May 1
Saint Brieuc Abbot and Confessor (c 420 – c 510)

If we could believe completely Saint Brieuc’s biographer, we would have to admit that the saint certainly filled every moment of his nearly one hundred years of life. The Latin biography of the saint describes his career in considerable detail, but undoubtedly a good part of the adventures are fictitious embellishments.

Brieuc is said to have been the son of charitable, noble pagans of Cardiganshire, Wales. Before his birth in about 420, an angel appeared to his parents to tell them that their child should be sent to France to be reared by Saint Germanus.  The orders of the angel were obeyed, and Brieuc was sent to France, where, in the household of Germanus, the boy met Saint Patrick and Saint Illtyd.  Before he was ten, Brieuc was exhibiting manifestations of divine favor.  His biographer tells us that he overcame the attacks of a devil who appeared in the guise of a wolf, that he had notable success in exorcising persons possessed by the devil, and that he was renowned for his charity.

In later years, Brieuc was ordained a priest. One night as he slept, he had a dream that inspired him to return to his own country, where he converted his parents to Christianity and worked many miracles in healing the sick.  But after a time he was told by an angel to return to Gaul, and he set sail with 168 disciples.  It was on this journey that the saint overcame the devil, who, in the form of a sea serpent, had blocked the ship’s progress.

The band settled on the coast of Brittany near Treguier, where they built a monastery of which Brieuc became abbot. Before long, news of a plague in Wales reached him.  His family begged him to return, and the saint reluctantly did so, leaving the abbey in charge of his nephew.  He dispelled the plague in Wales by his prayers and returned once more to Brittany.  There he found the monastery prospering and decided to build a new one in a different part of the land.  Shortly after accomplishing this, Brieuc died, supposedly in the town that is now called Saint-Brieuc, where his relics are preserved in the cathedral.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  241-242.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 2
Saint Athanasius Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 295-373)

Early in the fourth century the most popular preacher in the Egyptian city of Alexandria was a tail, thin, intense priest named Arius. A compelling orator, he attracted crowds of people to his church, something that would have been quite commendable, except for the fact that he was preaching heresy.  What his attentive audiences heard from him was that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not truly God­-become–man, because the “Son” of God, before his appearance on earth as Christ, had been created by God and was subordinate to Him.  This assertion denied the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation and struck at the heart of the Christian religion.

Arius was a dynamic person with great personal charm, and his perverse doctrine began to be the fashionable thing to profess in Alexandria. In 321 the city’s bishop, Alexander, called a synod to condemn the new heresy, but the action had little effect; the error continued to spread throughout the Mediterranean world, and by 325 a general council of the Church had to be summoned at Nicaea to deal with the problem.  The council condemned Arianism and set down the true teaching of the Church in the Nicene Creed (the Credo read at Mass).  Alexander, who had attended the council with a young deacon of his diocese named Athanasius, went back to Alexandria with the hope that the affair had been settled.

The trouble had only begun, however; by the time Alexander died in 328, Arianism was a greater threat than ever. Great numbers of the Eastern hierarchy had succumbed to the heresy, large sections of the population were accepting it, and, most dangerous of all, the emperor Constantine was giving it his wholehearted support.  It was in this menacing atmosphere that a new bishop of Alexandria was elected; Alexander’s young assistant, Athanasius.  He was to have a forty-five-year episcopate and during that time was to do more than any other man to defeat the forces of Arianism.

During his reign, which is an unbelievably complex one; the conflict between orthodoxy and heresy raged on, sometimes degenerating into quibbles over the meanings of words, other times were erupting into physical violence. Under popes Julius I and Liberius, council after council was held in attempts to reconcile the different positions; at Tyre, Sardica, Aries, Milan, Sirmium, and Rimini, churchmen gathered to denounce each other and dispute hotly over such terms as homoousios, homoiousios, and homoios.  Athanasius attended some of the councils and others he did not; he knew that many of them were rigged affairs, dominated by the currently reigning emperor.  Most of these emperors–Constantine, Constantius, Julian the Apostate, Valens–were either Arian or pagan, and they usually saw to it that the official records of the councils included a denunciation of Athanasius, who was soon recognized as orthodoxy’s staunchest defender.

Besides denunciation, there came exile; five different times Athanasius was forced to leave his episcopal see and retire. His enemies hoped to silence him in this way but the very reverse happened.  He used the occasions to produce what was probably his most important contribution to the fight against Arianism:  a series of works in which the heretical doctrines were refuted and the true dogmas explained.  Such works as the History of the Arians, Orations against the Arians, and On Synods had a tremendous influence and left the heretics with no defense.  Besides sound learning, these works displayed the profound spirituality that was Athanasius’ best weapon in his campaign for orthodoxy.  Many of his fellow bishops and clergymen fell into heresy because they preferred intellectual speculation about faith to the faith itself.  Athanasius loved the faith in its purity and was humble enough to use all the resources of his brilliant mind to give a truthful presentation of it in his works.  In his youth he had known the great monk, Saint Anthony of the Desert (a Life of Saint Anthony, written by Athanasius in his old age, is worth reading), and much of his time in exile was spent with the desert monks of the Thebaid, a valley of the Nile in Upper Egypt.

As time went on, the situation gradually improved: Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia–one of the most powerful Arian bishops–died; the hostile emperors disappeared in a welter of bloodshed and intrigue; and through all the turmoil of events, Athanasius continued his fearless championing of the orthodox faith.  By the year 366, when Athanasius returned from his final period of exile, Arianism was in its last stages.  The people of Alexandria gave their courageous bishop a tumultuous welcome, and the last seven years of his rule were undisturbed.  On May 2, 373, at the age of about seventy-eight, Athanasius died.

Eight years later, at the Council of Constantinople, Arianism in the East received its death blow (it was to break out again later in the West) and Athanasius was given final vindication when the council upheld the orthodox position on the divinity of Christ. A grateful Church has included Athanasius in its list of the Greek Doctors and has given him the title “Father of Orthodoxy.”  The services that Athanasius rendered to the Church as he defended the faith are innumerable, and he has been described by Cardinal Newman as “a principal instrument, after the apostles, by which the sacred truths of Christianity have been conveyed and secured to the world.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  242-245.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 3
Saints Alexander, Eventius, and Theodulus Martyrs, second century

The three saints commemorated on this day are known from an ancient tradition that tells of their being cruelly martyred under the emperor Hadrian, early in the second century. The tradition was confirmed in 1855, when archaeologists discovered an underground tomb near Rome dedicated to the three men.  At one time it was thought that the Alexander of this group was the same as Alexander I, the sixth pope, but this is no longer held to be so.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  245-246.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 4
Saint Florian Martyr (-304)

The Christian memory is long, and Christian heroes do not cease to be heroes because long centuries have rolled past. In Poland, Upper Austria, and especially in the city of Linz, Catholics today honor as patron a soldier who died for the faith in 304.  He was a Roman officer stationed in Noricum (part of modern Austria), and a Christian although not known as such.  When the persecution of Diocletian broke out, he went to the city of Lorch to console the Christians who were imprisoned for the faith.  As a result Florian suffered the fate of other Christian soldiers:  martyrdom at the hands of his pagan comrades, for they denounced him to the provincial governor.  His punishment was swift and cruel; he was scourged, flayed alive, and thrown into the river Enns with a millstone tied to his neck.  Florian’s body was recovered and devotion to him became widespread.  Pope Lucius III sent some of his relics to King Casimir of Poland in 1138, but long before that in the country where he died his memory was enshrined in the hearts of the people.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  246,   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 4
Saint Monica Holy Woman (332-387)

In the Confessions of Saint Augustine is the story of his mother, Saint Monica:  how that courageous woman, with an unfaithful husband, a malicious mother-in-law, and a dissolute son, managed to surmount all these obstacles through transcendent faith and dogged perseverance in prayer.  Monica was born in the North African city of Tagaste in 332, and although reared as a Christian she was given in marriage to a pagan, Patricius.  A violent temper and loose morals made Patricius less than a model husband, yet he heard no complaints from Monica.  She was content to give him (and also his mother, a nagging scold who lived with them) the example of her Christian conduct, and left the rest to God.  It was an effective method; first the mother-in-law, then the husband, became Christians, and Monica was left with only her son to worry about.

He was the most trying problem of all and was to torment Monica for years by his behavior. Sent to Carthage to study, the young man joined the heretical Manichean sect, acquired a mistress, and learned a proud, youthful disdain for the counsel of his mother, who by this time was alone in the world except for her two sons.  Monica saw Augustine drifting farther away from her and the true faith.  Prayer was her chief resource and she used it unceasingly.  “Such great, such frequent, and uninterrupted prayers,” is the way Augustine remorsefully describes them.  For years the prayer seemed to be in vain; as Augustine’s fame as a teacher increased, he became less inclined than ever to mend his ways.  Finally, at the age of twenty-nine, he sailed for Rome, callously lying to Monica about the time of his departure so that she would be unable to accompany him.  This was undoubtedly the worst moment in her life: abandoned by the person she loved most in the world because he no longer had any use for her!  But Monica was too deeply committed to give up now.  She remembered and took heart from the words of an elderly bishop she had gone to, weeping, for help in her distress.  The old man, who knew what Monica’s life, had been, sent her away saying, “Go now . . . it is impossible for the son of these tears to perish.”  So Monica pursued her son, going first to Rome, then to Milan where Augustine had gone to teach rhetoric.  There at last she found the fruit of her hope.

