January 1
Saint Odilo Abbot and Confessor (962-1049)

Call it what you will–intuition, foresight, or faith Odilo knew this old man was speaking the truth. Living alone as they do, some hermits might be prone to pious hallucinations, but not this old man. He was different. It may have been his eyes that encouraged Odilo–they were quiet and understanding-or perhaps the sound of his voice; but Odilo didn’t notice either now, for the hermit was telling him a strange story. He told Odilo that he had heard demons rage each time souls in purgatory were freed from punishment through prayers of the monks of Cluny. If these few prayers were so powerful, imagine how much good could be done if everyone in the whole world prayed! Odilo, who was abbot of Cluny, was so moved by this story that he issued a decree stating that from that year, 998, all of the monasteries dependent upon Cluny would reserve November 2 to honor and pray for the faithful departed. Other monasteries and nonmonastic churches imitated the practice. Finally, this feast was extended to the whole Church and called All Souls’ Day.

Odilo’s life could be termed a medieval success story. He was nobly born and was undoubtedly versatile and well educated, for at the age of twenty-nine he became abbot of Cluny. Under his direction, this French abbey became motherhouse to reformed or newly founded monasteries of France and Spain, preparing the way for a union of monasteries that in the twelfth century made Cluny second only to Rome as the center of the Christian world. Because of his position as abbot, Odilo became one of the most prominent men of his era. He was priest and statesman, but always first a priest.

It was largely through Odilo’s efforts that the Truce of God was established in France. Feudal Europe in the tenth century recognized· a caste system that we would term barbaric; land and wealth in the hands of a comparatively few men, who thought they had complete ownership of everything and everyone in their domains. Private wars between rival lords were frequent and bloody. In addition, much violence arose because men felt that they must defend their “honor” at the slightest offense. Something had to be done; Christian Europe was becoming as brutal as pagan Rome. The Truce of God, suggested as a remedy for these prevalent evils, stated, among other things, that churches should become sanctuaries to all persons except those who violated this truce, and that from Vespers on Wednesday until Monday morning no one could offer violence to another, not even for grievous injury. This was pathetically short of being ideal, but since it afforded some sort of check on the individual powers of feudal lords it was not without worth. When Odilo died in 1049, he had served well the monks of Cluny and the people of France. All that the French Revolution left of Cluny (which once boasted the largest church in the world) is a small section, which today houses a school of arts and crafts. No revolution has been able to destroy the memory of Cluny’s abbot, Odilo. Every year All Souls’ Day is a reminder of him.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  1-2.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 2
Saint Abel Patriarch (Old Testament)

Their names were Cain and Abel. They were brothers, the only sons of Adam and Eve. One day, both knelt and made offerings to God; one offering was acceptable, the other was not. Enraged that his gift was not pleasing, Cain took his brother out into the field and killed him , brutally and deliberately. To avenge Abel’s murder, God banished Cain, dooming him to lead a wandering, vagrant life.

This account from the Book of Genesis, the story of the first murder, presents some difficulties. Clearly, Cain’s motive for murdering his brother was jealousy, but the reason his gift was not acceptable remains unexplained in the text of the Bible. Both brothers had offered the fruits of their labor: Cain as a farmer had offered his crops, Abel as a shepherd had offered the first-born of his flock. One scholar suggests. that Cain’s gift was rejected because he had presented an imperfect offering, reserving for himself the better part of his crops. Saint Augustine believed that Cain had given only material goods to God and had refused to offer his heart. This seems the more plausible explanation. Cain’s punishment has been a recurrent theme and influence in myths and folklore for. centuries. An example of this influence is the legend of “The Flying Dutchman.” Probably arising from the superstitious belief of mariners in the existence of a ghost ship, this legend tells of the captain of a ship, a Dutchman, who was stranded off the Cape of Good Hope by a storm. Enraged at the delay, the captain swore a blasphemous oath that he would circle the Cape twice if it took him until Judgment Day. God was offended by the blasphemy and condemned the captain to sail the seas until the end of the world.

One of the most curious myths–and one that is theologically impossible–had its origin in Abruzzi, a region of central Italy. The old Italian peasants say that after Cain killed his brother, he hid himself in a dark cave. For protection against the savage animals that roamed nearby, he surrounded the cave with gigantic twigs of briar.  When God saw that Cain had planted the briars, He was greatly pleased for He knew that one day His Son would be crowned with their thorns. Then Cain died, so the story goes, and the devil came to claim his soul for all eternity. But God remembered the briar twigs, and He softened Cain’s punishment. Cain was sentenced to spend his days in hell, but each night he was to be released to become a symbol of Christ’s Passion; since then, the people of Abruzzi say, when the moon rises, Cain is seen silhouetted against its brightness, endlessly lifting briar twigs.

Abel, however, is a true type, a figure of Christ. The fact that he was a shepherd, that he offered lambs to God, even his death-all these things are symbolic. Centuries later, on a hill called Calvary, the Good Shepherd, the Lamb of God was to be similarly sacrificed by evil men. Thus, Abel was the first person to foreshadow the crucifixion. Abel is depicted in Christian art as a shepherd, and is often shown offering a lamb in sacrifice; he is remembered daily in the Canon of the Mass as a saint.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  3-4.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 3
Saint Genevieve Virgin (c.420 – c. 500)

News traveled quickly, even in the year 451. Within a day all Paris was alerted to the threat of a Hun invasion. Every man who could throw a spear or shoot an arrow was summoned to fight. Baker, artist, monk, nobleman–all stood side by side guarding the great walls of the city, waiting in silence for the first shrill trumpet sound that would herald an attack. Attila and his Huns were expected to strike the next night. They would steal noiselessly through the forest, leaving their horses hidden among the trees, and when they reached the barricade, they would light their torches and hurl them high in the air and up, over the wall. Then the battle would begin.

The first few companies of Huns that crossed the barricade would be killed, but more would follow, up and over, up and over, until the Parisians could no longer hold them back. Paris was doomed; its small army was unskilled and poorly equipped, hardly a match for a horde of bloodthirsty barbarians.

The women and children, the sick, and the aged were immediately ordered to leave the city for outlying villages. There, for a time, they would be safe. In every home in Paris, from the hovels of the poor to the large stone mansions of the rich, preparations were made to evacuate. What a strange procession was that group of frightened people who walked through the narrow streets carrying small packs of food and clothing in their arms or on their backs! Only the dull shuffle of weary feet broke the stillness of that evening as they moved along. They made their way through the cluttered marketplace to the gates of the city. Then suddenly they stopped.

Before the closed gates, blocking their exit, stood a tall, stout woman of about thirty, dressed in the simple garb of a peasant. Her eyes, as she surveyed the crowd, were firm and unmoving. Nearby, several uniformed men were angrily shouting to the bewildered citizens, “Don’t listen to her. Leave now or you will die.” The woman seemed not to hear them. With her arms raised above her head, she cried as loudly as she could, “People of Paris, hear me! People of Paris … ” A murmur went through the crowd, ”It is Genevieve, the woman from Nanterre. Let her speak l” The crowd became silent. What had she to say to them?

“People of Paris,” Genevieve began breathlessly, “Attila’s army is getting closer. His forces outnumber ours by many thousands. Running away will not save us. Our only hope is to stay.” The crowd muttered in protest and began to push its way to the gates. But again, the force of Genevieve’s voice made them stop. “Listen to me! Listen to me! You must not leave. You must stay and implore God’s protection. It is too late to retreat now. God is our only hope, He will not desert us. Go back to your homes! Get down on your knees and pray! Pray! Pray! ” Her voice was trembling. For a long moment the people were motionless, then, one by one, they turned back to their homes. They prayed for protection against the Huns.  Within a few days, their faith was rewarded.  For some unknown reason Attila changed his course and led his fierce pack toward Orleans and ultimate defeat. Paris was saved!

Genevieve has interceded for her beloved Paris many times since her designation as the city’s chief patron saint. In 1914, as the Germans marched toward Paris during the First World War, the people prayed as never before for God’s protection. Again, destruction seemed inevitable. On September 8 of that year, at the conclusion of a triduum of prayer, the relics of Saint Genevieve were exposed for veneration in one of the churches of the city. During that very period of prayer, the German thrust on Paris was miraculously halted.

In Paris, on November 26, an annual festival is still held in memory of another miracle of her intercession. In 1129 when a terrifying and repulsive plague almost depopulated Paris, Saint Genevieve’s relics were carried in solemn procession to the cathedral. During that ceremony many were cured by touching the relics, others recovered rapidly, and no new victims fell ill.

Genevieve was born about 420, in the little village of Nanterre, four miles from Paris. There the pattern of life was so simple that a visit from a holy bishop meant a great festival; so when Saint Germain of Auxerre stopped at the village on his way to preach in Britain, the townspeople filled the streets to hear him speak. Only God knows what caused him to notice the little seven-year-old girl in the crowd, but he sought out Genevieve and her parents that same day. After telling her parents how fortunate they were to have a daughter who would be a saint, he asked Genevieve if she wished to consecrate herself to Christ. She immediately told him that was exactly what she wanted. Even so, Saint Germain asked for a promise, and in return gave Genevieve a small coin marked with a cross, which she was to wear about her neck.

After this dramatic beginning of her vocation, Genevieve proceeded to keep her promise. She continued to live with her parents, help at home, pray, and receive the sacraments. When her parents died, she moved to her grandmother’s home in Paris; there, when she was fifteen, she took vows before the bishop of the city. Since at that time there were few convents, young women who had taken vows continued to live at home. Nevertheless, at the request of the bishop, Genevieve later took responsibility for instructing other “nuns” in the city. These women were most courageous in their work with the sick, the poor, the imprisoned. Once, when the city was blockaded by the Franks and the people were reduced almost to starvation, Genevieve managed to lead a group out of the city and return with a large supply of corn.

