Feast Day: July 21

Quote: ‘The word of the Lord is a light for the mind and a fire for the will, so that man may know and love God.’

Lawrence was born in Brindisi, kingdom of Naples, on July 22, 1559 to a family of Venetian merchants. He was named after Julius Caesar, Giulio Cesare in Italian. He was adventurous as a child but knew from an early age that he had a religious calling. His progress in studies was very rapid, and, when barely six, he had already given a short sermon to his compatriots on the Infant Jesus during Christmas festivities. After the early death of his parents, he was raised by his uncle and educated at Saint Mark’s College in Venice.

At 16, he joined the Capuchin Friars Minor at Verona, Italy. There he received the name of Lorenzo (Lawrence). His intellectual gifts were fully utilised in the service of the Lord and he was a model of perfection. He pursued higher studies in theology, philosophy at the University of Padua. He had a gift for languages. In addition to his native Italian, he was fluent in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish, and French. He attributed his success not to his talents, rather the special help he received from Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, whom he honoured with tender devotion.

Lawrence was ordained a priest at 23. His facility for languages enabled him to study the Bible in its original texts. His knowledge of Scripture was so exhaustive that it seemed he had memorised the entire Bible. At the request of Popes Gregory XIII and Pope Clement VIII, he spent much time preaching to the Jews in Italy. So excellent was his knowledge of Hebrew, the rabbis felt sure he was a Jew who had become a Christian. He started out on a highly fruitful missionary life going through Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Bohemia, Spain, and Portugal.

Lawrence’s sensitivity to the needs of people—a character trait perhaps unexpected in such a talented scholar—began to surface. He was elected major superior of the Capuchin Franciscan province of Tuscany at the age of 31. He had the combination of brilliance, human compassion, and administrative skill needed to carry out his duties. In rapid succession he was promoted by his fellow Capuchins and was elected minister general of the Capuchins in Rome in 1596, a position he was to hold five times, was assigned to conversion work with Jews, and was sent to Germany, with Blessed Benedict of Urbino, to combat Lutheranism. In this position he was responsible for great growth and geographical expansion of the order.

They founded friaries at Prague, Vienna, and Gorizia, which were to develop into the provinces of Bohemia, Austria, and Styria. At the request of Emperor Rudolf II, Lawrence helped raise an army among the German rulers to fight against the Turks, who were threatening to conquer all of Hungary, became its chaplain, and was among the leaders in the Battle of Szekesfehevar in 1601. He was asked to lead the army into battle carrying no weapon but a crucifix; the Turks were completely defeated and many attributed the ensuing victory to him.

In 1602, he was elected Vicar General of the Capuchins but refused re-election in 1605. He was sent to Spain by the emperor to persuade Philip III to join the Catholic League, and while there, founded a Capuchin house in Madrid. He was then sent as papal nuncio to the court of Maximillian of Bavaria, served as peacemaker in several royal disputes, and in 1618, retired from worldly affairs to the friary at Caserta. He was recalled at the request of the rulers of Naples to go to Spain to intercede with King Philip for them against the Duke of Osuna, Spanish envoy to Naples and convinced the King to recall the Duke to avert an uprising.

An effort to achieve peace in his native kingdom of Naples took him on a journey to Lisbon to visit the king of Spain. He fell very ill in Lisbon. He knew that his end was drawing near and told his companions so. After devoutly receiving the last sacraments, he fell into ecstasy, during which he went to the sweet embrace of his Lord on July 22, 1619.

On December 8, 1881, Pope Leo XIII canonised him. In 1959 Pope Saint John XXIII proclaimed St Lawrence of Brindisi an Apostolic Doctor of the Church for his creative yet orthodox writings on the Virgin Mary and for his commanding erudition in, and harmonious presentation of, Scripture, patristics, and fundamental theology.

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