Tag Archives: Saints

5 plague saints who spared nothing

By early July, the coronavirus pandemic claimed more than 507,000 people worldwide, with almost a quarter of the global fatalities occurring in the United States, where more than 125,000 people had died since February.

Pandemics are nothing new; humanity has been ravaged by them throughout history. In Christian Europe, the clergy, religious, and laity often responded to pandemic outbreaks with heartfelt prayer and acts of penance.

Five canonized saints are spotlighted here for their care of the sick and dying during plague times, at the risk of their own lives. Their responses, rooted in Jesus’ commands to care ‘for the least of these,’ show how they were willing to lay down their lives for their neighbors.

St. Charles Borromeo

Milan cardinal perdured with his stricken, abandoned flock

In 1576, St. Charles Borromeo (1538-1584), a leading figure of the Counter-Reformation, was serving as cardinal- archbishop of Milan when famine, and later a plague broke out.

In stunning similarity to recent events, the city’s economy collapsed and health conditions deteriorated; the local governor and many nobility even fled Milan. But not Archbishop Borromeo, who stayed behind to care for the affected and minister to the dying.

“I have sought outside priests, and not in vain, but we need still more,” Archbishop Borromeo said in a sermon wherein he asked for assistance from the religious superiors of monasteries and religious congregations in his diocese.

With civic officials abandoning their posts, Borromeo issued critical guidelines to control the plague’s outbreak and organized makeshift hospitals. He donated his clothes and tapestries, and spent his own money, even going into debt, to feed as many as 70,000 people daily.

The saintly archbishop also organized processions. Though he shuttered churches to prevent the plague from spreading in enclosed spaces, Borromeo ordered outdoor altar spaces to be built outside each church or chapel for the faithful’s spiritual needs.

Having never contracted the plague, the archbishop credited his good health to fasting and prayer. In his sermon to religious superiors, Archbishop Borromeo vowed to care for any of them if they became ill.

He was canonized in 1610.

St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli

Widowed mother created hospital refuges for sick, underprivileged, and destitute

A widow and mother of two young children by the time she was 20, St. Virginia Centurione Bracelli (1587-1651) spent most of her adult life doing charitable works and assisting the poor, sick, elderly, and abandoned in Genoa.

When her mother-in-law died in 1625, Virginia turned her home into a refuge for the poor, founding the Cento Signore della Misericordia Protettrici dei Poveri di Gesù Cristo (The Hundred Ladies of Mercy, Protectors of the Poor of Jesus Christ).

The house was overrun when plague and famine struck Genoa in 1629. To house the sick, Virginia rented the vacant convent of Monte Calvario and had extra housing constructed. By 1635, Virginia was caring for 300 patients. The local government officially recognized her institution as a hospital.

Virginia cared for the spiritual and temporal needs of the women in her houses, teaching them religion and how to earn a living. She had a church built in honor of Our Lady of Refuge, where the women who worked with her formed two congregations: the Sisters of Our Lady of Refuge in Mount Calvary, and the Daughters of Our Lady on Mount Calvary

Though the plague in Genoa eventually ended, Virginia’s hospital continued caring for the sick. Virginia devoted her later years to serving the poor, mediating peace between noble families and working to reconcile civic and ecclesial authorities.

The most well-known quote attributed to Virginia is: “When God is the only goal, all disagreements are smoothed out, all difficulties overcome.” She was canonized in 2003. Her remains are still mostly incorrupt.

St. Jose Brochero

20th-century Argentinian priest befriended lepers, became one

Affectionately known during his lifetime as “the Gaucho priest” and the “cowboy priest,” St. Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero (1840- 1914) could often be found riding through Argentina on a donkey, with a poncho over his shoulders, a sombrero, and a cigar in his mouth.

Father Jose, who traveled long distances in Argentina to serve the spiritual needs of his flock with his Mass kit, prayer book, and an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was well-known for his motto: “Woe if the Devil is going to rob a soul from me.”

He was particularly devoted to the poor and sick people of his huge parish. He cared for the ill during a cholera epidemic in 1867. He befriended a parishioner with leprosy, an affliction that Father Jose would himself contract.

The leprosy eventually caused Father Jose to lose his sight and hearing in later years, and forced him to relinquish pastoral duties. He spent his last three frail years living with his sisters in Cordoba.

Before taking his last breath on Jan. 26, 1914, Father Jose’s last words were, “Now I have everything ready for the journey.”

