March 1
Saint David Bishop and Confessor (-c 589)

During the so-called Dark Ages, when the barbarian tribes were destroying Roman civilization and putting nothing in its place, the only ray of hope amidst the general gloom was the work of the Christian monks. These men, through their missionary and educational activities, gradually transformed the barbarian tribes into ordered communities and thus maintained civilization in Europe. A great number of these monks came from the British Isles and among them was Saint David, the patron of Wales.

The bishop of a Welsh diocese in the time of King Arthur, Saint David founded monasteries and built churches throughout the country and also was active in fighting heresy, an ever-present danger to the Church in those times. Such work, however, did not prevent him from spending most of his time as head of a monastery at Menevia, a wild and lonely place on the southwest coast of Wales, overlooking the Irish Sea. Living on little more than prayer and hard labor, the saint and his monks gave a difficult but inspiring example to the rest of the country and influenced many individuals to adopt the monastic way of life.

Legends outnumber the facts for the life of Saint David-­he is said actually to have moved the hills by his eloquence, to have had angels as guides on his travels, and on the occasion of a trip to Ireland to have employed a sea monster for transportation–and if such accounts are not strictly reliable, they indicate at least that a man of impressive character must have inspired them. Saint David is much loved in the British Isles and the Welsh people still make pilgrimages to his tomb at Menevia (now called St. David’s), where the saint died about the year 589.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  126-127.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 2
Blessed Charles the Good Martyr (1081-1127)

The idea of a man in government office–say a United States senator or president–also being a saint might strike one as improbable today, although there is no reason why it should. Senators and presidents have the potentiality for sanctity and just as much chance for success as anyone else. However, true holiness and successful statesmanship no longer seem to be combined, much to the discredit of our times. In the Middle Ages those qualities were notably fused in Blessed Charles, son of Saint Canute, king of Denmark.

Charles might be called a politician, since, as count of Flanders from 1119 to 1127, he was the ruler of that province and had to deal with all the political problems that accompanied such a position. Armed conflict was the first involvement he faced: after joining a Crusade to the Holy Land in his youth, he had to return home to help his uncle repel an English invasion of Flanders. Succeeding his uncle Robert, he became count of Flanders. Almost at once he had to put down a rebellion by some of his own noble men, who attempted to usurp his authority. When he had restored peace to the land, Charles tried to improve the condition of the poor and oppressed by passing just laws and vigilantly enforcing them. When a terrible famine struck Flanders, the count urged the rich to share their food with the poor, and distributed bread to the people from his own stores. He commanded grain hoarders to sell their supplies at reasonable rates, instead of the exorbitant prices the speculators had hoped to charge. When he was offered the crown of the Holy Roman Empire and, later, that of the kingdom of Jerusalem, Charles declined each time, asserting that his only ambition was to continue seeking the best interests of Flanders.

This single-minded devotion to his own people and their needs was characteristic of Charles’ rule and also the eventual cause of his death. The profiteers whose schemes he had spoiled during the famine, along with other men who had been punished by him for their crimes, decided that the country would fare better without such a virtuous ruler and plotted to kill him. The place chosen for the assassination was the church where Charles went every morning to Mass. There, on March 2, 1127, as the count was praying before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, his enemies fell upon him with their swords. He had been warned that an attempt would be made on his life, but had refused to take any precautions, saying, “If it is the will of God, can we die in a better cause than that of justice and truth?”

All that Charles did for his people sprang from his simple desire to comply with the will of God in the circumstances of life in which he had been placed; this, after all, is the secret of all sanctity. How well he succeeded can be seen from the fact that his title of “the Good” was given him by his own subjects. How many modern leaders of nations will be remembered simply because they were “good?”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  127-128.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 3
Saint Cunegunde Empress and Holy Woman (c 978-1039)

Marriage for Saint Cunegunde, was evidently not a state to be taken lightly. Cunegunde loved her husband, the German emperor, Henry II, very deeply. When she learned that her husband was on the point of believing some slanderers who were accusing her of unfaithfulness to him, she decided to take drastic action to protect and defend a good marriage against idle tongues. In order to clear her name, Cunegunde asked to undergo the ordeal by fire, a method sometimes used in the Middle Ages to determine whether or not a person was guilty of a crime with which he had been charged. For Cunegunde’s ordeal, iron plowshares were heated red-hot and laid on the ground to be walked on by the saint in her bare feet. When she survived this terrible procedure unharmed, the story concludes, no one, including Henry, had further doubt of her fidelity.

The story may be legendary but there is no doubt that Cunegunde was a devoted wife and that she had the generous concern for the bodily and spiritual needs of others that is characteristic of a saint. With her husband’s help (Henry also has been canonized), she built churches and convents and provided food and clothing for the poor.

After Henry died in 1024, Cunegunde followed a practice common to the time and entered a convent, where she carried out the simplest and most common tasks until her own death in 1039. Her relics are preserved in the cathedral of Bamberg in Bavaria, the original structure of which was built by herself and her husband.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  129-130.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 4
Saint Casimir Confessor (1458-1484)

Saint Casimir son of Casimir IV, king of Poland, was a prince, but not of the kind whose names are remembered in history books, like Henry the Navigator of Portugal or Edward, the Black Prince of England. This prince lived only twenty-six years and to all outward appearances accomplished nothing very remarkable during that time.

When Casimir was fifteen, his father placed him in nominal command of an army and sent him to Hungary, where dissension among the Hungarian noblemen led the elder Casimir to believe he could force a Polish ruler on that country. The scheme failed, however, when the Hungarians indicated that they wanted no outside assistance and could solve their own problems. Young Casimir had disliked the maneuver and, after it was executed, greatly angered his father by doing penance for what the prince considered to be an unjust action. Casimir had no further part in his country’s affairs until he was twenty-one, when he began a four-year rule of Poland while his father was absent on affairs of state in Lithuania. Again, nothing noteworthy occurred, but that the prince’s generous care for the poor of the kingdom endeared him to the people. In 1484, when Casimir himself went to Lithuania on a state visit, a “lung condition” (possibly tuberculosis) that had been troubling him grew worse and was finally the cause of his death on March 4 of that year.

So much for what Casimir did in his role as a prince; it would seem very insignificant and certainly not enough to merit a place in history. Yet we do remember him–but for what he was, not for what he did as a public figure. His memorable actions are those that in his lifetime were hidden from view. Under his royal robes, the prince wore that most uncomfortable of garments, a hair shirt. In the midst of the busy court life Casimir meditated on the Passion of Christ, and, unknown to anyone except a servant sworn to secrecy, he spent entire nights kneeling in prayer on the steps of churches. Casimir also maintained a vow of chastity throughout his life. Hard observances, certainly, but ones that seemed preferable to the prince, who realized that spiritual dedication was more highly rewarding than seeking his own comfort and indulging personal interests.

Holiness makes itself known, however, and the people of Poland gradually came to realize that Casimir’s disinterest in the world was an effect of spiritual heroism, that their prince was a saint. Their love and respect for Casimir continued to increase and, after his death, began to be expressed in prayers for his intercession. Many miracles were attributed to him and canonization followed in a short time (1522). Today Casimir is the national patron of Poland and Lithuania and, because of his firmly kept purity, he is especially honored in these countries as a model for youth.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  130-131.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 5
Saint John Joseph of the Cross Confessor (1654-1734)

Some saints like Augustine, who was not even baptized until he was thirty-three years old, grow slowly in sanctity. This was not the case with John Joseph of the Cross, born as Carlo Calosinto on the island of Ischia, off Naples, in 1654. As a child, Carlo was already manifesting an inclination toward the things of God. His bedroom, in the attic of his home, he converted into a chapel and spent most of his time praying there. Before Carlo was in his teens, he had begun the penances he was to continue for the rest of his life, such as abstaining from food for days at a time.