Under the influence of Saint Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, Augustine had abandoned Manichaeism and was seriously investigating Christianity. Overjoyed at the change, Monica redoubled her prayers and sacrifices, haunting the churches of Milan by day and night.  Augustine was in the throes of a “conversion” now, a complete turning away from his former way of life; it was a slow, agonizing process, culminating in one tremendous decision by which he renounced everything for Christ and the Catholic faith.  After this he renounced his mistress and his teaching position and retired to a villa in the country, where he invited his mother, son, brother, and a few friends to live with him.

This was the conversion Monica had been praying for, and when it was made she felt that her mission in life was accomplished. Augustine was solemnly baptized by Saint Ambrose on the vigil of Easter, 387, and a short time later he and Monica went to the port of Ostia to return to Africa.  There Monica fell ill and after nine days died.  With her work over, she no longer saw a need to stay on earth; at one point in her illness, she remarked to her son with wonder, “What am I doing here still?”  Grief-stricken at losing his mother, whose worth he had only begun to appreciate, Augustine buried her at Ostia and sometime later returned to Africa.  In the years that followed, when he was growing into one of the greatest saints in the Church and accomplishing the works that made him one of the most influential men in Western history, he surely grew even closer to this woman whose love had worked with God’s grace to make him the man that he was.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  247-249.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 5
Saint Pius V Pope and Confessor (1504-1572)

When Saint Pius V became pope in 1566, he was faced with a world in revolution. The Protestant Revolt was at its height, the national states of Europe were coming into existence, and everywhere a new spirit was animating men:  a spirit of self-sufficiency that tended to see man, rather than God, at the center of all things.  The modern era was beginning, with Catholicism under violent attack; a strong pope was needed for such a world, and the man God sent was Saint Pius V.

He was born as Michael Ghislieri in the Italian town of Bosco, on January 17, 1504. Never in doubt about his vocation, he joined the Dominican Order at the age of fourteen and became one of its outstanding members.  After teaching philosophy and theology in the order for sixteen years and acting as prior for several monasteries, he began to rise in the ecclesiastical world:  delegate for the Inquisition, bishop, cardinal, papal inquisitor, and, finally, pope.  Too gifted to remain unnoticed, he was, given these honors in spite of his efforts to avoid them.

His six-year reign as pope was one of the most decisive periods in the history of the Church; during that time, with the assistance of such men as Saint Charles Borromeo and Saint Peter Canisius, Pius set in motion the Catholic Counter Reformation, a movement of revived, purified Catholicism that met the threat of Protestantism head-on and successfully held it at bay. The decrees of the Council of Trent, which had closed in 1563, furnished the basis of Counter Reformation activity, and in obedience to them Pius carried out a multitude of projects.  One of the first was the publication of a catechism explaining the council’s doctrinal decisions and the translation of this work into the European languages, so that everyone could have available the correct teaching of the Church on the points questioned by the Protestants.  To secure further doctrinal uniformity, Pius ordered the philosophy and theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which had been followed at Trent, taught in all Catholic schools and colleges.  Just as important as any of this was the clerical reform carried out by Pius.  With impartial severity he demanded that all the clergy–priests, bishops, cardinals–return to a more Christ-like simplicity in their living and abandons those practices which had made their lives the worst of the pre-Reformation scandals.  Other actions taken by the pope included the issuance of an improved Breviary and Roman Missal, the simplifying of Church music, and a thorough housecleaning in the city of Rome, which had become notorious for the hordes of thieves and prostitutes infesting it.

This was one side of Pius’ activity; another was his direct attack on heresy itself, which he never hesitated to root out wherever he could. In areas still predominantly Catholic he used the Inquisition to punish heretics, and in countries that had favored Protestantism he supported Catholic attempts to regain political power.  All the powerful figures of the day–Philip II of Spain, Catherine de’ Medici of France, Maximilian II of Germany–had to deal with this iron-willed man who fought with all his strength the increasing encroachments of secular power on the rightful functions of the Church.  When Queen Elizabeth I of England persisted in calling herself the head of the English Church, Pius excommunicated the arrogant monarch.

Another problem met by the tireless pope was that of the Turks, who at this time were preparing a huge fleet to invade southern Europe. Goading the Catholic nobility of Spain, Venice, and Genoa into action, Pius organized a great Christian fleet under Don John of Austria to do battle with the Turkish armada.  On October 7, 1571, in the straits west of the Gulf of Corinth at Lepanto, the Christians inflicted a terrible defeat on the Turks, breaking their power permanently in the Mediterranean.  On the same day that the battle occurred, the pope had foreknowledge of the outcome and announced it to his astonished court.  To commemorate the victory he instituted the Feast of the Holy Rosary, which is still observed on October 7, the date of the naval battle.

The next year, on May I, Pius died at the age of sixty-eight, in the midst of more plans for fighting heresy and strengthening the Church. He had been an eminent pope and a holy man.  Unlike Luther, Calvin, and their adherents, he had been a true reformer, working to preserve Christ’s Church rather than to destroy it.  Though pitiless in suppressing error, he was known for his charity.  One of his favorite activities was to visit the hospitals of Rome, washing the sick and attending to their needs with his own hands.  Men of his stature are rare, and the Church is blessed to claim him as her own.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  249-252.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 6
Saint Evodius Bishop and Confessor (-c 67)

The city of Antioch in northwest Syria was a great metropolis of the Hellenistic world, of great natural beauty and fertility, adorned with marble halls and temples, and alive with cultural activities and the bustle of caravan trade. Within a generation of the resurrection and ascension of Christ it was also a center of His disciples, the cradle of the infant Church disengaged from Judaism.  Here the faithful first gained the name of “Christian.”  Here the missionaries Paul and Barnabas found the center of their apostolic mission to the pagan world, and Peter sojourned before establishing his see at Rome.

Saint Evodius was the first bishop of this strong Christian community. He is supposed to have been one of the seventy-two disciples sent out by Christ Himself to spread the gospel, and to have been consecrated bishop by Saint Peter.  Nothing further is known of Evodius, but from the praise given him by his great successor, Saint Ignatius of Antioch.  Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a true shepherd and faithful steward of the treasure of the faith saying:  “Remember blessed Evodius, your shepherd, the first to govern you after the apostles.  Show yourselves worthy of such a father.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  252-253.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 7
Saint Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr (1030-1079)

When Saint Stanislaus became bishop of Cracow in 1072, everyone agreed that a good choice had been made. The people of the city loved him for the work he had done among them as a priest, and his fellow clergymen were willing to admit that he excelled them all in ability and devotion.  Stanislaus, who had been born in 1030 in a small town near Cracow, was a learned man with a university education but still a humble person, completely without ambition for himself.  He had to be ordered by Pope Alexander II to accept the bishopric, and after his consecration, he continued to live exactly as before:  caring for the poor and the weak and gently leading people to a better practice of their faith.

All would have been well in Cracow, had it not been for the king of Poland, Boleslav II, who kept his court there. He was commonly known as “Boleslav the Cruel,” and was all that a monarch should not be:  treacherous, lustful, and vindictive, with no use for morality or those who preached it.

So scandalous was the king’s life, that Stanislaus, soon after he became bishop, went to Boleslav and rebuked him to his face for his vicious conduct. Willing to humor the bishop, the king made a pretense of better living for a while, but soon returned to his old habits.  The whole nation was outraged by Boleslav’s next exploit, which was to kidnap the beautiful wife of one of his chief noblemen and take her to his palace for the satisfaction of his own lust.  The Polish nobles called on the hierarchy of the country to condemn this foul act, and once more it was Stanislaus–and only Stanislaus–who had the courage to face the king.  This time Boleslav revealed his true character, as he reviled the bishop and warned him not to meddle in the affairs of others.

Stanislaus was quite undisturbed by the threats and, when the king refused to mend his ways, excommunicated him. This act, which even further alienated his people from him, drove Boleslav into a fury.  Choosing a time when the bishop was saying Mass at the chapel of Saint Michael, outside Cracow, the king went there and ordered his guards to slay the bishop.  When they returned and told him they had been afraid to do the terrible deed, the king seized a sword, rushed into the chapel, and cut Stanislaus down at the altar.  It was in May 1079.  For this terrible deed Pope Gregory VII put Poland under an interdict; when the people of the country, already enraged at the fate of their beloved bishop, heard this, they rose up and drove Boleslav into exile.  Stanislaus was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1253 and has always been one of the favorite saints of the Polish people, who remember gratefully his fearless opposition to a godless ruler.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  253-255.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 8
Saint Peter of Tarentaise Bishop and Confessor (1102-1175)

The city of Vienne in eastern France, where Saint Peter of Tarentaise was born in 1102, lies just west of the French Alps, where the saint spent most of his life as a Cistercian monk. Under the influence of the great Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the Cistercian Order was expanding rapidly at this time, an expansion to which Peter contributed handsomely when he joined the order at the age of twenty and brought his whole family with him.  Inspired by Peter’s example, his father and two brothers entered the Abbey of Bonnevaux after him, and his mother and sister joined a nearby convent of Cistercian nuns.

After ten years in the order, Peter was chosen to head a new foundation at Tamie in the diocese of Tarentaise, a desolate mountain area. The monastery was in a pass on the route from Geneva to Savoy, and Peter, like the famous Saint Bernard of Menthon, built hospices where he and his monks cared for the travelers who lost their way in the mountains during the frequent blizzards that swept the region.  In 1142 Peter was chosen archbishop of Tarentaise, and he spent the next thirteen years in correcting the deplorable state of the diocese that had resulted from the mismanagement of his predecessor.  Visiting every corner of his rugged territory, Peter influenced his people to reform their lives, replaced the negligent clergy with the militant, and in his own conduct toward his people exemplified for them the selfless love that should characterize all Christians.  His charitable activities continued, one of the most humane of them being the distribution of bread and soup during the months before harvest time, when food was scarce.  The food was called “May bread” by the people, and after Peter’s death its distribution remained an annual event until the time of the French Revolution.