Glancing back over twenty centuries of heroes and heroines, we see that Genevieve is outstanding as a patriot and a saint. She is an example of the “valiant woman” mentioned in the Book of Proverbs, who still “reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  5-8.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 4
Blessed Angela of Foligno Holy Woman (c.1249-1309)

Angela of Foligno was one of God’s “different” people–a mystic. Her confessor has recorded from her own lips the visions and ecstasies that were granted to her with a startling frequency. For Angela “the whole world was full of God,” and she was in almost constant communion with Him. Yet we would misunderstand the interior life of this mystic (or any mystic, for that matter) if we imagine that her life was without pain, without suffering. Angela herself tells us that at times she was overcome with grief because she could see nothing in herself except faults. Even the intimacy she enjoyed with God was a grace occasionally withheld from her.

But there was nothing remarkable about Angela’s early years. Born in Foligno, Italy, about 1249, she lived most of her life in the small Umbrian town of her birth. As far as we can discover, there was nothing scandalous about her life. Yet she tells us in her later writings that for over thirty years she led a mortally sinful life. Perhaps she was referring to the pride and comfort of a wealthy and fashionable life, for she had come from a family of great property, had married well, and had ruled a large household of children and servants.

As she describes her conversion, it reads like the story of many a soul today. Fear of her own damnation led her to the confessional one day. But she was afraid to tell her most serious sins, and so made a bad confession, then a sacrilegious Communion. Only greater remorse followed. Tormented in soul, she prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi, and he appeared to her in a vision. The next day she made a complete and sincere confession.

From this point on, her life was completely changed. The thought of her sins gave her a desire for penance, suffering, and reparation. In Foligno and its neighboring town, Assisi, the memory of Saint Francis (who had died in 1226) was still fresh. It is not surprising, then, that Angela was dominated by Franciscan ideals from the time of her conversion until her death in 1309. When one by one her mother, her husband, and all her children had died, she became a Franciscan tertiary and later lived as a mendicant, a beggar, completely dependent upon the charity of others.

Of the thousands of tourists who annually visit Assisi and pray at the tombs of Saint Francis and Saint Clare, few travel the short distance to Foligno, where Angela is buried in the Franciscan church. But she, like the saints of Assisi, has many a lesson for our day. No sinner who looks to her would ever despair.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  9-10.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 5
Saint Simeon Stylites Confessor (391-459)

Modern train-chasers and coffee-gulpers can take a lesson or two from the life of Simeon Stylites: one must sometimes sit still, pray quietly, and give God a chance to break into the jet-speed of daily life. For over thirty years Simeon sat on top of a pillar and did nothing! He did nothing, yet he became a saint. Those modern men who evaluate persons and things by what they do or how much they can produce find him a direct contradiction of their way of life. Because Saint Simeon was extreme and inactive, he is regarded with wonder, if not suspicion. After all, why would anyone in his right. mind choose to live on a pillar?

Simeon did not mount a pillar on a mad impulse or for a stunt. He went up there gradually, in full possession of his wits. The son of shepherds, born in 391, he spent his youth as a shepherd himself on the rocky slopes of Syria, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. One day, after attending Mass, he suddenly became convinced that he had a religious vocation. He went at once to a monastery nearby and lay outside the door of the building until he was admitted–five days later. After this unique entrance, Simeon went about things in his usual extreme manner. He ate only one meal a week and gave the rest of his food to the poor. He bound his body so tightly with a cord that his flesh grew over it. These mortifications say more for his general good health and spirit than for his prudence or even respect for his body. Yet Simeon felt that they were not enough for him. He wanted to pray. If he could just stay still for a time, he might be able to do so. Therefore, within a year after he had entered, Simeon left the monastery to become a hermit.

Simeon went to live in a little house on a nearby mountain, the Telenassus. There he stayed for three years, praying and fasting. Then he started his climb. He went to the top of the mountain and walled himself in, so that in case he was tempted he would be sure not to run away. Later the walls were exchanged for a huge iron ball and chain which he bound to his leg. It was only after Meletius (vicar of the bishop of Antioch) had visited him that Simeon mounted a pillar. This holy man reminded Simeon that anyone who really willed to lead a solitary life needed no chains. Simeon took the hint. He released himself, climbed his pillar, and stayed there until he died. After his death, his pillar was enshrined in a basilica, the Kal ‘at Sema’an, now in ruins.

Syria–in fact, all Europe-wondered, discussed, and worried over Saint Simeon throughout his life. In our times the newspaper reports on  Mohandas Gandhi, India’s Hindu nationalist leader, made an interesting parallel. Day by day, men wondered if Gandhi would continue his fasts to the end. Would he die? Why did he do these strange things? From a purely human standpoint, the passive behavior of Gandhi and Simeon had similar effects on observers. Gandhi fasted for long periods of time, wore only a loincloth, and wove his own garments. People called him unusual, but never crazy. He did these things to free his people from foreign domination and to show his devotedness to them.  Because Gandhi was himself an example of the simplicity he preached, he succeeded in his nonviolent revolt. Simeon did similarly strange things for God. Seated atop his pillar, he regularly saw the people, talked with them, and healed their ills. Great men and small found their way to his tower; travelers came from Spain, Britain, and Gaul, and even emperors and empresses sought his counsel. And because Simeon’s life was his sermon, he too succeeded. Hundreds of wild, nomadic pagan people of the Syrian deserts were converted to Christianity through his equally wild form of sanctity. Men who are afraid to buck the general trends of society, who are afraid to be different, can look to Gandhi and Saint Simeon for courage. Both men challenged contemporary customs because they believed in something-Gandhi in his country, and Saint Simeon in Christ.

Simeon was one of the greatest exhibitionists of all times. But it is an injustice to place him in the same category with modern-day flagpole sitters, hunger artists, and marathon dancers–people who try to attract attention by ridiculous displays of nerve and endurance. Simeon did what he did, not to attract attention to himself, but to bring attention to God. Many extraordinary things can be accomplished only by extraordinary means: Simeon chose a wild manner of life because it spoke directly to the hearts of the simple but wild people of the desert. He lived on a pillar because this immobility was important to prayer, because he believed that not much else matters if one knows how to talk to God.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  11-13.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 6
The Holy Magi Confessors (New Testament)

It could have been done in many ways: through a vision, an angelic messenger, or a divine proclamation. But God chose a star, and the Wise Men understood it. The Star of Bethlehem heralded the greatest event of all ages-the birth of Jesus Christ. It was not uncommon in ancient countries of the East to seek knowledge through the position and brilliance of the  stars; so if God wanted to tell the Wise Men of the birth of His Son, was it not fitting that He should do so in a way they would understand, through a star?

The journey of the Magi is known to all Christians as a beautiful part of the Nativity story. Yet remarkably little is known with certainty about these men. Who they were, how many there were, and where they came from are matters of speculation. The Bible says simply that they came “from the East,” which meant anywhere east of the Jordan River. But from their title, “Magi,” we may suppose that they were of a priestly caste and came from Persia, the present-day Iran, or from Babylon or Arabia. The word magi is of Persian origin and means disciples of Zoroaster, the founder of the ancient Persian religion. In Persia there was knowledge of and interest in the expected Messias of the Jews. The Magi, then, must have been learned men, acquainted with the Jewish hope of a Messianic King, who saw the unusual star in the sky, and under the influence of God’s grace, realized that the long-awaited King of the Jews had been born.

Arriving in Jerusalem, the Magi openly asked about the infant King whose star they had followed. That type of inquiry would naturally be reported to King Herod; and when he heard it, the vicious, aging tyrant became infuriated. His envy and suspicion could tolerate no thought of a rival monarch, and so, coldly and deliberately, he planned this rival’s death. He called together the chief priests and demanded that they tell him the birthplace of the expected Messias as recorded in the Jewish Scriptures. Then summoning the Magi, he told them what he had learned and asked them to report to him whatever they might discover. Not suspecting the malice behind this request, the Magi left Herod’s court to follow their star to Bethlehem. We can only guess what they must have thought when they found the Christ Child in humble surroundings. The unembellished account in the Gospel does not reveal their feelings, yet they apparently had no doubts that the Child was the promised Savior, for they reverently knelt and adored Him. Some time after their arrival, God warned them in a dream to return home without visiting Herod, and the Magi, early disciples of the Son of God, reluctantly left.

Around the few known facts concerning the Magi, a host of legends has been woven. These men are called kings, and given names:  Melchior, Caspar, and Balthasar. In the eighth century, Saint Bede the Venerable recorded the traditional appearance of each of them. Melchior was elderly, blond, and had a long beard. Caspar was young, clean­ shaven, and had a ruddy complexion. Balthasar was bearded and dark-skinned. The three gifts they presented to the Christ Child have for centuries been taken as symbolic. Gold, as a precious metal, rare and expensive, signified His kingship; incense, as the proper offering to a God, proclaimed His divinity; and myrrh, as a rare perfume used in embalming the dead, represented His humanity and acceptance of death. One lovely legend tells that, in return for these gifts, the Virgin Mary gave the Magi Christ’s swaddling clothes, showing her gratitude for their faith and love.

