ST. LAURENCE OF BRINDISI.
THIS Saint was born July 22, 1559, and from an early age showed an inclination for a monastic life. To encourage this his pious parents placed him in the Franciscan convent at Brindisi. Being left an orphan when quite young, he went to Venice, where his uncle, a man of great learning and much interested in our Saint, was Superior of the College of St. Mark. When not quite sixteen Laurence was attracted to the Capuchins, then in their first fervor, and on February1i8, 1575, he joined that Order. Applying himself diligently to study, he became a finished Hebrew scholar. At the close of his scholastic career he was ordained a priest. So great was the harvest of souls gained by his preaching that Pope Clement VIII. called him to Rome to labor for the conversion of the Jews. His knowledge of the Hebrew text of the sacred books was of great help to him in his work; conversions took place in unexpected numbers, and so continued to increase that soon the name of Blessed Laurence became a household word throughout Italy. He visited nearly all the important cities of Italy, everywhere winning souls to God, and continued this missionary journey until he was recalled to fill the Chair of Theology. Subsequently he was placed in charge of the Convent of the Holy Redeemer at Venice, and afterwards made Superior of the house at Bassano. In both these positions he showed such great administrative ability, that in 1590, when barely thirty years of age, he was chosen Provincial of Tuscany. Three years later he was elected Provincial of Venice, and returned to that city. While in a remote part of the province, making his provincial visit, he learned that his uncle, who had befriended him when an orphan child, was dying at Venice, and, despite the many difficulties attending the journey, he hurried back to the good old man’s bedside, and he remained there until his death, when the Saint resumed his provincial visits.In 1596 Laurence was named Definitor General, and was about to make a visitation of the Capuchin houses throughout Sicily, when Pope Clement VIII., at the request of the Emperor Rudolph II., ordered him to Germany, there to found houses of his Order, in hope of stemming the tide of heresy then deluging that kingdom. In this, as in his other good works, Laurence was eminently successful, and within a year had founded houses in Vienna, Prague, and in Gratz.
About this time the Turks, under Mahomet III., smarting to avenge their defeat at Lepanto, threatened to overrun and capture Hungary, and it seemed as if no power could stay them. Germany, sadly disturbed by the Reformation, rent by feuds and civil wars, was powerless to resist single-handed. At this juncture our Saint appealed to the Catholic and Protestant courts, and soon an army of thirty thousand men was in the field, ready to meet the infidel invaders. In October, 16o1, the Turks, numbering from eighty to ninety thousand men, crossed the Danube and confronted the Christian army, which it was decided dare not risk an engagement. But Laurence so fired the hearts of the soldiers that they were eager for the battle. Cross in hand, the holy monk advanced before the little army, and although so largely out numbered, before nightfall victory perched upon their banners. Three days after another battle took place with a similar result, and the defeated Turks re-crossed the Danube with a loss of thirty thousand men. At one time during the second battle our Saint was carried into the thickest of the fight, and was at once surrounded by the infidels. He was rescued, however, by two officers, who remonstrated with him for his rashness and begged him to go to the rear, urging that the front was no place for him. “My place is here,” was his reply, “and here I will stay.” And stay he did until the fortunes of the day were decided in favor of the Christians.
His military service ended, Laurence returned to Italy, travelling, generally, on foot, and without making himself known. He visited Loreto, humbly serving at a Mass said in the Holy House. When Easter came he went to Rome, and assisted at the General Chapter held there; and when the election for General took place he found to his great dismay that, although not fifty-three years of age, he had, been elected General of the Capuchins, the highest office in his Order.
He at once started out on his official visits, journeying through Switzerland, Flanders, France, Spain, and Germany. He returned to Italy in 16o5, and had reached Naples, when he received word of the death of Pope Clement VIII. As his term of office expired that year, Laurence hoped to rest himself awhile; but there was to be no rest for him this side of the grave, and he was hurried back to Germany, then in a turmoil of agitation.
The Protestant Union, which had grown out of the vexed question of the dukedom of Cleves, was strengthened by an alliance with Henry IV. of France, and the Catholics found it necessary to band together for self-protection. With the consent of Pope Paul V. our Saint appealed in person to Philip III. of Spain and his Queen, Margaret, who received him with great favor and sent reinforcements to Maximilian, Duke of Bavaria, then at the head of the “Holy League,” or Catholic party. As a result peace ensued, and Duke Maximilian is credited with saying that “all Germany and all Christendom owe a debt of never-dying gratitude to Father da Brindisi, for without him no League could have held together.”
At the General Chapter of 1613 Laurence was appointed Definitor General, and was shortly after sent as Visitor to the Province of Genoa. On his arrival at Pavia, he summoned the Provincial Chapter, and its first act was to elect him Provincial. He endeavored to draw out of it, but Rome decided that he must accept. One round of uninterrupted labor followed. He was everywhere sought for both by princes and people. Some idea of the love felt for our Saint may be formed from what took place on his last visit to Milan. He was obliged at frequent intervals to mount the pulpit and give his blessing to the vast crowds that came from far and near to hear and see him, and as he left the city the people gathered round him, weeping and clamoring for one more blessing, until at last he was obliged to turn back; mounting the highest step in front of the church, he drew from his neck the cross he always wore, and with it blessed them. “Bless the shepherd as well as his flock,” cried the Archbishop, Cardinal Borromeo, brother of St. Charles; and kneeling humbly with the people, he, too, received our Saint’s blessing.
The General Chapter, held June 1, 1618, gave Laurence permission to visit Brindisi, his native place, which he had not seen since his childhood. On his way he stopped at Naples, and at the urgent request of the Cardinal and the highest men of the place, he undertook a mission to King Philip, who was then at Lisbon. He had hardly reached that place when he was taken ill ; and on July 22, 1619, his busy life was brought to a close, and he was enabled to enjoy the rest he had so long yearned for. His penances, his virtues, and his miracles are now part of the history of the Church for which he so long and successfully labored.