Gifted with a facility with languages and diplomacy, today’s saint played an important role in the history of the church and in Europe in his day.
St. Lawrence was born in Brindisi, Italy, on July 22, 1559. He was baptized with the name Giulio Cesare. He received his early education from the Franciscan Friars and completed his studies in Venice. He learned to speak French, German, Latin, and Spanish in addition to his native Italian. He also had a command of Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac.
Becoming a Capuchin in 1575, he then studied philosophy and theology at the University of Padua and in 1582 was ordained to the priesthood.
Lawrence became a famous preacher and graced the pulpits of Italy and other countries of Europe. He was called upon by rulers and popes to employ his gifts on behalf of the political and religious situations that arose during the period between 1590 and his untimely death in 1619.
He rose to be the leader of his order in Italy and in the Alpine regions. On one of his missions he was sent to Eastern Europe to represent the church against the growing presence of Protestantism. He was so successful in Prague that the local Protestants tried to get Emperor Rudolf II to deport him.
In 1595, Lawrence found himself in Hungary during the period of the Turkish wars. Laurence was named head of all the chaplains of the army. In 1601, the Hungarians were involved in a battle in which they were outnumbered 18,000 to 80,000. With Laurence’s encouragement and courage, he took command and led the Christians to victory. The cross he held during that conflict still is used by the Superior Generals of the Capuchin Order.
Lawrence also brought his crusade to Germany where he helped form the League of German Catholic Princes against the Union of Protestant Princes. On an official mission to the court of Spain he acquired the political and financial support of Phillip III for that cause. In addition to being papal representative to Madrid, Lawrence represented the Vatican in bringing peace to Tyrol (an area of Italy and Austria in the Alps).
After many missions and labors, Lawrence had hoped to retire to contemplative life, but Pope Paul V, had yet another assignment for him. The good priest was sent to Madrid and Lisbon in 1618-19 to defend Naples against Viceroy Pietro Teller Giron di Osuna. He successfully accomplished his mission but fell ill in Lisbon and died on his 60th birthday. He was laid to rest in the convent of the Poor Clares in that city. He was beatified by Pope Pius VI in 1783 and canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881.
On March 19, 1959, Pope John XXIII declared Lawrence of Brindisi a Doctor of the Church. As “Apostolic Doctor,” he is the first Capuchin Franciscan thus to be honored and the third Doctor of the entire Franciscan family (St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony are the others). He is the 30th saint to be declared a Doctor by the Church, and the seventh to be so honored in this century.
Adapted by A.J. Valentini