In 1155 Peter suddenly vanished from his diocese; a year passed before he was found, living as a lay brother in a Cistercian monastery in Switzerland. Overcome by a desire to regain the solitude of the cloister, Peter had quietly gone to the Swiss monastery, where no one knew him.  His identity disclosed, he was obliged to return to his diocese, a bit saddened but resigned to fulfilling his duties there permanently.  Among the many achievements of his later years was the rallying of the whole Cistercian Order behind Pope Alexander III in his struggle against the antipope Victor IV.  He was sent by the pope in 1170 to attempt a reconciliation between the warring kings of England and France, Henry II and Louis VII.  The attempt failed, and while traveling back to his diocese Peter became seriously ill.  He found refuge at the Abbey of Bellevaux and died there peacefully on May 8.  His preference was for a quiet and unspectacular life spent entirely in the silence of monastic houses, but his talent and virtues were called upon for public service, and God’s approval of Peter was evident in the many miracles that came in answer to his prayers and blessings.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  255-256.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 9
Saint Gregory Nazianzen Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (329-390)

In the bitter fourth-century struggle against Arianism, much of the effective opposition to the heresy came from Cappadocia, a rocky province in Asia Minor. One of the greatest “Cappadocians” was Saint Gregory Nazianzen, born about 329 in the small village of Arianzus, near the city of Nazianzus.  The saint’s father, Gregory the Elder, was a former pagan; he had been converted by his wife after their marriage and had perfected his conversion, in those days of the noncelibate clergy, by becoming a priest.

Gregory’s parents gave him the best of educations, sending him to study first at Caesarea in Cappadocia and then in Palestine, and at Alexandria and Athens. A natural student, the young man enjoyed learning and also became strongly drawn to the religious life.  On his return home, at about the age of thirty, Gregory retired to Pontus on the Black Sea with Saint Basil, another Cappadocian and a close friend of Gregory’s from their school days.  The young men, eager for a life of spiritual perfection, were planning their future in terms of the monastic life, when Gregory was suddenly called back to Nazianzus by his father, now bishop of that city.  The elder Gregory, an old man at the time, was incapable of controlling his heresy-ridden diocese and needed assistance.  To ensure Gregory’s staying with him, his father brought him to the cathedral on a feast day and there ordained him a priest, oblivious of Gregory’s protests at this high-handed treatment.  The young man was genuinely shocked at the incident, for he had always thought himself unworthy of the priesthood; however, after a period of reflection back at Pontus, he accepted his father’s action as the will of God and returned to Nazianzus.

In the next few years he helped his father fend off the Arians, was consecrated a bishop, and began to acquire a reputation as a writer and orator. A distressing incident during this period was a quarrel with his friend Basil.  In 370 Basil had been appointed bishop of Caesarea and was given power to appoint other bishops; when he asked Gregory to occupy the see of Sasima in Arian territory, Gregory refused to go there, saying he did not care to fight for a church.

Basil reproached him for adopting such an attitude, and the friendship between the two was never the same after this. Strengthened in his dislike for public life by this incident, Gregory left Nazianzus for a monastery in Seleucia.

His retirement was cut short in 379, when the Arian emperor Valens died. Church leaders, sensing an opportune moment for a decisive blow at the Arians, asked the best of their clergy to invade the Arian strongholds and make a concentrated drive against the heretics.  When Gregory was requested to go to Constantinople, the peace-loving man at first refused, but then, realizing it was for the good of the Church, he gave his consent.  When he arrived in the city, he was greeted with all the abuse he had expected and was forced to hold services in a private home as all the churches being occupied by the opposition.  Gregory met the vicious tactics of the heretics (they even made attempts on his life) with the only weapons at his disposal–holiness and learning.  He began to give a series of sermons on the root problem of the heresy–the dogma of the Trinity.  These sermons, known today as the Theological Discourses, contain some of the most profound and moving theological exposition ever produced in the Church.  With matchless eloquence, the good bishop poured out in these addresses all the wisdom gained from his years of study, all the love he felt for the truths of his religion; and when he had finished the series, the Arians were finished, too.  They continued to cause trouble in the city, but their arguments had been punctured by Gregory, and the people no longer gave their support to Arian leaders.  When Emperor Theodosius, who was a Christian, came to Constantinople in 380, he ousted the Arian patriarch and arranged for Gregory to replace him.

Gregory’s hour of triumph came and went; immediately after his consecration as patriarch of Constantinople in the great church of Sancta Sophia, ecclesiastical quarrels surged up around him again, this time among men of his own camp. Sickened by the petty squabbling, Gregory went before the Council of Constantinople, which was meeting at the time, and resigned his see with a last, moving plea for peace in the Church.  Returning to Nazianzus, he served again briefly as its bishop, then went to his birthplace at Arianzus, where he spent the last six years of his life.  There, free from all disturbance at last, he prayed, composed poetry, wrote letters, and undoubtedly thought hopefully of the coming time when he and his friend Basil (who had died in 379) would meet in heaven, all their differences· forgotton.

In 390 Gregory died and was buried in Nazianzus; later, his body was brought to Constantinople and then to Saint Peter’s in Rome, where it remained. The Church remembers this gentle man of learning and holiness as one of her four great Greek Doctors and also has given him the title of “the Theologian,” a title he shares with only one other man­ Saint John the Evangelist.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  257-259.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 9
Saint Pachomius Abbot and Confessor (c 292 – 346)

Saint Anthony of the Desert is usually called the founder of Christian monasticism, but he should at least share the title with Saint Pachomius the Elder, the man generally believed to have first organized cenobitic (community) life for monks according to a written rule. Born in the Upper Thebaid, or valley of the Nile, in about 292, Pachomius was a pagan soldier before being converted to Christianity.  After his conversion, he went into the desert to stay with a hermit called Palaemon.  The two men lived by themselves in the desert wastes, until the time when Pachomius heard a voice telling him to found a monastery at Tabenna, on the banks of the Nile, and had a vision in which an angel outlined for him the rule for religious life to be followed in the new community.

Pachomius founded the monastery and, after it, dozens more, where thousands of men came to put themselves under his direction. He also established a convent on the bank opposite Tabenna for the benefit of a group of women, one of whom was his sister.  Besides his monastic activity, Pachomius carried on a zealous campaign against Arianism and during his lifetime was famed as a worker of miracles.  In 346 a plague swept through the monastic communities on the Nile and claimed Pachomius among its hundreds of victims.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  260.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 10
Saint Antonino Bishop and Confessor (1389-1459)

Saint Antonino would be known to us as Antonio or Anthony if he had not been such a small and gentle person, for Antonino is an affectionate way of saying “Little Anthony” in Italian. He bears no other name in the memory of the Church, although he became advisor of popes and statesmen.  Born in 1389, the physically small saint was one of the most beloved figures in Florence by the time of his death in I459.

Antonino was a Dominican friar who had made a brilliant record in his order before his appointment as archbishop. Joining the Dominicans in his teens, he had assisted the famed Blessed John Dominici in his reforms of the order and had been prior at·houses in Rome, Naples, Siena, and elsewhere before being sent to found a new house at Florence in 1436.  Under the leadership of Cosimo de’ Medici, Florence was entering its golden age at this time, and when Anthony went there to found his convent of San Marco he found himself assisted by the illustrious Duke de’ Medici, who provided funds for the convent and its adjacent church.  Another famous contributor to the new foundation was Fra Angelico, a fellow Dominican who came to Florence to do frescoes and other decorations for San Marco.  (Mainly because of Fra Angelico’s work, the convent is now an Italian national museum.)

Antonino was hardly settled in San Marco when calls began to arrive for his services. He went to Naples to help correct irregularities in Dominican houses there and, at the request of Pope Eugenius IV, attended the Council of Florence, where his talents as a canon-law expert were of great use.  A man of boundless energy, Antonino did not neglect his duties in Florence in the midst of his other activities; in fact, he became so popular in the city through his preaching and works of charity that when the pope elevated him to the archbishopric there, in 1446, the whole town rejoiced.

As archbishop, Antonino continued to live as much like a Dominican friar as he could, which was a notable thing in a city where magnificent living was expected of persons in high places. He was a careful guardian of his diocese, working ceaselessly to eliminate such practices as magic and usury, and every year he visited the whole territory on foot.  He remained a frequent advisor of the popes–both Nicholas V and Pius II made use of his talents–and Florence itself, which was an independent republic, entrusted him with several diplomatic missions.  Not the least of his accomplishments was the writing of a “Summa” of moral theology, which was widely used in his own and later times.

In Antonino’s old age, a series of disasters–plague, famine, earthquakes–began to strike the countryside around Florence and continued over a period of years. It was a trying time for the small state, and Antonino, despite his years, always led the way in providing relief and shelter for the victims of the events.  In the opinion of many, including Cosimo de’ Medici, the saint, with his prayers and work, was the only reason for the republic’s survival in the catastrophic period.  When Antonino died on May 2, 1459, the saddened city was fully aware that it had lost both a saint and its most illustrious citizen.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  261-262.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 11
Saints Philip and James Apostles (New Testament)

The New Testament, with its single theme of Christ, gives few details about any of the figures around Jesus, and because of this we have little information about the personal lives of the apostles. What we know of Saint Philip comes from the Gospel of Saint John.  There we are told that Philip came from the same town-Bethsaida-as Andrew and Peter, and that after Christ called those two and John himself, He called Philip to follow Him.  Immediately afterward, Philip brought to Christ a man known as Nathaniel generally believed to be the apostle the evangelists call Bartholomew (John 1:43-46).  Elsewhere in his Gospel, John mentions that before Christ performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes He spoke to Philip, asking him where enough bread could be purchased to feed the crowd; Philip, not understanding that an expression of faith was expected of him in answer, merely replied that it would be very expensive to feed so many people (John 6:5-7).  At the Last Supper, when Christ spoke to the apostles about His relationship to His Father, Philip cried, “Lord, show us the Father,” and Jesus answered, a little sadly, “Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known me?  Philip, he who sees me sees also the Father” (John 14:8, 9).