A few days after his death, a Catholic newspaper in Cordoba wrote: “It is known that Father Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced an abandoned leper of the area.” He was canonized in 2016. 

St. Sebastian

3rd-Century Roman army captain’s intercession still sought during plagues

The common image many have of St. Sebastian (AD 256 – 288) is of a young man tied to a post or tree, his body “full of arrows as an urchin” for his fidelity to Christ. 

According to tradition, Sebastian was born in Gaul, went to Rome, and joined the army of the emperor Marcus Aurelius Carinus. An excellent soldier, he became an army captain and a member of the Praetorian Guard to protect the emperor Diocletian, who was persecuting Christians. 

It is said that Sebastian, a Christian, joined the Roman army to protect Christians from the emperor’s persecutions. However, Diocletian ordered Sebastian to be executed after learning he was a Christian who had converted Roman soldiers. 

Tradition says Sebastian survived being shot with arrows and nursed back to health, only to later be clubbed to death upon returning to Diocletian and chastising him.

 In medieval Europe, Sebastian’s intercession was often sought during outbreaks of the plague. The image of the martyr shot with arrows, and surviving, may have been seen as a symbolic Christian response to the pagan deity Apollo, the archer-god who sometimes shot his enemies with plague-infested arrows.

In 680 AD, Sebastian was credited with defending Rome from a pestilence. As a patron of soldiers whose intercession was sought during plagues, Sebastian was a popular saint during the Middle Ages, and a favorite subject for Late Gothic and Renaissance artists. He is buried along the Appian Way in Rome.

St. Roch

Divested riches and adopted poverty, to be Christ-presence to poor and sick

Saint Roch (1295 – 1327) was a Third Order Franciscan who, having lost both parents when he was 20, inherited a sizeable fortune. But he chose to divest of his worldly possessions when he visited Italy as a mendicant pilgrim in the early 14th century.

During his Italian journey, a plague struck the northern Italian town of Acquapendente. Roch did not hurry away to preserve his life as others did, but offered himself in the service of his brethren in Christ. He tended to the sick in several hospitals throughout Italy, curing many people with the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand.

In Rome, according to tradition, he healed a cardinal by blessing the prelate’s forehead; the sign of the cross miraculously remained.

Roch was ministering to plague victims in Piacenza when he himself finally fell ill. He was expelled from the Italian town and sought refuge in the woods, where he recovered and is said to have performed several miraculous healings.

Upon returning to his French homeland, he was thrown into prison, where he spent five years. As he lay dying there, a tablet appeared upon the wall on which an angelic hand wrote in golden letters the name of Roch, and the prediction that all who invoke his intercession would be delivered from the plague.

Shortly after his death, miracles were reported through his intercession. He is still invoked against plague. He was later canonized by Pope Urban VIII.

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

St. Dominic (1170-1221)

Feast Day: August 8
Canonization: July 13, 1234
Patron of Astronomers, Dominican Republic, Malta, Falsely Accused People

St. Dominic introduced devotion to the rosary and founded one of the great Catholic orders of the 13th century, The Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans.

Born in Castille, Spain, as a schoolboy Dominic sold his books to feed the poor, and once offered himself to ransom a slave. He saw living simply as key to converting followers of the Albigensian heresy – which taught that all matter is evil, including humanity, and that Jesus was not human.

While accompanying his bishop on a mission, Dominic saw the threat Albigensians posed to Catholicism. He realized the need for a new religious order to help rebuild the Church, since people were not swayed by preachers traveling in comfort, staying at the best inns, and having servants.

Tradition says the Virgin Mary appeared to Dominic in southern France in 1208, while he was praying, giving him the rosary to convert sinners. During famous battles against the Albigensians, with rosary in hand he revived courage of the Catholic armies, led them to victory against overwhelming numbers, and finally subdued the heresy. Devotion to the rosary is thus attributed to Dominic’s teaching.

Worn out by his labors, Dominic died at 51 on Aug. 6, 1221 in Bologna, Italy. Pope Gregory IX canonized him in 1234.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati (1901-1925)

Feast Day: July 4
Beatified: May 20, 1990
Patron Of World Youth Days, Italian Confraternities, Catholic Youth, Mountain Climbers, Skiers, Dominican Tertiaries

Pier Giorgio Frassati, “The Man of the Beatitudes,” was born in 1901 in Turin, Italy to an influential family. From his youth, the handsome and personable Frassati showed a devout nature, attending daily Mass, and joined the Marian Sodality and the Apostleship of Prayer.

