born to parents of Danish Extraction in County Meath, and was related by marriage to several of the newly ennobled families in the Irish peerage. He left Ireland to study for the priesthood in Rome, where he was made Archbishop of Armagh after the Restoration. He returned to Ireland and took advantage of the lax enforcement of the Penal Laws by establishing schools for the benefit of the clergy and laity.

St. Oliver had to take to the hills during the persecution of 1673. The government ordered the hierarchy to either report to seaports and await exile or otherwise risk outlawry. St. Oliver made his home mostly in a hut on the outskirts of his Archdiocese, spending most of his time traveling about on foot in disguise. Indeed, his letter to Rome from this period indicate that most of his work and rest was conducted outdoors, in tents, or in the cleft of rocks.

His outlawry was confirmed by the Privy Council in 1678, which accused him of conspiring to coordinate a French invasion of Ireland. (This was a favorite accusation of Oates and company; The accused was trying to get either France or Spain to invade Ireland and upset the King’s Peace.)

He was arrested in Dublin in 1679 and imprisoned in Dublin Castle. He arrived just in time to absolve fellow inmate Archbishop Peter Talbot, S.J., before his death. The grand jury in Dublin returned no true bill. Lord Shaftesbury, seeking a favorable resolution, had St. Oliver taken before the infamous court at Newgate in London presided over by Sir Francis Pemberton. He was indicted, tried, convicted of high treason “for promoting the Catholic faith” and was sentenced to be hung, drawn, quartered, and disemboweled. Sentence was hastily executed on 1 July 1681 at the gallows at the crossroads at Tyburn.

Beginning the next day, Pemberton, Oates, and the other conspirators in the Popish Plot began to receive the wrath due their perjury. Many were executed themselves, and most spent years, sometimes decades, in prison. Oates himself was whipped for days, pilloried, and held in prison for years.

St. Oliver reported that, in his term as Primate of Ireland, he had confirmed 46,855 persons, over 10,000 of these in the first three months of his tenure.

His remains were preserved by the faithful, and his head (shown below) is preserved in the Church of St. Peter in Drogheda, Ireland.

Eternal Memory!

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Considering the manner in which he died, I consider him the patron saint of my hernia. Consequently, I keep his relic in my left hip pocket.

WAC

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