At sixteen, Carlo took the name John Joseph of the Cross when he joined a Franciscan monastery which had recently been established close to Naples. His superiors soon realized that they had acquired a remarkable young man, and he was employed in such diverse activities as building new monasteries and guiding young friars in their spiritual development. John Joseph eventually became head of the Italian province of his branch of the Order and in this capacity constantly fostered the pristine spirit of the Order. Even though he was immersed in activity, John Joseph never digressed from the practice of severe mortifications; during the last thirty years of his life he refused to drink any kind of liquid. At the same time that he was acquiring a reputation for these austerities, he was also attracting attention for his gift of miracles. Especially in healing the sick, but also in such things as multiplying the food supply for his monastery, John Joseph worked so many wonders that people came to expect them from him as a matter of course. This extraordinary man also experienced frequent visions, was known to bilocate (appear in two places at the same time), and had foreknowledge of the future, as when he foretold the date of his death, which occurred on March 5, 1734. When he walked through the streets of Naples, children would run before him, shouting, “Look, here comes the saint!” and people would try to tear pieces from his habit as he passed.

When we are advised to imitate the saints and then meet someone like John Joseph of the Cross, the advice no doubt, seems rather impractical. What we should remember, of course, is that the penances, miracles, and other spectacular performances do not make the saint, but the spirit with which he accomplishes them does; the second can be imitated even though the first cannot.

Viewed in this light, John Joseph becomes a little easier to understand. We see that he inflicted hardships on himself, not because he sought suffering for itself, but only because he knew such means were necessary for him to remain obedient to the will of God. This was his sole aim, and all the other startling supernatural events in his life resulted from his determined adherence to that aim. Because John Joseph loved greatly, God used him to accomplish extraordinary things–but the love had come first. Since he was wise as well as holy, John Joseph knew that this was the proper order of sanctity and insisted that the friars under his care should not try to emulate his great acts of self-denial. Only one thing was necessary, he told them: “To love God really and in truth; because the love of God is the greatest treasure.”

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  132-133.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 6
Saints Felicitas, Perpetua and Companions Martyrs (-c 203)

Felicitas and Perpetua are two of the saints commemorated in the Canon of the Mass. Their feast, which actually falls on the seventh of March , is often celebrated on the sixth to avoid conflict with the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas. The story of these martyrs and their companions is found in a kind of diary kept by Perpetua while she was in prison awaiting execution, and this was later augmented by an unknown eyewitness to the martyrdom.

The martyrs in this story lived in the North African city of Carthage, at a time when it was part of the Roman Empire; they had come under a n edict issued by the emperor Severus in the year 202, declaring death to be the penalty for being a Christian. There were six of them: Perpetua, a young noblewoman recently married, with her baby boy; Felicitas, a slave girl expecting a child; and four men-­Revocatus, a slave, and Secundulus, Saturninus, and Saturus.

Perpetua begins her diary at the time when she had decided to be baptized and was forced to withstand the arguments of her father against this step. She endured his pleading as long as she could, and then spoke: “’Father,’ I said, ‘Do you see this vessel lying here–waterpot or whatever it may be?’ ‘I see it,’ he said. And I said to him, ‘Can it be called by any other name that what it is?’ And he answered, ‘No.’ ‘So also I cannot call myself anything else than what I am, a Christian.’” Here, Perpetua’s basic decision, the one that caused her martyrdom, had already been made; she had realized that to be a follower of Christ was more important to her than anything else, life included, and that she must be baptized regardless of the consequences.

She was arrested with the others a few days after their baptism. In her diary she described her first day in prison: “I was in great fear, because I had never known such darkness. What a day of horror! Terrible heat, thanks to the crowds! Rough handling by the soldiers! To crown all I was tormented there by anxiety for my baby.”’ Her concern for her baby, whom she was still nursing, was her hardest trial , and when she finally obtained permission to keep Him with her in prison she wrote: “My prison suddenly became a palace to me, and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”

While awaiting trial with her companions, Perpetua experienced the first of several visions that continued throughout her imprisonment: she found herself ascending a brazen ladder, to the sides of which were fastened sharp instruments-daggers, swords, lances, hooks–that tear the flesh of the unwary. When she reached the top, she found herself in a vast expanse of garden where a tall man with white hair, in the dress of a shepherd, was milking sheep. He told her, “You have well come, my child,” and gave her some of the milk. Perpetua writes that by this dream she and her companions “understood that we must suffer, and henceforward began to have no hope in this world.”

The next events in the diary are two examinations of the Christians by the Roman authorities; the second was the decisive one and took place in the market square, where a vast crowd gathered. This is Perpetua’s description of it: “We went up onto the platform. The others on being questioned confessed their faith. So, it came to my tum. And there was my father with my child, and he drew me down from the step beseeching me: ‘Have pity on your baby.’ And the procurator Hilarion … said to me: ‘Spare your father’s white hairs; spare the tender years of your child. Offer a sacrifice for the safety of the emperors.’ And I answered: ‘No.’ ‘Are you a Christian?’ asked Hilarion. And I answered:

‘I am.’ … Then he passed sentence on all of us, and condemned us to the beasts; and in great joy we went down into the prison.”

The martyrs were forced to wait now; they were being saved for the holiday that would be held on the birthday of the emperor’s son when, in the amphitheater, the Christians were to be given to the wild animals. During this time, Perpetua experienced more visions, in the last of which she went to the amphitheater, was transformed into a man, and engaged in combat with an “Egyptian, foul of look” (the devil). She overcame the Egyptian and understood this to mean that she would undergo martyrdom successfully. Her account ends after the description of this vision with the words, “Such were my doings up to the day before the games. Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will.”

The unknown contributor continued the story from here, first describing some other events of the last days in prison. He writes that Felicitas was “in great sorrow for fear lest, because of her pregnancy, her martyrdom should be delayed, since it is against the law for women with child to be exposed for punishment.”’ She and the others prayed that her child might come, even though it was not yet due, and two days before the games Felicitas gave birth to a girl. But the children were taken from their mothers as the final day, March 7, 203, arrived.

“’The day of the victory dawned, and they proceeded from their prison to the amphitheater, as if they were on their way to heaven, with gay and gracious looks; trembling, if at all, not with fear but joy. Perpetua followed with shining steps as the true spouse of Christ, as the darling of God, abashing with the high spirit in her eyes the gaze of all.”’ The officials tried to force the Christians to put on the costumes of pagan gods before entering the arena, as the custom was at such times, but “Perpetua resisted steadfastly . .. . For she said : ‘Therefore we came to this issue of our own free will, that our liberty might not be violated; therefore we pledged our lives, that we might do no such thing: this was our pact with you.’ Injustice acknowledged justice; the commanding officer gave permission that they should enter the arena in their ordinary dress.”

They proceeded into the amphitheater, and the ordeal began. Saturninus was mauled to death by a leopard and a bear, and Saturus was killed by the leopard. The two women were exposed to a mad heifer: “Perpetua was tossed first, and fell on her back. Sitting down she drew back her torn tunic from her side to cover her thighs, more mindful of her modesty than of her suffering … Then she rose, and seeing that Felicitas was bruised, approached, gave a hand to her, and lifted her up. And the two stood side by side, and the cruelty of the people being now appeased, they were recalled to the ‘Gate of Life.’ This was an entrance to the arena where those who were victorious in combat were allowed to leave; the mob was fickle, however, as mobs always are, and it was soon shouting for blood again. When the martyrs heard this “they rose unbidden and made their way whither the people willed, after first kissing one another . .. . The rest, without a movement, in silence received the sword . . .. Perpetua, however, that she might taste something of the pain, was struck (by mistake) on the side and cried out, and herself guided to her throat the wavering hand of the young, untried gladiator.”