The only other information about Philip is contained in ancient traditions that say he died and was buried in Hierapolis, a city in the province of Phrygia (modern Turkey), where he had been preaching. The same traditions assert that his relics were brought to Rome and are preserved there in the Basilica of the Apostles.

A more prominent figure than Philip is the apostle James the Less (so-called because he was younger than the James who was the brother of John). He is called a “brother of the Lord” (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3), because his mother was a close relative of the Blessed Virgin.  He was one of the most respected members of the early Christian community.  Saint Paul tells us that when he came to Jerusalem he saw, besides Peter, only James, and he later describes him as a “pillar” of the Church (Galatians 1:18, 19; 2:9).  From the Acts of the Apostles we learn that James was present at the Council of Jerusalem in about the year 51, and that his opinion was heard there after that of Peter (Acts 15:13-22).

Nonbiblical sources, such as the historian Eusebius, tell us that James was the first bishop of Jerusalem and was immensely respected for his integrity, even by the Jews, who called him “the Just.” He made so many converts in that city, however, that the Jews became alarmed and tried to force him to repudiate Christ publicly in the Temple.  When the apostle took this opportunity to give testimony to Christ, the Jews dragged him out and killed him with stones and clubs.  This was about the year 62.  James wrote an Epistle, one of those known as the “Catholic (universal) Epistles.”  Some of his relics are believed to be preserved in the Basilica of the Apostles, and the head of James is venerated at the cathedral of Ancona.  The feast of Philip and James was formerly May 1; when the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker was assigned to this day (1955), the feast of the apostles was transferred to May 11, the traditional date of

the death of James.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  263-264.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 12
Saint Germanus Bishop and Confessor (635-732)

Saint Germanus is another of the many defenders of the Catholic position in the lengthy struggle against iconoclasm, the heresy that did so much damage to the Church in the eighth and ninth centuries. Patriarch of Constantinople during the reign of the emperor Leo the Isaurian, Germanus himself had crowned Leo in 717, receiving assurances from him that he would guard the faith in all its purity.  For ten years the emperor more or less kept his word and then abruptly supported the iconoclasts.

A campaign of image-smashing and atrocious cruelties to the orthodox followed; and Germarus, an old man at the time, did everything he could, by preaching, writing, and personal example, to repudiate the heretics and sustain the faithful. He reported the controversy to Rome and received the support of Pope Gregory II and Saint John Damascene.  Leo did not dare to expel the patriarch, but began to suggest that a successor should be named.  At a council assembled in Leo’s palace in 730, Germanus, fatigued by the long controversy, announced his resignation being over ninety years of age, Germanus lived only two more years and died in 732.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  265.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 13
Saint Robert Bellarmine Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1542-1621)

When Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenberg, the Protestant Revolt was under way; since the theses were a denial of orthodox Catholic doctrine on indulgences, the movement started in error, and in error it continued. Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, and dozens more followed Luther, all manufacturing religious doctrine to suit their own opinions, until Europe was swamped in a sea of contradictory religious pronouncements.  To the Catholic Church, of course, fell the laborious task of refuting this mass of error.  The undertaking was begun by the Council of Trent and has continued ever since, with many able men participating in it.  Of these, none has been more brilliant or effective than Saint Robert Bellarmine, who was born at Montepulciano, Italy, in 1542.

Robert, a member of an aristocratic family, was talented and likeable; when, at the age of eighteen, he decided to become a Jesuit, many people, including his father, were shocked. The young man knew what he wanted, however, and after a ten-year period of study was ordained in 1570.  His studies had been completed at the University of Louvain, in Belgium, and after his ordination he taught there for six years.  Lecturing on the Summa Theologica of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Robert emphasized the topics of grace and free will to counteract the influence of the chancellor of the university, Michael Baius, who was spreading heretical views on those subjects.  Both in the classroom and in the pulpit, where he preached sermons in Latin for the university undergraduates, Robert was a respected and popular figure.  His weak health, however, forced his return to the warmer climate of Italy.  In 1576 he joined the faculty of the Jesuit Roman College.  In his new position, Robert soon became known for his skillful teaching of controversial theology, or theology in which the articles of faith denied by the Protestants were given special attention.  It was during this period that he produced his major work, the Disputations.  Here Bellarmine presented the whole range of Catholic dogma; using arguments based on Scripture, tradition, and reason, he conclusively refuted the, various Protestant attacks.  When the Disputations appeared, they created a sensation in Europe; Bellarmine’s work was so profound, complete, and brilliantly expressed that Catholics welcomed it as the best weapon yet produced for use in the struggle against heresy, and the Protestants quailed at its impact.  Many Protestants, in fact, were convinced that no one man could produce such a stupendous work and believed that a syndicate of Jesuits had written the Disputations!

Under Pope Sixtus V, in 1589, Robert went on a diplomatic mission to France; under Clement Vlll he took a leading part in a papal commission appointed to produce a revised edition of the Latin, or Vulgate, Bible (a version still used today). Also during Clement’s reign, in 1597, Robert compiled his Catechism of the Christian faith, which in its two versions (large and small) has probably been the most widely used catechism in the history of the Church.  Many honors came to Robert during these years:  he was named rector of the Roman College in 1592, head of the Jesuit’s province in Naples in 1594, and in 1598 Clement VIII named him a cardinal.

In 1602 his life turned in a new direction when he was appointed archbishop of the diocese of Capua. Pastoral work was a new field for him, very different from his customary scholarly pursuits, and he plunged into it with a whole­hearted zeal that brought him his usual success.  No longer a young man, he went out among the people of his diocese, preaching to them, helping them in their needs, and firing them with the example of his own devotion and selflessness.  In a short time the learned cardinal had captivated the whole diocese.  When he was recalled to Rome in 1605, he left a saddened flock behind.

Back in Rome, Robert was appointed head of the Vatican Library by Pope Paul V, who also appointed him to various other papal commissions. Controversy once more surrounded him as he crossed swords with a variety of opponents, one of whom was the king of England, James I.  The king, who had written a clumsy defense of his position as head of the English Church, had the honor of being answered by Bellarmine, who skillfully refuted the royal arguments.

Growing older, Robert began to leave controversy to others (to men trained by himself, in many cases), and concentrated on spiritual writing, his Art of Dying being one of the best known of these later works.  As the physical infirmities that had plagued him all his life grew worse, he retired to a Jesuit novitiate and on September 17, 1621 and at the age of seventy-nine, he died.

Bellarmine’s life had been a stormy one, but in spite of being under constant attack by Protestants and even at times by Catholics (his views on the temporal power of the pope have never been popular with some of the clergy), he managed to maintain an attitude of humility and charity in his polemical battles. Robert fought the heretics only because he loved the faith and realized that the achievement of holiness was something far more important than the acquisition of knowledge.  Bellarmine’s final honors came in our own century, when Pope Pius XI declared him a saint in 1930, and a Doctor of the Church in 1931.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  266-267.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 14
Blessed Michael Garicoits Confessor (1797-1863)

On countless occasions in times of great need or peril God has raised up faithful servants and leaders of His cause. They may come from high places or low; they may serve God and His Church by writing, preaching, mission labors, works of mercy, splendid and heroic virtue, or quiet and constant prayer.  Michael Garicoïts, born in 1797, grew up among the flocks of sheep in the Pyrenees Mountains, the son of a poor peasant family.  From here God led him into the midst of the troubled French world in the era known as the Second Terror.  Even during Michael’s childhood these immense troubles found their way into the isolated mountain areas; priests were being ruthlessly hunted down by the government and his family often sheltered these fugitives.

Michael knew very soon that he wanted to be a priest but poverty at first stood in the way. Providence opened a path and Michael became a priest, a seminary professor and then in 1841 the founder of a new religious congregation, the Institute of Auxiliary Priests of the Sacred Heart.  Among his most zealous works was the preparation of these priests of the Sacred Heart for parishes, places of pilgrimage, and missions in South America.  Thus, from a small village in the Pyrenees God brought out a man not only for the sake of suffering France but for far-distant fields as well.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  269-270.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 15
Saint John Baptist de la Salle Confessor (1651-1719)

As much as we may sometimes dislike the process, we all have to be educated; we must be taught to distinguish between what is good and bad morally and what is true and false intellectually. Contemporary secular educators give attention to the second task but often neglect the first.  A man who paid a lifetime of attention to both was Saint John Baptist de Ia Salle, founder of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, or “Christian Brothers,” and one of the great educators of recent times.

Born in 1651, John Baptist entered the field of education more or less by accident while he was a young priest in his native town of Rheims, France. For six years before his ordination in 1678, he had the responsibility of caring for his orphaned brothers and sisters, and immediately after becoming a priest was given other tasks of a similar nature.  A dying fellow priest asked Father de la Salle to take over his position as spiritual director of a girls’ orphanage, and a short time later Madame de Croyere, a wealthy woman of Rheims, requested the priest to help a layman, Adrien Nyel, to found, with her financial assistance, two schools for the city’s poor boys.