During the Middle Ages, it was customary for the faithful, on the Feast of the Epiphany, to bring gold, frankincense, and myrrh to be blessed by the priest of the parish as tokens of God’s blessing upon their families and homes. This ritual is still practiced in some parts of Germany. Another custom that originated at this time in honor of the  Magi was the choosing of a ”king” from each family. This was accomplished by baking a large cake and marking a small portion of it with a certain sign. The person who received the piece having the secret sign was named king, and a feast was held in his honor. This is one Christmastide custom that beautifully blends Christian spirit with holiday-making.

January 6 is not actually the feast of these three saints. It is the feast of the manifestation of the Messias to the gentile world. The Magi, as non-Jews, represented the gentile world. In most parts of the Church the Magi are not actually venerated as saints. But in Cologne, Germany, their feast is celebrated on July 23. On this date in 1164 the relics of the three “kings” were brought from Milan to Cologne, where they became the principal treasure of the cathedral.

Although the relics and many of the legends about the Magi are probably not authentic, their adoration of the Christ Child is a fact, and one that has inspired artists, saints, and faithful Christians for centuries.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  14-16.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 7
Blessed Edward Waterson Martyr (-1593)

No one spoke. In the dreadful stillness of that early morning, Father Edward Waterson slowly ascended a scaffold and faced his people. He was going to his death and many of the faithful were afraid. As if to give them strength, he raised his hand in final benediction. Then the rope jerked.

Edward Waterson had been born and raised a Protestant in Elizabethan London. While still a young man he traveled to Rome and was so impressed by the spiritual heritage of the Eternal City that he prolonged his stay to examine the Catholic faith. Finally he decided to enter the Church. Four years later, in 1592, after studying at the English Catholic College in Rheims, France, he was ordained a priest.

After ordination, Edward’s one goal was to bring Catholicism back to the English people. It could not be done easily, for Queen Elizabeth’s persecutions had forced Catholics and Catholic sympathizers underground. Nevertheless, Edward returned to England, and within two months his priesthood was discovered. Arrested and condemned to death as a traitor for refusing to accept Elizabeth as the head of the English Church, Edward was executed at Newgate Prison on January 7, 1593.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  17.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 8
Saint Claudius Appolinaris Bishop and Confessor (-c. 175)

Prudery, resembling the not-too-remote mid-Victorian type, took the shape of serious heresy in the East during the second century. This heresy, called “Encratism” taught that marriage, wine, and meat were evil.  In an explosion of pride its adherents set up a too-rigorous temperance as the Christian ideal. With a firm foundation in Scripture and the frankness of Saint Paul, Apollinaris, a learned bishop of Hieropolis in Phrygia (now part of Turkey), attacked this and other heresies in pastoral letters and books–condemning the errors and exposing their pagan origins.

Most famous among the bishop’s works is a letter addressed to the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, demanding protection for the Christians in his diocese who were suffering persecution. The occasion of the letter is supposed to have been the Roman victory over the Quadi and Sarmatians, two tribes of the northeastern regions. The victory had been made possible by a providential thunderstorm, and the success of the “Thundering Legion” was attributed to the prayers of the Christian soldiers.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  18.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 9
Blessed Alix le Clercq Virgin (1576-1622)

Alix Le Clercq deserves a place among the pioneers of education. Born in 1576 at Remiremont, France, she spent twenty-five years establishing a religious community to teach young girls. This was finally accomplished through the aid of Saint Peter Fourier, who was Alix’s confessor until her death in 1622. The order founded by Saint Peter and Blessed Alix was the Canonesses Regular of Saint Augustine of the Congregation of Our Lady.

In 1597, when Alix and some companions dedicated themselves to God, they were regarded as eccentric, hypocritical, and silly, and efforts were made to force them to join other orders in a body and to renounce their aim of teaching neglected children. The prospect of day students entering conventual enclosures aroused hostility and delayed approval from Rome for twenty years. Dissension between houses of the order forced Alix to resign as superior in favor of a talented member who disagreed radically with her. Father Fourier himself did not think much of this “imaginative woman,” and gave her no credit as a foundress of the order. His unfriendliness added to the severe trials of her last years. Yet in all the resentment and uncertainties of her life,  Alix remained, by the grace of God, the “child of deep silence.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  19.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 10
Blessed Gregory X Pope & Confessor (1210 – 1276)

Gregory X became pope at a time when the papacy had long been wholly absorbed in remaining independent amid the ceaseless wars of political factions, at a time when the general affairs of Christendom stood in urgent need of a strong pope’s constructive direction. For three years there had been no pope; and when Saint Louis, king of France, died in 1270, Christendom lost its only leader of moral stature. It was due to the efforts of the mayor of Viterbo, Italy, that the election of a pope finally took place. In desperation he locked the cardinals in a roofless palace and restricted their food in order to force an early election. The disputing Italian and French cardinals quickly selected a committee of six and placed the election in their hands. In this fashion, on September 1,1271, Theobald Visconti  was chosen  pope.

Visconti was not just a wise choice of the electors; a provident God had led to the fore just the sort of man for those troubled times. The new pope was compassionate and energetically apostolic. He had much experience in international affairs but was not entangled in old political associations. Joined to his administrative excellence and courageous leadership was a very Christlike devotion to the poor and a love of prayer and contemplation. The papacy took on new strength under his strong guidance. Four days after his coronation as Gregory X, he sent letters to bishops and kings, calling for a general Church council to meet at Lyons, France, in the summer of 1274·The agenda: aid to the Christians in the Holy Land; healing of the  200-year-old Greek schism; and internal reform of the Church.

Meanwhile, the pope managed to extricate the papacy from the politics of the Italian city-states, to end nineteen years of war and chaos by promoting the election of a German emperor and preventing the count of Castile from seizing Germany, and to frustrate the king of Sicily’s plans for taking Constantinople. All this was done to make possible the peace essential to reunion and reform.

The Second Council of Lyons is the council of Gregory X. His energy and devotion guided the tenor and accomplishments of the meeting. The council saw the return of the Greek Church, short-lived reunion though it was; organized a universal collection to aid the Christians in Palestine; and passed more than twenty canon laws reforming practices among clergy and laity, such as more stringent regulations on ecclesiastical appointments and punishment for usury. As an extension of the reform, Gregory ordered the Dominicans to foster devotion to the holy name of Jesus, which resulted in the founding of the Holy Name Society. Gregory never returned to Rome after the Council. He had reached the city of Arezzo in northern Italy when he fell ill. He died there on January  10, 1276.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  20-21.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 11
Venerable William Carter Martyr (1548-1584)

In spite of all the power she held and all the years she reigned; Queen Elizabeth I was never totally without fear. To maintain her position, she was forced to rid England both of Catholics and of “nonconformists”–the more radical Protestant sects. It was not a frantic persecution: it was methodical and legalistic. If one kept fairly quiet about his opinions and conformed outwardly, he might escape. William Carter would neither keep silent nor conform.

For a time he seemed loyal enough, for in 1563, when was fifteen years old, William began his apprenticeship under the queen’s printer in London. Daily he helped in the printing of Anglican propaganda for the royal press, yet this did not shake his faith. He was a Catholic, a “papist,” loyal to Rome and the traditional doctrines and worship of the Church. In fact, after ten years under the royal printer, William became secretary to the last Catholic archdeacon of Canterbury, Nicholas Harpsfield, who was even then in prison. When Harpsfield died, William married and set up his own press in London on Tower Hill.

This was no time to be printing anything that voiced opposition to the queen’s policy. A Puritan writer, Stubbs, and  his printer had both suffered the amputation of their right hands in 1579 for publishing a pamphlet opposed to Elizabeth’s plan of marriage with the Catholic Henry of Anjou. William Carter, disregarding Elizabeth’s bigotry, printed Catholic books and pamphlets until 1580, when a new edition of A Treatise of Schism by Dr. Gregory Martin came off the presses. The treatise contained a paragraph expressing confidence that the Catholic Church would one day triumph in England. Unfortunately, Dr. Martin chose a rather violent example from the Old Testament saying that, one day, pious Judith would slay Holofernes.

This paragraph was just enough to indict the printer, Carter, since it was interpreted as an incitement to slay the queen–a typical trumped-up accusation to cloak the persecution of Catholics. For this, William Carter was sent to prison in 1580.There he was tortured on the rack time after time, in an effort to make him give the names of those who patronized his print shop. Each time he refused to speak. Finally, on January 11, 1584,  he was led from London Tower to become one of the hundreds of martyrs of Tyburn-to become  a champion of freedom of the press, to become a saint.

Near the spot of the infamous Tyburn Tree now stands a chapel, dedicated to the martyrs of England, where the Blessed Sacrament is perpetually exposed and where prayers are offered day and night for the conversion of England.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  22-23.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 12
Saint Arcadius Martyr (-c. 304)

By the end of the third century, the whole Roman Empire, saturated with internal decay and threatened by attack from the Goths and Persians, was crumbling. In a final attempt to secure domestic unity, the panicky emperors tried to rally Roman piety by again persecuting the Christians. One of the fiercest of these persecutions took place under Emperor Valerian. It was during his reign, or perhaps later, under the notorious Diocletian, that Saint Arcadius was martyred.

Saint Arcadius probably lived in Caesarea, the capital of the ancient North African country, Mauretania. Here the persecution was at its peak. All citizens were ordered to attend public sacrifices; absence could mean death. Many Christians, of course, would not comply.  Arcadius was one of them.