An avid outdoorsman, Pier Giorgio organized mountain climbs and hiking trips with friends. He loved theater and was politically active, strongly anti-Fascist, and involved with the Catholic Young Workers Congress.

He became a professed Third Order Dominican, devoted to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine of Siena. Having a deep love for the poor, he joined the St. Vincent de Paul Society and spent much free time tending to the needy

At just 24, he contracted polio – which some say he got from caring for people in the Turin slums. He suffered six days before dying on July 4, 1925. As a testament to his character, the local poor lined the streets of Turin for his funeral procession. St. Pope John Paul II beatified him on May 20, 1990. Pier Giorgio has been a patron for several World Youth Days.

St. Aloysius De Gonzaga (1568-1591)

Feast day: June 21
Canonization: 1726
Patron of plague victims, purity, and chastity

Aloysius de Gonzaga was barely 23 and a seminarian when he died caring for plague victims in Rome. But the 16thcentury Jesuit’s holiness was evident even as a young child – he immersed in serious prayer, taught catechism, and fasted regularly.

An aristocrat and eldest of seven, he grew up in northern Italy. His father, a Marquis nobleman, planned for Aloysius to become a soldier

While a teenager serving at a Florence court, Aloysius became seriously ill. Like St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), Aloysius was radically transformed during convalescence as he studied lives of the saints.

Over his father’s objections (but to his mother’s delight), he joined the Society of Jesus in 1585, with St. Robert Bellarmine as his spiritual advisor. In 1591 while studying theology for ordination, a plague broke out in Rome. Aloysius contracted it while caring for a hospitalized plague patient.

Before taking his last breath on June 21, 1591, Aloysius’ eyes were fixed on a crucifix he held. He succumbed while pronouncing the Holy Name of Jesus, on the octave day of Corpus Christi.

St. Catherine Of Siena (1347-1380)

Feast Day: April 29
Canonization: June 29, 1461

St. Catherine of Siena is among the Church’s most influential mystics and spiritual writers.

Before her death at 33, Catherine became a renowned mystic who played a key role in convincing Pope Gregory XI to leave Avignon and return to Rome – during a confusing time when three men claimed to be pope. Even other saints from that early Renaissance period took opposing sides. As papal envoy, she worked with princes and cardinals in efforts to heal the Western Schism, an extraordinarily tumultuous time in Church history

Born and raised in Siena, Italy, from a young age Catherine devoted herself to God. Her holiness and spiritual gifts — she even suffered from an invisible stigmata — drew many followers.

Worn out from years of penance and apostolic endeavors, Catherine died in Rome on April 29, 1380. She was canonized in 1461, declared patron saint of Rome in 1866, and of Italy in 1939 along with St. Francis of Assisi. In 1970, Pope Paul VI declared Catherine a Doctor of the Church. Her testament on living the spiritual life to its fullest is found in The Dialogue.

Hawaiian saints who embodied heroic love

Waikiki’s St. Augustine Parish in the Diocese of Honolulu, HawaiI, this year is opening a new Damien and Marianne of Molokai Education Center, a $6 million, 5,900-square-foot project spearheaded by Fr. Lane Akiona, St. Augustine’s pastor. It will tell the story of two of the Hawaiian Islands’ most popular saints, St. Damien of Molokai (1840-89) and St. Marianne Cope (1838-1918), with photographs, videos, interactive exhibits, and artifacts.

“Damien and Marianne are important to the Church in Hawaii because they are models for us on how to respond to those in need with charity,” explained Fr. Akiona, who is a member of Damien’s community, the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SS.CC), and is from Molokai. “We want people who visit here to know their story.”

The vision of a Damien museum—called an “educational center,” to facilitate the raising of needed funding—began a dozen years ago when Fr. Akiona became pastor and wanted to better share the story of Father Damien in anticipation of his canonization, which occurred in 2009. Damien was born in Belgium, joined the SS.CC community, and volunteered to be a missionary in Hawaii. He was ordained a priest in 1864 in Honolulu’s Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. He worked for a time on the Big Island, and then volunteered to spend the last 16 years of his life caring for the lepers confined to the Kalaupapa and Kalawao regions on the north side of Molokai Island. He eventually contracted and died of the disease in 1889.

UNSHAKEABLE FAITH

Fr. Herman Gomes is provincial superior of Damien’s SS.CC community today and has been a member of the community for more than 40 years. In his extensive studies of the saint’s life, he has marveled at his unshakeable faith in God even after he contracted leprosy and knew a miserable death awaited him. Fr. Gomes said, “Damien saw that it was something God was allowing for his sanctification and his response was ‘Thy will be done.’”