Forced into the role of an educator by these events, Father de la Salle took a good look at his new field and saw its deplorable condition. Except for a few free elementary schools that were shabby relics of the medieval past, staffed by incompetent teachers who had failed to get better wages elsewhere, the poor were left without any means of education.  The rich had all the means for the expensive education of the academies and universities, but all was taught by outworn methods, the content no longer related to the world people lived in and, what was worse, was only nominally religious.

After Father de la Salle looked, he acted. To accomplish any reform he had to reach the heart of the problem:  the education of children, especially the children of the growing masses of the poor.  His aims at first were modest, merely to provide good education for the poor children of Rheims.  Choosing seven teachers from the schools he had helped found, he took them to live at his family home while he imparted to them his ideas for school reform.  Five of the men left when they realized that the task would demand a complete dedication of their lives to the education of the young; others took their place, however, and Father de Ia Salle soon had to rent a larger house for his recruits and devote all his time to their training.  Finally he realized that the problem was not confined to Rheims and that it would grow worse in the future, as cities grew in population under the pressure of industrialization.

In 1684 he organized his followers into a religious institute and became their first director. Members of the new congregation took the religious vows of poverty’ chastity, and obedience, but in order to give all their time to educational work, they did not become priests, their status as brothers being permanent.  Through his community, Father de la Salle made revolutionary changes in the teaching methods of the day.  Abandoning Latin as the language of instruction, he insisted on the use of the common tongue of the people; he also largely did away with individual instruction, instead having groups of children at the same mental levels taught by a single instructor (his famous “’simultaneous method”).  These and other practices are described in his classic Manual for Christian Schools, written about 1693.  ln the free education that they gave to the poor, the brothers taught all the modern, as well as the classical, subjects, and made Christian doctrine the cornerstone of the whole curriculum.

Such a fresh, intelligent approach to elementary education was exactly what France needed, and Father de la Salle’s young society shortly had more work than it could handle. Along with teaching, it assumed the work of training young laymen to be teachers in their own towns; a school for this purpose which was opened in Rheims in 1688 is recognized today as having been the world’s first normal school.  As the institute expanded to Paris and other cities, it further diversified its activities; a technical school for the sons of artisans and a school for delinquent children were two later projects.

With expansion came opposition; secular educators, overly conservative clergy, and many of the wealthy saw nothing but danger in Father de la Salle’s determination to educate the poor and to do it with better methods than the traditional ones. The priest himself was not worried by opposition, which expressed itself in everything from personal abuse to lawsuits against his schools.  He had an unbreakable serenity that came from the acceptance of God’s will as the rule of his life.  While others worried, he prayed; and God heard his prayers.  By the year of his death, 1719, his institute was firmly established in France and was soon to spread throughout the world.  Father de la Salle was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1900; few men have ever done more for children or for Christian education than this resolute French priest.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  270-273.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 16
Saint John Nepomucene Martyr (1330-1393)

Violence characterized Saint John Nepomucene’s life, brutal martyrdom ended it, and mystery has shrouded his figure ever since. We know that the saint was vicar general to the archbishop of Prague in the fourteenth century and met death at the hands of Wenceslaus IV, king of Bohemia; what is uncertain is the reason for the king’s killing him.  Without delving into the controversy, which is a feast for scholars, the things we know with certainty about the saint are enough to reveal the kind of man he was.

John was born in the little village of Nepomuk in 1330, and in spite of their poverty, his parents succeeded in providing him with the good education that his talents deserved. He pursued his studies with great distinction at Prague and became a doctor of theology and canon law before he was ordained.  His preaching soon won him renown among university students and others, and his charity endeared him to the poor.  He was appointed a canon of the cathedral, and finally vicar general.

A fearless holiness was certainly John’s chief quality, for he had the courage to defend the rights of the Church against Wenceslaus, who was an extraordinarily brutal and irresponsible king. This debauched monarch (his subjects called him “the Drunkard”) had originally invited John to the royal court, having heard of his ability, to give a series of Lenten sermons.  It seems that the powerful preaching of the saint frightened the king into a brief period of decent living, which ended when the king became angered at John.  One tradition holds that John was the queen’s confessor and that the king, who doubted his wife’s fidelity, tried to make the saint reveal the contents of her confessions; other sources say that the trouble began when John and the archbishop of Prague frustrated an attempt by the king to rob a monastery of its lands and revenue.

Wenceslaus, at any rate, became enraged at the saint, with his troublesome goodness, and resolved to do away with him. One night Wenceslaus had his soldiers bring John to the royal palace, where the king tried to torture him into compliance with his own plans.  When such procedures as holding burning torches to John’s sides failed to weaken his resolve, the king had the saint bound, gagged, and thrown from a bridge into the Moldau River.  Although the dark of night hid the crime, in the morning the body was found washed up on the banks of the river.  This occurred in 1393.  John’s body quickly became an object of veneration for the people of Prague and is still preserved in the cathedral there.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  273-274.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 17
Saint Paschal Baylon Confessor (c 1540-1592)

Perhaps saints like Paschal Baylon are given to us by God as a reminder that the only thing necessary for sanctity is love; Paschal certainly had very little else. Born into a Spanish peasant family of Aragon (northeastern Spain) in 1540, he had few talents and accomplished no spectacular work during his life.  The one thing that dominated his existence was a profound devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.  Tending sheep as a youth, Paschal would spend hours in meditation on this mystery.  Love of the Blessed Virgin was also strong in him, and during his hours with his flocks he taught himself to read, so he could make use of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin.

When he was twenty-four Paschal applied for admission as a lay brother to the Franciscan community of Loreto in the Kingdom of Valencia (in eastern Spain); refused at first, on the grounds that the life would be too strict for him, he gained admittance through sheer persistence, and then proceeded to surprise the friars by surpassing them all in austerity. The humble jobs he was given–cook, gardener, porter–he carried out faithfully, sometimes with naive touches of innocent love.  One time, while setting places in the refectory, he was seen performing a clumsy dance in honor of the Blessed Virgin, whose statue was over the door.  What impressed the whole community, however, was this simple peasant’s utter absorption in the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  His one joy in life was to pray before the tabernacle, where he would remain for hours, overwhelmed by the reality of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.  To remain as close as possible to the object of his love, Paschal would often pass the night in the chapel and, in the morning, serve Mass after Mass for the friars.

It was as porter that Pascal revealed how ardent love of God overflows in acts of mercy. To the many poor and sick who came to the door he showed himself patient and gentle, and generous in distributing the supplies put at his disposal.  Sometimes his care wrought remarkable cures.

The only interruption in this prayerful life came on an occasion when Paschal was chosen to carry messages to his order’s minister general, who was living in Paris. On the journey, Paschal had to travel through French towns controlled by the Huguenots; a completely unsubtle man, and conspicuous in his habit, Paschal never bothered to avoid these places and, while in them, often expressed himself vehemently on the subject of heretics.  His candid approach earned him several stonings by mobs, and he returned to Spain with a permanently injured shoulder from one of these attacks.  The rest of his life was uneventful, and in 1592, on Pentecost Sunday–the same feast on which he was born­-he died peacefully.

An unusual number of miracles took place at his tomb and Church authorities soon undertook the matter of his beatification. A meaningful tribute to Paschal’s hidden life was paid by Pope Leo XIII, in 1897, when he named the saint patron of all Eucharistic congresses and associations.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  275-276.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 18
Saint Felix of Cantalice Confessor (c 1515-1587)

All of us have to beg our way into heaven, but some do it in a more literal fashion than others. Felix of Cantalice, for example, was a beggar by occupation for over forty years.  A member of a Capuchin monastery in Rome in the sixteenth century, he filled the post of questor, or collector of alms, for his community; his work was to go through the city every day begging food and money.  Forty years of tramping the streets of Rome with a basket on one’s arm, asking for charity and, as often as not, getting abuse in reply, is an excellent way of getting close to God, if done in the right spirit.  Felix had the spirit; his standard reply to everything, insult or alms, was a joyful Deo gratias (Thanks be to God)!  Eventually he became known as “Brother Deogratias.”

His fellow friars, who knew another side of Felix–his iron-willed asceticism that led him to wear iron-studded shirts and eat only bread and water, which, he felt, preserved purity of body and mind–had no hesitancy in calling him “the Saint,” a high tribute from men who knew well what true sanctity demands. A farmer in his youth, Felix had never learned to read and write, but with the wisdom of holiness he became the trusted friend and adviser of such eminent men as Saints Philip Neri and Charles Borromeo.  When he was seventy-two years old, in 1587, Felix died, rejoicing in a vision of our Lady.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  277.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 19
Saint Dunstan Bishop and Confessor (-c 910-988)

Bell-maker, manuscript-illuminator, harpist, and composer–Saint Dunstan was all these and more. Born of a noble Anglo-Saxon family about 910, he entered religious life as a youth at the great abbey of Glastonbury and by 943 he was the abbot there.  In 946 Dunstan was chosen by the king, Edred, to be his adviser, a role the saint was to fill for almost all the English kings in the next three decades.  A period of exile came during this time when, in 955, Edred was succeeded by his nephew.  Dunstan had once rebuked the new monarch for his lax behavior, and the king retaliated now by sending Dunstan to Flanders.  He was soon back in England, however, under King Edgar.