Knowing that he would be punished when the government caught up with him, Arcadius went to the country to pray and meditate–to prepare for martyrdom. When he was informed that one of his relatives had been imprisoned in his place, Arcadius hurried back to the city and went straight to the governor’s palace. He demanded his kinsman’s release, and his request was granted—provided that Arcadius sacrifice to the pagan gods. Arcadius refused, and the governor, enraged by his courage, condemned him to death. After suffering inhuman tortures, Arcadius died on January 12, about 304.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  24.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 13
Saint Veronica of Binasco Virgin (1445-1497)

Veronica was a nobody who took her place with kings, popes, and outstanding religious leaders who were also saints.  It is rather surprising that anyone noticed this farm girl from the countryside near Milan, Italy. She was not particularly talented or bright or beautiful, and she did only the most ordinary things. But she is at once consoling and challenging, for in the humdrum of daily routine she found the essential stuff of spirituality. Veronica, born in 1445, fulfilled a vocation which almost five centuries later was emphasized by our Lady speaking to Sister Lucy, one of the visionaries of Fatima: the penance that is forever needed to redeem men from sin is the fulfillment of one’s duties in in life and the observance of God’s law.

Veronica’s father was an honest farmer who never sold the smallest carrot without telling his customers all its defects. Apparently, such integrity did not bring prosperity to his farm, for lack of money kept Veronica from school. Her parents, like most people who live close to the earth, spoke of familiar things, of warm black soil, rain, wind, the sun, and God. These simple people taught Veronica the basic truths of faith, which she utilized as the source of her unaffected meditations and prayers.

Work on the farm was hard, but Veronica drew strength and health from the warm Italian sun and frugal, basic food. Weeding, reaping, or picking, she liked to work alone, for this was her best opportunity to pray–pray, not daydream.

When she was in her early teens Veronica wanted very much to enter the convent of Saint Martha in Milan, but she had never learned to read, and reading was a required skill. She began sitting up each night, trying to teach herself to read; but she was tired from  the day’s chores, the light was poor, and she just couldn’t learn. It was during one of these disappointing evenings that the Blessed Virgin appeared to her. “Only three things are important for you,” the Virgin said, “to have purity of intention, that is, to do all things for God and to love all persons for His sake; never  to murmur or grow impatient with others for their faults and failings, but to pray for them; and third, each day to  meditate  on Christ’s Passion.

After this vision, Veronica worried less about her reading; and after three years of study she received the habit of a religious at Saint Martha’s. Obedience and humility were the keynotes of her religious life; because the convent was extremely poor, Veronica went begging from door to door in Milan.

With neither pettiness nor resentment, Veronica had accepted the poverty and hard work of her home life. Free from sophistication, she found it easy to talk with God. Although her deep contemplation often resulted in heavenly visions, she remained, to her death, the simple, hard-working woman who found God in the dishpan, so to speak. It is just such simple folk that God often chooses for His work, and on several occasions, Veronica was entrusted with divine messages for the pope and others. She died on January 13,1497, at the age of fifty-two.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  25-26.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 14
Saint Hilary of Poitiers Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c. 315-368)

“Peace at a price” is not exclusively a modern axiom. The Roman emperor, Constantine, in 313 finally ended the persecutions that had driven Christians underground for several centuries; but his benevolence threatened to transform the young Church into a department of state. When the heretical Egyptian priest, Arius, began preaching that Christ was not equal to God the Father, Constantine assumed a papal role, interfered in Church discipline, and foolishly tried to reconcile truth and error. Arianism and its adherents throve under the emperor’s political patronage. Even the Church council of Nicaea could not stop them. Although both Arius and Constantine were dead by 337, the heresy gained momentum.

Throughout the century, Arianism was an enemy that sought to avoid causing bloodshed while it mentally and morally devastated the Church. Then, as now, such “cold wars” bewildered the public with conflicting facts and subtle political maneuvers. By 355, Arianism’s cold war against the Catholic Church had resulted in the apostasy of numerous bishops, in confusion and loss of faith among the laity–in heresy within heresy. Saint Athanasius, archbishop of Alexandria and a vociferous opponent of Arianism, had been twice exiled to the West by councils of Arian bishops. The Arian son of Constantine, Emperor Constantius II, had tricked, lured, and pressured his subjects into compliance.

Meanwhile, in France (then Gaul) a new leader emerged–one who struck a fire in the frigid atmosphere of doubt. Protesting the banishment of Archbishop Athanasius and the long series of other abuses, Hilary of Poitiers wrote to the bishops of Gaul: “Nowadays we have to do with a disguised persecutor, a smooth-tongued enemy, a Constantius who has put on Antichrist . . . who pretends to procure unity while destroying peace; puts down some heretics so that he may also crush the Christians; honors bishops, that they may cease to be bishops.. . .”  Addressing the emperor, he continued: “By a strange, ingenious plan, which no one has ever yet discovered, you have found a way to persecute without making martyrs.. . . You dispense the clergy from paying tribute and taxes to Caesar that you may bribe them to be renegades to Christ: foregoing your own rights that God may be deprived of His!”

Hilary had come a long way from paganism to a self-sacrificing devotion to Christ. Born about 315 in the Roman province of Gaul, he was a product of the best in cultured Roman society–a gentleman of patrician birth and excellent education. He had been tutored in all branches of pagan learning, and yet, in his search for truth he still kept wondering, “What is God?” A plurality of deities seemed absurd; Hilary was convinced that God must be one, eternal, unchangeable, the first cause of all things. Then he began to study the Bible, especially the New Testament, and he found there the answers to his questions. He renounced idolatry and soon afterwards was baptized. He began at once to write and preach and live for the truths of the faith–the Trinity, the Incarnation, the God-man Christ.

So apostolic, so Christ-centered was this young layman that in 353, when the bishop of Poitiers died, Hilary was chosen to fill the vacancy. He had been married before his conversion, and his wife and their daughter were still living. After he was chosen bishop, however, Hilary lived apart from them, and there is evidence that they, too, lived as ”religious” until their deaths.

Hilary was ordained and consecrated that same year, but within three years he was banished to Phrygia by the emperor for his defense of the exiled Athanasius, the chief foe of Arianism. What was temporarily a hardship, both for the people of Poitiers and for Saint Hilary, became a real blessing. While in exile in Asia Minor, he wrote two of his most famous works: The Trinity, a theological discussion of that sacred mystery, and Concerning Synods, an account of the plots and beliefs of Arians and semi-Arians. Here also he met Saint Basil, who was at that time studying the different forms of Eastern monastic life and preparing himself for Arian struggle in Cappadocia (now part of Turkey).

Because of his courage and his active interest in the Church in the East, the exiled Hilary became a threat to Arianism. Constantius ordered him to return to Poitiers. Because of his work with Saint Basil, Hilary became a leader in the Western monastic movement. Here he encouraged his student, Martin, to found a monastery, which was the first community of its kind in the West. Martin grew to be a leader in his own right. We know him as Saint Martin of Tours.

Thus, for all his seeming cleverness in exiling bishops to the remote parts of the empire, Constantius actually facilitated the interchange of ideas among the greatest men of the time–Saints Basil, Athanasius, Martin, and Hilary–all of them advocates of monasticism and most ardent opponents of Arianism.

Back in his own diocese, Hilary worked tirelessly against the scandals and breakdown of faith caused by Arianism. He organized a meeting of the bishops of Gaul, who excommunicated the heretical clergy and publicly affirmed the true creed of Nicaea. Then, in 364, Hilary went to Milan, Italy, where he held a public dispute with an Arian usurper of the see of Milan. In 368 he died in Poitiers. Because of his numerous penetrating works on theology and his deep holiness, Saint Hilary has been proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. He is invoked against snakes and is the helper and protector of backward children.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  27-30.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 15
Saint Paul the Hermit Confessor (c. 230-342)

The western desert of Egypt covers more than half of that country’s total area. During the day, the heat and glare of the sun make it a vast inferno; once the sun has gone down, it becomes a cold stretch of emptiness. There is nothing impressive about the desert–only a great stony plain relieved by sand hills and scant, colorless vegetation. Nevertheless, the desert has been, since ancient times, the arid refuge of escaped slaves and thugs. In the early Christian era, it became a sanctuary for hermits.

It would be a mistake to suppose that people ran off to the desert in droves, or that they went there for no good reason. A fugitive was much safer, and more comfortable, chained in some filthy prison than he was in a wilderness of sand. But if one thinks about it and overlooks such possible dangers as poisonous insects and a burning sun, the desert provides the complete “aloneness” necessary for contemplative life.

Paul, the first Christian hermit to inhabit the desert, was born of wealthy-parents, somewhere in the central part of Egypt about the year 230. When he was fifteen years old, his parents died; he was, it seems, the sole heir to their fortune. However, the far-reaching arm of a notorious Roman emperor prevented his using the money. In 250, Emperor Decius ordered the governors of all Roman provinces to slay every Christian who refused to renounce his religion. The persecution was to be methodical, cruel, and above all, thorough. All Christians were to be wiped out. During these dangerous times, Paul hid himself in the home of a friend. His security was short-lived; his jealous brother-in-law decided to betray him to the Roman authorities. Luckily, Paul learned of this before the evil design was carried out, and he secretly fled to the desert.

Once he had reached the desert, Paul roamed aimlessly about, looking for shelter. One day he came upon some deserted caverns that had been used by Egyptian money coiners centuries before, during the reign of Cleopatra. He chose one of the caves in this place for his dwelling. A palm tree, and a cool, clear spring that flowed nearby provided him with clothing, food, and water. With these few needs supplied, Paul was able to devote his life to prayer and meditation. In his biography of Paul, Saint Jerome refers to the hermit’s life in the desert in just one sentence: “There in this humble dwelling which he grew to love (just as if God himself had given it to him), he passed the rest of his life in prayer and solitude.”

