February 1
Saint Ignatius of Antioch Bishop and Martyr (-c 107)

Although we know nothing of his birth, parents, or education, we have enough evidence to show that Ignatius is one of the great heroes of Christianity. Was he consecrated bishop by St. Peter himself; or by St. Paul? We do not know, but he was bishop of Antioch before the year 100. As with so many Christians of his day, his faith in Christ was put to the supreme test, and because he would not accept the false gods of the Romans he was sent to Rome to be executed.

The bishop of a great city like Antioch must have been a notable prize, for the emperor had Ignatius transported from Syria to Rome for his martyrdom. On the long trip to his death, he wrote seven letters to the faithful in various cities of Asia Minor.

These letters are among the treasures of early Christian literature and show him to be a highly important witness of the teachings of Christianity in the second century. With strong and beautiful language, he urges Christians to hold fast to the teachings of the apostles and faith in Christ. His own great heart, and his ardor and enthusiasm for the faith make him a worthy successor of the apostles.

At each stopping place on the journey to Rome, Ignatius was met by the faithful, who praised him for his help and prayers and pleaded for his freedom. In Rome he begged the Christians not to plan an escape for him: “I am God’s wheat; I must be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may end as the pure bread of Christ.” This plea was answered: St. Ignatius was martyred by being thrown to lions in the Colosseum. His heroic love of Christ is still daily commemorated, for he is one of the saints whose names are mentioned in the Canon of the Mass.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  65-66.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 1
Saint Brigid of Kildare Abbess and Virgin (453-525)

Patron of Ireland, dairymaids, cattle, midwives, Irish nuns and newborn babies

The land of shamrocks, harps and clay pipes is not populated solely with leprechauns and “little people.” Ireland is a country of love and imagination; its love is manifested by its great saints, and its imagination by the charming legends which describe them.

Since Brigid is the most popular woman saint in Ireland, there are hundreds of fascinating myths concerning her. So few facts are known about “the Mary of the Gael” that her biographers have often relied on fantasy to complete the details of her life.

It is certain that Brigid was born on her father’s dairy farm in County Louth, near the east coast of Ireland. Her parents were of noble birth and had been baptized by Saint Patrick.  Brigid was well educated as her later career shows, when she was abbess of an important monastery and had dealings with influential persons of her time.  But as a young girl at home she often made trouble–not by misbehavior but by her great generosity.  It often got her into trouble, for she gave away everything she owned to friends or beggars, and sometimes what belonged to her father too.

One day, the stories say, after preparing a feast for her father’s friends, she fed the meat intended for the guest to a dog whining near the cottage door. The hungry dog devoured the meat and Brigid could well imagine the consequences.  Surely she would pay dearly for such a wild gesture.  She hid her face in her hands and prayed.  Looking up as her father entered the room, she saw that the dog had disappeared and that the meat was again on the banquet table.

It was easy to see that this young beauty would become a problem. Her family had promised her in marriage to a rich nobleman, but Brigid had other ideas.  She had already promised God that she would remain a virgin and dedicate her life to Him, helping the poor.

How she won her way is unknown to us, but we know that in Saint Patrick’s time many Irish maidens had thus turned away from marriage and high station to dedicate themselves to God–Brigid had these examples before her.

With several other young girls she established her first convent in a small hut under a giant oak tree. The place was called Kildare (cell of the oak).

God performed many marvelous things through His virgin Brigid, as He had through Saint Patrick, and her name became known throughout the island, and afterwards in Europe, wherever the Irish missionaries went. But miracles and marvels are not her greatest honor.  Her sweet and charming character, her modesty, her single-hearted love of God that flowed over into great devotion to Christ’s poor archer crown of glory.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  66-67.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 2
Saint Brigid Virgin (9th Century)

ANOTHER Brigid of Ireland is commemorated by the Church on this day. This Brigid was an Irish girl who, a legend tells us, was carried by angels to join her brother Saint Andrew in the mountains of Fiesole in Italy, where she began to live a solitary life of contemplation.  After her death, she was venerated as the patroness of the diocese of Fiesole.  She is also commemorated on August 20 in some parts of the world. Details of her life are remarkably scarce.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  68.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.
February 2
Blessed Jeanne de Lestonnac

Holy Woman


Jeanne de Lestonnac was born into a family in which the religious strife of France-the strife provoked by the heresy of Calvin-was played out in miniature. Her father was an excellent Catholic. Her mother, a niece of Montaigne, the famo.us essayist, had left the Church to become an adherent of Calvinism. From early childhood Jeanne’s soul was a battleground for orthodoxy and heresy.

Because of the religious turmoil in her home and country, Jeanne was particularly fervent in praying for the grace to know God’s will for her. She married while very young and became the mother of five children. When her husband died, twenty years later, she devoted herself to caring for the sick in prisons and hospitals. Still seeking God’s will, she entered a Cistercian convent but was forced to leave after a year because of poor health.

During the plague of 1604, Jeanne and some friends conquered their natural repugnance to diseased bodies and nursed the victims of the epidemic. At this time, she met two Jesuit priests who encouraged her to found an order of nuns devoted to the education of youth. It now seemed that only an education based on faith, hope, and love would be an effective weapon in halting the growth of Calvinism. Under Jeanne’s direction the order of the Religious of Notre Dame was finally approved in 1607. The victim of the calumny and intrigue of another nun, Jeanne was later deposed as general of her order. She was vindicated only a year before her death, which occurred in 1640. God’s plans seem strange; in a time of chaos, He had chosen one woman, in her role of mother, teacher, nurse, and nun, to serve the desperate need of a whole nation.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  68-69.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 3
Saint Blaise Bishop and Martyr (-c 316)

He didn’t hide because he was a coward; he was merely following orders. God had told him to escape the persecutions and go to a mountain cave to pray. As bishop of Sebaste (in Armenia) he was necessary to the people. Certainly, he could do more alive than dead.

Blaise found a cave occupied by wild beasts from the dense forest region around the city. Eventually, sick animals came to him and, after receiving his blessing, were cured immediately. One day the Roman governor sent his soldiers to capture animals to be used for the persecutions in the amphitheater. While searching the forests, they found the saint in his cave, surrounded by beasts waiting patiently for his blessing. Certain that he was some devilish magician, the soldiers dragged him off to be put on trial.

An episode that occurred during his imprisonment gave rise to the practice of invoking Saint Blaise’s protection against throat ailments. A woman came to the prison, calling for the saint’s help. She was carrying her only child, who was choking to death on a fishbone. The bishop blessed the child and he was instantly cured.

Even as prisons go, the cell provided for Blaise was a miserable hovel. It was a dark, cold room, with moisture dripping from the walls and with little or no ventilation. A charitable woman of the town brought two wax tapers to the tiny cell so that Blaise could have light and warmth while awaiting trial. We use candles to this day in the blessing of throats to commemorate this incident in the saint’s life.

The trial was brief. Blaise was not only a Christian but a bishop, and God gave him power to cure the sick. He must be condemned to death! After a short questioning, the emperor ordered the saint to be torn by the iron rakes used by wool-­combers. After the torture the soldiers carried him to the lake to be drowned. Leaving the shore, Blaise walked out on the waters as the spectators murmured in amazement. The outraged emperor commanded his soldiers to bring the Christian back to be beheaded. Sixty-eight soldiers tried to perform this feat and all were drowned. The bishop returned to shore alone to face his martyrdom.

Every year, on February 3, Catholics receive a special blessing in honor of Saint Blaise. Touching the throat of each person with two crossed candles, the priest prays: “Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil.” This practice has an honored place among the sacramentals of the Church.

In art, Blaise is often represented with a crosier in one hand and two burning candles in the other; sometimes he is depicted holding the iron rake with which he was tortured. Very often, legends are more influential than history, and Blaise has become especially popular with children, who picture him as a kind doctor who heals their sore throats without hurting them.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  69-71.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 4
Saint Andrew Corsini Bishop and Confessor (1302-1373)

There was no doubt about it. Andrew Corsini had been the answer to a prayer. His parents, members of one of the wealthiest families in Florence, Italy, had prayed for a son and had promised to dedicate him to God under the protection of the Blessed Virgin. Yet Andrew was a big disappointment to them. In spite of the care and good example of his parents, he spent all his spare time in the company of hoodlums. He was a superb ringleader. His imagination was the spark for any trouble that might start in the city after dark. He was dependable in this at least-he would always find an adventure worthy of his notorious friends. He was ingenious-he always found a way out of the trouble he began. No wonder he was amused when his parents told him that God expected great things from a boy dedicated to Him.

In a desperate attempt to convert him, his mother told him about a dream she had had before he was born. In this dream she had given birth, not to a child but to a ravenous wolf. The wild animal had wandered into a church one day and had come out transformed into a lamb. Andrew listened, impressed by this story, and then tried to forget the symbolic dream. He went out that night determined to have more fun than ever. Passing a church on the way home, he went in to mumble his usual nightly prayer. God’s grace caught him off guard. He was stunned by the realization that his life of adventure was not so exciting after all. With one act of the will he could choose another kind of life, one that has challenged countless souls more courageous than his.

Andrew was never one to do things half way. He decided then and there to become a Carmelite priest. Shortly after he was ordained, in 1328, he was sent to Paris to study. When he returned four years later, he was chosen prior of his monastery and later bishop of Fiesole.