This is all that is written; yet, what more can be said? The story of courage and faith speaks for itself.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  134-138.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 7
Saint Thomas Aquinas Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 1225-1274)

All over Europe, in the thirteenth century, schools and universities became familiar with a remarkable figure: a great mountain of a man clothed in the white gown and black cloak of a Dominican friar. This modest, soft-spoken giant of a man was a teacher of theology who lectured in crowded university halls and left behind him a storm of controversy every time. He was teaching something new–the truths of divine revelation explained with the newly translated philosophy of ancient Greece. This man was Thomas Aquinas. Today his philosophy and theology are officially taught in the Catholic Church, and Saint Thomas is recognized universally as one of the great thinkers of all time.

This future glory of the Dominicans had a difficult time in joining the Order. Thomas was born in 1225, into a family of Italian nobility, and at the age of five was sent to the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino as a student. His family hoped that, with this beginning and with the discreet use of their wealth and influence, Thomas would someday be the abbot of Monte Cassino. They carefully considered all possibilities, ignoring only Thomas’ own desires. When he went to complete his studies at the University of Naples, he became interested in the recently founded Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) and joined the Order some time in his twentieth year. Hearing of this, his family decided upon violent action and literally kidnapped Thomas, bringing him back to the family castle. There he was locked in a room and told either to change his decision and forsake the Dominicans or to remain a prisoner in his own home. In a further attempt to break Thomas’ will, a prostitute was summoned to the castle and sent to tempt him. The reaction of Thomas to this last outrage was typical of his strength and determination. After threatening the woman with a blazing faggot from the fireplace, Thomas emphasized his point by charring a great cross on the wall with his blazing weapon. The woman fled in terror, and Thomas immediately prayed for the gift of perfect chastity. It is said that he experienced a dream in which an angel bound a white cloth about his loins, thus symbolizing the granting of his wish. It was at this time too, that Thomas’ family resigned themselves to his wishes.

Returning to his Order, Thomas was sent to study and then to teach at the finest universities of Europe: first Naples, then Cologne, Bologna, and Paris. Thomas proceeded to revolutionize the world of thought both by his teaching and by the books he produced. The Summa theologica , the Summa contra gentiles, commentaries on Aristotle and on the Bible–these are but a few of his works. As his reputation increased, Thomas was sought by students, kings, and popes who wished to be directed and taught by this man of great intellectual power and equally great humility. Thomas journeyed all over Europe for thirty years, sharing his gift. In the last year of his life, he was ordered by the pope to attend the Council of Lyons, but he became ill on the way and took shelter in the Cistercian abbey of Fossa Nuova, in northern Italy, where he died on March 7, 1274.

Few men have ever had such an overpowering sense of the reality of God’s existence as Thomas. In his immense intellectual production, he attempted to show how everything that exists is related to God, and all his works are merely the result of his intense love for his Creator. The Holy Eucharist was the center of Thomas’ life, and he told his brother friars that he learned more from that source than from all the books he had ever read. The hymns he wrote in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, such as the Pange Lingua and Adoro Te reveal the burning love that was the mainspring of Thomas’ sanctity.

The story is told that, one day toward the end of his life, Thomas was praying before a crucifix when the figure of Christ there spoke to him: “Thomas,” it said, “you have written well of me. What would you have as a reward?” Thomas answered: “Nothing, Lord, besides yourself.” Thomas was a wise man, not because he had mastered the world of learning, but because he knew that real wisdom was love of God and His truth.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  138-140.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 8
Saint John of God Confessor (1495-1550)

In 1538 the Spanish city of Granada was becoming accustomed to a strange performance that took place almost daily in its streets: one of its citizens, a middle-aged bookseller recently started in business there, had abandoned his normal way of life and had taken to racing through the streets of the town, tearing his clothes and shouting ejaculations such as “God have mercy on a sinner!” This startling behavior had begun on the Feast of Saint Sebastian that year, when a famous preacher had come to the city to give the principal sermon of the day. The bookseller attended the sermon and, in the middle of it, he jumped up, shouted out a declaration of his sinfulness, and then started on his first unusual tour.

The city authorities, having decided that the bookseller’s conduct was more characteristic of a lunatic than a repentant sinner, confined him in the town’s insane asylum. The story might have ended here, if it had not been for the visiting priest, Blessed John of Avila, who was astonished at the effect his preaching had had and later went to the asylum to talk with the man. There he heard an unusual history and found a potential saint rather than a lunatic.

The bookseller (we know him now as Saint John of God) had been born forty-three years before in Portugal. Despite an early desire to dedicate his life to God in some way, he had spent years drifting aimlessly from one occupation to another. At the age of eight he had run away from home, stopping at a small village in Spain where he attached himself to the family of the chief shepherd in the area. The boy stayed with this family until he was a young man and became one of their most trusted servants. He left the family only when the father began to make pointed hints about the availability of his daughter for marriage.

John’s next move was to join the Spanish army, where he got a taste of fighting in a war against the French, and also a taste of the sometimes careless morality of wartime. After narrowly escaping hanging–on a charge of neglect of duty–he was discharged from the army and went back to the shepherd’s family. This time his stay was short; the father again began to speak of matrimony for his daughter and, as before, John fled to the army. That life no longer appealed to him, however, and after a few months he was on the road once more. His wanderings took him next to Africa, where he attempted to improve conditions for Christian prisoners who had been enslaved by the Moors. Finding this too large a task for one man, he returned to Spain and began selling religious books and holy cards in the vicinity of Gibraltar. It was his moderate success in this activity that enabled him to start a business in Granada.

In this succession of changes, John seems to have been driven by the desire to find a way of serving God more completely and the realization that none of his activities was satisfying that desire. Certainly, in the army and perhaps in the other positions too, he had deceived himself into thinking that what was actually done by him for his own satisfaction was done for God, and it may have been the realization of this that caused his outburst in the church. In any case, the priest’s sermon enabled John to see all his previous years as so much wasted effort, the futility of which so horrified him that he reacted in the manner that has been described.

When the priest heard John’s story he understood the man’s remorse for his past life and sympathized with him. He suggested that John should find a way of expressing his contrition through service to others. John agreed and, seeking a worthy task to which he could dedicate his life, found it where people usually find their work–right around them. During his stay in the asylum, John had spent most of his time caring for its many sick and ill-treated inmates; after his release he decided to continue caring for the sick and the destitute of the city.

Purchasing an abandoned mansion, he established a small hospital and brought to it anyone he could find who needed help. The poor, the diseased, the infirm and aged–John cared for them all and at night walked about the city looking for more, often carrying his “guests” home on his back. When he made his rounds now, the people no longer laughed at him but told one another that here was a man of wonderful charity. Help began coming to John, money from the wealthy of Granada and assistance from young men of the city, many of whom volunteered to live with him and share his work. By the time of his death in 1550, John had built a charitable organization famous throughout Spain and had so inspired his followers that they remained together after his death to continue his work on a permanent basis. In 1581, this group was formally constituted as the Order of Charity for the Service of the Sick and is now known throughout Europe as the “Hospitaller Brothers.”

John himself had no thought of founding a religious order. He wanted only to lose himself in bringing the charity of Christ to his fellowmen. He could refuse nothing to anyone and his utter selflessness so impressed the people of Granada that they openly venerated him as a saint in his own lifetime.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  140-143.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 9
Saint Gregory of Nyssa Bishop and Confessor (-c 335- c 400)

Gregory whose parents, two brothers, and sister are also saints, was born about the year 335 in Asia Minor and spent most of his life fighting heresy, Arianism particularly. Although combating heresy can be done in a spectacular fashion, it usually requires the writing of long, technical books, which are difficult for anyone to understand, but most difficult of all for the confused people who begin the heresy. Gregory was efficient in his work–too efficient for his opponents, who became so irritated at his attacks that they banded together and caused him to leave his diocese, placing their own bishop in his place.

