November 13, 2017

Saint Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop and Martyr

Saint Laurence O'Toole

Historically November 14th is the feast of St. Lawrence O'Toole the Archbishop of Dublin during the takeover of Ireland by the Normans and King Henry II. His efforts in the peace process and his frustration with King Henry probably caused his early death. He is highly honored at Eu in Normandy, France, where he died.

Laurence O'Toole was born at Castledermot, Kildare, Ireland, 1128. Laurence’s family had been ousted from their ancient throne by Dermot MacMurrough who was the representative of the usurping line. Dermot was a violent, war-loving, vocal man hated by strangers and feared by his own people. (It was he who would invite King Henry II of England to come and take possession of Ireland.) Nevertheless, Laurence's father had many soldiers, servants, land, and cattle.

At age 10, Laurence was sent to Dermot as a hostage to guarantee his father's fidelity to the new order. For a time, he lived in Dermot's castle, until the day his father refused to obey an order. Laurence was taken to a stony, barren region, to be punished for his father's sin. At the end of that long journey was a miserable, dilapidated hut with a leaky roof. He was forced to practice extreme austerity. He ate only enough bread, greens and water to keep him alive, without clothes, and companions save a guard. For two years he endured until restored to his father.

The bishop of Glendalough was the mediator between Dermot and O'Tuathail and young Laurence was sent across the hills to him. The bishop first introduced him in Saint Kevin's sanctuary to the quiet recollectedness of Christian life and studies. Laurence became a student at the school for novices in Glendalough, where he stayed for 22 years as novice, monk, then abbot His character was annealed in the ascetic training of the early Irish Church whose austerities would seem fabulous if they were not well authenticated. He stood in the direct descent of Saint Kevin and the early anchorites of Glendalough, spending each Lent throughout his life in lonely, but joyful, contemplation on the rocky shelf beneath Saint Kevin's monastery, and practicing austerities as a normal part of his life.

Laurence went on to become Abbot of Glendalough at the age of 26. Later, he was appointed as the Archbishop of Dublin, the first native to ever achieve that position. After four years of service as abbot, his spiritual stature was so plainly evident that men sought to make him bishop of Glendalough. He refused stating that he was not of canonical age. For ten years, the administration of the monastery engaged his full zeal and charity; he was in touch with the great reform synod of Kells in 1152. His name is inscribed on the 1161 charter of the new Augustinian foundation at Ferns, where years later the fugitive King Dermot, its founder, donned a monk's disguise when he was deserted by his kinsmen.

In 1161 Gregory, archbishop of Dublin, died and Laurence was unanimously elected to succeed him by the native clergy and laity. During a famine which afflicted the city that destitute flocked to his doors. He exerted himself in the public relief, not merely by prodigally multiplying his personal charities but by organized assistance and quartering the city poor upon the abbey lands of his cathedral --Swords, Lusk, and Finglas. When these were filled and the famine still continued, he sent others farther afield throughout Ireland, commending them to the popular charity and chartering a ship at great cost to send others to England.

Saint Laurence O'Toole is remembered as martyr for both God and country having been sent as envoy for the Irish High King, Ruaidri O'Connor to King Henry II, and negotiated the Windsor Treaty on October 6, 1175. This was a mission that required high qualities of skill and statesmanship, where the contracting parties represented the feudal system opposed to Irish law and custom. After a stay at the Monastery of Abingdon south of Oxford, he went to Normandy and the Abbey of Saint Victor at Eu. There, he was attacked while saying Mass, receiving a fatal blow to the head and the crown of martyrdom.

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