Andrew dedicated himself to becoming holy. He saw no visions, suffered no persecutions, and was never asked to become a martyr. He simply set about the task of accepting every job, every complaint, and every irksome problem of each day, and consecrating them to God with all the love and energy he had once wasted on trifles. Almost immediately after his death in 1373, the people referred to him as ”saint.” It was not until 1629, however, after a careful scrutiny of his life, that Pope Urban VII declared Andrew Corsini “saint and confessor” in the name of the Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  71-72.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 5
The Martyrs of Japan Martyrs (-1597)

Actually, the persecutions were started by a rumor. For thirty years after the death of Saint Francis Xavier, the valiant missionary of the Far East, the number of converts to Christianity in Japan had steadily increased. Each time the intricate government powers changed hands, however, the attitude toward Christianity and missionaries altered considerably.

In 1587, not because he hated Christians, but because he wanted to please the Buddhist priests, Emperor Hideyoshi denounced Christianity and ordered all religious to leave the country. A few years later, however, the emperor consented to receive three priests sent as ambassadors of the king of Spain. A Spanish sea captain was heard to mention that these priests had probably been sent to prepare the way for Spain’s conquest of Japan. Accompanying threats of civil war, any trouble from Spain would be critical. The emperor’s reaction to the rumor was not too surprising. In 1596 nine religious were arrested and a complete list of Christians in the area was demanded.

While the Japanese police were·busy gathering names of possible victims or suspects, the Christians were not trembling in the background. It seems that wherever a struggle for faith is present, faith grows stronger. The Christians formed a ”confraternity of martyrs,” who believed and loved Catholicism so completely that they would offer themselves as victims for it. Six Franciscan priests, seventeen laymen (one a boy only six years old), two Jesuit priests, and one catechist composed this confraternity, a diverse group with a single purpose.

In February 1597, the prisoners were brought before the emperor, tortured by having parts of their ears cut off, and then marched through the country to Nagasaki as a warning to other Christians. On February 5 all twenty-six were martyred. “All of them, fastened to crosses for the Catholic faith, and pierced with lances, gloriously died in praising God and preaching that same faith.” (Roman Martyrology).

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  73-74.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 6
Saint Dorothy Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)

Jerring at the apparent foolishness that caused the gueenly young girl to pray as she was being led to execution, a young Roman lawyer mocked, “Farewell, Bride of Christ. Send me some apples and roses from your Bridegroom’s garden of bliss!” The girl answered simply, “I certainly shall.” Before she was beheaded, Dorothy was allowed a few minutes to prepare for death. While she prayed, an angel appeared to her carrying a basket of apples and roses. Dorothy directed the angel to take them to Theophilus, the lawyer. Dorothy was beheaded, but as Theophilus was relating the incident to his friends, a man approached the group with a basket of fruits and flowers. ”The holy virgin Dorothy sends these gifts to you with the message that she is waiting for you in the garden of her Bridegroom,” he said. Since it was February and such things were unknown at that time of year, Theophilus paled and exclaimed, much to the surprise of his friends, “Christ is truly God!” For publicly professing faith in Christ, he himself was apprehended and martyred. Whether the story is a lesson directly from God or merely a tale of human invention its meaning is worth consideration in a modern age of skepticism.

During the fourth century, in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, the persecution of Christians was excessively cruel and far-reaching. Saint Dorothy is one of the numerous martyrs of this period who bore witness to the value of eternal life despite their natural fear of suffering and painful death.

Apparently, Saint Dorothy came from a wealthy and influential family whose members had been martyred for Christian beliefs in earlier persecutions. When the emperor found such a beauty alone in the world, he waived the fact that she was a Christian and promised he would marry her if she would deny Christ. She refused to marry because she had consecrated her virginity to God and would not surrender her faith to avoid punishment. Hoping that her resolution could be broken, the emperor placed Dorothy under the care of two women who had apostatized from the faith. Not only did Dorothy remain firm in her promise to God, but she converted the two sinful women. Dorothy’s unbending will led her to be condemned by the Roman provincial ruler (either Galerius or his successor, Maximinus). She was tortured on the rack, burned and beaten, and finally beheaded about 304.

Modern usage has so contorted the meaning of the phrase “communion of saints” that an immediate appreciation of its significance is impossible. The early Christians considered themselves saints by virtue of their incorporation with Christ. They looked upon heaven as the glorious fulfillment of the life begun at baptism. Thus, the gap between Christians in heaven and Christians on earth was not so overwhelming to those left behind. The channel of grace, symbolically represented in this instance by the fruit and roses, came across the barrier of death from Dorothy to Theophilus, to work for his salvation.

The early Christians understood the doctrine of the intercession of saints far better than we do. To them it represented the outcome of the unity of all Christians, living and dead.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  74-76.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 7
Saint Romuald Abbot and Confessor (c 951-1027)

The history of any nation shows that a sustained period of extravagance and prosperity is usually followed by depressions or violent reforms of some kind. Emperor Charlemagne (768-814) had labored to build up the resources of a rich educational, religious, and intellectual life for his people. After his death, the cultural ideals which he had promoted died quickly. Ecclesiastical life began to decline; religious men were treated as bores, and monasteries which had always been centers of learning and religious thought were rapidly decaying from within. The reforms did come, but not without a struggle. Eventually, through the efforts of some few monks, religious life again began to flourish. One of the strictest reforms of the tenth century was begun by Saint Romuald , founder of the Camaldolese Order.

Romuald’s religious life began when he saw his father kill a relative in a duel. Horrified by the murder, Romuald went to a monastery at Classis, near Ravenna, to do penance for his father’s crime. Later he joined the same monastery as a monk and was elected superior in 996. Although he realized reform was needed to restore the monastic spirit, he was powerless against the apathy of the monks who were enjoying their undisciplined life. After three years Romuald gave up his efforts to improve the monastery and left it in order to pray and to plan another reform. For several years he wandered through the countryside, living in various monasteries and preaching the spirit of penance and prayer. During that time he gathered only a few men who were willing to live the monastic rule of Saint Benedict according to its original demands.

A popular Italian legend relates that while looking for a site for a new monastery, Romuald met the Count Maldolus who told the saint of a dream in which he saw monks, clothed in white, ascending a ladder to heaven. After hearing of Romuald’s plans, the count offered his land, Campo Maldoli. Out of gratitude, the monk named his new order Camaldolese.

The Camaldolese Order was the first to combine successfully the apparently contradictory aspects of the hermitic life of Eastern monks with the community life of Western monasticism. Each monk of this order has his own room in which he lives and prays alone, joining the others only for community prayers. Fasts are long and hard: meat is never eaten, and every Friday a fast of bread and water is kept. During Lent, milk, cheese, eggs, and butter are forbidden. Each monk has his own workshop and garden, where he labors alone while maintaining union with the others for the upkeep of the community. Probably because of the severity of the rule, the order has only about two hundred members. Two came to the U.S.A. in 1958 to start a community.

Obviously, Camaldolese life was not meant for everyone; yet Romuald saw clearly that extreme penance and mortification were the only forceful answers to the moral corruption of the period. His principle of practicing “penance with a joyful heart” can be a guide to those caught in the web of seemingly useless activity. As history unfolds, we see that the world still needs the example of those whose lives constitute a powerful sermon of contemplation and recollection.

Saint Romuald, founder and abbot, died alone in his monastery of Val Castro, Italy, in 1027.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  76-78.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 8
Saint John of Matha Confessor (1160-1213)

The period of the Crusades is perhaps one of the most difficult to evaluate in terms of Christian principles. The intermingled good and evil in the motives and actions of the Crusaders present a foggy picture. Nevertheless, the pressures weighing on Christians of this time were complex. Within and without Christian Europe, strife and confusion abounded.

European feudal lords and kings were in constant dispute over land rights, and the German emperor, who was in a position to be the strongest military defender of Rome, was distracted from the crucial problems of the Church by a disagreement with the pope over lay investiture. In 1054 the Greek Church had broken union with Rome, rupturing the traditional unity and interdependence of East and West.

While all this bickering was weakening Christian Europe, great masses of people were moving across Asia, Arabia, and North Africa. The Arabs had pushed into Asia Minor, and by the twelfth century had established control of Palestine, Egypt, Persia, Syria, parts of India, Sicily, and southern Spain. Their force was the religious fanaticism of Islam, which demanded of its adherents military zeal for the Moslem cause. Late in the eleventh century the pope began to call for the Crusades. The needs were evident: to unite the Christian feudal kings in a cause above their own nationalism; to rescue the Holy Land, which was always considered the center of the most sacred Christian shrines; and to protect the borders of Europe from Moslem invasion.

Saint John of Matha was born about 1160 in southeastern France in the region of Provence. He came from a distinguished family and had received an excellent education, first at Aix and then at the University of Paris. Throughout his years of study John had been devoted to the works of mercy, especially care of the sick and poor. He had received scholastic honors, obtaining a degree of doctor of theology, and was ordained a priest in Paris. Although the facts of his life are obscured, it is related that on the occasion of his first Mass John was inspired to take up the work of ransoming Christian prisoners from the Moslems.

In preparation for his mission, he went into solitude to fast and pray under the direction of a holy hermit, Saint Felix of Valois. Felix was apparently inspired by John’s devotion to the cause of ransoming captives, for in 1197 they both went to Rome to seek the blessing of Pope Innocent Ill. The following year the Holy Father approved the rule of the Order of the Holy Trinity for the Ransom of Captives and directed the religious to wear a white habit with a red and blue cross on the breast. Philip Augustus, king of France, promoted their work in his kingdom; through his encouragement the new order received a gift of land from the general of the royal army. Thus, the headquarters of the order was set up at Cerfroy, and work was well under way.

The number of Trinitarians increased rapidly, and religious were sent with Crusaders to accomplish the mission of the order. Ransoming Christians from the Moslems was a long and expensive project. The religious first had to beg for money, which they did by sponsoring pageants depicting the fate of captive Christians. When enough money was secured both for the ransom and for the travel of the religious, transportation and admittance to Moslem territory had to be arranged. Although the order was consistently poor, it grew because of the acute need for this particular work of mercy.