Dunstan was created archbishop of Canterbury in 961. During the next seventeen years he virtually ruled the country through his influence at court.  In 979 the saint crowned the new king, Ethelred, and then retired from public life.  Returning to Canterbury, he spent his last years teaching in the cathedral school and caring for the people of his diocese.  Saint Dunstan died in 988; for years he was remembered in England as “sweet Father Dunstan.”  Goldsmiths, locksmiths, blacksmiths, and jewelers claim him as their patron.  The saint’s emblem is a pair of smith’s tongs, the instrument with which, according to an eleventh-century legend, he once caught the devil by the nose and held him prisoner.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  278.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 20
Saint Bernardine of Siena Confessor (1380-1444)

A three-hour sermon–what a frightful thing to contemplate! Yet, in fifteenth-century Italy people fought for the opportunity of listening to sermons of even greater length when the speaker was Saint Bernardine of Siena.  For almost twenty-five years this extraordinary man traveled through the strife-ridden provinces of Italy, spreading peace and understanding through his marvelously effective preaching.  Bernardine was born in 1380, and spent his youth in the city of Siena, where he joined the Franciscans in 1402.  He came to them with his health permanently injured as the result of overwork during a plague that had struck Siena two years earlier.  His first fifteen years in the order were routine, with no hint of the fame that was to come later.

In 1417 Bernardine’s call came; he had been staying at a Franciscan house in Fiesole when a young novice there told him that he must go north to preach in Lombardy, where “everyone was waiting for him.” Bernardine, who had had no great success as a preacher before, took the advice as divinely inspired and went.  There, indeed, they were waiting for him; at Milan, where he began his preaching, huge crowds came to hear him, thus setting the pattern that was to continue the rest of his life.

His sermons, many of which have been preserved, were lively, their seriousness relieved by humor and stories. In his time, all Italy was split by the political warfare between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines; seldom has pure hatred so divided the people of a country.  Besides political enmity, there was other immorality to contend with; people were impatient with restraint of any kind.  Bernardine’s chief weapon, besides his eloquence, was the name of Jesus; he always displayed to his audiences a board with the letters IHS on it (a monogram made from the first three letters of the Greek word for “Jesus”) and asked for devotion to the Holy Name.  The results were phenomenal, whole cities returning to a more Christian way of life at his urging.  Ignoring his achievements, he took his delight in humiliations; when mocked by some boys for his austere habits, he said to a companion, “Never mind–they are only helping us attain everlasting glory.”

His work had many interruptions. Accused of heresy, he defended himself, with the help of Saint John of Capistrano, before Pope Martin V, and the baseless charge was easily refuted.  In 1428 Bernardine was elected vicar general of his branch of the Franciscan Order (the Strict Observance); he spent four years reforming the order, again with the help of his friend, John of Capistrano.  A learned man, Bernardine participated in the Council of Florence in 1439, where he was one of the few Latins who could address the Eastern delegates in Greek.

Preaching remained his most absorbing interest, however; he declined three offers of bishoprics from Pope Martin V in order to continue that work, and in 1442 he resigned his position as vicar general to return to it. The only section of Italy he had not visited by this time was the Kingdom of Naples.  In 1444, over sixty years old and in his usual poor health, he set out with gay courage on a donkey for Aquila, the capital of the kingdom.  Exhausting himself by constant preaching, he grew weaker as he traveled, until he had to finish the journey being carried on a litter.  On May 20, the eve of the Ascension, Bernardine died.  All Italy knew that a holy man had lived and died among them and clamored for the preacher’s canonization.  It came six years later, in 1450, when Pope Nicholas V gave the official confirmation of Bemardine’s sanctity.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  279-281.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 21
Saint Godric Hermit and Confessor (-1170)

A hermit for the last sixty years of his life, Saint Godric was very much a man of the world in his youth. Born in northern England in the last half of the eleventh century, he traveled widely, first as a peddler, then as a sailor.  He did well in both occupations, eventually becoming captain of a ship as well as part owner of that and another vessel.  An enthusiastic pilgrim, Godric went three times to Rome and twice to Jerusalem.  After the glamor of travel lessened, however, and only the dreary business of making money was left, Godric determined to live less for himself and more for God.

His first step was to go to forest near Durham, England, where for two years he lived with a hermit named Aelric. When Aelric died, Godric built his own hermitage in another part of the forest at Finchale; he also built an oratory to our Lady there, and a small stone chapel where monks from nearby Durham monastery came to say Mass.  Wild animals were the hermit’s usual companions; deer, wolves, hares, birds, even snakes, came to his hermitage for food and protection from hunters.  For the sins of his past life (which probably were not so terrible) Godric imposed harsh penances upon himself:  long fasts, scourgings, and the usual hair shirt.  A monk from Durham, who was called Reginald, was with Godric frequently in his last years and after much persuasion managed to elicit the story of the hermit’s life.  Reginald wrote it down, and his work is the chief source of knowledge about the saint.  Godric died in 1170, after predicting the date of his own death and that of the bishop of Durham, and the exile, return, and martyrdom of Saint Thomas A Becket.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  281-282.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 22
Saint Humilitas Abbess and Holy Woman (1226-1310)

Foundress of the first order of Vallombrosan nuns, Saint Humilitas was born in Faenza, Italy, in 1226. She was married in her youth to an irascible man named Ugoletto, and her holiness influenced him to such a degree that he was in accord with her suggestion that both enter the religious life.  Before founding her order, the saint stayed for a short time with the Poor Clares and then, for twelve years, lived as a recluse in a cell attached to the Church of Saint Apollinaris in Faenza.  Saint Humilitas established a second convent of the order in Florence, and it was while acting as abbess there that she died in 1310.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  282.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 23
Saint John Baptist Rossi Confessor (1698-1764)

As a priest in Rome in the eighteenth century, Saint John Baptist Rossi earned the love of the poor, the sick, and the homeless of the city by spending his life caring for them. Born in 1698, the saint came to Rome when he was thirteen to study for the priesthood; a youngster with more zeal than prudence, he ruined his health with excessive mortifications and, although able to complete his studies, was never afterwards free from physical suffering, his worst affliction being frequent epileptic seizures.  After his ordination in 1721 , Father Rossi spent most of his time in the hospitals, prisons, and slums of Rome; places where he knew he would find the outcasts of society, those to whom he fondly referred as “his people.”  To these unfortunates the selfless priest gave the spiritual strength that was their basic need, but he also was wholeheartedly concerned with their material welfare.  One of his favorite projects was a hospice that gave housing to the many homeless women and girls of the city.

The saint was most helpful to the people of Rome, however, in the confessional. Hesitant at first to begin hearing confessions because of doubts as to his ability at the task, Father Rossi was finally persuaded to start.  The results were astonishing; the profound understanding and sympathy he displayed drew crowds of penitents to his confessional in the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

In 1736, under obedience to his own confessor, Father Rossi accepted a canonry at Santa Maria but gave to charity the money and house that went with the position. The action was typical of his whole life, which was one prolonged act of giving himself to others.  When the saint died in 1764, he was a pauper and had to be buried at the city’s expense.  It was little enough to do for Father Rossi in return for what he had done for Rome.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  283-284.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 24
Saint Vincent of Lerins Confessor (-c 450)

We know almost nothing of the life of Vincent of Lérins, a monk in the fifth-century monastery of Lérins, an island off the French coast at Cannes known today as Saint-Honorat. He is remembered today for a single book he wrote:  his Commonitorium against heresy.  In this work, Vincent describes himself as a stranger and a pilgrim who had fled from worldly combat in order to enter the service of Christ.  The world in which he lived was in turmoil:  the Vandals had overrun Christian North Africa, the Visigoths occupied Spain and southern France, the Huns menaced the north, and a constant stream of refugees fled from threatened areas.  The spiritual heritage needed a brave defense, and the learned Vincent was one who helped to preserve the truth that had already fought its way for four hundred years.

The Commonitorium deals with the development of Catholic dogma and is a landmark in the history of that subject.  It also gives testimony to the scholarship of the author.  Most of the questions raised by Vincent were controversial ones, and his answers have continued to provoke discussion among theologians ever since.  Cardinal Bellarmine, in his fight against Reformation heresy, made frequent use of the arguments in Vincent’s work, and in later times the famous convert from Anglicanism, Cardinal Newman, was strongly influenced in his thought by a study of the writings of this monk of ancient Gaul.  Vincent died about the year 450.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  284-285.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 25
Saint Gregory VII Pope and Confessor (1015-1085)

Hildebrand is one of the most famous–and most slandered–names in the history of the papacy. The man who bore the name was Pope Gregory VII.  He ruled the Church from 1073 to 1085, a period when the most decisive action was needed to preserve the Church from both internal and external dangers; because Gregory supplied that action, he drew on himself, perhaps for all time, the criticism of those who invariably see a lust for power behind the actions of any man who acts resolutely in high office.

Born about 1015, Hildebrand, as he was called at baptism, was a Benedictine monk in Rome when his talents began to bring him to the attention of the popes. Serving under six different pontiffs, he came to be the most important figure in papal government and, on the death of Pope Alexander II, was himself chosen by acclamation for the papal throne.  There was no man at the time better qualified for the papal responsibility.  “On you, who have reached the summit of dignity, are fixed the eyes of all men,” wrote William of Metz.

The new pope knew well the threats to the Church he faced: clerical morals had never been lower, married priests, or priests simply living with women, being almost the rule rather than the exception; simony, or the buying and selling of sacred offices, was also widespread; and underlying everything else was the system of lay investiture, which gave feudal monarchs almost complete control of the appointment of members of the hierarchy.  Only strong measures could cope with the situation, and Gregory had the courage to take them.

In 1074 Gregory deposed a number of bishops who had bought their offices; he also forbade clergymen who were guilty of simony or unchaste living to perform any ecclesiastical functions and instructed the laity not to assist at services held by such men. The following year, at a synod held in Rome, Gregory ordered the lay-investiture system abolished, insisting at the same time on the principle of the pope’s spiritual sovereignty over the monarchs.  Besides issuing decrees, the pope sent his personal representatives, or legates, throughout Europe to see that they were strictly enforced.  Obedience to the papacy was slow in coming, however.  Everyone who had an interest in maintaining the old, corrupt ways showed more or less open defiance; these included the great kings of the day–William the Conqueror, king of England and Normandy, Philip I of France, Henry IV of Germany–as well as many clergymen.

