Saint Lawrence was Italian and a Capuchin with great teaching, writing, and leadership abilities. His writings include a commentary on Genesis, several treatises against Luther, and nine volumes of sermons. He preached in many regions of Europe and died in Lisbon.
Lawrence (Lorenzo) of Brindisi was most gifted in languages. In addition to his native Italian, he had complete reading and speaking ability in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish and French.
He was born on July 22, 1559, and died exactly 60 years later on his birthday in 1619. His parents William and Elizabeth Russo gave him the name of Julius Caesar, Caesare in Italian. After the early death of his parents, he was educated by his uncle at the College of St. Mark in Venice.
When he was just 16 he entered the Capuchin Franciscan Order in Venice and received the name of Lawrence. He completed his studies of philosophy and theology at the University of Padua and was ordained a priest at 23.
With his facility for languages he was able to study the Bible in its original texts. At the request of 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.
While the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 had slowed the advance of Muslim forces in Europe, they still controlled most of Hungary. Emperor Rudolph was determined to drive them out. In 1601 St. Lawrence was appointed chaplain to the military and sent by the emperor to Germany to ask for assistance. The Duke of Brittany and many German soldiers joined the army and began planning an attack on Albe-Royal, a walled city with a garrison of 80,000 Turks. The emperor’s army only had 18,000 men but Saint Lawrence gave a rousing speech and led the attack on horseback holding a crucifix.
The Turks lost 30,000 men defending the city but there were still so many left after the city fell that they reorganized for a counter-attack a few days later. Saint Lawrence again led the army and holding up the crucifix declared, “Forward! Victory is ours.” The army was again victorious and after the battle the general and army as a whole attributed their success to the courage and miraculous protection of Saint Lawrence who, in spite of leading the army in both assaults armed only with a crucifix, was never wounded.
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 1602. In this position he was responsible for great growth and geographical expansion of the Order.
Lawrence was appointed papal emissary and peacemaker, a job which took him to a number of foreign countries. An effort to achieve peace in his native kingdom of Naples took him on a journey to Lisbon to visit the king of Spain. Serious illness in Lisbon took his life in 1619.
In 1956 the Capuchins completed a 15-volume edition of his writings. Eleven of these 15 contain his sermons, each of which relies chiefly on scriptural quotations to illustrate his teaching.
Adapted from AmericanCatholic.org and the Catholic Encyclopedia at newadvent.com.
He was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI, canonized in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII, and declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Saint John XXIII in 1959. His feast day is July 21, in both the ordinary and extraordinary forms.
In art he is typically portrayed on horseback leading the army or embracing the Child Jesus. He is the patron saint of Brindisi, Italy.