According to legend, Pope Innocent III recommended these devoted men to Miramolin, king of the Moslem state of Morocco. In 1201, Saint John sent two members of the order to see the king, and they managed to ransom 186 Christian slaves. Several times John himself made trips to Tunis, where he suffered much hardship among the Moslems because of his zeal (and success) in urging the slaves to keep constant in the faith. One story relates that as John was sailing to Europe with a large number of ransomed Christians, the ship was sabotaged by having its rudder damaged and its sails torn beyond repair. Saint John then rigged up a makeshift sail with the cloaks of the slaves and remained on deck praying until they made a safe landing.

John spent his last two years in Rome preaching penance and trying to obtain assistance for the work of the Trinitarians. He died on December 17, 1213, and was buried in the Church of Saint Thomas.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  78-80.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 9
Saint Cyril of Alexandria Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 376-444)

There was no room for compromise or indifference in the issues involved. The disagreement, violent on both sides, concerned one of the basic dogmas of Catholicism: the divinity of Christ. The adversaries were Cyril of Alexandria and Nestorius of Constantinople. Both were bishops.

A short time after he was made bishop of Constantinople in 428, Nestorius began preaching that there were two distinct persons in Christ: God and man. He denied the Incarnation, that is, that God was made man. Although he accepted the Blessed Virgin as the mother of the man Christ, he denied that she was the mother of God. He stated flatly that Christ was not divine.

When Cyril read these denials, he wrote several letters to Nestorius pointing out his errors, but he received only contemptuous answers. He consequently appealed to Pope Celestine to intervene. After inspecting the false doctrine at a council in Rome, the pope condemned it and pronounced the sentence of excommunication against Nestorius unless he retracted his statements within ten days. Cyril was appointed papal delegate to preside at the Council of Ephesus (431), at which two hundred bishops were present. Again all the Nestorian documents underwent scrupulous examination and again all were condemned. Nestorius refused to retract his statements and was banish ed to the desert, where he died after drawing many persons after him into his erroneous sect.

Saint Cyril had succeeded in halting the heresy. Although some sects still adhere, to this day, to the dictates of Nestorius, the heresy was no longer a real threat to the Catholic Church after the Council of Ephesus. Pope Celestine described Cyril as a “generous defender of the Church and faith, the Catholic doctor and apostolic man.”

While his chief fame rests on his suppression of Nestorianism, Cyril was also responsible for encouraging devotion to the Holy Eucharist through his emphasis on the effects this sacrament produces in the souls of those who receive it worthily. His life work seems to be summed up in one of his famous writings: “Christ is not a man into whom the Word has descended, but the very Word taking birth in flesh that is its own. It is in this sense that it is said in all truth that God is born, that He died, and that Mary is the mother of God.” Saint Cyril, called Doctor of the Incarnation, died in 444 during his thirty-second year as bishop of Alexandria.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  81-82.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 9
Saint Apollonia Virgin and Martyr (-249)

It was in a local affair, in the city of Alexandria, that Apollonia won the palm of martyrdom. The pagans had stirred up a riot against the Christians; what the particular cause of their resentment was is unknown. They rounded up several unoffending Christians, among them a venerable old man, and two women, and beat them brutally. One of these was Apollonia. In their rage the persecutors broke her jaw and knocked out her teeth. Then they built a fire and threatened to burn her alive unless she would repeat their blasphemies. She asked for a moment’s delay, and appeared to be deliberating. Apollonia, already on fire with love of God, leaped forward into the flames. Her executioners were astonished to sec a woman willingly embrace death with such determination.

The bishop who wrote a report of this affair said that not one Christian of Alexandria had denied Christ. The few who were apprehended did not weaken in the face of death. The rest fled the city, willing to abandon all their possessions rather than their faith.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  82-83.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 10
Saint Scholastica Abbess and Virgin (470-547)

Eutrophius did not want her to leave. He had come to depend on Scholastica since his wife’s death . To have his child leave forever was almost too much; but the girl cried and pleaded and finally had her way. Besides, Eutropius could hardly refuse his child to God.

Scholastica‘s twin brother, Benedict, had been sent to Rome to study when he was very young. After receiving an excellent education, the boy returned to Nursia; he soon found he wanted nothing more than to serve God, so he left to live in solitude. Naturally, Scholastica missed her brother, but she used her time profitably. She prayed often during the day, not just when she was alone or in church, but even when she cooked and cleaned for her father. It was not hard for her to pray; in fact, it seemed very natural to have long chats with God, telling Him about all she did and wanted to do. Her father could not have been too surprised, then, when Scholastica asked permission to enter a convent shortly after Benedict had left.

We do not know exactly which convent Scholastica first entered, but when Benedict founded a monastery at Monte Cassino, about 8o miles southeast of Rome, Scholastica seems to have settled either in a plain below Casinum or at Plombariola, about three miles south. She founded a hermitage there with a few companions and became its first abbess, under the constant guidance of her brother and his rule.

The Benedictine motto ora et labora (pray and work) became a real joy for the young abbess, for she had practiced it since childhood. She found it the best way to keep her mind occupied with God even though her duties as abbess kept her busy most of the day. Pope Gregory explained that, although Benedict had set out a rule of life for these holy women, it was Scholastica’s duty to see that they kept it faithfully and cheerfully and regarded it as the best means for their sanctification.

Each year, Benedict and Scholastica met to discuss their way of life and the various spiritual problems in the two religious houses. Since women were not allowed to enter his monastery, Benedict and a few companions met her in the guest house at Monte Cassino. Saint Gregory the Great wrote the story of their last visit in his Dialogues.

In February, probably in 547, when the day of the yearly meeting came around, Scholastica met Benedict and his monks at the gate of his monastery. They spent the day singing psalms and speaking about the spiritual life, its compensations and problems. When evening came they sat down to supper and continued the conversation until quite late. Perhaps Scholastica felt that this was to be their last meeting, for when Benedict got up to leave, she said to him, “Please, brother, do not leave me tonight, but let us speak about the delights of heaven until dawn.” Benedict was shocked. “What are you asking, my sister? I may not spend the night outside the monastery.”

At her brother’s strict refusal Scholastica folded her hands and began first to cry, then to pray. When she looked up a minute later, lightning flashed in the sky, thunder roared ominously, and such a downpour of rain began that Benedict and his monks could not possibly leave the house. Realizing what had happened, Benedict reproached her: “What have you done, my sister?” Scholastica answered simply, “I asked a favor of you, and you refused to listen to me. So, I turned to my Lord and He, more generous than you, granted my request.” Once again Scholastica’s tears had won the favor she was seeking. The monks did stay, and continued their discussion of prayer and spiritual life all through the night.

Three days later, while praying in his room, Benedict looked up to the sky and saw his sister’s soul fly to heaven in the form of a dove. He ordered Scholastica’s body to. be buried in the grave planned for himself; he was buried in the same tomb only a few months later.

Scholastica was outstanding for her simplicity and faith. She spoke to God directly, in reverent familiarity, without complex or elaborate ritual. As an abbess, Saint Scholastica instilled in her nuns the necessity of living in accordance with the great Benedictine aim: ”That in all things God may be glorified.” The Benedictine sisterhoods flourished under Scholastica and through the years to the present day.

Saint Scholastica died in 547, and Mass in her honor is celebrated each February 10. The sentiment of the Church is expressed in the Collect: “O God, who didst cause the soul of thy blessed virgin Scholastica to enter heaven in the form of a dove, to show us the path of innocence, grant us through her merits and prayers, to live in such innocence that we may deserve to attain to eternal joys. Through Christ our Lord.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  83-86.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 11
Saint Caedmon Confessor (-c 680)

“Poets are born, not made,” goes the saying. But God makes poets whenever He wills: He provided the classic exception to the adage when in seventh-century England He gave the gift of immortal song to an elderly, illiterate laborer, a humble servant in the double monastery of Whitby. At God’s bidding, Caedmon burst forth with songs of startling beauty, compositions that amazed his contemporaries and are recognized now as the beginning of the long and rich tradition of English poetry.

Saint Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, tells us that Caedmon, unmusical and unlettered, would leave the hall and return depressed to his stables when his fellows began singing their glees on feast days. On one such occasion he fell asleep and dreamed that a man appeared to him and told him to sing of the creation. Caedmon complied, improvising a hymn in praise of the Creator . When he awoke, he was surprised to find that he still remembered the words of his song:

Now we should praise       of heaven the Sovereign ,

The Creator’s might           and His mind ‘s thought,

The works of the Father of Glory …

He told his master of his experience, and he in turn related it to Saint Hilda, abbess of the monastery, who had Caedmon demonstrate his new-found skill before a company of scholars. The rustic prodigy readily versified the biblical passages selected, and from then on he was kept occupied with turning the Scriptures into chants in his native Northumbrian dialect. His songs were not mere verse translations but brilliant paraphrases, with numerous striking images drawn from nature and from daily life in medieval England.

The world knows Caedmon as the father of English poetry. But from the twelfth century the monks of Whitby have commemorated him as a saint, not merely because of his miraculous gift of song, but because of the humility with which he accepted his gift and the joy and diligence with which he used it.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  86-87.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 12
Saint Julian the Hospitaller Confessor (Middle Ages)

Julian is familiar to us through the graciousness of legend. It is refreshing to know that the Church is not so strict that she will never allow some fantasy to envelop the figure of one whom she calls a saint. What is known of Saint Julian, called “the Hospitaller,” is only legend. But it is an intriguing one, among the most popular of all legends of the Middle Ages. William Caxton’s version of the GoldenLegend (stories of saints’ lives) gives the best account of the Julian adventure.

