St. Laurence O'Toole: 14 November

Br. Columba Maria

Laurence O’Toole, the son of a Dublin warlord, as a ten-year-old boy was handed over as a hostage by his father, in 1140, to Dermot McMurrough, king of Leinster. He was very cruelly treated by this savage man. Yet he endured it with an exemplary patience, and when he was released two years later he was already spending a lot of his day in prayer.

His father, as was usual then, sent him to an abbey school, Glendalough, where he was soon studying for the priesthood. At 25, Laurence was chosen Abbot, and in 1161 he was made Archbishop of Dublin.

Even then, as now, Dublin, as capital city, was overly influenced by the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Bishop Laurence first reformed his priests, giving them a rule of life. He warned the people that if they did not amend their wicked lives they would lose the protection of God and be punished. But they didn’t listen, it seems.

In 1014 Brian Boru united the Gaels under the Cross against the Viking invaders and beat them off, something the French and English were unable to do. In 1170, Dermot McMurrough, that man again, sought the help of the Viking conquerors of England, the Normans, to help him regain his crown. Landing at Waterford, having taken the city, they marched on Dublin, and by fair means and foul, defeated its defenders. From there they went on to capture the whole country. As they were Catholic, their rule was not too unwelcome to Archbishop Laurence, and he was able to negotiate a peace for his fallen people.

Henry II, King of England, was now overlord of Ireland too; although the Irish had their own king, Rory O’Connor, he was subject to Henry. More than once Laurence had to cross the sea to make a peace between them.

Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury had received his martyr’s crown in opposing some of the greediness of King Henry. While praying at St. Thomas’ tomb, a maniac thought he could make another martyr saint, and clubbed Laurence over the head. Dazed, Archbishop Laurence asked for some water, blessed it, and recovered. Centuries later the skull still showed the wound he had received.

In 1179, with five Irish and four English bishops, he journeyed to Rome for the third Lateran Council. He was anxious to maintain the independence of the Irish church from England’s; a liberty we still enjoy today. The pope, Alexander III, was very impressed with Laurence and granted all he asked, and the powers to obtain it.

On another mission to Henry, St. Laurence O’ Toole died at the Abbey of Eu, in Normandy, on 14 November (his feast day) 1180. Most of his relics are still there, but his heart, after being stolen in 2012, has recently been returned to Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, the city which still honours him as its Patron.

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