Catholics in the Hawaiian Islands today see him as a committed missionary, and as a “model of faith and a great humanitarian.”

Conditions in the leper colony of Molokai were harsh when he arrived in 1873, Father said, with a few primitive dwellings and a might-makes-right system of governance. Stronger residents could assault weaker ones physically and sexually, Father said, without fear of consequence. Father explained, “What could they do, throw you in jail? In your mind, as you were already permanently confined to the island, you were in jail.”

For the next 16 years, St. Damien helped bring civility, a better standard of living, and the Catholic faith to the settlement, so that “a place of despair” was transformed into one that was “tolerable or even pleasant.”

Marianne was a Sister of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York. She volunteered to come to Molokai with a small group of her sisters, cared for Damien during the final months of his life, and continued his ministry after his death.

Sr. Alicia Damien Lau is a member of Sr. Marianne’s community, which is now known as the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. She first came to the Kalaupapa community in 1965, when patients were still confined there, and still serves the few remaining ones who voluntarily chose to live in the settlement. Sr. Alicia said that when St. Marianne, or “Mother Marianne,” as the surviving patients like to call her, arrived, it was her desire that Kalaupapa be “not a sad but a happy place.” She encouraged the residents to dance, for example, and one of her letters described the residents as “joyful as butterflies.” Sr. Alicia said that she is reminded of this letter when she sees butterflies at St. Marianne’s gravesite at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. She continued, “Marianne cared for the disfigured and the outcast with unconditional love and compassion. Along with Fr. Damien, she made a tremendous contribution to the suffering of the time.”

Sr. Alicia traveled with 11 surviving Kalaupapa patients to Rome for Marianne’s canonization in 2012, the majority of whom had to use wheelchairs. It was also upon Marianne’s canonization that Fr. Akiona decided to include her story, along with Damien’s, in the new educational center.

STORY OF THE PATIENTS

In addition to Damien and Marianne, Father noted that the center will have a third component, the story of the patients who were once confined to Molokai. Father explained, “It was their illness that prompted Damien and Marianne to respond to them out of Christian charity and compassion. It led to their becoming saints.” 

The artifacts to be on display include St. Damien’s eyeglasses, cane, a pipe given to him by the bishop who ordained him a priest, vestments, and carpentry tools. St. Marianne’s artifacts are in the possession of her community in Syracuse, New York; Fr. Akiona hopes some will be lent to the center for display.

While the exterior of the building has been completed, work is continuing on the displays inside. The center will open this year, although an opening date has not been announced. It will be open six days a week and operated by paid staff and volunteers; visitors will be asked to pay a modest admission charge. The facility will also have a chapel and gift shop. 

Father plans to feature rotating exhibits, so that visitors will have incentive to return again and again. While it is difficult to project the number of visitors who will come, a previous Damien and Marianne Center housed in a nearby store from 2010-13 drew 40,000 annually. It closed because of a rent hike.

LESS EXPENSIVE LOCATION

The bishop of Honolulu, Most Reverend Larry Silva, wondered why the center wasn’t located near the cathedral at a less expensive location. Waikiki has heavy foot traffic, Father Akiona responded, so a parking lot would not be necessary. Additionally, he said, large numbers of people come to Waikiki, bringing many potential visitors to the center.

Like Fr. Akiona, Bishop Silva has a personal connection to Molokai. His ancestors first came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane industry in the 1870s; one contracted leprosy and was confined to Kalaupapa. He regularly leads pilgrimage groups to Kalaupapa, which must be accessed either by a 9-passenger airplane, or by foot or mule on a switchback trail up a 2,000-foot cliff. Damienrelated sites which can be visited on Molokai include St. Philomena Church, where Fr. Damien celebrated Mass, St. Joseph Church in Kamalo (outside of the leper colony), which he built, and Damien’s original gravesite. Eight thousand patients were confined in Molokai 1866-1969. The few remaining residents who stay by choice will be allowed to remain until the end of their lives, despite the great expense to operate the site.

Typically, visitors come to Molokai on day trips, but more than once, the bishop said, bad weather has led to the cancellation of flights and groups have had to spend the night on Molokai. Bishop Silva continued, “The people there are always accommodating and help us to make do.”