Count Julian was a nobleman who lived in a castle and spent his days in hunting and his nights in feasting and singing. One day, hunting on his land, he startled a young deer who spoke to him and said, “You who pursue me to the death shall cause the death of your father and mother.” Terrified that the words might come true, Julian decided to leave his house forever and go to a different country. Now it happened that the king of that country was a bountiful old man. He allowed the young count to work in the service of his court, and in a short time Julian was made a knight. Julian then married a rich and faithful widow and lived with her for many years, blithely forgetting the strange prophecy of the young deer.

In the meantime, Julian’s parents had donned pilgrims’ robes and had begun to wander throughout the country, looking for their lost son. One night when Julian was hunting in the forest, his parents happened to come upon his house. They made their identity known to his wife. Overjoyed to see them, she gave them supper and offered them her own bed for their night’s stay. The next morning, while his wife was at church, Julian returned home. Going immediately to his room he saw two strangers in his bed. Furious at the sight of intruders, he snatched up his sword and killed them both. Discovering what he had done and recalling the old prophecy, Julian wept bitterly. He told his wife he must leave the country forever and do penance for his sin. Together the couple traveled far and wide until they came to the bank of a treacherous river, where they founded a hospital to care for sick and weary travelers. Julian himself acted as ferryman for those who could not ford the river alone.

One night-according to the legend, the coldest night of the winter-Julian was awakened by a low, moaning voice calling his name. He rose immediately, crossed the river, and found a young leper almost dead with cold. He took the boy in his arms, carried him to the hospital, and placed him in his own bed, disregarding the boy’s terrible affliction. Julian bathed and wrapped the boy’s sores carefully and stayed all night to watch, by his side. The next day he saw the patient had miraculously recovered. The boy stood up with a golden halo around his head and spoke: “Julian, the Lord has sent me. Thy penance has been accepted.” Julian and his wife thanked God that they could now be at peace.

They continued to spend the rest of their days caring for the sick.

Perhaps the story was invented to suit the particular mood of a medieval audience, but whatever the reason, its charm is real to those who hear it. Many hospitals were dedicated to Julian, and he is honored as the protector of innkeepers, travelers, and boatmen.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  87-89.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 12
The Seven Founders Confessors (13th Century)

The early thirteenth century was a time of turmoil and strife, a time when religious and political forces were at odds. Under the influence of this unrest, seven young merchants of Florence, Italy, decided to help one another live more perfect Christian lives. They all joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin, or “Laudesi” as it was popularly called. The purpose of this fraternity was to strengthen its members in the Christian lay life by particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The men banded together under the leadership of the eldest, Buonfiglio Monaldi. The others were Alessio Falconieri, Manetto dell ‘ Antella, . Bartolommeo Amedei, Ricovero Uguccione, Gherardino Sostegni, Giovanni Buonagiunta, and their chaplain, Father Giacomo Poggibonsi, who had been the chaplain of the ”Laudesi.”

On the Feast of the Assumption in 1233, while the group was praying together, Mary appeared to them in a vision. She inspired them to leave Florence and find a more peaceful spot on the outskirts of the city. Twenty-three days after the vision, they left for a house called La Carmarzia. Their solitude was short-lived, however, for soon they were disturbed by a stream of visitors from Florence and the surrounding countryside. They decided to move to the deserted slopes of Monte Senario, where they built a chapel and hermitage and continued their devotion to the Mother of Sorrows.

Having heard of their holiness, Bishop Ardingo and Cardinal Castiglione of Florence visited the holy hermitage and recommended that the seven pray that they would be guided in the choice of the rule to be adopted. Their prayers were answered by another vision of Mary, who held in her hand a black habit while an angel held a scroll inscribed with the title, “Servants of Mary.” The Blessed Virgin told them she wished them to wear the black habit and to follow the Rule of Saint Augustine, which was severe but not extreme. From that date, April 13, 1240, they were known as the Servants of Mary, or Servites.

The chief work of the Servites took them back to the cities and towns, preaching and teaching. The order grew rapidly, but six of the founders had died before the Holy See gave its formal approval in 1304. Only the lay brother, Saint Alessio, lived to see the order fully recognized.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  89-91.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 13
Saint Catherine de’Ricci Virgin (1522-1590)

Saints are usually the most sensible, the most logical, and the most simple persons we could ever meet. Instead of playing a game of hide-and-seek with God, they plunge to the heart of the matter, give themselves completely to Him, and go about the business of becoming holy, confident that God will show them the way.

Catherine de’ Ricci was still an infant when her mother died, and for a time she was reared by her godmother. When she was about seven, her father put her under the care of nuns at the convent of Monticelli, near the gates of Florence, where her aunt was a nun. The moderation and peace of convent life naturally made a striking impression on such a young child; after she returned home the activity and general atmosphere of ease and wealth made her restless. She wanted to enter the convent for life. She knew what she wanted and was firm in spite of her father’s objections that she was too young. Finally, when she was only fourteen, he allowed her to enter a Dominican convent near Florence where her uncle was spiritual director.

Not long after entering the Dominican Order, Catherine became ill; for two years she was afflicted with a series of obscure diseases and complications. During this time she learned to accept her pains patiently through serious meditation on Christ’s sufferings, which reveal His unlimited love for men. ·

After a sudden and complete recovery Catherine determined to seek a still greater share in the sufferings of Christ. She asked permission to practice the most extreme methods of penance permitted by her superiors. At least twice a week,·she fasted on bread and water and wore an iron chain next to her skin. Such extraordinary penances were not nearly so admirable as her obedience, humility, and meekness. Through meditation, mortification, and prayer, Catherine had plunged to the heart of the matter. God did not disappoint her; He took her the rest of the way. He led her directly and swiftly to Himself, allowing her to share most intimately in the divine life.

In February 1542, Catherine began to experience ecstasy in prayer. From noon every Thursday until four o’clock on Friday she lost consciousness and ”was caught into the closest union with her Savior and lived through all the stages of His passion.” She received the stigmata, and Christ once appeared to her and gave her a gold ring as a token of her spiritual marriage. Her visions continued for twelve years.

In 1552, when she was only thirty years old, Catherine was appointed prioress of her convent. By this time the story of her visions had traveled far. The convent routine was miserably interrupted by great numbers of curious visitors who insisted upon seeing “the holy nun.” Catherine was a sensible woman. She could see that publicity only led to many uncalled-for distractions for her nuns. She begged them to join her in a prayer that God would remove all visible signs of her mystical union with Him. Two years later, her visions ceased.

Catherine is not in any way to be criticized for asking God to remove her visions, for she realized that they were not essential to union with God. Like Saint Teresa, she passed on, it would seem, to that stage of mystical experience which is called the transforming union, a stage marked by intimacy, serenity, and indissolubility, where “the raptures cease … and there are no more flights of the spirit.” Ecstasies, trances, and other physical signs of union with God are certainly never to be sought after, or even commended, for themselves. The saints never need visions to prove their love for God.

Saint Catherine de’ Ricci died after a long illness in 1590.

She was proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  91-93.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 14
Saint Valentine Martyr (-c 269)

February I4 arrives each year as a blessing to those so shy that they need a disguise for expressing their affections. The custom of sending “’valentines” or love notes had its origin in a popular belief of the Middle Ages that halfway through the second month (on February 14) birds began to mate. For this reason the day was regarded as especially consecrated to lovers, and the saint whose feast was celebrated that day was inevitably chosen as their patron and protector. It was nothing more than coincidence, then, that made Valentine the esteemed patron. Probably the first reference to Saint Valentine in his role as love patron was made by the poet Chaucer (1340-1400) in his poem, “Parliament of Foules”:

For this was on Saint Valentine’s day,

When every fowl cometh to choose his mate.

Actually, two saints of the same name are honored by the Roman Martyrology on February 14. One was a bishop of Terni, (a city some fifty miles northeast of Rome); the other was a priest and physician in Rome. The Missal gives evidence that it is the Roman Valentine whom we venerate more popularly today, since the Mass for February 14 is the First Mass of a Martyr not a Bishop. The few facts know n about the priest Valentine not only confuse his life with the bishop Valentine, but also have allowed myth and legend to gather around his name.

It is probably safe to assume that Valentine’s priestly life kept him close to his people, for his memory was preserved in their writings and traditions. In 350, a short time after his death, a church was built to Valentine’s memory by Pope Julius I, and as early as the seventh century he was honored in the liturgy with a special Mass.

Regarding the character of Valentine, we are again presented with little more than sketchy historical facts, but from them it is possible to discern something of his courage and faithfulness. In an attempt to suppress Christianity without violence, Emperor Valerian issued an edict in 257 forbidding the clergy to celebrate Mass or administer the sacraments. He claimed that he was not preventing Christians from worshipping in private, an absurd claim. Christian worship is social, centering on the Mass and the sacraments. He struck at all Christians by attacking the only men capable of offering sacrifice in the name of the Church.

Although Valentine was martyred later, during the persecutions of Emperor Claudius, the edict of Valerian was in effect at the time the saint was preparing for his priesthood. It is easy to see the courage and devotion of the young man even before his actual martyrdom-he proceeded with his studies in spite of obvious clerical persecution while laymen were to remain unharmed. The danger of persecution was so evident that it was the custom, and still is in the Byzantine Rite, to sing the martyrs’ hymn at the ordination of deacons.

