In addition to being proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, one of the most incredible qualities of Lawrence of Brindisi was his gift for languages. In addition to his native Italian, Lawrence was fluent in Latin, Hebrew, Greek, German, Bohemian, Spanish and French.
Giulio Cesare Russo was born in Brindisi in the Kingdom of Naples to a family of Venetian merchants in 1559. His early education was entrusted to the Conventual Franciscans. By the age of 6, he had already excelled in academics and was chosen every year to address a short sermon to his classmates on the infant Jesus. Giulio's father died when he was only 12 and he moved to Venice to live with his uncle and continue his education.
A devout young man, Giulio always felt drawn to a life of prayer and learning. In 1575, he was received into the Capuchin order and given the religious name Lawrence. Following his formation and theological studies at the University of Padua, he was ordained to the priesthood at 23 years of age.
Given his remarkable facility for languages, Lawrence was able to study the Bible in its original texts and, at the request of Pope Clement VIII, spent much of his time preaching to the Jews in Italy. So incredible was his knowledge of Hebrew, many rabbis mistook him for a Jew converted to Christianity.
Despite his natural gifts of learning and scholarly incredible sensitivity to people. He possessed the unique combination of intellectual brilliance, deep compassion and administrative skill needed to carry out tasks at the highest levels of the Church.
He was promoted in rapid succession by his Capuchin brothers and was elected vicar general of the order in 1602, the highest position possible at the time. Under his leadership, the order saw great growth and geographical expansion. When he was reelected to the position in 1605, Lawrence refused the office and entered into the service of the Holy See, serving as papal nuncio to Bavaria. Through his fervent preaching and academic gifts he restored the faith of many Catholics who had been deeply affected by the Reformation.
Despite his busy life and many undertakings, Lawrence was a man of deep prayer. He rarely celebrated Mass without falling into ecstasy and had a profound devotion to Our Lady and her Rosary. In fact, his greatest blessing was: “May the Virgin Mary with her beloved Son bless us!”
Lawrence died of a serious illness on the date of his birthday in 1619. He was canonized in 1881 and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959. His feast day is July 21.
In 1956, the Capuchins completed a 15-volume edition of Lawrence’s writings. Eleven of these 15 contain his sermons, each of which relies chiefly on scriptural quotations to illustrate his teaching.