This was a difficult trial for Gregory, but he bided his time and continued his literary bombardment. Eventually, his opposition and that of other orthodox churchmen had its effect. Arianism began to wane. After the Second Council of Constantinople in 381, in which Gregory played an important part, the heresy ceased to be a major problem. Gregory returned to his diocese about this time, but the rest of his life remains in obscurity, and we are not sure of the date of his death, except that it could not have taken place any later than the year 400.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  143-144.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 9
Saint Frances of Rome 
Holy Woman (1384-1440)

Saint Frances of Rome was a very practical person; a beautiful, gracious woman, she lived a life which at times included severe penances, but she also led a life of uncommonly useful activity. Saint Frances’ life is one that may closely mirror that of any holy woman of our own times.

Born in Rome, in 1384, Saint Frances was married at thirteen to an Italian nobleman, bore three children, and for over forty years was a devoted wife and mother. Spiritual perfection was always her aim but not to the detriment of the duties of her state in life. As Frances once told a friend: “It’s good for a married woman to be devout, but she can’t forget that she is a housewife. And sometimes she has to leave God at the altar to find Him in her housework.”

Famine, plague, and political conflict made fifteenth century Rome a turbulent place in which to live, and Frances became one of the best-loved figures in the city through her efforts to help the victims of these disasters. Frances founded a community of lay women dedicated to serving the poor and, after her husband’s death, joined the group herself. Her own death occurred on March 9, 1440, and all Rome mourned her. Miraculous events abounded in her life, one of the most notable being the privilege she enjoyed of seeing her guardian angel at all times.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  145.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 10
The Forty Martyrs of Sabaste Martyrs (-320)

In the month of March, the lands around the Black Sea are bitter; cruel winds blow and the earth is locked in frost. In the year 320, the Roman governor of this area (which was then called Cappadocia) decided to use its climate to test the faith of forty soldiers of a Roman legion that had been wintering in Sebaste, one of the small towns of the province. The forty men had refused to obey a recent edict of the emperor Licinius, which reversed a previous policy of leniency and ordered all Christians to renounce their religion under pain of death. It was the office of Agricola, the governor, to proceed with the punishment of the men.

Agricola ordered that the men be taken from the city to a nearby lake, which was frozen over, and there be stripped of their clothes and placed on the ice until they either died or announced their willingness to renounce the faith. The men accepted the treatment cheerfully, their only concern being that some members of the band might lose courage and return to the shore, where fires and warm baths were waiting for anyone willing to accept the governor’s demands. Only one man weakened and, when he did, one of the soldiers guarding the group saw a supernatural light spread over the remaining members. This moved him to announce his faith in Christ, throw off his uniform, and go out on the ice to join the others. Night fell, and the soldiers, still forty in number, waited patiently for death. By morning only one was left alive, a young lad named Melito. A wagon had come to take the dead bodies to be burned and Melito was still breathing when they were lifting him onto it. Given a last opportunity to change his mind, he shook his head, too weak to do anything else, and was thrown in with his dead comrades.

The story of these forty b ave men became one of the proudest traditions of the ancient Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  146-147.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 11
Saint Eulogius Martyr (-859)

A priest of Cordova, Spain, at a time when the city was in the hands of the Moors, Saint Eulogius was the mainstay of that hard-pressed Christian community. The Christians were tolerated by the Moors one year and persecuted the next, and it was Eulogius, more than anyone else, who held them together. A brilliant and holy man, he fearlessly argued the Christians’ rights before the Moorish rulers and inspired the Christians to bear their sufferings with courage. The Moorish authorities found him too dangerous an adversary and had him beheaded in the year 859.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  147.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 12
Saint Gregory I (The Great) Pope, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 540-604)

“Sights and sounds of war meet us on every side. The cities are destroyed; the military defenses wiped out; the land is devastated; the earth depopulated. No one remains in the country; scarcely any inhabitants are left in the towns; yet even the poor remains of humankind are still attacked daily and without intermission. Before our eyes some are carried away captive, some are mutilated, some murdered. Rome herself, who once was mistress of the world, we behold worn down by many and terrible distresses, the anguish of citizens, the attack of foes, the repetition of defeats.”

Writing in the last years of the sixth century, this is how Saint Gregory the Great describes the terrible situation at the time in Italy, and in its chief city, Rome. The devastation he describes was being wrought by the barbarian tribes, whose savage attacks had by this time destroyed the greater part of Roman civilization. It was a period of violent change and destruction, coming between the death of one civilization and the birth of another, and Saint Gregory himself was one of those most responsible for bringing a new order of things into existence. He was pope from September 3, 590, to his death on March 12, 604, only a little over thirteen years, but his reign was one of the most important in the history of the Church.

He had been born about 540, of one of the few wealthy families left in Rome, and grew up watching the city fall into ruin before his eyes. During his early years he evidently spent his time in some kind of civic activity designed to improve the city’s wretched condition, and he must have done well, since we find that, at thirty, he was appointed to the highest civil office in Rome–prefect of the city. A short time later, however, he gave up the position, as well as the vast wealth he had inherited from his father, in order to seek fulfillment of what had always been his first desire, the religious life. He entered a monastery by the simple method of turning his palatial home into one and joining the group of monks he had invited to live there.

In the monastic life Gregory found the kind of order all men–not only monks–needed in their lives. He worked to establish similar order in the society of his time. More important, he helped Christians in general to become more aware of the essential role played by the Church in creating this order among men. He made Christians see the necessity of the Church to be efficiently organized, its teaching authority respected, and the pope’s leadership unquestioned. Gregory knew what the world needed because he had discovered what he himself needed, which was to live his life fully, developing a true sense of humility, making no plans for the future, moment by moment perfecting himself as a monk. God had His own plans for this humble man who was wise enough to know where he belonged.

Gregory was soon removed from the monastery by his predecessor as pope, Pelagius II, who assigned the monk to Church affairs, first as papal ambassador to the imperial court at Constantinople and later as private secretary to the pope himself. When Pelagius died during a plague that struck Rome in 590, no time was lost in choosing Gregory for the office. Gregory was a anything but happy at the selection. He was horrified, in fact, and tried to avoid it. An appeal for aid to the emperor at Constantinople brought nothing but his congratulations on the good choice that had been made, and an attempt at flight from Rome was foiled by Gregory’s being seized, taken to Saint Peter’s, and consecrated pope before he could resist any further.

Gregory ceased to complain and began to work. The barbarians were the most trying problem and missionaries were the answer. The best known of them, Saint Augustine of Canterbury, went to the Angles and Saxons in Britain; others went to the Gauls and Franks in northern Europe and to the Lombards in Italy itself. Nor did Gregory neglect the spiritual welfare of those who already possessed the faith. Through constant writing and preaching, he kept before the clergy and the laity the ideal of the good Christian life; a life dedicated to the love of God aided by discipline and obedience, particularly obedience to the pope as the supreme head of the Church. Reform of clerical abuses, revision of the Church’s music and liturgy, reorganization of the Church’s administrative system–these are a few of the measures undertaken by Gregory, a man whom no detail escaped. Gregory also conducted the business of the civil government of Rome, since no one else was willing or capable enough to do it. This involved him in such activities as organizing a relief system for the starving population of the city and making treaties with the barbarians who always stood ready to overrun Rome, as they had done so often in the past. A last fact that might help to indicate something of Gregory’s claim to the title “the Great” is that for most of his reign as pope he was a desperately sick man; racked with pain, he gave orders from his bed much of the time.