”After performing many miraculous cures and giving much wise counsel,” Valentine was beaten and beheaded about 269 by order of Emperor Claudius. Most of his relics are now in the Church of Saint Praxedes in Rome.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  93-95.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 15
Blessed Claude la Colombiere Confessor (1641-1682)

The English had a phrase for men like Claude La Colombiere. They would have called him “a gentleman and a scholar.” Claude was born near Lyons, France, in 1641, of an influential and moderately wealthy family. The society in which he was reared was extremely conscious of the well-trained intellectual. It revered the man who had polished manners, who knew the right thing to say at the right time. Claude was a perfect product of his society. His intellect was molded at an early age so that his judgment was sound and acute. His manners were, in every way, above criticism. Nor was his training merely on a natural level. Claude was taught that all things come from God. This was to be his guiding principle throughout his religious life. If he ever did what could be labeled a “noble” deed, he was quick to refer it to God’s goodness and grace.

After entering the Jesuit college at Lyons, Claude realized that he had a vocation to the religious priesthood. He had to struggle to give in to this new grace, for he himself said he had a natural aversion to the community life characteristic of all religious orders. He understood clearly, however, that his salvation was to be found only in religion, and he applied for membership in the Society of Jesus.

Once he was in the Society, his career as priest and teacher progressed rapidly. From 1661 to 1666 he was assigned to teach humanities and grammar at Avignon. He was then sent to Paris, the center of intellectual life in France, where, besides finishing his theological studies, he served as a tutor to the two sons of the famous statesman and financier, Jean-­Baptiste Colbert.

In the late fall of 1674, while making a retreat prior to his solemn profession, Claude not only vowed to practice exact obedience to the rule of the Society of Jesus, but he also consecrated his entire life to the Sacred Heart. In February 1675, he was made superior of the college at Paray-le-Monial (about seventy miles north of Lyons). Claude’s spiritual training was put to good use at the college when he became the confessor and director of Saint Margaret Mary. The nun had already been favored with the visions which stimulated the present-day devotion to the Sacred Heart; the arrival of Father Claude afforded Margaret Mary the means whereby her story could be made known to the outside world through her confessor’s preaching.

Only one year later, in 1676, the young Jesuit was selected to go to England to serve as chaplain to Maria Beatrice d’Este, duchess of York and future queen and consort of James ll. Claude continued to preach devotion to the Sacred Heart and succeeded in furthering his favorite cause in England. Here, too, his career was short-lived, for in 1678 the embittered anti-Catholic, Titus Oates, falsely declared that he had unearthed a “popish plot” to seize control of England. Claude was imprisoned as a possible accomplice, and only the efforts of King Louis XIV of France secured his release.

He returned to France where it was found that he had contracted tuberculosis, probably because of the dampness of the vile King’s Bench prison where he was confined during the winter of 1678. Claude’s life was now that of an invalid. He was sent again to Paray-le-Monial, where he continued to direct Margaret Mary until his death in 1682.

In the decree of beatification, dated June 16, 1929, Blessed Claude is described as the “coadjutor” of Saint Margaret Mary in propagating devotion to the Sacred Heart.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  95-97.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 16
Saint Juliana Virgin and Martyr (-c 304)

It is only through second-hand information (from legends and art) that we know of the virgin-martyr, Saint Juliana. She is said to have lived in Nicomedia in Asia Minor at the close of the third century. During this period, under the rule of Diocletian, the Church was forced underground, its communications cut off, and the possession of sacred books and Christian records considered a crime against the state. It is no wonder, then, that many Christians who suffered death for the faith remain nameless contributors to the redemptive work of the mystical body of Christ.

Juliana’s father, the pagan Africanus, refused to accept the fact of his daughter’s Christianity and, against her will, betrothed her to the prefect Evilasius, who had nothing but hatred for the girl’s faith and chastity. He finally conspired with Africanus to betray Juliana to the co-ruler of the empire. She was imprisoned, and while she was there a devil assuming angelic characteristics tried to induce her to marry Evilasius and to worship with the pagans. She “wrestled with the devil,” so the story goes, whether physically as well as morally is left to conjecture. (Medieval artists have depicted her preparing to bind a winged devil with a chain.) After cruel torture, Juliana was beheaded about 304. Her relics have been venerated in Italy ever since.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  97-98.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 17
Blessed Francis Régis Clet Martyr (1478-1820)

There is something about the life of Blessed Francis Régis Clet that echoes the patience and sorrow of Job–the old man who was considered an outcast, who was broken in health, deprived of friends and lands, and yet could say: “Slay me though he might, I will wait for him” (Job 13:15). This special note of affliction and darkness was to shadow the entire career of Francis Clet.

Francis was born in the ancient French city of Grenoble. At twenty-one he entered the “’Vincentians,” or Congregation of the Mission, founded by Saint Vincent de Paul. After his ordination in 1773, he was sent to the diocesan seminary at Annecy as a professor of moral theology. Five years later he was appointed novice master at Saint-Lazare, the Vincentian motherhouse in Paris. On the eve of the storming of the Bastille, July 13, 1789, the house was sacked and the Vincentians were forced to flee. The revolutionary terror brought with it the added difficulty of keeping a regular detail of missionaries to send to the Far Fast. When, in 1791, one priest was unable to leave for China, Francis volunteered to take his place.

For the next thirty years in China, Father Clet faced obstacles destined to wear down his spirit and destroy all his attempts to convert the heathens. He was intermittently scrutinized by the officials, attacked by antagonists, and cut off from any communication with his missionary companions. For three years he carried on his work absolutely alone. His health broke gradually and painfully.

In 1818 a period of persecution began when the emperor issued an edict declaring that all foreign religions must be suppressed. For a long time Father Clet evaded capture, but a malicious pagan betrayed the priest for a reward of about a thousand dollars. Francis was subjected to imprisonment, scourgings, and other torments, the more terrible because of his age. Finally, in 1820, according to a barbarous custom, Father Clet was strangled. Twice the noose·was tightened about his neck and twice he was allowed to revive. The third time brought death. A lifetime of faithful and loving endurance had prepared him to meet such a death heroically.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  98-99.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 18
Saint Simeon Bishop and Martyr (New Testament)

Saints often experience through grace a close relationship to Christ. In a mystic way they travel with Him through the glorious days of His public life, through His long fasts and nights of prayer, and even to the summit of His eternal sacrifice. But the army of apostles and disciples knew Christ in the flesh, and among these a few were related to Him by family ties. St. Simeon (also called Simon) was one of these (Matt. 13:55); he was Christ’s kinsman, probably a first cousin.

About the year 66, a civil war broke out in Palestine as a result of Jewish opposition to Roman rule. Under the leadership of Simeon (who had been chosen bishop of Jerusalem succeeding Saint James) the Christians banded together and fled to the small city of Pella across the Jordan River. Within the next few years Jerusalem was burned, sacked, and destroyed twice. Saint Simeon was painfully aware of the desecration of the Holy City, and while he was an important instrument in converting many Jews to Christianity, he also witnessed the rise of two heresies which afflicted the infant Church. The doctrines of the Nazareans and the Ebionites held the narrow interpretation of the Mosaic Law: one taught that the command of Christ to ”make disciples of all nations” referred only to the Jews; the other denied the divinity of Christ. It is not hard to imagine Simeon’s sorrow as he witnessed the destruction and desecration of the places so closely identified with the Savior and saw His teachings perverted.

Simeon’s authority and influence as bishop restrained the heretics at first, but he was unable to stem the tide of their wrath during the persecutions. He had escaped persecution once, when Vespasian and Domitian had ordered the death of all who were of the race of David. But when Trajan gave a similar order, the Jews and heretics lost no time in denouncing Simeon not only as one of David’s descendants but also as a Christian. He was summoned by Atticus, the Roman governor of Palestine.

By this time Simeon was a very old man. He had lived and walked with Christ, who had said to His disciples: “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake, will find it” (Matt. 10:39). Remembering Christ’s words, he could not be unhappy with death. He must necessarily regard its ultimate end–union with Christ in heaven.

Simeon was tortured, condemned to death, and crucified about the year 107. It is said that his fortitude aroused the admiration of Atticus himself. Simeon was strong because he had consecrated himself to God’s will and God’s glorification. To the things of the world, Simeon was indifferent. He had lived close to Christ; he had followed the Master to his own crucifixion, with Christ’s words ringing in his heart: “… and behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20).

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  100-101.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 19
Saint Conrad of Piacenza Hermit and Confessor (1290-1351)

Conrad watched as the officials led a young man to his death. The man had been convicted of a crime on circumstantial evidence. The crime was Conrad’s. Confession would involve shame, restitution, and perhaps even death. He had been recently married; the shock would be hard on his wife. He weighed the cost of honesty against the cost of a guilty conscience. No matter which way he turned he was confronted with sorrow and confusion.

Conrad’s life had been an easy one. Although wealth and leisure were to him as work and sweat are to the poor, he was a good man. Like most of his companions, his chief diversion was hunting. One day, while enjoying his favorite sport, he started a brush fire to drive the game into the open. The strong wind swept the fire out of control and in a short time crops and buildings for miles around were destroyed. The hunters secretly returned home after promising not to mention their part in the catastrophe. A poor man who had been found gathering sticks near the scene of the crime was immediately accused of arson and sentenced to death. Seeing that an innocent man would die for his carelessness, Conrad could not remain silent. He made a public confession of his guilt and paid for the dam age he had caused.

The manner in which Conrad and his wife faced their difficulties is a beautiful tribute to the love they shared. Restitution for the damage was more than they expected, and it consumed practically all of Conrad’s in heritance and his wife’s dowry. Faced with poverty for the first time in their lives, the couple viewed their situation in the light of God’s will. They decided to give up the rest of their possessions and live as religious. His wife entered the Poor Clares and Conrad joined a group of laymen who followed the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis and lived as hermits.

After traveling from his home in Piacenza, Italy, to Rome to visit the tombs of the apostles, Conrad crossed over to Sicily and settled in the valley of Noto. He lived there for thirty-six years, partly in the hospital of Saint Martin and partly in a hermitage. Toward the end of his life he moved to a grotto three miles from Noto and lived in more complete solitude, sleeping on the ground and eating only raw herbs and bread. His reputation as a penitent spread, and his life soon became an example of contemplative action.