The biography continues with a description of Paul’s meeting with another desert hermit, Saint Anthony. Anthony, who had imagined himself to be the first hermit to inhabit the desert, was directed in a vision to seek a man more worthy than himself, namely Paul. He traveled through the desert and with God’s help found Paul, who was then 113 years old. The two men recognized each other at once and began speaking of their lives in the desert. Paul was on the verge of death, and he asked Anthony to return to his own hermitage and bring back a cloak given Anthony by Bishop Athanasius. He told Anthony that he wished to be buried in the cloak. Anthony complied with the request, but when he returned, he found Paul already dead. Wrapping the saint’s body in the cloak he began wondering how he could bury it. Suddenly, two lions entered the cave and began scratching the earth with their paws. They made a deep hole and then returned into the desert. After Anthony laid Paul’s body in this grave, he returned to his hermitage. These events supposedly took place about the year 342.

The term ”hermit” often calls to mind the image of some hairy cave man or, even worse, a sort of weird magician. Such misconceptions probably arise from the grim portrayals of hermits in art and literature. A hermit, to quote the dictionary definition, is “’a person who retires from society and lives in solitude, especially from religious motives.. . .” Is there anything sinister in that? Saint John the Baptist and our Lord Himself foreshadowed hermitic life by fasting and praying in the desert.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  30-32.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 15
Saint Maur Abbot and Confessor (512-584)

Monasticism was not an innovation in Western Europe during the sixth century. It had been fairly well established more than a hundred years before by Saint Martin of Tours. But times had changed, and the early monastic system could not be adapted to the growing needs of the Western Church.

Nothing was essentially wrong with the system, but it did lack discipline and it could not prevent extremes among the monks–extremes both in laziness and asceticism. Then, in the early part of the sixth century, Saint Benedict of Nursia wrote his famous Benedictine Rule. The Rule stated a definite occupation for the monks during each hour of the day. It guarded against extreme asceticism just as it guarded against idleness; it allotted time for prayer and time for work. With this, monasticism began to set the pace for the rest of Europe. While Germanic tribes were devastating the continent with their invasions, the monks were living disciplined, ordered lives, secure in their own stable economic system.

Oddly enough, Roman noblemen were among the earliest supporters of Benedict’s new Rule. They saw a good thing in his uncompromising insistence upon living the law, so they began bringing their young sons to the monastery to be educated by him. In this way Saint Maur came under Benedict’s tutelage when he was twelve years old. Maur was undoubtedly a bright boy, for after he had completed his instruction and had become a religious, Benedict chose him as coadjutor in the government of the monastery at Subiaco (a city some thirty miles east of Rome). This appointment reveals something of Maur’s character: it required a man who was thoroughly competent, virtuous, intelligent, and able as an administrator; it required a man who was sensitive and kind in guiding souls; it required a man who exemplified what he taught.

Although there is no record of his later life, one biographer contends that Maur traveled to France, founded an abbey, and spent the rest of his life in solitude. The date of his death is assumed to be about 584.

Today, anyone who visits the monastery at Subiaco is told the story of Maur’s most famous miracle. One day, another of Benedict’s disciples, the young monk Saint Placidus, went down to the river near the monastery to fetch some water. As he leaned over to fill his pitcher, he lost his balance and was carried away by the raging current. Meanwhile, as Benedict was praying in his cell, God informed him of Placidus’ danger.  Benedict called to Maur and told him to save the boy. Maur hurried to the river, found Placidus struggling to save himself, and brought him back to land.  It was not until he reached the bank that Maur noticed his own clothes were dry: he had walked on the water and, in his determination to save Placidus, had not been aware of the miracle.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  33-34.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 16
Saint Marcellus Pope and Confessor (-309)

It was apparent from the beginning that Marcellus did not intend to temporize. After surveying the problems facing the Church, he planned a rugged program of reconstruction. Since Rome, then as now, was the seat of Catholicism, his program was initiated there. He divided the territorial administration of the Church into twenty-five districts, or parishes, placing a priest over each one, thus restoring an earlier division that the turmoils of the persecutions had disrupted. This arrangement permitted more efficient care in instructing the faithful, in preparing candidates for baptism and penitents for reconciliation. With these measures in force, Church government took on a definite form.

Marcellus’ biggest problem was dealing with the Christians who had apostatized during the persecution. Many of these people were determined to be reconciled to the Church without performing the necessary penances. The Christians who had remained faithful demanded that the customary penitential discipline be maintained and enforced. Marcellus approached this problem with uncompromising justice; the apostates were in the wrong. Regardless of the consequences, they should be made to do penance. It was not long before the discord between the faithful and the apostates led to violence within the Church, to Christian killing Christian in the streets of Rome. Holding Marcellus responsible for the trouble, Maxentius (Roman emperor in Italy and Africa) condemned him to exile.

A legendary account of Marcellus’ death, dating from the fifth century, relates that Maxentius, having judged the pope guilty of the trouble between the Christian factions, condemned him to work as a slave on the public highway. After nine months of this vile work, he was rescued by the clergy and taken to the home of the widow Lucina. This woman welcomed him with every sign of respect and offered him her home for a church. When the emperor learned that Christian rites were being celebrated there, he profaned the church by turning it into a stable and forced the Holy Father to care for the animals quartered there. In these degrading surroundings, Marcellus died on January 16, 309, his pontificate having lasted approximately seven months. He was buried in the catacombs of Priscilla, but later his remains were placed beneath the altar of the church in Rome that still bears his name.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  35-36.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 17
Saint Anthony of Egypt Abbot and Confessor (251-356)

One remarkable thing about sanctity is its power to alter a person’s life. Saints have often found themselves in incredible situations: they have left their parent’s farms to become warriors and king-makers, like Joan of Arc; they have persecuted Christians one minute, only to find themselves ardent disciples of Christ the next, like Paul of Tarsus; or they have inherited vast fortunes, only to give them away and become hermits, like Anthony of Egypt. The pathway to sanctity is open to everyone; it can be traveled in many ways-but never without cost.

Although Saint Anthony of Egypt was not the first of the desert hermits, he is the most famous. His life lasted 105 years, and in its course he not only attracted thousands of followers but also helped to defend the Christians of Alexandria from persecution and heresy.

Born in 251, at Coma in Upper Egypt, Anthony was the only son of his wealthy Christian parents. Because of the pagan influence in the city, he was educated at home. A short time before his twentieth birthday his parents died, and Anthony inherited their large estate, their money, and the responsibility of caring for his young sister. One day while he was in church, about six months after the death of his parents, he heard the words Christ spoke to the rich young man: “If thou wilt be perfect, go, sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Anthony took this command literally, and gave the greater part of his land to his neighbors. Then, selling the remainder of his estate and distributing the money among the poor, he placed his sister in the care of some holy women and moved to a deserted tomb near his village, to become a hermit. He resided there for fifteen years, praying, fasting, and studying spiritual life under the direction of religious men who lived nearby.

Anthony’s was not a sudden, clear-cut ascent to sanctity; his loyalty to God was frequently tested. Saint Athanasius, his biographer, reports that he was often severely tempted by devils, who, assuming the form of wild beasts, would beat him unmercifully, sometimes leaving him half dead. But Anthony learned to ignore the demons and, through prayer, always got the best of them.

When he was thirty-five, Anthony left his native surroundings to retire into absolute solitude. He crossed the Nile River and settled in an old deserted fort near the east bank, at a place called Mount Pispir. His seclusion was short-lived, however, for his reputed holiness attracted many potential disciples, who wished to be instructed in monastic life. These men settled around Pispir, east of the Nile, and near Arsinoe on the opposite side, in separate caves and crude huts, meeting from time to time for religious services. For five or six years, Anthony devoted himself to organizing and directing these monastic colonies, then he withdrew to Mount Colzim in the desert that lay between the Nile and the Red Sea. Here he spent the last forty-five years of his life in semi­-seclusion, frequently crossing the desert to Mount Pispir and often instructing the people who came to visit him. Although he preferred isolation, duty would have it otherwise, and twice he went to the city of Alexandria: once in 311, during the persecution of Maximinus, to encourage the Christians suffering martyrdom; and again about 355, to preach against the Arian heresy. He died about the year 356. Because Anthony requested that his body might never become an object of veneration, his grave was kept secret by the two disciples who buried him.

Anthony’s practice of living a semi-hermitic life is still observed in many parts of the East; in the West it is represented to some degree by the Carthusians. He is considered to be the father not only of monasticism but of all forms of religious life.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  37-39.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 18
Saint Ulfrid Bishop and Martyr (c. 1028)

From the eighth to the tenth century, Europe was terrorized by attacks from the Viking hordes. With uncanny determination and power, these people from far-off Scandinavia plundered their way through the British Isles and even drove eastward across the continent to Russia; nothing seemed strong enough to stop them. But as they came under the influence of Christianity and began making permanent settlements in Catholic countries, their raids grew less frequent and gradually ceased.

Christianity was slow in penetrating the Scandinavian countries, where it was introduced about the tenth century. The people were deeply rooted in paganism and superstition; they were not anxious to drop their old religion and embrace one with a strict moral code. Three things helped to overcome this apathy: the prestige of the faith in other northern countries, royal favor toward Christianity, and the courage and holiness of missionaries.