After Gregory’s death, Europe looked much the same as it had before he began his reign as pope. The barbarians were still barbarians, society was still in a state of near-chaos, and the Church was still struggling to make its own state more secure. Yet things were not the same: the seeds of faith, planted in countless places by the missionaries, were slowly growing in the midst of the barbarian masses; the Church had been organized in a manner that would enable it to meet the demands of the future; and society itself was becoming aware of the Church for what it was, the institution by which men are saved. The Christian culture of the Middle Ages was to be built on this foundation and Gregory was the man who had laid it.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  148-151.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 13
Saint Nicephorus Bishop and Confessor (758-828)

One of the most vicious heresies the Church ever had to combat was iconoclasm, the belief that veneration of sacred images, especially those of Christ, was sinful. The heresy reached its height in the eighth and ninth centuries and centered in Constantinople, a city where East and West mingled, where religion was bitterly disputed for centuries.

Nicephorus, who was born about the year 758, was patriarch of Constantinople at a time when the second of two great waves of iconoclastic fury swept over the city. Encouraged by the emperor, Leo V, the heretics swarmed through the churches of Constantinople smashing statues and pictures and, if they found any “iconodules” (orthodox Christians), killed them in the most horrible ways imaginable. Several attempts were made on Nicephorus’ life, and finally the emperor summoned him to the imperial palace with the object of browbeating him into acceptance of the tenets of the heresy. The patriarch, a man of courage as well as learning, very calmly proceeded to denounce the movement to the emperor and to repeat to him the traditional teaching of the Church on the subject.

Byzantine emperors usually reacted to such flouting of their authority by having the offenders put to death as speedily as possible; possibly because of Nicephorus’ high position, he received more lenient treatment and was only banished to a monastery on the shores of the Bosporus. This failed to silence him, however, and he began to issue a stream of books against the heresy. Leo was succeeded by an emperor who was willing to allow Nicephorus to return from exile on the condition that he say no more against iconoclasm, but the saint refused the offer and stayed in the monastery until his death on June 2, 828. His feast is celebrated on March 13, because on that day, in 846, his relics were returned to Constantinople.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  151-152.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 14
Saint Matilda Queen and Holy Woman (895-968)

Saint Matilda was a beautiful woman who was both a queen and a saint. Born in 895, she was the wife of Henry the Fowler, who was king of Germany from 919 until his death in 936. Feeding the poor, building hospitals, establishing religious foundations–her life is filled with such undertakings, which indicate she had an intelligent appreciation of her duty as a queen to seek the welfare of her subjects.

Matilda had no trouble in doing this as long as her husband was alive, for he agreed that the wealth they possessed should be put to such uses. With the king dead, however, the situation changed. Henry had left Matilda a number of his territorial possessions so that she could use the revenue from them to continue her charitable works. The new king, Otto, who was the queen’s eldest son, coveted these lands. Pretending moral indignation, he charged that the extra income from them was needed to save the state from bankruptcy; he also accused his mother of using the revenues to amass a private fortune. With the support of his younger brother, Henry, who had no more filial devotion than himself, Otto succeeded in forcing his mother to give up her possessions and to retire in semi-exile to the small town where she had been born.

Henry became seriously ill, and Otto met with disasters in governing the country. The two men rapidly lost the courage of their villainous convictions and shortly were at Matilda’s doorstep, begging her forgiveness and promising the restoration of her property. Matilda forgave her sons and went back to court, where she turned once more to the task of satisfying the needs of others.

Matilda was so thorough in this regard that by the time of her death in 968, she had given away all her possessions and was living in one of the convents she had founded. The people of the area (east-central Germany, around Quedlinberg and Nordhausen) venerated Matilda as a saint almost from the time of her death.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  152-153.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 15
Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer Confessor (1751-1820)

Clement was born on December 26, 1751, in Moravia (now a province of Czechoslovakia), and grew up in Austria, which at the time was indulging in the orgy of rationalistic “enlightenment” that was sweeping Europe. “Reason” and “liberty” were the catchwords of educated people; this was rather ironic, since popular activities of the day included the ruthless suppression of religious orders and the condemnation of supernatural truth as superstitious nonsense. Clement was a baker at one time, a hermit at another, and finally, at the age of thirty-four, joined the order of Redemptorists. Founded in 1732 by Saint Alphonsus Ligouri to carry out missionary work among the poor in Italy, this order, with its emphasis on teaching the fundamentals of the faith, was exactly what a society gone berserk with the misuse of reason needed, and Clement, through his work, was to become known as the order’s “Second Founder.”

After his ordination, Clement was sent to Poland, one of the few countries where religious orders were still allowed to operate. There, with two companions, he established a mission in the city of Warsaw, and for the next twenty-three years kept the spiritual life of the city alive with his own dynamic sanctity. All Warsaw flocked to Saint Benno’s, the mission church, where three Masses were said each day, each followed by a sermon either in German or Polish. Basic Catholic dogma was always the subject of the preaching, and it was presented by Clement and his assistants with such conviction and understanding that many converts were made. The Redemptorists’ work went on with increasing success in Poland until 1808, when the spirit of the times reached that country too, and the religious orders were forced to disband.

After a brief period of imprisonment, Clement was allowed to return to Vienna. Because his order still had no legal existence, Clement had to function quietly as a convent chaplain, but this did not prevent him from transforming Vienna just as he had Warsaw. His sermons in the convent church had the cream of Viennese society in attendance: noblemen, statesmen, intellectuals, all came (along with the poor and the unlearned) to listen attentively to this representative of a way of life that, only a short time before, had been derided as a useless relic of the dead past. Clement soon became one of the most powerful forces in Austria, his opinion being respected even at the great Congress of Vienna, which met in 1814 to restore order to Europe in the wake of the Napoleonic wars.

By the time of his death in 1820 Clement’s holiness and zeal had affected a tremendous about-face in Austria. Religion was back in favor, not merely as a fashion, but as something of first importance, without which “reason” and “liberty” were only meaningless words. Only in submission to God can a man be truly free and completely reasonable. This was Clement’s message and he delivered it well.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  154-155.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 16
Saint Heribert Bishop and Confessor (c 970-1021)

Archbishops were awesome figures in the Middle Ages; men of almost plenary authority and prestige, they rubbed shoulders with emperors (not always peacefully) and were powerful leaders who claimed the respect and obedience of their people. Such a man was Saint Heribert, archbishop of Cologne from 999 to 1021. The son of Duke Hugo of Worms, Heribert was born about 970.

Ordained a priest early in life, Heribert wanted to enter a Benedictine monastery at one time, but his talents kept him in demand in the world. He was intended by the bishop of Worms to be his successor, but Otto III, the Germanic emperor, also had his eye on the young man and chose him for the important position of chancellor at the royal court. Heribert was so capable in this post that Otto retained him in it even after he had been chosen archbishop, the latter honor being one Heribert desired no more than he had that of the chancellorship.

Cologne was one of the mighty cities of Europe at this time. Sometimes called the “German Rome,” it was a center for religious and political activity; and Heribert, in his dual capacity as chancellor and archbishop, had to play a leading role in each field. The formalities of his positions did not appeal to him, and he was happiest when he could be doing something concrete for his people: visiting the sick and the poor, giving them money for their needs, bringing political disputes to a peaceful end–activities for which he became famous. One of his many accomplishments was to found a monastery at Deutz, on the opposite bank of the Rhine from Cologne, and it was there that he was buried after his death on March 16, 1021.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  156-157.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 17
Saint Patrick Bishop and Confessor (c 385-461) Saint Patrick

IRISH imagination has provided us with a rich assortment of legends about Saint Patrick. The best source, however, is Patrick himself who, in his old age, wrote a Confession which tells us most of what we know with certainty about the saint.

Saint Patrick was not an Irishman.  He was born about 385 and, although the exact place of the event is not known, modern scholarship has determined southwest Britain as the most likely spot.  Patrick writes that his parents were Christians but that he grew up in ignorance of the ”true God.” This probably means that Patrick was never seriously concerned with his faith and enjoyed a carefree boyhood.  Patrick’s carefree days ended, however, when a roving band of Irish pirates raided his village and carried him back to Ireland as a slave.