When famine struck southern Italy the people implored Conrad’s help. Through his prayers relief came immediately. From that time on, his hermitage was besieged with sufferers of all kinds.

Conrad was once visited by the bishop of Syracuse, and shortly before his death in 1351, he went to Syracuse to repay the bishop’s visit. In his simplicity and oneness with creation, Saint Conrad bears a remarkable resemblance to Saint Francis, his father in religion. The people of Noto always held a personal and warm attachment for him. According to his wish he was buried in the Church of Saint Nicholas, and his tomb became a favorite shrine at which many cures took place. He is the patron of hunters and is also invoked for the cure of hernias.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  102-103.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 20
Saint Eucherius Bishop and Confessor (c 687-743)

“There is no time for cultural endeavors, the homeland is torn asunder by the mad frenzy of many tribes.” This was the heart-rending complaint of Pope Agathon in 678, shortly before the time of Saint Eucherius’ birth. From about 375 up to the Lombard invasion of Italy in 568, the Germanic tribes had pushed their way southwest across Europe; they continued to fight tribal wars for centuries. The Islamic movement, begun in Arabia in the middle of the seventh century, had spread its own fury throughout all the ancient centers of Christianity. This was the beginning of a struggle that lasted throughout the Middle Ages; but many important crises in the fight of Christians against the Moslems came during the lifetime of Saint Eucherius.

The period of the barbarian invasion was brutal and chaotic. Wars and military expeditions meant the disruption of morals as well as the collapse of order. The one stabilizing force during this period of strife was Benedictine monasticism. The devotion of the monks to stability and their encouragement of family life, their instruction of the Germanic peoples in the art of agriculture, and their preservation of the masterpieces of literature. formed a rock on which to rebuild the social order. It was to these monks, too, that the education of the people in the Christian faith can be credited. It is not surprising, then, that young Eucherius, who was particularly devoted to the writings of Saint Paul, chose to leave the “folly” of the world and enter the Benedictine abbey of Jumièges in Normandy in 714. He was devoted to the needs of the people living near the abbey, and yet he kept entirely clear of the political clamor that beset the Frankish kingdom. He remained there for seven years working, praying, and studying with the monks.

In 721 Eucherius was literally forced to accept the bishopric of Orléans, which had been left vacant by the death of his uncle. According to the custom of the Church at that time, the people, with the clergy, elected their bishops on condition of the approval of neighboring bishops and the approval of the ruler. The senate of Orléans, with the people and clergy of the city, sent a delegation to Charles Martel to ask his permission to elect Eucherius. Charles consented and sent a state official with the delegation to Jumièges to conduct the monk to Orléans. The prospect of the new bishopric dismayed Eucherius, and he begged the people not to make him leave his monastery. Despite their reluctance to see him go, the monks responded to the public good and urged Eucherius to accept the office.

Once consecrated bishop, Eucherius approached his new responsibility with prayer and devotion. His problems were complex; the constant conscription of men for wars, economic stress placed on families by loss of their men, ignorance, and moral disorder were his daily ordeals. Each problem affected him deeply, yet he brought to each a practical and effective charity that endeared him to his people. Inevitably he came into conflict with Charles Martel, who as master of the palace held effectual rule of the Franks. Martel had confiscated Church funds and property to finance his various expeditions. He had also conferred ecclesiastical appointments on men who had little to recommend them beyond their ability at fighting. Eucherius denounced all such practices in spite of the trouble that open defiance of a ruler might bring him.

In 737, when he was returning from his victory over the Moslems, Charles passed by way of Orléans and ordered Eucherius to follow him to Paris, where he was holding court. Probably fearing the bishop’s influence over his people, Charles exiled him to Cologne.

At Cologne, through his warm personality and charity, the saint became so popular that Charles ordered him to be transferred to the district of Liege in Belgium. Again Eucherius won the respect and love of the people. He had been assigned to the custody of the governor, who, instead of censuring the bishop, made him distributor of alms. Finally, he was allowed to retire to the monastery of Saint Trond in Maastricht, Holland. He spent the rest of his life in the abbey, once again able to serve God away from the complexity of semi-royal life.

His career in the affairs of men had been brief and seemingly unsuccessful. Such is the case with many men of sanctity who appear to the world as failures, for men often choose poor standards by which to judge the matter. Although Eucherius had been devoted to his people and to the integrity of the clergy, he had been banished. To the eyes of the world he had lost the fight. But in the words of his master, Saint Paul, Saint Eucherius might well have said of himself: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). The beloved monk died in 743.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  104-106.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 21
Blessed Robert Southwell Martyr (1561-1595)

Saints and poets have a great quality in common. Both are blessed with a deep appreciation of beauty: the poet sees the order and magnificence in creation and communicates this to others through the written word; the saint recognizes this beauty as a reflection of God and communicates this experience to others through the example of his dedicated life. Perhaps saints and poets enjoy life more than most other people. With their gift of sensitivity, they feel, see, and hear more deeply the things that others very often take for granted. When a man is both saint and poet, his life is a reflection of all that is true and beautiful.

One of these poet-saints was Robert Southwell, and the simplicity of Robert’s writings gives a clearer picture of his soul than do the most detailed accounts of his life.

Born about 1561 in Norfolk, England, Robert Southwell was sent to the famous English school at Douai, France, and later studied in Paris. At seventeen he decided to become a Jesuit but was refused because of his age. His first recorded writing reflects this disappointment: “… Alas, where am I, and where shall I be? A wanderer in a dry and parched land.” Soon, however, he was accepted into the Jesuit novitiate in Rome, and two years after his ordination he began his English mission.

The Protestant Revolt in England was directed against Catholics with harsh fanaticism. A priest’s life was one of intrigue and narrow escapes, often ending in heroic martyrdom. In 1587 Robert was appointed chaplain to Anne of Arundel. In spite of the necessary secrecy of his movements, he became known for his dedication to the Catholic cause. This devotion marked him as a dangerous man in the eyes of the English monarchy. In 1592 , after six years of active missionary work , Robert was betrayed and arrested. He was tortured in attempts to obtain information from him about other priestly activities in England. After almost three years of imprisonment in the Tower of London, Robert made an appeal to be tried or to be given liberty. His appeal was heard, and on February 21, 1595, at the age of thirty-four, he was hanged at Tyburn .

It was during his long imprisonment that Robert Southwell developed his literary talent to the fullest extent. He had learned that joy is of ten locked in suffering, and he wrote of this. Because his poetry, such as his famous lyric “The Burning Babe,” tends to be compact and intensely expressive, it achieved immediate popularity with the general public. Fellow Catholics showed great regard for his prose works, such as the Triumphs over Death. The strange contrast of a holy, peace-loving man evading the law in dark disguise is reflected in his prose and poetry. But the essential source of what we may call his “poetic inspiration” was the eternal Christian paradox of “’having nothing yet possessing all things.” Robert Southwell’s love of God ended, happily for us, in the expression of lyrical works and , happily for him , in the immeasurable glory of martyrdom and sanctification. Although Robert Southwell is primarily venerated for his love of God, we can clearly see how his life as a poet was not separated from his sanctity but was an important and necessary reflection of it, a source of inspiration for people of later times.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  107-108.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 22
Saint Margaret of Cortona Holy Woman (c 1247-1297)

It is not strange that the world feels drawn to the Augustines and Magdalenes of every age. The world knows its guilt and is ashamed. With the lives of such saints placed warmly and tactfully before us, it is impossible to abandon hope. From the tumbleweed of sin many saints have grown.

Margaret was born at Laviano, in Tuscany, Italy, about 1247, of poor farm people. Her mother died when she was only seven years old, and two years later her father married again. His new wife was a strong, masterful woman, who had little sympathy for her pleasure-loving stepdaughter. Margaret had always yearned for love and it was always denied her at home. It is not hard to understand, then, how the pretty young girl fell prey to the prospect of love and luxury offered her by a rich young cavalier (whose name she never divulged) from a neighboring village. She went away with him one night and lived with him as his mistress for the next nine years, during which time she gave birth to a son. During all those years Margaret remained faithful to her lover, even though she was an object of scorn to the townspeople, who regarded her as a depraved woman.

The sudden and brutal murder of her lover brought Margaret to the realization of God’s grace. Ashamed and horrified by her own behavior, she went immediately to her father’s house to beg forgiveness. Although he was willing to accept her, her stepmother for a second time turned Margaret away from the love she needed so badly.

She had heard of the Friars Minor (Franciscans) and of their reputation for gentleness and patience with sinners. By this time, utterly depressed, she traveled to Cortona, where she begged admittance into the Third Order as a penitent. For the first three years of her conversion she was guided in the spiritual life by Fra Giunta Bevegnati, her confessor. It is to him we are indebted for the story of her life.

Margaret began to earn her living by nursing the ladies of the city, but soon gave it up in order to devote herself to caring for the sick poor, depending on alms for her existence. She persuaded the leading citizen of Cortona to aid her in starting the hospital of Our Lady of Mercy, staffed by Franciscan tertiaries whom Margaret formed into a congregation called Poverelle. She also founded the Confraternity of Our Lady of Mercy, which was pledged to support the hospital and to search out and assist the poor. Her son was sent to school at Arezzo, and he later became a Franciscan friar.

As Margaret continued to advance in holiness, Christ became the dominating feature in her life. She was favored with visions in which Christ spoke to her and addressed her as “the third light granted to the Order of my beloved Francis,” that is, exceeded in glory only by Saint Francis and Saint Clare. Margaret was also favored with visions of her guardian angel.