Saint Ulfrid (or Wolfred), whose feast is celebrated on January 18, was a bishop and martyr who helped to establish Christianity in Sweden. Unfortunately, very little is known about his life. He was an Anglo-Saxon, reputedly well-educated, and dedicated to the task of converting the pagans. He began his missionary work in Germany and sometime later traveled to Sweden. The ruler of that country, King Olaf II, had been baptized in 1008, and many of his subjects had followed him into the Church. The pagans who remained took refuge in the inaccessible mountain regions. It was probably to those secluded places that Ulfrid went to preach. One day, about the year 1028, while he was explaining Christian belief, he noticed an image of the pagan god Thor (god of thunder and strength). He reached for an ax and completely destroyed the idol. Angered by this desecration of their god, a group of pagans attacked the bishop and killed him.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  39-40.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 19
Saint Canute King and Martyr (1086)

His life was gentle, and the elements

So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world, ”This was a man!”

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

These words spoken of Brutus would have made a fitting epitaph for Saint Canute. His early life was indeed far from gentle, but as he matured, he displayed true sanctity and a heroic love of God and country.

Born into the royal family of Denmark, he was one of thirteen natural sons of King Sweyn III and grandnephew of Canute the Great, king of England. He was reared as a potential heir to the throne (the king of Denmark was elected until 1660). Since his relatives were renowned warriors, he acquired their love of combat. He won popular favor by purging the seas of dangerous pirate ships and subduing the neighboring peoples that occasionally invaded the Danish countryside, but these accomplishments kept him from succeeding to the throne at the death of his father. Fearing the effects of Canute’s martial spirit, the people instead elected his brother Harold. Canute became king of Denmark two years later, when Harold died.

Canute’s reign was active. He rid Denmark of dangerous aggressors, enacted strict laws to ensure justice for his people and to repress the tyrannical nobility, and planted Christianity in the conquered provinces of Kurland, Lithuania, and Livonia. When peace was finally assured, he married Ethela, daughter of Robert, count of Flanders, by whom he had a son, Charles. This son also lived a holy life and is venerated as Blessed Charles the Good.

King Canute faced the problem of making Denmark a thoroughly Catholic country. Out of respect for their office, he granted the clergy many favors and immunities. He encouraged piety among the people and, with some difficulty, convinced them of their obligation to support the Church by paying tithes. He made provisions for the erection and adornment of churches and humbly offered his magnificent crown to the cathedral of Roskilde in Zealand, then the capital of Denmark and still the burying place of Danish royalty.

In 1085, violence again disturbed the peace of Denmark. Canute had ordered the people to accept the practice of paying Church tithes as a permanent law, or to pay a heavy fine. Unfortunately, the officers charged with the enforcement of this decree resorted to cruel and extreme measures. This resulted in open rebellion, and the king was compelled to flee to the island of Funen. Betrayed to the revolutionists by a malcontent officer, he was murdered on July 10, 1086, as he knelt praying in the Church of Saint Alban. Since his murder was prompted by opposition to his laws on Church tithes, Canute was venerated as a martyr and was canonized by Pope Clement X in 1101.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  41-42.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 20
Saint Sebastian Martyr (-287)

Sebastian the Martyr was buried in Rome along the Appian Way, where the basilica bearing his name now stands. He is said to have been born in the city of Milan, and there is evidence that he was honored there as early as the fourth century. Though historical evidence is scanty, there has been an intense devotion to him in Italy for fifteen hundred years, and his martyrdom is one of the subjects frequently encountered in Italian art.

According to accounts written several centuries after his death, he was a young nobleman who commanded a company of the Praetorian Guards, the special bodyguard of Roman emperors. Reared as a Christian in the city of Milan, he continued to practice his religion in pagan Rome. His Christianity was discovered when, during the persecution, he encouraged two of his fellow officers to die rather than renounce their religion. Informed of this, Emperor Diocletian commanded Sebastian to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods, but he refused. He was then bound to a stake and shot by archers. Finding him half dead, a widow, Saint Irene, nursed him back to health. Sebastian was now determined to declare his faith openly. He went to the emperor’s palace and stood in a place where Diocletian was accustomed to pass. When he saw the emperor, he fearlessly rebuked him for persecuting the Christians. Startled by Sebastian’s appearance, the emperor ordered him to be seized and beaten to death with clubs, and his body thrown into the sewers. This order was carried out, but Sebastian’s body was removed by some Christians and buried in the catacombs at the third milestone of the Appian Way, where the bodies of Saints Peter and Paul had once been buried. The traditional date of his martyrdom is 287.

Arrows were, in ancient times, the symbol of plague and pestilence. Since Sebastian was pierced with many arrows but survived, he is universally invoked against those diseases. In the Church of Saint Peter in Chains in Rome, beside a mosaic of Sebastian, there is an ancient marble tablet that attests to the power of this saint’s intercession. It reads: “To Saint Sebastian, martyr, dispeller of the pestilence. In the year of salvation 680, a pernicious and severe pestilence invaded the city of Rome. . . . The disease spread for some time, until it was announced to a holy man that there be an end to the calamity, if, in the Church of Saint Peter in Chains, an altar should be consecrated to Sebastian martyr; which thing being done immediately, the pestilence as if driven back by a hand, was made to cease.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  43-44.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 21
Saint Agnes Virgin and Martyr (-c. 304)

Early records are scanty, but Saint Ambrose tells the story of this saint in a sermon he preached on her feast day, about the year 375. When the persecution in Rome was at its height, about the year 304, a beautiful twelve-year-old girl named Agnes vowed her virginity to Christ. Angered by her rejection of him, a jealous suitor, the son of a prefect, accused Agnes of being a Christian and brought her before his father’s court. The prefect demanded that she sacrifice to the gods and tempted her with promises of wealth and position; but Agnes refused to listen to him, saying that Christ was her life and that He alone would be her spouse. Hoping to frighten her into compliance, the prefect threatened her with torture, but to no avail. Then, knowing that she treasured her purity, he sent her to a house of prostitution, but the first man who dared approach her was struck blind. It was only through Agnes’ prayers that his sight was restored. She was condemned to death and, after saying a short prayer, she bowed her head to receive the death stroke. She was buried near the Gate of Numa, just outside the city. In 324, some twenty years after her death, one of the first basilicas was erected on the site of her tomb.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  45.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 22
Blessed William Patenson Martyr (-1592)

Persecution had terrorized England for more than fifty years when William Patenson was ordained at Rheims, France, in 1587. As a young boy in Durham (a northeastern county of England), he had seen the Church despised and ridiculed, its members stripped of their property and positions and marked as traitors. When William decided to become a priest, he had gone to study in Catholic France. In 1588, Queen Elizabeth’s anti-Catholic policy reached its peak of intensity; a short time later, William Patenson came home to England as a missionary.

For a time, William ministered in the western counties, far from the reach of Elizabeth’s London henchmen. And if he had stayed close to the Catholic underground and kept away from the larger Protestant cities, his priesthood might never have been discovered . But instead he went to London, a very hotbed of persecution, and there, just before Christmas in 1591, he was arrested. William was convicted at Old Bailey, the chief criminal court of England.

On the night before he died he was placed in the condemned cell with seven convicted criminals. By morning he had brought six of the men to repentance, and they died professing the Catholic faith. Because of his part in their conversion, William’s own execution was carried out with deliberate cruelty on January 22, 1592 at Tyburn.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  46.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 23
Saint Ildefonso Bishop and Confessor (607-667)

Sanctity, it seems, was Ildefonso’s heritage. A nephew of Saint Eugene, archbishop of Toledo, Spain, he was born in that city in 607, and was educated by Saint Isidore of Seville. He entered the Benedictine monastery of Agli (near Toledo) at a very early age and eventually became abbot. When his parents died, Ildefonso used his entire inheritance to found and endow a monastery of nuns. His holiness, plus his participation in the Church councils held in Toledo in the years 653 and 655, influenced his election to the throne of archbishop in 657. He governed the Church at Toledo for a little more than nine years, until his death in 667.

Ildefonso neglected nothing to preserve in his diocese both the integrity of the faith and fidelity to Catholic life. To his apostolic labors he added literary activities, and his most famous work is a beautiful treatise on the perpetual virginity of Mary. His great devotion to the Blessed Mother won him the title, “Our Lady’s Chaplain.” According to Bishop Cixila, who wrote a century later, Mary, in gratitude for this treatise, appeared to Ildefonso and presented him with a chasuble, the priestly vestment that symbolizes Christian charity.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  47.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 23
Saint Raymond of Penafort Confessor (1175-1275)

Like his contemporary, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Raymond was of noble descent; his was the illustrious family of Penafort, related to the kings of Aragon. He was born at Villafranca, near Barcelona, Spain, in 1175. As a boy he was a bright and able student; at twenty he was already a professor of philosophy. He taught in Barcelona for fifteen years, then went to Bologna, Italy, to study for his doctorate in civil and canon law. He received the degree in 12166, and three years later returned to Spain.

On Good Friday of the year 1222, Raymond entered the Dominican Order in Barcelona. As a novice he exhibited the same humility and spirit of mortification that in later life won him the respect and love of his king and the pope. It was during his novitiate that he prepared a collection of “cases of conscience” for the guidance of confessors and moralists. This work, entitled The Summa of Penitential Cases, was the first guide of this kind to be compiled.

Aside from his scholarly pursuits, Raymond preached with untiring zeal to the Jews and Moors (Arab invaders of Spain). He also acted as spiritual director for King James of Aragon and Saint Peter Nolasco, whom he aided in founding the Order of Our Lady of Mercy (Mercedarians) for the ransom of captives from the Moors.

