November 2003

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Saint Lawrence Brindisi

Capuchin Crusader and Converter

    The thirtieth Doctor in this chronological series on the Doctors of the Church was born in Brindisi, Italy near the end of the Council of Trent. Educated by the Order of Friars Minor, he became a Capuchin monk, devoting his life to preaching and helped raise an army in the Holy Roman Empire to combat the Turkish threat. He personally marched into battle with only one weapon - the Crucifix of Jesus Christ. After the Turks were turned back he set his sights on Austria and Bohemia to win back souls by establishing friaries there and passionately countered the venom Martin Luther had spread throughout Allemagne. His prowess as a preacher spread to Spain and France as well where he was effctive in restoring peace between those two Catholic countries. When he died at the age of 60 on the same day of his birth, he had left volumes and volumes of inspirational sermons conveying the tenets of the Faith in several languages. He had a deep devotion to Mary and though he longed to retire into prayer and solitude, he always responded when called whether as Superior General of the Capuchins or on special assignment for the Pope. He was a champion of the Faith in converting countless Jews to the True Faith. He was the relentless warrior for Christ Saint Lawrence of Brindisi.

    He was born Caesare de Rossi in Brindisi, Italy in the Kingdom of Naples in the year 1559 to a very devout parents Guglielmo de Rossi and Elizabetta Massella. From the earliest age he displayed a penchant to preach and all could see he was destined to be a great priest. When just a youngster he exhibited an oratory talent that drew the raves of many. Always he remained humble no matter the fame he was gaining for it was not his talents, but God's Who had loaned them to him to develop and use for the greater honor and glory of Christ Our Savior.

    He was educated by the Conventual Franciscans in Naples and also sent for further studies under his uncle at St. Mark's in Venice. At 16, he joined the Capuchin order in Verona and was given the name Lawrence. His keen mind and tremendous zeal earned him the honor of studying at the University of Padua where he mastered several languages from Latin and Greek to Hebrew and Aramaic, not to mention French and German. After his ordination as a Capuchin priest, he became known far and wide as an astute preacher. However his administrative prowess led to his election as Provincial for the Order in Genoa, Tuscany and Venice, in addition to Switzerland where the Reformation had dug in deeply.

    Because of his knowledge of the Hebrew language, Pope Clement VIII strong encourage him to dedicate his teachings to the conversions of the Jews. This he did until shortly after the turn of the seventeenth century when Lawrence was sent to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II to seek his military support for Naples and join the Catholic League against the Turks. He was successful and joined the troops on the front line as head chaplain with only the Crucifix as his weapon. It was enough as he led the men valiantly into battle at Szekesfehervar where they were victorious for the cause of Christ and he became known as the "Capuchin Crusader and Converter."

    A year later he returned to Naples where he was unanimously elected Superior General of the Capuchins. While holding this position of Vicar General he not only established the Order in Austria, Moravia and Tyrol but traveled into the heart of Germany to counter the fall-out effects of Luther's campaign. Rudolph was so impressed with Lawrence that he solicited the saint to recruit the various German rulers to join the Catholic League in their on-going battles with the Turks. In 1605 the Capuchins overwhelmingly chose Lawrence to serve another term but he gratefully declined, to concentrate more on evangelization to other countries. One of these countries included Spain where he convinced the Spanish King Philip III to join the Catholic League and received imperial permission to found a Capuchin house in Madrid.

    Lawrence was known to fall into ecstasy while saying the Mass, so enraptured was he with Christ. Like his founder - the Father General St. Francis of Assisi, Lawrence had a deep respect for all God's creations and poetry, penning many sonnets to the lovely woman in his life - the Blessed Virgin Mary. Of his known written works, he left eight volumes - tomes - of sermons written in Italian and Latin. There are oratory masterpieces, commentaries on Sacred Scripture and over three volumes of religious polemics in Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and even more polemics in arguing the Catholic truths to the Protestant mind-set.

    St. Lawrence's success as Vicar General prompted the Holy Father Pope Paul V to appoint Lawrence Papal Nuncio. In 1618 he resigned his position and retreated to his beloved homeland of Brindisi in Naples to live out the rest of his life in the quiet monastery of Caserta, but God had other plans.

    At the persistence of the Neapolitan rulers, he was sent to Spain to seek military support against the duke of Osuna, a Spanish subject. Again his mission was successful and the duke was recalled to Spain for a harsh chastising by the king. However, the trip took its toll on Lawrence who had struggled with the sweltering summer heat and became seriously dehydrated. Shortly after his mission had been accomplished he fell into a coma and died in Lisbon on his sixtieth birthday - July 22, 1619. He is one of the few saints who was born and died on the same day. His sixty years dedicated totally to God was rewarded on December 8, 1881 when he was canonized by Pope Leo XIII. He had been beatified a century earlier in 1783 by Pope Pius VI.

    Note: [editor's bold, brackets and italicized for emphasis] Some of the sources taken from: Dictionary of Saints, John J. Delaney (Doubleday); Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butlerís Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894; Saints of the Roman Calendar, Enzo Lodi).

For the chronological list of the Doctors of the Church to date, see Archives.

      Doctors of the Church Series