The people of Cortona had observed the holiness of Margaret’s life, and they sought her prayers in 1279, when Charles of Anjou, king of Sicily, threatened to invade Tuscany. After fervent prayer it was revealed to her that an armistice had been arranged and peace would follow.

Toward the latter part of her life our Lord said to her: “Show now that thou art converted; cry out and call others to repentance.” Margaret was obedient to the call and saw that she must lead a more active life. She carried on this new mission successfully, drawing many lapsed Catholics back to the Church, and she was called on many times to perform miraculous cures.

The day and hour of her death were revealed to her, and she died at the age of fifty in 1297. Her fame is mostly confined to Tuscany, where the people of Cortona refer to their patron as the “lily of the valley.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  109-111.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 23
Saint Peter Damian Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 1007-1072)

Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, Italy, about 1007, the youngest of many children in an impoverished family. He was orphaned while very young and sent to the home of an older brother, who treated the boy more like a slave than a relative. As soon as the lad was old enough he was made to tend swine and do all the lowest tasks around the farm. Another brother, archpriest of Ravenna, took pity on Peter and provided for his education, first at Faenza and finally at the University of Parma, where he became a famous professor when he was barely twenty-five. The brother who acted as his patron was called Damian , and it is generally accepted that Peter took this new surname in gratitude to the one who had been so kind to him.

Repelled by the undisciplined gaiety of university life, Peter decided to enter the Benedictine monastery at Fonte Avellana. Although he willingly embraced all the penances and mortifications expected of a monk, he did not neglect his teaching. After spending much time studying Scripture, he was summoned by the abbot of Pomposa, to instruct his monastery of a hundred monks. He taught there for several years, later returning to his own monastery, where he became abbot shortly after the superior’s death. Peter founded five new monasteries, in which he placed priors under his own general direction, keeping uppermost in his mind the basic needs of the monk: solitude, charity, and prayer.

For the next twelve years Peter Damian worked closely with bishops and popes, helping to curb the vices of the clergy by preaching and especially by writing a treatise, Liber Gomorrhinus, which exposed and condemned sins of simony and concubinage among religious.

In, 1057 Pope Stephen IX forced Peter, under pain of excommunication, to accept the rank of cardinal and take up his position as bishop of Ostia. Peter was so impressed with his responsibility to his flock that he wrote to his fellow cardinals exhorting them to make their lives an example to all. Nicholas II likewise called on Peter to serve the Church in the hierarchy and as legate of the Holy See, but his successor Alexander II agreed to let him relinquish his position as bishop of Ostia and return to the solitude of Fonte Avellana.

In his monastery again, Peter continually preached the necessity of penance in a pleasure-loving world. Whatever penance he prescribed for others he performed himself. He lived closeted in his cell, fasting every day and wearing iron chains next to his body. He viewed extreme penances not as ends in themselves, but rather as means to make the body subject to the spirit.

Peter’s last undertaking for the Church was a journey to Ravenna, where he put down a schism begun by the archbishop of that city. He succeeded in reconciling the schismatics to the Holy See and imposed severe penances on all involved. On his way back to the monastery he was afflicted with a fever; he died February 22, 1072.

Saint Peter Damian stands out in Church history as a strong figure, one of the greatest reformers of the Middle Ages, who preached penance and love, not only by words, but by the example of his life.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  111-113.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 24
Saint Matthias Apostle (New Testament)

A kiss twisted to become a mockery of love sealed the pact of Judas and the Jewish council. This was the treachery of one who had been close to Christ, who had received the most patient instruction, who was called particularly by our Lord. Of course, the other apostles were not too proud of their record during Christ’s Passion, but it must have been difficult to fight down bitterness toward the traitor’s appalling action. Several times the evangelists repeat the phrase, “one of the twelve” in reference to Judas, as if in honest amazement that he could have betrayed Christ. None of them could miss the lesson–that even the blessed fall if they fail to depend on God. “There, but for the grace of God, go I”–none of them could ever forget it. Similar thoughts must have crossed the mind of Matthias as he was chosen to fill the spot left vacant by Judas’ suicide.

It is related in the Acts of the Apostles that after Christ’s Ascension, the eleven, with Mary and some disciples, met in the Upper Room to wait and pray. There Peter opened the election for a replacement for Judas, “’inasmuch as he had been numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry” (Acts 1:17). Two candidates were unanimously chosen for their loyalty and devotion to Christ: Joseph, surnamed Justus, and Matthias. Since naming a new apostle was no easy task, they begged God for guidance. Then they drew lots and the choice fell upon Matthias: “’and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.”

Matthias remained with the others until after Pentecost and the descent of the Holy Spirit. After that he seems to have spent a great deal of time working in Judea; then he traveled east to Cappadocia (now Turkey), where it is said that he was the vital instrument in bringing many pagans to the faith. Clement of Alexandria wrote one of the most memorable lines about Matthias: “He exhausted his body by mortification to make his spirit subject to the Crucified.” There is a tradition that Saint Matthias was martyred in much the same manner as Christ, but his symbol is usually a lance or halberd. His death took place about the year 50 in Colchis, an ancient country south of the Caucasus Mountains, on the east coast of the Black Sea.

Matthias, like all the apostles, was chosen to become “a witness with us of Christ’s resurrection.” This was the primary task of the new apostle. It remains the primary task of every Christian today. In words and deeds, if we “seek the things that are above,” we will be true preachers of the gospel and faithful witnesses to the love of Christ.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  113-114.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 25
Saint Ethelbert King and Martyr (552-616)

As in the case of so many great leaders, a woman was the source of Ethelbert’s success and goodness. Ethelbert, king of Kent, although reared as a pagan, had married a Christian princess, Bertha, daughter of Charibert of Paris, a king of the Franks. By the articles of her marriage, Bertha was given full liberty to practice her religion; she brought with her a French chaplain, to whom Ethelbert gave the ancient church of Saint Martin at Canterbury. Tradition tells of the amiable qualities of Queen Bertha, which no doubt impressed her husband. With all his heart he wanted to be a good king, and that meant he must allow his people freedom to worship as they wished.

In 597, when Augustine and his missionaries were sent to Kent by Pope Gregory the Great, Ethelbert received the monks graciously and told them they were free to baptize all those convinced of their doctrine. Although he himself listened to the preachers with respect and awe, he was afraid of their “magic spell” and their black robes.

His initial doubt and hesitation did not last long. Soon after the missionaries had begun their work of conversion at Saint Martin’s, Ethelbert and many of his nobles were convinced of the message of Christ. They were baptized on Pentecost, 597. It is said that in a few months as many as ten thousand of his subjects followed his example.

Wholeheartedly as Ethelbert took up the task of spreading Christ’s kingdom throughout his land, he never used coercion of any kind on his people. He had learned from Augustine that the gift of grace must be desired and freely accepted. To create a political atmosphere in which a religious choice would be easier, he devoted himself to the enactment of laws for the safety and welfare of his subjects, pagans and Christians alike. The first written laws for the English people, the ninety “Dooms of Ethelbert,” were published in 604. Ethelbert was also largely responsible for establishing the first institutions that taught English concepts of freedom, order, and Church-state relations. He also assisted the monks in renovating the ancient ruined churches that remained from the time of the Roman occupation as well as in building new ones.

Among the ancient structures already in existence were three, now renovated and rededicated: Saint Martin’s, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Pancratius. Another became the cathedral of Canterbury, which Augustine dedicated to the Holy Savior, later known as Christ Church. Ethelbert assigned Rochester as a second bishopric, and there Saint Andrew’s was built, and in London, in the territory of the East Saxons, he built the Cathedral of Saint Paul.

After a remarkably long and vigorous reign, Saint Ethelbert died in 616. He was buried in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, where a candle was kept perpetually lighted before his tomb until the reign of Henry VIII.

Ethelbert was a man who lived his vocation to the fullest. He realized the duties and responsibilities of his kingship, giving his subjects love and freedom, receiving from them respect and allegiance. Although he could never be clothed in the habit of the missionary, very few have ever done more to spread the Christian faith in a pagan country.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  115-116.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 26
Saint Alexander of Alexandria Bishop and Confessor (-c. 326)

Alexandria in Egypt had inherited the wealth of philosophy, art, and science that had accumulated and expanded throughout the centuries before Christ, and it was in this stronghold of culture that a most crucial intellectual battle was waged for the faith. Although the debate over the Trinity appeared subtle on the surface, what was at stake was a basic dogma of the Catholic faith: that Christ is truly God. Many persons could not begin to see through the maze of words, definitions, and metaphors. The man equal to the task of meeting the philosophical and theological intricacies with precise understanding and preserving the purity of traditional Catholic belief was the archbishop of Alexandria, Saint Alexander.

This saint had witnessed the period of the terrible persecution of Christians under the pagan rule of Diocletian and his cruel co-rulers in the East. When Constantine came to power in 313, his decrees brought the persecutions to an end and ushered in a new era of peace and political equality for Christians. Besides equality, Constantine even allowed a degree of favoritism to the Christians by dispensing Church property from taxation and granting financial assistance for the building of churches.

Saint Alexander had seen his people through the times of suffering, but the difficulties imposed by persecutions were not the worst that beset him. During the same period, a priest in the diocese of Alexandria was preaching strange notions about the Trinity, about the relationship of Christ to God the Father. The priest, Arius, had once before, as a layman, been excommunicated for joining a schism, but his repentance seemed sincere enough for him to be received back and be ordained a priest. There are numerous conjectures on the motivation and personality of Arius. Some facts are known: for no apparent reason he publicly accused Saint Alexander of denying the Trinity. Perhaps this attack was due to jealousy at not having been chosen himself for the see of Alexandria. Nevertheless, Arius was clever and charming enough to gather quite a large following in Egypt.