For the next six years, Patrick tended sheep on the Irish hillsides and in the solitude of the work found his way to God.  In his Confession he says that he prayed many times a day and that “the love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.” He stayed “in the woods and on the mountain” and ”used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through frost, through rain.” His renewal of faith was climaxed by a dream in which he was told to leave his master and walk to a distant place where he would find a ship to carry him from Ireland.  After a journey of over two hundred miles, Patrick found the ship, set sail for his native land, and was soon reunited with his family.

The reunion was a brief one, however, for Patrick soon left home again. He had another dream in which he received letters from Ireland. On opening them, he saw the words “The voice of the Irish” and heard a thrilling sound–the collective voice of that pagan land, crying out to him, “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more.”  This dream meant one thing to Patrick:  Ireland was asking for the faith and God was asking him to carry it there.  And so he left home, preparing for his mission by studying in France for the priesthood.  After his ordination and after formal approval for his mission had been given (probably by Pope Celestine I), Patrick was consecrated bishop, given a small band of monks as assistants, and about the year 43 2 was off to Ireland once more.

On his return to t he island, Patrick’s immediate concern was the conversion of the kings and druids (pagan priests), because he realized that only by converting them could he reach the mass of the people.  In a series of dramatic encounters, the saint and his monks came before the kings of Ireland, defied the powers of the druids, and preached Christianity to the people.  Tradition tells us that the most decisive of these meetings took place at Tara, the seat of King Leoghaire, where Patrick and his small band of Christians defied a pagan festival by celebrating their own Easter liturgy. The pagans, who hurriedly came to investigate, stayed to listen to the preaching of Patrick.  Many were converted and from that time paganism was on the wane in Ireland.

In spite of this initial victory, an immense and perilous task remained to be done.  In Patrick’s day Ireland was a wild and barbarous place.  “How I would have loved to go to my country and my parents!”  is the comment he makes in his Confession on his own feelings at this time.  He writes that he never had any reason “except the gospel and its promises” for returning to Ireland, after having once escaped from it.  Traveling ceaselessly up and down the island, Patrick preached Christianity until all had heard the message.  By the time of his death in 461, Patrick had completed, almost single­ handedly, the conversion of the nation .

This was a staggering accomplishment and, as the Confession reveals, was carried out by a profoundly serious, often stern man who mixed humility and love with his zeal.  The Irish people loved him who was so eager for their welfare, the man who humbly reminded them at the end of his life that, “With the grace of the Lord, I did everything lovingly and gladly for your salvation.”  Patrick’s efforts were repaid, for within a few generations of the saint’s death, this small dot of land was known throughout Europe for the intensity of its religious life and, ever since, the Irish have clung to that religion in spite of suffering and difficulty.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  157-159.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 18
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 315-387)

Saint Cyril must have been one of those persons who became holy through bearing wrongs patiently. He was archbishop of Jerusalem from about 352 until his death in 387, and he spent fully half of that time in exile, being banished from his see on three different occasions. Born about 315, Cyril lived in that hectic period when the Arian heresy was creating havoc in the Christian communities of the Near East. The Arian power in Jerusalem was waning when Cyril returned there for the third (and final) time in 379.

Although Cyril was able to exercise his episcopal jurisdiction for the last eight years of his life, Jerusalem was in a deplorable state from all the preceding controversy. He called on his friend, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, to help him restore order in the city. Gregory came, took one shocked look, and left; not, however, before writing a “Warning against Pilgrimages.” Cyril evidently managed without Gregory’s help, and they met again, still friends, at the Council of Constantinople in 381, where Arianism received its death blow in the East.

Very little information has come down to us about Cyril’s personal life, but we have had preserved for us many of his writings, among the most valuable in Church history. The best known of his works are the Catecheses, or “Catechetical Discourses.” These are a series of instructions originally given as sermons to educate prospective and newly baptized Christians in the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. The basic sameness, through the centuries, of the Church’s teaching on such dogmas as the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Trinity is wonderfully illustrated by these ancient sermons, whose author attempts to impress his listeners with the privilege of belonging to the “Catholic” (universal) Church. ln recognition of his orthodox and able exposition of the Church’s teaching, Cyril was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1882 by Pope Leo XIll.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  160-161.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 19
Saint Joseph Foster-Father of Our Lord (New Testament)

We are familiar, of course, with those incidents in the Gospels in which Saint Joseph plays a part–the Nativity, the flight into Egypt, the presentation of the Infant Jesus according to the Law, and the finding of the Boy there after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem–but it still remains true that we know very little about him. He is mentioned by only two of the evangelists, and then hardly more than in passing; he is never described; he never speaks. Yet the obscurity of his life hides a great and holy mystery. With his immeasurable faith and love he effaced himself completely in the service of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. His life was to live for them; he chose no other goal. This was the office that God assigned to him, and though it was hidden from men’s eyes it was of the highest dignity and importance. For he was entrusted with the care of God’s beloved maiden Mary and was to stand in the place of father to God’s own Son. Did anyone ever have such a privilege before or since?

It is good for us to think about this and understand how well Joseph lived up to God’s demands. First, he must have been a man of firmness and strength, to be in charge of things, to be wage-earner, and head of this household. He must be capable of quick decision and forceful action when the occasion demanded it. But most of all he must be rich in faith, and believe without hesitation the strange and wonderful things God would reveal to him; and perfectly obedient, to carry out the directions God would give, as when the angel told him to flee with his family to Egypt.

In the designs of God, the mystery of the Incarnation was to be hidden from the world until Christ Himself would reveal it in His public life. Joseph was married to Mary–a true marriage, as the Gospels show. Thus, he could protect Mary’s virginity and hide the secret of its divine fruitfulness. Thus, he could serve as earthly father to her divine Child, providing that care and nurture a child needs, and again keep veiled the mystery of His appearance among men.

It is not surprising that Saint Joseph has been named patron of the Universal Church. He is the guardian of the Christian religion as he was guardian of Christ, and the protector and defender of the Church, which is truly the Lord’s house and the kingdom of God on earth. Because of the belief that at the hour of his death he was consoled by Jesus and Mary, he is also invoked for the grace of a happy death.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  161-162.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 20
Saint Cuthbert Bishop and Confessor (c 637-687)  Saint Cuthbert

Known as the “Wonder-worker of Britain” during his lifetime, Saint Cuthbert was a peasant boy who became one of England ‘s best-loved saints. We have only an approximate year for his birth (637), and nothing is known of his early life except that he was a shepherd on the vast downs of Northumbria, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom in the north of Britain.

As a young man he sought admission to Melrose Abbey, and he spent the rest of his days in various monasteries: Melrose, Ripon, Lindisfame, the last of which was an island abbey where he was prior.

Although he desired complete solitude and spent more than ten years as a hermit on the island of Farne, his country was too close to paganism to allow him to remain in complete seclusion. Cuthbert devoted most of his energies to missionary work. Traveling through the north of Britain, he preached Christianity and gradually won the people away from their pagan practices.

(Check out St. Cuthbert’s Chapel!)

For the last two years of his life, Cuthbert was bishop of Lindisfarne. When he knew that death was near he asked to be taken back to Fame, where he died on March 20, 687. The miracles that had earned him the title of “Wonder worker” continued after his death, and his tomb soon became a shrine for pilgrims. Today, at Durham Cathedral, Cuthbert’s body is still an object of veneration.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  163.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 21
Saint Benedict Abbot and Confessor (c 470-547)

What does it take to live like a Christian? The life of Saint Benedict is one answer to this question, and such an effective one that it made history. The saint was born in the Italian town of Nursia, about the year 470, and as a young boy was sent by his family to be educated at Rome. An education in Rome at that time was “liberal” in more than the academic sense. Student life was one long dissipation, and Benedict soon realized that, unless he wanted to be drawn into the debauchery, he would have to leave the city.