King James valued Raymond so highly that on several occasions he sent him on missions to the Holy See. At one time, however, he stoutly resisted Raymond’s admonitions regarding chastity, and a miracle was required before the monarch consented to reform his life. This miracle took place during a visit to Majorca on which Raymond had accompanied the king in the hope of strengthening Christianity there. They had been on the island only a short time when Raymond discovered that the king was involved in a sinful love affair with a woman of the court. The king refused to listen to Raymond’s protests, and when Raymond threatened to leave the island, the king threatened with death anyone who would give him passage.

Thereupon, or so it is said, Raymond spread his cloak on the water, set up his staff as a mast, and, having rigged up a corner of the cloak as a sail, boarded this miraculous ”boat,” setting his course for Barcelona. He arrived there the same day, having covered 140 miles in about six hours. A great crowd assembled at the waterfront witnessed the end of this marvelous voyage, which inspired numerous conversions.

Raymond’s work in Spain was interrupted in 1230, when he was summoned to Rome by Pope Gregory IX, appointed to the papal court, and made papal confessor. He was then charged with the task of rearranging and codifying the canon laws of the Church. His success in this vast editorial job is astonishing, since he had to rewrite and condense decrees that had been accumulating for centuries. Completed in 1234 the work remained the most authoritative compilation within the body of canon law until 1917, when a new code was published. Gregory sought to reward Raymond appointing him archbishop of Tarragona, but the saint declined the honor and returned to Spain.

In 1238 Raymond was elected general of the Dominican Order. This honor, too, was unsought and undesired, but he humbly obeyed the decision of his brothers, ruled them for two years, then resigned because of ill health. Although he was now an elderly man, Raymond had no intention of retiring. He was still vitally concerned with converting the Jews and the Moors, and so he contributed the alms he received from bishops and princes to schools where missionaries could be taught the Hebrew and Arabic languages. He also asked Saint Thomas Aquinas to write a book exposing the errors of the Mohammedan rationalists. Thomas complied by composing the Summa contra gentiles, one of his most famous works.

Raymond died on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, in 1275, the hundredth year of his life. He was canonized in 1601 by Pope Clement VIII.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  48-50.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 24
Saint Timothy Bishop and Martyr (New Testament)

Through God’s grace, the vibrant personality of Saint Paul placed Timothy on the road to sanctity. Timothy was a native of Lystra, in Asia Minor. His father was a gentile, his mother a Jewess. The religious training he received from the Old Testament was thorough enough to give the boy some understanding of his Creator. Although the exact date of his conversion is unknown, it is related in the Acts of the Apostles that when Saint Paul visited Lystra in 49 A. D. Timothy was already well thought of by the Christians of that city.

Paul himself was so attracted by Timothy’s goodness that he made him his disciple and traveling companion. They journeyed to Macedonia together, and when Paul left for Athens, Timothy stayed behind to preach, but rejoined him later. Timothy was probably with Paul during the Apostle’s first imprisonment in Rome. He did go with him afterwards to Ephesus, for Paul consecrated him the first bishop of that city. Two of the Epistles were written to Timothy for his direction and encouragement. An ancient tradition relates that in the year 97 Timothy was stoned to death by a group of pagans for preaching against the goddess Diana.

Saint Paul’s two epistles to Timothy give a clear picture of the disciple’s sanctity: “… thou (Timothy) hast closely followed my doctrine, my conduct, my purpose, my faith, my long-suffering, my love, my patience, my persecutions, my afflictions . ..” (2 Tim. 3:10-11). Paul and Timothy, then, were not only brothers in the mystical body of Christ, they were intimate friends. It was to Timothy that Paul wrote while he was in prison awaiting martyrdom : “. . . I long to see thee, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Tim. 1:4). Theirs was a true friendship, based on the love of each man for that Christlikeness he saw flowering in the other.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  50-51.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 25
Saint Ananias Disciple (New Testament)

Saint Ananias should be familiar to readers of the New Testament; he is mentioned in several passages of the Acts of the Apostles. He was a disciple, perhaps one of the seventy­two disciples of Christ, and he lived in Damascus. One day, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and asked him to go to a certain house in the city where he would find Paul of Tarsus (then called Saul). Ananias was astonished. Didn’t Christ remember that Saul had once boasted that every Christian he found in Damascus would be arrested and carried to Jerusalem in chains? Seeing his confusion, Christ told Ananias that He had chosen Saul as his apostle and that He wished Ananias to baptize him and restore his sight. Although Ananias had feared the notorious Saul, he was reassured; and as soon as the vision disappeared, he searched for the house that the Lord had named. When he found Paul, Ananias explained his mission, restored Paul’s eyesight, and then baptized him.

This is all that Scripture tells about Saint Ananias, and although there is extant no account of his later life, it is believed that he became bishop of Damascus and died a martyr about the year 40.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  52.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 26
Saint Polycarp Bishop and Martyr (-156)

Early Christians celebrated the anniversary of a martyr’s death by reading an account of his sufferings. These stories were sometimes copies of official records, sometimes reports of eyewitnesses. Many were merely devotional works that contained little fact and tended to sentimentalize the character of the saint. There is no sentimentality in the account of Saint Polycarp’s martyrdom, which has fortunately been preserved. It was composed by a man named Marcion for the Church of Smyrna, as a monument to the beloved bishop from his grateful flock. This account is one of the most authentic on record. The character of Polycarp remains intact: he emerges as man, priest, and saint.

Polycarp was born during the latter half of the first century, probably between the years 70 and 80. As a young man he was converted to Christianity and became a disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. Later, John consecrated him bishop of Smyrna, a city on the west coast of Asia Minor. About the year 107, when Saint Ignatius of Antioch traveled through Smyrna on his way to Rome, Polycarp met this bishop, and a warm friendship developed.

About the year 155, Polycarp journeyed to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus. Upon his return to Smyrna, Polycarp found the city in the throes of persecution. Hoping to save their bishop, the Christians persuaded him to flee to the country, and Polycarp humbly obeyed . However, his hiding place was betrayed by a young slave, and Polycarp was arrested and brought before the pagan authorities.

When the proconsul demanded that Polycarp deny Christ, the bishop quietly answered: “I have been serving Him eighty-six years and He has never harmed me. How then dare I blaspheme my King who has saved me? ” This simple declaration of faith caused his death. Deciding to burn him at the stake, the angered pagans rushed out to gather wood for a fire. His hands tied behind him, the old bishop calmly mounted the pyre and, uttering a prayer, watched the flames swirl higher and higher about him. But miraculously Polycarp remained unharmed, and an attendant was summoned to kill him with a dagger. This accomplished, his body was burned to prevent veneration. According to eyewitnesses, Polycarp’s martyrdom occurred on February 22, 156.

Only two of Polycarp’s epistles have been preserved. Both are addressed to the Philippians. They are authentic works, but the dates of their composition have never been determined. The first epistle was occasioned by the Philippians’ request that Polycarp forward a letter to Saint Ignatius, who had recently left Smyrna. The second epistle praises the people of Philippi for their faith and love in honoring the martyrs. It contains comments on the proper conduct for Christian wives, deacons, young men and women. Two ideas dominant in the work are characteristic of the gentle bishop who wrote them: one must shun avarice as the root of all evil and, above all, remain pure in faith.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  53-54.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 27
Saint John Chrysostom Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 344-407)

It was Saint John’s eloquence that earned for him the surname Chrysostom (“golden-mouthed”). This fourth­ century Doctor of the Church was born about 344 in the city of Antioch, where he was reared by his mother and educated by Libanus, the most renowned orator of the period. Baptized about 370 by Bishop Meletius, John went to a monastery and later became a hermit, living in the desert for two years until ill health forced him to return to the city. In 386 he was ordained a priest. This year marks the beginning of his importance in Church history.

During the next twelve years John matured as an orator and a writer. He became prominent throughout the East during this time. In 387 he delivered a series of sermons that settled a conflict between the emperor and the citizens of Antioch that arose over the levying of new taxes. Most of his sermons, however, were explanations of Holy Scripture or exhortations to virtue. To this period (386-397) belong most of his theological and ascetical works and his famous book, On the Priesthood, contributions which alone would warrant his high place among the first Doctors of the Church. To this day, many Catholics of the East celebrate Mass “according to the liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.”

When the bishop of Constantinople died in 397, the course of John’s life was suddenly changed. To settle rivalry over succession to the vacant see, Emperor Arcadius selected John as bishop. But the news was not made public until John could be safely escorted to Constantinople, for fear of protests from the citizens of Antioch. He was consecrated bishop of the imperial city on February 26, 398.

After his appointment, all Constantinople felt the force of his zeal. He immediately enforced discipline among the clergy; then, turning his attention to the faithful, he preached against extravagance, lust, and avarice. He erected hospitals and homes for the sick and poor, regulated Church affairs at Ephesus, and revised the Byzantine liturgy.

At first he was in great favor at court, but his uncompromising reforms laid the groundwork for his final banishment. A sermon concerning the vanity of women was taken as a personal affront by Empress Eudoxia, who with the aid of John’s enemies influenced her weak husband to send the bishop into exile. Threats of the angered citizens, however, plus some now unknown accident in the palace, prevented the carrying out of this sentence. A few months later, in 404, a more serious incident occurred. A new statue of the empress was erected near the cathedral, and the celebrations that accompanied this event were so extreme that John complained about them, again provoking the empress. This time his exile could not be prevented; he was banished to Cucusus, a city on the eastern frontier of Cilicia. Then in 407, in defiance of Pope Innocent I, who strongly supported John, an order was given to send the saint to a more remote place between the Black and Caspian seas. Exhausted by the journey and the maltreatment he suffered, John died on September 14, 407, near Comana in Cappadocia.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  55-56.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 28
Saint Peter Nolasco Confessor (c 1180-1256)

In the early thirteenth century the Moors still held much of Spain, and in sudden raids from the sea they carried off thousands of Christians, holding them as slaves in Granada and in their Kasbahs (citadels) along the African coast.

