Waterford City, Ireland - From his perch as rector of the Irish College of St. Isidore in Rome, Waterford-born Franciscan Friar Luke Wadding welcomed a steady stream of refugees from the land of his birth - men forced to leave Ireland to pursue their vocations. He came to understand then, perhaps better than any man, that the fate of the beleaguered land of his birth was tied to the fate of the Church in Ireland.
Fortunately, Wadding, despite a humble mien, was shrewd, committed and in a unique position to bolster both church and country, though today his role as a relentless advocate for Ireland is little known. Perhaps his most astounding legacy is, quite simply, the hundreds of St. Patrick's Day celebrations worldwide that will unwind in the coming weeks. By his unstinting and largely unsung support for his countrymen, he vastly extended the fame of the Irish for centuries to come.
Wadding was born October 16, 1588, in the city of Waterford, in what must have seemed a particularly dark time for the Irish. Only weeks prior to Wadding's birth, dozens of ships from the defeated Spanish Armada wrecked on Ireland's Atlantic coast. The defeat of the Spanish fleet two months prior represented a defeat for both the Irish, who counted on Spain for help in freeing itself from English control, and the Church, which the English would suppress with renewed vigor for decades to come.
Luke's deeply religious parents christened him two days later, on the feast of St. Luke, and gave their son the saint's name. At the age of 14, Luke Wadding lost both of his parents, and his care was entrusted to an older brother, who sent the young Wadding to a seminary in Lisbon, Portugal.
In those years of religious suppression, Waterford sent so many sons abroad to train for the religious orders that the city earned itself the sobriquet of Parva Roma, or "Little Rome." One of Luke Wadding's brothers, Ambrose, became a Jesuit, and he had cousins who joined the Franciscans and the Jesuits. Wadding maintained close contact through his life with members of the religious orders in Ireland, which helped him remain well-informed on developments there.
In 1613, while in Portugal, Wadding was ordained and started to preach in Portuguese and Catalan. Indeed, Wadding would go on to master Latin, Hebrew, Greek, Italian and Spanish. He initiated what would become a glowing academic career, and would go on to write the history of the Franciscan order and to edit the first edition of the writings of the order's founder, St. Francis of Assisi.
Wadding wrote copiously, covering every aspect of political and theological life in the 17th century. A survey of his voluminous writings was launched in 2007 at University College Dublin, which holds thousands of manuscripts in its library, and is far from complete. More manuscripts are held in Dublin, by the Franciscans, and in Rome. He wrote in Irish, Old English and Latin, complicating the work of curating his archives.
The young Wadding's potential as a theological scholar was recognized when, in 1618, Spanish monarch Philip III, who allied himself with the Franciscans, requested that Wadding join a delegation being sent to Rome. Based in the Eternal City, Wadding found himself at the heart of the spiritual and temporal power of the Church.
Two passions drove Wadding: his Franciscan order (Order of Friars Minor) and the advancement of the Catholic cause in Ireland. In 1625, Wadding established the Irish College of St. Isidore in Rome. Dozens of St. Isidore's Franciscans were martyred after they returned to Ireland. Under Wadding's leadership, St. Isidore's served as an unofficial embassy and refuge in Rome for Irish Catholics. In the preface to one of his books, Wadding wrote, "I could only write this work in the early hours of the night, since I was so taken up by many cares during daytime hours."
Wadding's support for the Irish cause was not limited to matters of faith. When revolt broke out in Ireland in the 1640s, Wadding encouraged Owen Roe O'Neill, a nephew of "The Great O'Neill," Hugh, to return to Ireland to support the rising. Wadding also gained the assignment of Giovanni Battista Rinuccini as papal nuncio to the Irish Confederate government (along with arms, 20,000 pounds of gunpowder and 200,000 silver dollars). With this, Wadding was the first to achieve diplomatic recognition for an independent Ireland.
When the Irish forces under O'Neill were victorious at Benburb, County Tyrone, on June 5, 1646, Wadding performed a Te Deum (a liturgical ceremony of celebration) and hung the captured English standards in St. Peter's Basilica. Wadding's role was highlighted when the Franciscan liaison to the rebels told Wadding "should your health fail … our enterprise will come to naught." After O'Neill's mysterious death near Cavan in November 1649, the rising was doomed. When Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, he crushed all resistance. Indeed, Father Richard Sinnot, a close friend of Wadding's, was one of many killed when Cromwell sacked Wexford. WGT
Read Part 2: A Saint Becomes 'An Occasion'