Fr. Akiona welcomes inquiries by educational organizations interested in partnering with the education center to help him create a “broader story line” of the pair. For additional information, visit https://damienandmarianne.org/

JIM GRAVES is a Legatus magazine guest contributor.

St. Francisco Marto (1908-1919)

Feast Day: February 20
Canonization: May 13, 2017

Francisco de Jesus Marto was one of three Portuguese shepherd children of Fatima who witnessed several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin in 1917.

At the time, Francisco was eight; his sister, Jacinta, was seven; and their cousin, Lucia dos Santos, was 10. According to Lucia’s later memoirs, Francisco was placid, musically talented, and relished being alone in prayer.

Our Lady asked them to pray the rosary daily and make sacrifices for sinners’ conversion; she also showed them the reality of hell. On October 13, 1917, some 70,000 people gathered at the apparition site and saw “the Miracle of the Sun” – when it ‘danced’ in dazzling color toward earth.

Francisco and Jacinta died from the 1918 European influenza epidemic. Francisco declined hospital treatment and died at home with a glow on his face on April 4, 1919. He was almost 11. Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia are buried at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary in Fatima. Pope Francis canonized the Marto siblings on May 13, 2017, the first centennial of the first Fatima apparition.

St. Francis De Sales (1567-1622)

Feast Day: January 24
Canonization: April 19, 1665
Patron Of Journalists, Teachers, The Deaf, Catholic Press, Catholic Writers

Centuries before Vatican II’s ‘universal call to holiness,’ St. Francis de Sales called it ‘heresy’ to say religious devotion was incompatible with the layman’s life of a soldier, tradesman, prince, or married woman.

“It has happened that many have lost perfection in the desert who had preserved it in the world,” he wrote in his 1609 spiritual classic The Introduction to the Devout Life.

Francis was born in 1567 to a noble family in the Kingdom of Savoy, near Geneva, Switzerland. His father envisioned a legal career for him, but Francis felt called to the Church. His father finally consented upon Francis’ heartfelt persuasiveness. He was thus ordained a priest, and later as bishop, shepherded the Diocese of Geneva.

He untiringly evangelized the Calvinist stronghold in Geneva. By preaching and distributing inspiring pamphlets on true Catholic teaching – the first known use of tracts for evangelization – it is believed the gentle-mannered Francis brought some 50,000 people back to the Catholic Church. In 1877, Pope Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church.

St. Stephen (1st Century AD)

Feast Day: December 26 
Canonized: Pre-Congregation
Patron Of Deacons, Altar Servers, Stonemasons, Casket Makers

The Bible indicates Stephen was a 1st-century deacon, and the first Christian martyr.

A Jew from outside Palestine, he became Christian, then headed the first seven deacons. He studied with Saul and Barnabas under Gamaliel (a Sanhedrin member opposing persecution of the Apostles). Learning Scripture to perfection, he was steeped in chastity, humility, and Divine spirit – drawing great admiration, fearing nothing in service of God.

Members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, angered that Stephen had bested them in debates, charged him with blasphemy before the Sanhedrin. Filled with the Holy Spirit during his trial, Stephen accurately detailed Israel’s history and disobedience to God, which enraged his accusers. Stephen then saw a vision of Christ and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).

An incensed crowd thus rushed upon him, stoning him. Watching was Saul of Tarsus, a virulent persecutor of Christians, for whom Stephen prayed as he forgave his murderers. Thus, Saul later became the Apostle Paul after encountering Christ.

Saint Cecilia (2nd Century Ad)

Feast Day: November 22
Patroness of Musicians, Composers, and Instrument Makers

St. Cecilia was a 2nd-century young noble Christian woman in Rome, whose family promised her in marriage to the pagan nobleman, Valerius. Formerly, she had vowed to remain a virgin, and is said to have heard heavenly music in her heart during their wedding.

She then told her husband of her vow of virginity, and that an angel was protecting her. When Valerius asked to see the angel, Cecilia said he would upon traveling the Appian Way and receiving baptism. Upon doing so, Valerius indeed saw the angel at Cecilia’s side. She thus persuaded Valerius to respect her virginity. He later converted to Christianity, as did his brother Tiburtius.

Valerius, Tiburtius, and Cecilia were martyred for their faith around 177 AD, for their ‘crimes’ of burying other Christian martyrs, and refusing to renounce Christianity. Very many were being baptized, inspired by her witness and strength.

Cecilia was buried in the Catacomb of Callistus, then transferred to the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. In 1599, her body was found incorrupt.