Benedict had come to Rome with an elderly family nurse, sent along to look after his needs. With the old woman, he went eastward from Rome into the Sabine Mountains, stopping at the small village of Enfide. His stay there was short because of a miracle he worked for his nurse, the mending of an earthenware sieve. This was only the first miracle of many that were to attract people to Benedict, and when the people of Enfide heard of this particular occurrence they began to visit him in crowds.

Realizing that he was about to become a public exhibit, Benedict decided to move. This time he went alone, climbing higher into the mountains. Benedict finally found himself in a desolate region called Subiaco. A few monks lived in the area, and one of them helped Benedict install himself in a cave high up in the wall of a cliff, where he remained for the next three years. His only contact with the world was through the friendly monk, who occasionally lowered food to him in a basket.

Prayer and penance were Benedict’s main activities during this time. It was a trying period, made harder by terrible temptations to return to the pleasures of the world. But Benedict mastered himself and at the end of three years decided that God wished him to continue living in solitude as a monk. As God arranged it, Benedict was to continue living as a monk but not by himself.

Monks from the nearby monastery of Vicovaro had heard of this unusual young recluse and, when their abbot died, they sent a deputation to Benedict, requesting him to be their new abbot. Benedict agreed; but when·he arrived at the monastery and began some much-needed reforms, trouble began. Most of the monks enjoyed their loose ways and decided to have no more of the young abbot’s reforms–indeed, to have no more of him at all. One evening, poison was put into Benedict’s cup of wine. When the wine was brought to him and Benedict made his usual sign of the cross over the cup, it shattered immediately as if it had been hurled against a rock. With a reproachful look, Benedict told the monks to find an abbot more to their liking, left the monastery, and returned to his cave.

But a solitary existence was impossible for him now; his reputation had grown and crowds of people flocked to see him. Most of these were serious-minded men who were concerned with leading a Christian life in a society that had little use for Christianity. Benedict saw that these men needed guidance and consented to leave his cave to become their leader. Founding twelve monasteries in the neighborhood of Subiaco, he settled his followers in them and established himself in the monastery of Saint Clement. Later, he went to Monte Cassino, southeast of Rome, and there founded the monastery that was to become the largest and best known in Europe.

When Benedict began to organize his monks at Subiaco and Monte Cassino, he realized that something different was needed from the general type of monasticism then prevalent. This was of Eastern origin and had degenerated into a very haphazard affair. Monks had no common life, they tried to outdo each other in austerities, and they wandered about from monastery to monastery as their fancy dictated. In place of all this, Benedict substituted a life centered around a common task–the chanting of the Opus Dei, or Divine Office–and dedicated to useful labor, both intellectual and physical, as well as to private prayer and reasonable forms of penance.

At Monte Cassino Benedict wrote his regulations for monastic life in his Rule, which was to become one of the most important documents in the history of Europe. This Rule, which is summarized in the Benedictine motto of ora et labora (pray and work), was to become the inspiration of most of the monasticism of the West. European civilization itself was largely preserved through the work of Christian monks who had Benedict as their spiritual father, and by others who adapted the wisdom of Benedict’s way of life to their own circumstances in the world.

The saint lived his last years at Monte Cassino, and Saint Gregory the Great (whose Dialogues are the only source we have for Benedict ‘s life) info rms us that sometime about the year 547, not long after a last visit with his sister, Saint Scholastica, Benedict died a most happy death, surrounded by his monks and looking toward heaven.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  164-166.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 22
Saint Nicholas of Flüe Hermit and Confessor (1417-1487)

Soldier, judge, father, hermit–these were phases in the life of Saint Nicholas of Flüe, who was born near Sachseln, Switzerland, in 1417. He worked on his father’s farm there until he was twenty-two. Later, he fought in a civil war and in a war against Austria and then became a magistrate and judge.

Nicholas married and became the father of ten children. At the age of fifty, he took the final step in his amazing life and became a hermit, living for the last nineteen years of his life in the Ranft, a mountain gorge, where his only food was the Holy Eucharist. He emerged from his solitude briefly in 1481, when at the urging of friends, he spoke before an assembly of the Swiss parties at Stanz. His plea for harmony is credited with preserving the Swiss Confederation.

During his early years at Ranft, Nicholas came daily to Sachseln or Kerns to hear Mass. Later, when the miracle of his fast from all natural food became widely known, a cell and chapel were built for him at Ranft, and a chaplain came there regularly to celebrate Mass and give the saint Communion.

Nicholas died on March 21, I487. Still one of the most popular figures in Swiss history, he is cherished by Catholics and Protestants alike. He was venerated almost from the time of his death, but he was not canonized until 1947.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  167.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 23
Saint Joseph Oriol Confessor (1650-1702)

No more miracles in church!” Joseph Oriol’s confessor gave him the order somewhat reluctantly; but something had to be done about the near-riots that resulted from Joseph’s wholesale cures of the sick.

Born in 1650, Joseph was a priest of Barcelona, Spain, who had received a doctorate in theology from the university, but although he loved his studies he loved still more to minister to souls. Joseph had the power of reading men’s hearts, and almost everyone in Barcelona came to his confessional.

Joseph imposed awesome penances on himself, such as complete abstinence from all food except bread and water. He slept but two hours a night, resting on a rude bench, and devoted the rest of the night to prayer and mortification. No morose ascetic, however, he was notable for his congeniality, and was known as “the joyful saint.” He left Barcelona for Rome, hoping the pope would send him to a land where martyrdom was possible, but he became ill on the way and, at Marseilles, had a vision of the Blessed Virgin in which she told him to return to Barcelona and continue his work. Joseph did return to work in his native city, and after predicting the date of his death he died there on March 23, 1702.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  168.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 24
Saint Catherine of Sweden Virgin (c 1330-1381)

This saint, whose feast is sometimes celebrated on March 22, is the daughter of an even more famous woman–Saint Bridget (Birgitta) of Sweden. Catherine, who was born about 1330, was a married woman who, with her husband, took a vow of continence. She went to Rome in 1348, where her mother had gone after the death of Catherine’s father. Catherine’s husband died after she had been in Rome a short time, and for the next twenty-five years the two women used that city as a base for pilgrimages to a variety of places, including Jerusalem.

When not on pilgrimage, they spent their days in prayer and meditation and in working with the poor and instructing them in religion. This seemingly quiet life was not without perils and adventures. Dissolute young lords repeatedly sought to seduce the Swedish princess, but God’s providence unfailingly thwarted their efforts.

After the trip to Jerusalem, Bridget died, and Catherine took her mother’s body back to Sweden, burying it at Vadstena, in the convent of the Order of the Holy Savior, which Bridget had founded. Catherine became superior of the order and died on March 24, 1381, mourned like her mother by the whole of Sweden.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  169.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 25
Saint Irenaeus Bishop and Martyr (-304)

The last and most terrible persecution of the Christians in the Roman Empire was carried out under Emperor Diocletian in the fourth century. Thousands of brave men and women died for their faith, and Saint lrenaeus (there have been others with the same name) was one of those martyrs. The bishop of Sirmium in Pannonia (modern Yugoslavia), in the year 304 he was brought before the governor of the province and given the familiar choice: sacrifice to the gods or die. lrenaeus chose death and was given the unusual sentence of being drowned in the city’s river. Too easy a death, the bishop complained, and asked for one in which he could suffer more for his faith. Irritated by the courageous request, the governor had lrenaeus beheaded and then, as a final insult to his body, had it thrown into the river.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  170.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 26
Saint Ludger Bishop and Confessor (c 743-809)

Saint Ludger was born at Zuilen, near Utrecht in Friesland (modern Netherlands), about the year 743. After preparatory studies at an abbey school in Utrecht, he went to study in England under the famous scholar, Alcuin. When he returned to Germany, he plunged into missionary activity with intense energy and enthusiasm. Following in the footsteps of Saint Boniface, Ludger roamed through the barbarian territories, preaching Christianity to the wild tribesmen. He worked under the protection of Emperor Charlemagne, and his gentleness and love drew people to him in droves.