The basic assumption of Arian theology was the denial that God could in any real sense have a Son. Thus Christ was not eternal; He had a beginning and so was not equal to the Father in dignity.

In all fairness to theological study, Saint Alexander called a meeting of Egyptian bishops to hear what Arius had to say. Arius presented his views; his opponents answered by insisting on the equality and oneness of Christ with the Father. After much questioning, Alexander ordered Arius to submit to the true doctrine and to cease teaching this heresy. Arius refused to obey and defended his position with logic, rhetoric, and politics. Emperor Constantine insisted on external peace at all costs. He tried to encourage Alexander and Arius to live happily side by side, never truly understanding that Alexander could not, as head of the Church in Egypt, allow heresy to be preached under the guise of true faith.

After Arius was condemned by the Church in Egypt, he began preaching in Palestine and throughout Asia Minor. Constantine fluctuated between encouraging his activities and requesting him to stop. Meanwhile, the whole East was in a turmoil: Arian bishops excommunicated Catholics when they themselves had been excommunicated by the Catholics. Still, Constantine called for a peaceful agreement.

Finally, through Alexander’s consistent and inflexible devotion to truth, Constantine was forced to try another means of achieving peace. In the spring of 325, Alexander asked Pope Sylvester to call for a meeting of all bishops in the area, a course he had previously recommended to the emperor. Accordingly, Constantine invited the bishops to assemble at Nicaea, and about 300 bishops, including legates sent by Pope Sylvester, attended the famous Council of Nicaea. This council is familiar to us from the Nicene Creed, which is said at Mass, the creed which was forced into explicit formulation by the Arian heresy.

The creed designed at the council was the result of patient labor and understanding. Saint Alexander deserves much of the credit for preserving truth, the basic truth of Catholic belief in the Trinity, under the most trying conditions. Alexander died about 326, only a short time after the council had taken place.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  117-119.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 27
Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows Confessor (1838-1862)

Francis Possenti was an ordinary boy with ordinary ambitions. But by the time he was twenty-four he was a very holy young man. How does a life turn its course and become more than ordinary? In the case of Francis it was a dangerous illness that turned the boy to God.

The saint was born at Assisi in 1838, the eleventh of thirteen children; he was christened Francis, after the patron of the city. His father, a distinguished lawyer of nearby Spoleto, sponsored his son’s education at the Jesuit college in that town. Even in his early days at school, Francis showed signs of becoming a real scholar. Although his days were taken up with study, his evenings, like those of all students, were filled with the parties and dances so common in a college town. His friends dubbed him “il damerino,” which means “’the ladies’ man.” He had nothing to worry about; he was intelligent, good-looking, and popular with faculty and students alike.

Shortly before his studies were completed, Francis became dangerously ill. Probably more out of fear than love, he promised he would enter the religious life if he was cured. The cure carne, but the boy delayed fulfilling his promise. After a lapse of almost two years he contracted a fever and·again lay critically ill. He repeated his promise and was immediately cured. This time he made application to enter the Jesuit novitiate. He was accepted but he delayed entering. He was only seventeen and also, perhaps, he may have realized that God was calling him to a more penitential life. The sudden death of his favorite sister made Francis realize the precarious nature of all worldly attachments. With the complete approval of his Jesuit confessor, he entered the Passionist novitiate at Morrovalle in September 1856, and was given the religious name of Brother Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The rest of Gabriel’s career is nothing more than a record of his struggle to gain perfection in small things. As a Passionist, contemplation of the sufferings of Christ and His Sorrowful Mother and a profound love of the Eucharist became the basis of his devotional life. All through the novitiate, his superiors marveled at his spirit of obedience, charity, and submission. The talented young man had decided once for all that the best way for him to become truly holy was to disappear into the background of everyday routine.

After making his religious profession in September 1857, he continued his studies for the priesthood, constantly encouraging his fellow students to be cheerful in their life of penance. This quality of humor and happiness was the keynote of Brother Gabriel’s life. He did nothing that could be called outstanding, but lived in constant and perfect obedience to his rule. After only four years in the order, Gabriel showed unmistakable symptoms of tuberculosis and had to be exempted from the more difficult duties of community life. He refused to become an invalid, always preferring to live unnoticed, enveloped in his community. Two years later, when he was only twenty-four, he died at the retreat house at Isola del Gran Sasso in the Abruzzi district of Italy.

It was the expressed wish of both Leo XIII and Pius X that Gabriel should be regarded as patron of the youth of today and especially of young religious in all the affairs of their interior life. He was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  119-121.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 28
Saint Hedwig Queen and Holy Woman (1371-1399)

Map makers have a constant challenge in determining the borders of the Polish nation. Throughout its history this country has been cut up, divided, and conquered by Germany, Hungary, Sweden, France, Austria, and the Soviet Union. In spite of wars and constant defeat, the spirit of the Polish people has remained indestructible. Intermingled with this national consciousness is a steadfast loyalty to the Catholic Church. Poland was converted late; yet her social and political institutions were so well founded that, when the conversion did come, it was able to penetrate the total organization of national life. The tenacity of spirit attributed to the Polish people stands out clearly in one of the country’s favorite heroines, Blessed Hedwig.

Hedwig’s father, Louis, was the nephew and successor of Casimir the Great, king of Poland and Hungary. For two years after the death of King Louis, Poland suffered all the horrors of a civil war. In 1384, the Polish nobles agreed to accept Princess Hedwig (then thirteen years old) as their queen, provided her choice of a consort would meet with their approval.

According to the custom of the times, when she was four years old Hedwig had been betrothed to William, duke of Austria. He had been educated in Hungary and the two had grown to anticipate a happy marriage. But the nobles frowned on William as a marriage choice. Hearing the restrictions placed on her personal life by the Polish Diet (national assembly), Hedwig rebelled at the thought of being queen. Although aware of the difficulties placed in the way of Hedwig’s union with Duke William, her mother subscribed to the conditions, convincing Hedwig of her national responsibility to the Poles. On October 15, 1385, Hedwig was solemnly crowned queen of Poland in the cathedral of Cracow.

Her youth, loveliness, and intellectual endowments won the enthusiastic affection of the fierce Polish chieftains. The variety of her abilities made Hedwig an attractive marriage prospect. Candidates began pressing their proposals on the queen, yet she continued to love only William. Gradually, it became apparent that an alliance with Austria formed no part of Polish policy and that no amount of pleading could induce the Diet to entertain the idea of her marriage with William. Their whole energy was devoted to bringing about a union which, however disagreeable to the young queen, was likely to be both advantageous to the country and favorable to Catholicism.

Because of his proximity and the extent of his possessions, Jagello, the pagan duke of Lithuania, had been a formidable enemy to Poland. When he learned of the beauty and talents of the young queen, the impetuous duke was determined to secure her even at the price of his national independence. He dispatched an embassy to Poland, stating that in exchange for the kingship he and his brothers would at once embrace the Catholic faith, that the whole of their extensive domains would be incorporated with Poland, and that all Christian slaves would be returned to their homelands. The Polish assembly heard the proposal and immediately accepted the offer of the Lithuanian ambassadors. Hedwig regarded her betrothal to William as a solemn promise and refused to submit to the wishes of the Diet. The pope sent a message to Hedwig assuring her that the engagement provided no impediment to her marriage with another; he asked her to view the union with Jagello as a service to God and the Church.

Hedwig made her decision. She had to suppress her natural affection for William and overcome her repugnance for Jagello. She covered herself with a black veil and went to the cathedral, where she spent several hours praying for the grace to carry out what was apparently God’s will. Before she left the church she put her veil over the crucifix as a symbol of her sacrifice.

Apparently Jagello was sincere. Before their marriage he was baptized, receiving the name Wladislaus, and then gave himself to the task of converting the Lithuanians.

Hedwig, with all the fire of her spirit, devoted herself to her vocation as wife and queen. She turned from the pomp and extravagance of the court and, instead, mortified herself with fasts and penances. She undoubtedly had a profound influence upon her husband, moderating his headstrong and sometimes rash policies. Dedicated to giving Christianity real roots in Poland, she founded the Benedictine abbey of the Holy Cross and superintended the translation of the Bible into Polish.

On June 12, 1399, the queen gave birth to a daughter who lived just long enough to be baptized. Evidently, the queen’s long fasts had weakened her health, for she died a few days later. She was only twenty-eight years old.

Numerous miracles are said to have been performed at her tomb, and the Poles still venerate the crucifix over which she placed the veil, an emblem of her devotion to the Church and to Poland.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  122-124.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

February 29
The Martyrs of Alexandria Martyrs (-261)

From 249 to 263 the entire Roman Empire swayed under the weight of a terrible plague. The city of Rome alone lost more than five thousand citizens in a single day. Conditions were even worse on the other side of the empire. Saint Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, reported that his city had not only been tortured by the plague and famine but that robbery and murder were so rampant that it seemed safer to travel from one end of the world to the other than to cross the city streets unarmed. Soon there was not one house in the city that had escaped without a death. Terror and fear of the disease had so overpowered the living that the pagan citizens of Alexandria refused to bury their dead.

The Christians of Alexandria met this crisis with unmatched charity and courage. Throughout the long persecutions of Decius, Gallus, and Valerian, they had been forced into hiding, holding all their meetings in secret. However, in spite of the dangers of the pestilence, they bathed the plague-stricken and carried the bodies of the dead to a decent burial, knowing they would probably contract the disease and share the same fate as those they served. Saint Dionysius wrote a lasting tribute to these selfless Christians: “Many who had healed others fell victims themselves. The best of our brethren have been taken from us in this manner: some were priests, others deacons, and some laity of great worth. This death, with the faith that accompanied it, appears to be little inferior to martyrdom itself.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  125.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.