Gregory made headway against his opposition by using a variety of weapons, including that of excommunication. When he imposed this penalty on Henry IV in 1077 and left for Augsburg to hold a council at which the king would be deposed, Henry traveled through the dead of winter to Canossa, where the pope had stopped, and there, barefoot in the snow, waited to beg the pope’s forgiveness.  Dramatic as the incident was, it showed no real change of heart on Henry’s part; he was only worried about the political consequences of his excommunication.  When Henry later became involved in a civil war and the pope took the part of the king’s opposition, Henry marched to Rome with an army and drove the pope into exile at Salerno.  It was there that Gregory died in 1085, murmuring, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity . . . therefore I have died in exile.”  Although Gregory’s enemies seemed to have the upper hand at his death, his reforms bore fruit in succeeding years, as men who had been inspired by his inflexible demands for justice and morality came into control of the Church’s affairs.  The strength of the Church in the two following centuries was due largely to Pope Gregory VII, a man who thought nothing of the world’s opinion, but who cared very much for the welfare of God’s Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  285-287.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 25
Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat Virgin (1779-1865)

Before she was in her teens, Madeleine Sophie Barat, who was born in Joigny, France, in 1779, had the sobering pleasure of being introduced to Latin, Greek, history, physics, mathematics, and sundry other subjects of learning. Her teacher was her older brother Louis, a seminary student, who believed his sister was meant by God for great things and who wanted her well prepared for them.  The young girl thrived on this academic diet, and when her brother became a priest in Paris, in 1795, she went there to continue her studies under him.  This was just after the bloody Reign of Terror, when it was still unsafe to profess too strong an adherence to the Catholic religion, but this did not prevent Madeleine from having a firm determination to enter a religious order.

The decisive moment in her life came when she met Father Varin, a member of the then suppressed Society of Jesus. Firing Madeleine with his own devotion to the Sacred Heart, the priest convinced her that the education of young women, through an order dedicated to the Sacred Heart, was to be her life’s work.  In 1801, after beginning their religious life the previous year, Madeleine and three other girls started a school in Amiens, the first convent of the Society of the Sacred Heart.  In 1803 Father Varin appointed Madeleine superior of the new order, a position she continued to fill for the next sixty-three years.  Under her leadership the society expanded throughout the world, becoming famous for its education of the daughters of the wealthy, although it has also established schools for the children of the poor.  In 1818, an associate of Mother Barat, Blessed Philippine Duchesne, brought the Religious of the Sacred Heart to America.

An extraordinarily capable woman, Mother Barat overcame serious dissension within her order (what kind of a constitution it was to have became a hotly disputed question) through the powers of her charm and intelligence and­-above all-through unswerving devotion to the Sacred Heart, a devotion that has become the sustaining element of the life of her society. Mother Barat died in 1865, and was canonized on May 24, 1925, by Pope Pius XI.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  288-289.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 25
Saint Zenobius Bishop and Confessor (4th Century)

Sometime toward the close of the fourth century, Saint Zenobius became bishop of Florence, Italy. Earlier in his career he had been recommended by his friend, Saint Ambrose of Milan, to Pope Damasus, who sent Zenobius on a papal mission to Constantinople.  History tells us almost nothing else about this man, who probably died in the first years of the fifth century.

Saint Zenobius affected the lives of those around him by his holiness, his eloquence, and his miracles. Florence itself evidently loved him well, for he was made chief patron of the city and figures prominently in the works of Florentine artists.  His relics were first buried in the Church of San Lorenzo, now rest in the cathedral.  Paintings of the saint frequently show him raising the dead to life, a type of miracle which tradition claims he often performed.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  289-290.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 26
Saint Philip Neri Confessor (1515-1595)

The sound of laughter resounds through the life of Saint Philip Neri, giving the lie to those who, through ignorance or malice, paint saints as sad, dismal creatures whose only pleasure is in suffering. Philip was born in Florence in 1515, but spent most of his life in Rome, where he came in 1533.  At that time, under the influence of Renaissance ideals, the ancient city was being considerably more wicked than usual, and Philip did so much to remedy this situation that he is remembered as the “’Apostle of Rome.”

The saint’s special concern was for the youth of the city: with his high spirits and genuine holiness, the small, quick man (heavily bearded in later years) was always a fascinating figure for the young; they came to him in droves, happy merely to be in the presence of so delightful a person.  Philip carefully channeled the energy of his disciples into projects that led, one way or another, to God.  In 1548, while still a layman, he organized a confraternity of young men who did charitable work in the city’s hospitals and met for religious discussion and prayer; after his ordination, in 1551, Philip expanded this group to include persons of both sexes and all ages.  Religious instruction was the primary purpose of their meetings and, in 1564, in order to put the work on a permanent basis, Philip founded the Congregation of the Oratory.  This was a society of secular priests (most of its first members were Philip’s disciples) dedicated to saving souls through prayer, preaching, and parish work.

With his intense desire to bring God into the lives of his fellow men, Philip was the most accessible person in Rome. His rooms were always crowded with young people whose boisterous activities sometimes drew censorious murmurs from Philip’s fellow priests; his own feelings about this exuberant guests and their antics were expressed in the following comment:  “They can chop wood on my back so long as they keep from sin.”  All-day picnics, featuring sermons as well as food, wine, and entertainment (the best musicians in Rome were brought along) were another device used by the priest to accustom people to religion in their daily lives.  The most potent means he used, however, was the confessional; he urged frequent confession and would make himself available for that purpose at any hour of the day or night.  With his gift for reading mens’ hearts, Philip brought many an astonished sinner to repentance by revealing to him sins that he had deliberately omitted from his confession.

The natural gaiety that was so attractive in Philip was accompanied in his later years by actions that struck the excessively sober-minded as outrageous, to say the least. Once while attending a solemn ceremony in the Vatican, Philip convulsed everyone present, including the pope, by strolling over to a tall papal guard and stroking the man’s beard admiringly, comparing it regretfully with his own scantier growth.  One of his most enchanting habits was to receive important visitors (cardinals, for example) with a cushion on his head and then entertain them with selections from his favorite joke book.  Philip employed much of this fantastic humor in the hope of deluding people into thinking him a foolish old man, rather than the saint he was.  His naive efforts at deception were of little use, however; everyone knew he was a saint and also were aware of the mystical phenomena that marked his life.

Because he went into ecstasy during Mass, Philip eventually obtained permission to celebrate his Masses in a private chapel; his server there would leave him alone after the Agnus Dei, lock the chapel door, and return in about two hours, when he would find Philip in a state of exhaustion, after what had obviously been a profoundly exalting experience.  It also was noticeable that when Philip prayed his whole body would shake and tremble, sometimes with a terrifying violence.  This phenomenon dated from the eve of Pentecost, 1544, when he had been praying in one of his favorite places, the catacombs of Saint Stephen.  A globe of fire had appeared to him then, had entered his mouth and lodged in his breast, filling him with a nearly unbearable spiritual joy.  A large swelling remained over his heart after this experience, and the simple act of praying almost always threw him into the same state of physical agitation and intense spiritual joy.  After his death it was discovered that the two ribs over his heart had spread apart, thus allowing his heart more room in which to beat.

Although frequently ill during his life (he was cured on one occasion by a vision of the Blessed Virgin) Philip lived for almost eighty years. When at last he told his friends that he was soon to die, they hardly listened to him, since they saw him still bounding about with his usual energy.  On the evening of the day he had named, however, he retired saying, “Last of all, we must die.”  It was the twenty-fifth of May, I595, and during that night Saint Philip died.  To awaken a desire for God in other men had been the paramount concern of his life, and in doing all he could to effect that end he had reached the heights of sanctity himself.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  290-293.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 27
Saint Bede the Venerable Confessor and Doctor of the Church (673-735)

He strong, clear voice of Saint Bede, an eighth-century English monk, still speaks to us from the pages of his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.  Most of our knowledge of the saint himself is from this work, a monumental piece of historical literature.  There we learn that Bede was orphaned at seven (he was born in 673), placed in the care of the Benedictine monks at the Abbey of Wearmouth in Northumbria, and a little later was sent to Jarrow, a nearby sister abbey.  At Jarrow, when he was thirty, he was ordained a priest, and there he remained until his death in 735.  The wholesome Benedictine life with its peaceful rhythm of prayer and work was exactly suited to Bede, who distinguished himself in both its aspects.  We know that he was especially conscientious in chanting the Divine Office­-the central act of monastic life–and that he was loved by all the monks of Jarrow for his tender, profound piety.

Bede’s work in the monastery was that of a scholar, for as he-says: “. . . amid the observance of the regular discipline and the daily charge of singing the Divine Office in church, my delight has always been in study, teaching, and writing.” His accomplishments in these fields were brilliant ones, fully earning him the description “’father of English learning.”  He thought of himself primarily as a student of the Bible and wrote commentaries on several of its books, as well as collaborating with his fellow monks on one of the best manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate ever produced.  His Ecclesiastical History, however, is his masterpiece, and its account of the history of England from the earliest times to the author’s own day still makes fascinating reading.  Bede drew his facts, he tells us, from “ancient documents, from the traditions of our forebears, and from my own personal knowledge,” and his book is a rich mine of detailed, accurate information about every aspect of early English life, especially the missionary efforts of Augustine and the others who Christianized the country.  He also wrote a history of the abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow.