When Saxon raids interrupted his work in Friesland, Ludger made a pilgrimage to Rome and stayed for three years in the Abbey of Monte Cassino, learning about Benedictine monasticism, in the expectation of later founding monasteries in Germany. When the Saxons had been conquered by Charlemagne, Ludger returned to Germany, established the monasteries he had planned, and set out again as a missionary–this time among the Saxons. His headquarters were in the city that is now Münster, and he was consecrated bishop there in 804. Five years later, Ludger died, worn out by his labors for the Church.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  170.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 27
Saint John Damascene Confessor and Doctor of the Church (c 676 – c 749)

Although John Damascene’s life ends conventionally enough for a saint–he died in the monastery of which he was a member–it begins like a tale from the Arabian Nights. His family was an old Syrian one that lived in the ancient city of Damascus, where the members managed both to retain their Christian faith and to find favor with the caliphs. Some office in the caliphate was held by John’s father, and to this office John succeeded at his father’s death.

Although he lived amidst the luxury of the fabulous court, John kept his Christian faith and furthermore became one of its greatest champions. Besides his live and active piety, he had a keen mind that had been well trained in his youth by a learned Italian monk. This monk had been captured in Sicily by Arab pirates and carried off to Damascus, where he remained as a teacher.

His learning and devotion finally drew John away from the court life; its meaningless splendor and luxury could not help but pall for a man of his spiritual maturity, and eventually he left Damascus to become a monk in the monastery of Mar Saba at Jerusalem. There he spent most of his free time in study and writing.

Soon after John was ordained, the first wave of the iconoclastic heresy swept over the Near East. This erroneous belief held that veneration of sacred images was sinful and John attacked it in a series of brilliant works directed at the iconoclast emperor, Leo the lsaurian. The attacks were most effective, helping to squelch the heresy (which broke out again after John ‘s death  and earning John the lasting hatred of the iconoclasts.

Besides these works, he composed many liturgical hymns and poetry and produced a great amount of theological writing, the most famous of his works being Fountain of Wisdom. The most important section of this work is entitled “Of the Orthodox Faith,” and in it John presents Christian dogma with the help of Aristotelian philosophy in much the same way that Saint Thomas Aquinas did five hundred years later. Both John’s hymns and his theology are still used by Eastern Christians, who regard his works as highly as Western Christians do those of Saint Thomas.

The year 749 is sometimes given for John’s death but this is simply a scholarly guess. One tradition has it that he lived to be over a hundred years old, which would have him dying much later than that year. He is known as the last of the Greek Fathers (those theologians who belonged to the Eastern Church and wrote in Greek) and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1890.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  171-173.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 28
Saint John of Capistrano Confessor (1386-1456)

Hooting and jeering, the people of Perugia watched the procession passing before them: the man who only a few months before had been the governor of their city was now dressed in rags and seated backwards on a donkey, riding slowly through the city streets. On his head he wore a paper hat scrawled with writing that proclaimed he was a sinner.

John of Capistrano, the man on the donkey, made his ignominious ride in 1416. Born at Capistrano in the Kingdom of Naples in 1386, he had studied civil and canon law as a young man and was later appointed governor of Perugia by the king of Naples. When civil war broke out between Perugia and Rimini, he attempted to act as a peacemaker but was thrown into prison when he went to Rimini. It was in prison that he began to think seriously about the meaning of his own existence, and from that time he resolved to live for God alone. After his release, John joined the Franciscan Order, first humbling himself by his ride through the streets of Perugia.

Europe was on the eve of the Protestant Revolt in John’s day. Heresy was raging everywhere, Italy being infested with the Fraticelli, or heretical Franciscans. With two other men of his order, Saint Bernardine of Siena and Saint James of the Marches, John helped reform the Franciscans. At the direction of Pope Martin V, he traveled throughout Italy preaching against heresy. His success was extraordinary. A faithful servant of four popes, John attended the Council of Florence, went to Jerusalem as apostolic emissary, and, in 1451, left for Germany on his most important mission–to suppress the Hussite heresy, which was spreading throughout central Europe. John was appointed an inquisitor general, and set out on a preaching tour through the German provinces and Poland. His campaign was doing well when he learned that the Turks were about to attack Belgrade, an action which would pose a grave threat to Europe and Christianity. John went to Hungary where he joined the celebrated general, Janos Hunyadi. In 1456, the two left for Belgrade with but a handful of men to relieve the garrison. After days of terrible fighting, they finally defeated the Turks. Both men, however, contracted fever and died, Hunyadi on August 11, and John on October 23, 1456.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  173-174.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 29
Saint Eustase Abott and Confessor (-627)

Saint Eustase a native of Burgundy and a capable and intelligent man, joined the Abbey of Luxeuil, where he was made director of the abbey’s schools and soon became abbot. This came about when the abbot Columban, an Irish monk who had founded the abbey, dared to criticize Burgundy’s king for the loose life he was living and was banished from the country for his boldness. Columban went to Bobbio in Italy, and Eustase took his place at Luxeuil.

Under the new abbot’s direction, the schools of Luxeuil became famous for their excellence, and students came there from all over France. After he had his monastery well organized, Eustase spent much of his time in the most urgent task for monks of his day-missionary work. On numerous missionary trips, Eustase and a group of monks traveled throughout France and parts of Germany, leaving revitalized Christian communities behind them.

Under a new Burgundian king Luxeuil prospered more than ever, receiving the king’s protection and gifts of land from him. In this tranquil atmosphere Eustase lived his last years. He died about 627.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  174-175.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 30
Saint John Climacus Confessor (-605)

One of the most popular books of the Middle Ages was the Ladder to Paradise, or Climax of Perfection, a collection of anecdotes and maxims illustrating the method of arriving at spiritual perfection through prayer and renunciation. This work was written by a monk who got his name–“Climacus”–from the title of his book.

Nothing is known about Saint John except that he was probably born in Palestine, and sometime late in the sixth century he came to the monastery of Mount Sinai, which had been founded by a group of desert monks earlier in the century on a mountain believed to be the Mount Sinai of the Bible. Admitted to the monastery permanently after a four-year probationary period, John soon left it for the even more solitary life of a hermit, sometimes living on the mountain slope or the plain below the monastery.

Through the next forty years, John’s reputation for holiness spread throughout Arabia and Palestine and, at the age of seventy, he was asked by the monks of Sinai to return as their abbot. John did return and served in this position for four years, after which he retired to prepare himself for death.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  175-176.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.

March 31
Saint Benjamin Martyr (-c 421)

A fifth-century martyr, Benjamin was a deacon in Persia during a persecution there. Benjamin was arrested but was released when the Christian emperor at Constantinople promised that Benjamin would stop his attempts to convert the Persians. Benjamin refused to observe the condition and once released, resumed his public preaching. He was arrested again and brought before the Persian king, who commanded him to sacrifice to pagan gods. Benjamin refused and thereupon was tortured. He was finally slain by being impaled on a barbed stake.

Information from The Lives of Saints for every day of the year The Catholic Press, Inc. 1959.  176.   © 1959 Reverend John P. O’Connell, STD NIHIL OBSTAT; IMPRIMATUR Samuel Cardinal Stritch, Archbishop of Chicago May 5 1958.  Print.