Who Was St. Lawrence of Brindisi?

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Around the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time we celebrate the memorial for a saint and Doctor of the Church that probably many people do not know: Saint Lawrence of Brindisi.

He was born Cesare De Rossi in Brindisi, Italy, within the kingdom of Naples in 1559. He received his first education from the Conventual Franciscans and then at St. Mark College in Venice. At the age of sixteen, he entered the Capuchin Franciscans and took the name Lawrence.

As a Capuchin, he studied philosophy and theology at the University of Padua. He was an excellent student and excelled especially in languages. Lawrence also had an extensive grasp on the Holy Scriptures. He was a gifted preacher and was well known for his sermons. After his ordination, he was called to Rome by Pope Clement VIII and given the work to convert the Jews to Christianity.

In 1598, along with his Capuchin brothers, Lawrence established friaries throughout Eastern Europe. The reason behind developing these communities was to resist the Protestant Reformation that had dug itself deeply into this region. In 1602, St. Lawrence was elected the Minister General of the Capuchin Order. As an administrator, he was stellar and served with strength and charity, although when he came up for re-election, he refused to take on the position.

Although he accomplished many great things in his life, the greatest would be the repulsion of the Turks during the Battle of Stuhlweissenburg as Chaplain General. At the request of Emperor Rudolf II, he was asked to assist the German princes who were being threatened. Facing an army of 80,000 Turks, he mustered an army of only 18,000. Dealing with low morale and desperation, he advised the German princes to take the fight to the Turks and assault them immediately. After giving a rousing sermon, the outnumbered army went on the offensive. St. Lawrence of Brindisi went into battle riding a horse – armed only with a crucifix. They held back the Turks and Hungary and the rest of Europe were saved.

After years of service to the Church and the Capuchins throughout most of Europe, his service to the Catholic League, his preaching and reconciliation of the heretics in Germany, his position as papal nuncio, and his diplomatic duties for the people of Naples to King Philip III of Spain, St. Lawrence died on July 22, 1619, in Lisbon, Portugal. It was his 60th birthday.

St. Lawrence is known to have given thousands of sermons over his lifetime, sadly though, most of them are no longer available to us, however, there are eight hundred intact. Most of them were written in Latin with nine written in Italian. He did not write out his sermons but took pride in preparing them. When he preached, he always preached in the vernacular.

In the year 1783, he was a beatified by Pope Pius VI. He was canonized a saint of the Church in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. Pope St. John XXIII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1960 because of his great prayer life, his exceptional sermons, and his ability to teach the faithful the truths of Jesus Christ. He is known as the Apostolic Doctor. To give you a taste of this brilliant Doctor of the Church, below is an excerpt from his work focusing on the Blessed Mother, titled, Mariale, which consists of 84 sermons –

“Therefore to Christ be the glory: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High” (Lk 1:32). God created the universe for the honor and glory of Christ. Just as the entire, most august edifice of the temple was undertaken by Solomon in exceeding and immeasurable pains for the Ark of the Covenant; so for Christ, who is the ark of the Divinity, everything in the world – heaven and earth – was created, with everything contained in the heavenly realm. Whoever is in the kingdom serves the king, is for the king; but Christ says, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me” (Mt 28:18). The Angels in Heaven were created to be servants of Christ; man was formed from the earth in order to be the image of Christ. Thus Paul calls Adam an image of the Future One [“a figure of Him who was to come”] (Rm 5:14); thus for the greater glory of Christ man was permitted to be tempted and defeated by the Devil, in order that Christ, in working the salvation of the human race, might show forth the infinite treasures of His divine power.”

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