One hero of these unfortunates was Saint Peter Nolasco, born about the year 1180, probably in the chief city of Catalonia, Barcelona. It was there, perhaps, that he first became aware of the plight of the Christian captives. He was obsessed with the thought of their suffering, and when he received a small inheritance, proceeded to spend it freely in ransoming the Christian slaves.

Because of these ventures, Peter soon became penniless. He was on the point of despair when he had a vision of the Virgin and heard these words: “Find me men like yourself, an army of brave, generous, unselfish men, and send them into these lands where the children of the faith are suffering.” Peter went at once to Saint Raymond of Penafort, who used his influence with James I of Aragon and with Berengarius, archbishop of Barcelona, to get approbation and support for the new community. On August 10, 1218, Peter and two companions were received as the first members of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, dedicated to the ransoming of Christian captives.

The order spread rapidly. Peter and his comrades traveled throughout Christian Spain, recruiting new members and collecting funds for the ransom of captives. Then they began negotiations with the slave-owners. They penetrated Andalusia, crossed the sea to Tunis and Morocco, and brought home cargo after cargo of Christians. Although Peter, as general of the order, was occupied with organization and administration, he made two trips to Africa where, besides liberating captives, he converted many Moors. He died, after a long illness, in 1256, and was canonized by Pope Urban VIII in 1628. His order continues to flourish, though it is now devoted to preaching and hospital work.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  57-58.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 29
Saint Francis de Sales Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (1566-1622)

The world was bound to hear of Francis de Sales. Had he never become bishop of Geneva, he would have held one of those high political offices which influence and position easily secure. The eldest son of a well-known marquis, Francis was born on August 21,1566, in the Chateau de Thorens, in Swiss Savoy. At eleven he had already decided to become a priest, but his ambitious father decided otherwise: his son would have a brilliant career as a senator. With this end in mind, Francis went to the University of Paris to study law. There he excelled in philosophy and rhetoric, humoring his father by taking dancing, fencing, and riding, yet never losing his at traction to the religious life. Six years later he transferred to the University of Padua where, at the age of twenty-four, he received the degree of doctor of law.

The long-delayed showdown between father and son took place in 1592. Returning home from Padua, Francis found both a prospective bride and a seat in the senate awaiting him. He rebelled, but his father was equally obstinate. Then a providential event settled the problem. The provost (head) of the cathedral chapter of Geneva, Switzerland, died, and Francis was offered the vacant post. It was one of the highest posts in the diocese, and his father at last gave in and permitted Francis to enter ecclesiastical life. In December 1593, Francis was ordained a priest.

Since the city of Geneva and large sections of Switzerland were controlled by Protestants, the bishopric of Geneva had been moved to Annecy, France. In 1594, the bishop of Geneva, Claude de Granier, pleaded for missionaries for his crumbling diocese, and Francis was among the first to volunteer. For four years he and his companions risked their lives preaching in the staunchly Protestant Chamblais, an area south of Lake Leman. But through hard work, kindness, and a knack of persuasion, they won back to the Church most of the people of the province. The bishop then chose Francis as his coadjutor and successor and sent him to Rome, where Pope Clement VIII ratified the appointment.

When Claude de Granier died in 1602, Francis was consecrated bishop. His first step was to institute the practice of teaching catechism to the faithful; then, to make sure that the clergy had instruction in the doctrines of the Church, he established conferences and annual synods. He ruled his diocese without pomp or sham, allowing himself enough spare time to visit his parishes, preach, hear confessions, and keep up a huge correspondence.

Francis frequently wrote to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, with whom he founded a religious institute for women, the Order of the Visitation. Designed for women who were not healthy enough or not inclined toward the rigors of already established communities, the order was maliciously criticized until Francis made it clear that although not outwardly austere, the new community would foster mortification of the will and heart-“the best virtues, not the most esteemed.” Founded on June 6, 1610, the order was officially approved under the Rule of Saint Augustine on October 16, 1618.

Francis’ name will forever be remembered for two out­standing spiritual writings: Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) and Treatise on the Love of God (1616). The informal style of these books represents a revolution in spiritual writing. Instead of discussing religion in metaphysical terms, he speaks of it in everyday language, making it fresh and appealing and applicable to everyone. There is no trace of the stilted diction then so popular with French writers; Francis’ words are simple and completely unpretentious. He speaks to people living in the world and makes it clearly understood that they too are called to be saints. It is easy to see, then, why Pope Pius IX in 1877 proclaimed him a Doctor of the Church, and why later, in 1923, he was named the patron saint of writers and journalists.

Saint Francis died on December 28, 1622, at Lyons, France, after attending a state function in Avignon. Canonized in 1665, he remains one of the best loved and timeliest of saints, for through his books he still speaks directly to ·the hearts of men everywhere.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  58-60.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 30
Saint Bathildis Queen and Holy Woman (-680)

The literature of every country has its Cinderella story­ a fairy tale about a poor girl who marries a handsome prince and lives happily ever after. Among the saints, Bathildis was a Cinderella, but one whose story is truth, not fiction.

She was born in England early in the seventh century. So lowly was her position that, while still a child, she was taken to France and sold as a servant girl or slave. Her master was Erkenwald, who managed the household affairs in the palace of King Clovis II. Here the young girl was given the most menial tasks, but she did each one with a thoroughness and joy that inspired everyone. After years of efficient service, Bathildis was finally given charge of the whole household.

Once she was in that position, the stage was set. The combination of her virtue and beauty caught the king’s eye, and in 649 she and King Clovis were married. In the six years of their marriage they had three sons, all of whom were successively to wear the crown of France. When Clovis died in 655, the eldest son was only five; so Bathildis became regent. As a ruler she had new duties. The needs of her day demanded the establishment of hospitals and homes for the poor; the foundation and restoration of monasteries; the suppression of simony (buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices). To these tasks she offered the same zeal she had shown for the duties of servant, wife, and mother.

When her first son became old enough to reign, the regency was ended, and Bathildis was now free to satisfy an old desire. She entered a convent. There her life was chiefly spent in prayer and care for the sick. But this dedicated nurse was herself the victim of a grave malady that caused her death on January 30, 680.

Looking back over so many centuries, we find it difficult to know all that we would like to about the character of this saint. But a few of her qualities are unmistakable. No matter what task she had to perform–and she had a variety of them that few others encounter–she seems to have looked upon it as the job God wanted her to do. To every task she devoted her full energy for the love of God.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  61-62.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

January 31
Saint John Bosco Confessor (1815-1888)

John Bosco accomplished what many people considered Impossible: he wandered through the streets of Turin, Italy, picked out the dirtiest, toughest urchins he could find, and made good men of them. His extraordinary success can be summed up in the words of his patron saint, Francis de Sales: “the measure of his love was that he loved without measure.”

John’s knowledge of poverty was firsthand. He was born in 1815, in the village of Becchi in the Piedmont district of northern Italy, and reared on his parents’ small farm. When his father died, the Boscos found it harder than ever to support themselves, and while John was still a small boy he had to join his brothers in working the farm. Although his life was hard, he was a happy, imaginative child. To amuse his friends, he learned how to juggle and walk a tightrope; but he entertained only on the condition that each performance begin and end with a prayer. Even as a boy, John found fun compatible with religion.

As he grew older, John began to think of becoming a priest, but poverty and lack of education made this seem impossible. A kindly priest recognized his intelligence and gave him his first bit of encouragement, teaching him to read and write. By taking odd jobs in the village, and through the help of his mother and some charitable neighbors, John managed to get himself through school and into the diocesan seminary of nearby Turin.

As a seminarian he devoted his spare time to looking after the ragamuffins that roamed the slums of the city. Every Sunday he taught them catechism, supervised their games, and entertained them with stories and tricks; before long John’s kindness had won their confidence, and his “Sunday School” became a ritual with them. After his ordination in 1841, he became assistant to the chaplain of a girls’ orphanage at Valdocco, on the outskirts of Turin. This position was short-lived however, for he insisted that his boys be allowed to play on the orphanage grounds; when they were turned away, he resigned.

John began looking for a permanent home for his boys, but no “decent” neighborhood would accept the noisy crowd. At last, in a rather tumbledown section of the city, where no one was likely to protest, the first oratory was established and named after Saint Francis de Sales. At first the boys attended school outside of the oratory, but as more teachers volunteered their time classes were held at the house. Enrollment grew so rapidly that by 1849 there were three oratories scattered throughout the city.

For a long time, John had considered founding an order to carry on his work, and oddly enough this idea was supported by a notorious anticlerical cabinet minister named Rattazzi. Rattazzi had seen the results of John’s work, and, although an Italian law forbade the founding of religious communities, he promised government support. John went to Rome in1858 and, at the suggestion of Pope Pius IX, drew up a rule for his community, the Society of Saint Francis de Sales (Salesians). Four years later he founded an order for women, the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, to care for abandoned girls. Finally, to supplement the work of both congregations, he organized an association of lay people interested in aiding Salesian work.

Exhausted from touring Europe to raise funds for a new church in Rome, John Bosco died on January 31, I888. He was canonized in I9 34 by Pope Pius XI.

The work of John Bosco continues today in over 1,000 Salesian oratories throughout the world. No other modem saint has so quickly captured the heart of the world as this smiling peasant-priest from Turin, who believed that to give complete trust and love is the most effective way to nourish virtue in others.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  62-64.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.