In 735, four years after the completion of the History, Bede fell seriously ill.  Realizing that he had not long to live, he distributed his few belongings to the other monks and then calmly continued, as well as he could, with his teaching and writing.  On the eve of the Ascension he was dictating to a young monk his final corrections of some passages of Saint Isidore of Seville, and when the last sentence was finished he asked to be placed on the floor of his cell.  There, after singing the Gloria Patri, Bede died.  Remembered with respect for centuries as “the Venerable Bede,” the good monk received a greater title in 1899, when Pope Leo XIII approved the popular veneration of Saint Bede and declared him a Doctor of the Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  293-294.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 28
Saint Augustine of Canterbury Bishop and Confessor (- 605)

In 596 a group of forty Benedictine monks left Rome for England to attempt that country’s conversion to Christianity. The monks had been dispatched by Pope Gregory the Great and were under the leadership of Augustine, a man whose former life is unknown except that he had been prior at the monastery of Saint Andrew in Rome.  After a short time Augustine was back in Rome bearing the group’s request to the pope that they be allowed to abandon the mission; his inexperienced monks had been overwhelmed by travelers’ tales about the savage land of Britain, and had quite lost their courage.  Gregory would have none of this and sent Augustine back with a letter in which the reluctant apostles were told kindly, but firmly, to go on with their mission in England.

Between the urgings of their pope and their leader, the missionaries regained their spirit and in the spring of 597 landed off the east coast of England on the Isle of Thanet, which was controlled by the Saxon king, Ethelbert of Kent. In a now famous scene, the king met the missionaries under a huge oak tree, and there Augustine preached the “good news” of the gospel to him.  Ethelbert, whose wife Bertha was already a Christian, announced himself ready to help the monks establish themselves, and on Pentecost of 597 he was baptized.  The monks built a church and a monastery in Canterbury, the king’s chief city, and then turned to their work of converting the Saxon tribes.  This was no easy task, for the Saxons, who had only recently invaded England to conquer the native Celts, were fierce, primitive people who very often preferred the dark attractions of magic and idolatry to the clear truths of Christianity.  Besides the Saxons, Augustine was responsible for the remaining Celts, who had been Christians before the Saxon invasion and now had no wish to exchange certain local customs (such, as the date on which they kept Easter) for the different Roman observances that Augustine was introducing.

To gain the authority he needed, Augustine went to France late in 597 to be consecrated bishop by Vergilius, bishop of Aries. Additional help came in 601, when twelve more missionaries arrived from Rome, bringing the pope’s permission for Augustine to consecrate his own bishops and confirming his jurisdiction over the English clergy, Celts and all.  In 603 Augustine had two meetings with the Celts, trying to obtain their submission to his authority, but the attempts failed and the problem was left to be solved in later times.  The Saxons were less hard-headed, and in his seven years in England Augustine converted almost the whole of Ethelbert’s kingdom , as well as portions of adjoining territories.  In 604–he established two sees and sent Mellitus to London and Justus to Rochester–they were the foremost of those who carried on Augustine’s work after him, and they too were destined to become canonized saints.  Augustine died in 605, and was buried at Canterbury in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, which had been founded by him.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  295-296.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 29
Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi Virgin (1566-1607)

Who knows how a life lived for God alone may affect history or what graces may be won for the world through one person’s holiness? In the sixteenth century Christianity was in a sad state; skepticism, the neo-paganism of the Renaissance, the Lutheran invasion, and much open sin and sacrilege were drawing thousands away from the Church.  But the real triumph of Christianity is in men’s souls, and it is never entirely lacking, no matter what the outer circumstances of Church and states may be.

Saint Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi was born in Florence in 1566, and at the·age of eighteen made her profession as a Carmelite nun in the convent of Saint Mary of the Angels in that city. Immediately after her profession she underwent a period of profound spiritual joy, but after forty days this came to an abrupt end, and for the next·five years she was assaulted almost continually by frightful temptations to impurity, gluttony, and blasphemy.  What was worse, she had that experience known fully only to the saints–the feeling of being abandoned by God.  She endured the trials with·a saint’s·fortitude, however, and at the end of them was rewarded with the nearly constant possession of a gift that comes to very few Christians:  conscious union with God.  Mary Magdalene filled various positions in her convent and often carried out her duties in a state of ecstasy.  The words of advice on spiritual matters she uttered during these periods were recorded by the other nuns and published after her death.  Never in good health, the saint suffered final trials of intense physical torment, which she bore with her usual courage.  Her heroic life ended in 1607, and her body, untouched by corruption, is venerated in a beautiful shrine in the church attached to her convent in Florence.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  297-298.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 30
Saint Joan of Arc Virgin (1421-1431)

Some saints live hidden lives, and hardly touch the world of their times, some are obscure to us because history has not preserved their chronicle, and some have turned the very course of history. Joan of Arc belongs to history and to literature and art.

In 1425 a thirteen-year-old peasant girl living in the village of Domremy, in northeastern France, began to be instructed by supernatural voices in a mission she was to carry out for God. The girl was Joan of Arc and her mission was to save the French nation, which had been invaded by English armies and was about to be annexed to the English crown.  The voices she heard were those of the saints–Michael the Archangel, Catherine, and Margaret–and because Joan knew they spoke for God she followed their directions faithfully for the rest of her life.

The rightful king of France at this time was the Dauphin Charles, but because of the war with the English, Charles had not yet been crowned as his father’s successor, and it was this, Joan’s voices told her, that she was to accomplish. In 1428 the voices directed her to nearby Vaucouleurs, where she was to see Robert de Baudricourt, an officer in Charles’s army, and tell him her story.  Baudricourt laughed at her, of course, but when a prediction of Joan’s concerning an English victory came true, he gave her a second hearing and then sent her to the king with three of his men as an escort.

At the city of Chinon, on March 8, 1429, Joan was admitted to an audience with the king, who, to test her, had disguised himself as one of his courtier ; she recognized him immediately and made her astounding demand: to be given command of the French army and to be put into the field against the English!  At this request, so calmly made by the seventeen-year old girl, the king was dumbfounded; a weak, indecisive man, surrounded by wily advisers, he was confounded by so candid and fearless a person.  When Joan made a secret revelation to him of some kind (what it was, she never would reveal), Charles was forced to believe in her; finally, after having her examined by a board of theologians, he gave her the troops she wanted.

The next four months were glorious ones for France. Led by a girl who had no training in military tactics and who did no fighting, but simply rode in armor at the head of her troops with a standard in her hand, the French swept to victory after victory over the English.  The soldiers, who called her “La Pucelle,” or “the Maid,” followed Joan devotedly wherever she led, sensing perhaps that she was a dedicated person set apart by God to accomplish a noble work.  By July 1429, the way had been cleared to Rheims, and Joan insisted that Charles go there to be consecrated king.  This was the event, her voices had told her, that was essential to the preservation of the French nation and that would mark the culmination of her mission.  On July 17, the consecration took place in the magnificent cathedral at Rheims, with Joan in her armor standing by.

Knowing from her voices that her military successes were ended, she wanted to go back to Domremy, but the king and his generals kept her with them, hoping for more victories. The victories were over, however, and at Compiegne, on May 23, 1430, Joan was captured by Burgundian allies of the English and held prisoner in one chateau after another.  When Charles, in one of his basest moments, made no attempt to ransom the Maid, she was sold by the Burgundians to the English.  Taking Joan to Rouen, the English set up an ecclesiastical court to try her for heresy.  The court was presided over by Pierre Cauchon, bishop of Beauvais and fairweather friend of the English, and the decision was never in doubt.  To the endless, subtle questioning of her learned examiners, always listening for heretical statements, Joan could only return her simple and fearless assertions:  the voices were real, they revealed God’s will for her, and she had not sinned by following them.  She was found guilty and, on May 24, 1431, was intimidated into recanting her previous testimony; once she regained control of herself, however, she repudiated this action and thus gave her accusers the chance of formally condemning her as a relapsed heretic and handing her over to the secular power for the punishment that automatically followed.  On the morning of May 30, 1431, Joan was taken to the marketplace of Rouen, tied to a stake, and burned alive.  Her last words, uttered from the flames, were “Jesus, Jesus!”

Completely alone, with only the conviction that her voices gave her, Joan had to face a hostile world and proclaim to it the truth of what appeared to be an incredible mission. After her death, the world slowly began to penetrate the mystery of her vocation.  In 1454 her mother and brothers obtained an official rehearing of the evidence in her trial; and in 1456 a public exoneration of Joan was held at Rouen.  The Maid was declared a saint in 1920, by Pope Benedict XV, and today, with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, she is the co­patron of France.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  298-301.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

May 31
Saint Angela Merici Virgin (1474-1540)

The first teaching nuns in the Church were the Ursulines, founded in 1535 by Saint Angela Merici. As a young woman Angela began devoting her time to the religious instruction of the young girls in her native town of Desenzano, Italy.  Religious education, or education of any kind, was practically nonexistent for the poor in her day, and family life was so disrupted that the needs of children were often ignored.  So obvious was the good she accomplished that Angela soon became famous, and in 1516 she was called to the nearby city of Brescia to start a similar program.  The next years were busy; besides expanding her teaching activities, she made several pilgrimages (including one to Jerusalem), and in 1525 she had an audience with Pope Clement VII.  The pope asked her to stay in Rome to head a congregation of nursing sisters, but she preferred to return to Brescia, where she knew her mission lay.  There, in 1535, Angela organized the women who had helped her into a religious association under the patronage of Saint Ursula, an early virgin-martyr.  This was the beginning of the Ursuline order, which has ever since concentrated its work on the education of girls.  In 1544, four years after the death of the foundress on January 27, 1540, the order received its final approval by the Church.  Angela was canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  301-302.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.