St Patrick

Today is the day we wear green, drink Guinness, and eat corned beef and hoist a pint to the Apostle of Ireland. His feast day is both a religious and cultural holiday.

The dates of his life are not entirely certain but he lived during the fifth century. He was born in Roman Britain possibly in the year 387. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest, but Patrick himself was not an active believer. According to his Confession, when he was sixteen he was captured by Irish pirates who took him to the Emerald Isle where he was enslaved for six years tending sheep. This time in captivity proved critical to his spiritual development. God spoke to him and showed him mercy and forgiveness for his ignorance and sin. Through prayer, he strengthened his relationship with God and converted to Christianity. During this time, he also became fluent in the Irish language and culture which would prove key later on. Much like Joseph who sold into slavery in Egypt, God sent Patrick into captivity for a reason. In both cases, people meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In this case, the conversion of an entire nation and people!

God told him that he would soon be freed and to travel to a distant port where he would find a ship willing to take him to Britain. After escaping from his master, he traveled two hundred miles to the coast where he persuaded a ship captain to let him aboard. After three days sailing, he landed back in Britain and after various adventures, including encountering a herd of wild boar,  he returned home to his family. On his way back to Britain, he was captured again and spent sixty days in captivity in Tours where he discovered French monasticism.

He continued to study Christianity. He studied in Europe, principally at Auxerre, but is thought he visited Marmoutier Abbey at Tours. St. Germanus ordained him. After receiving a vision, he returned to Ireland as a missionary. He founded three hundred churches and baptized 100,000 Irish men, women, and children. He ordained priests to lead the new churches and converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in spite of family opposition. Patrick also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.

Tradition says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Irish about the Trinity, using the three-leafed plant to explain one God in three persons. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and there were a number of triple deities which may have aided him in his efforts to evangelize the Irish when he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.

It also said that he banished all the snakes from Ireland after they attacked him during a forty day fast. The trouble with this account is that Ireland has never had snakes due to the fact that it is too cold. So there were no snakes for him to banish. Yet the story could be metaphorical. Heresy is often depicted in the church as a snake. By converting the Irish to Christianity, he banished paganism from Ireland. So he banished the “snakes” of heresy from the island.

Modern scholars say he died in 460 but Irish historians prefer the later date of 493. Legend has it he was buried in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Columba and St. Brigid, though that has never been proven.

Interestingly enough, some depictions of him show him wearing blue and that color was the color associated with Ireland. It was until later on, due to Ireland’s deep green hues, that green became the color we now associate with the saint and Ireland.

He is venerated worldwide and is known as the Enlightener of Ireland. He is one of Ireland’s primary saints, along with Sts. Columba and Brigit of Kildare. His influence cannot be understated. Thanks to his efforts, Ireland became the land of saints and scholars.

 

 

Anthony Mary Claret, Founder of the Claretians

Today (October 24th) marks the feast day of St. Anthony Mary Claret who founded the congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more commonly known as the Claretians. He was also a Spanish Catholic archbishop, missionary, and confessor to Isabella II of Spain.

He was born in Sallent, in the county of Bages in the Province of Barcelona, Spain on December 23, 1807, the fifth of eleven children. His father was a woolen manufacturer. As a child, he enjoyed pilgrimages to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya.

He received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. At age eighteen, he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade and remained there till he was 20. Meanwhile, he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving.

Recognizing a call to religious life, he left Barcelona and wished to become a Carthusian monk. He finally entered the diocesan seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained on June 13, 1835, on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. He received a benefice in his native parish where he continued to study theology until 1839. Missionary work strongly appealed to him and so he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave due to ill health. He returned to Spain and exercised his pastoral ministry in Viladrau and Girona. His efforts on behalf of the poor attracted attention. In an area despoiled by civil war, he added the practice of rustic medicine to his other efforts.

Recalled by his superiors to Vic, Claret was sent as Apostolic Missionary throughout Catalonia which had suffered from French invasions. He traveled from one mission to the next on foot. Claret, an eloquent preacher fluent in the Catalan language, attracted crowds from miles around who came to hear him. After a lengthy time in the pulpit, he would spend long hours in the confessional and was said to have had the gift of discernment of consciences. In 1848, his life was threatened by anti-clerics and was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. His services were so well attended that he often preached from an improvised pulpit in the plaza before the church.

Upon his return home to Spain, he founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 16, 1849 (Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) and founded the great religious library at Barcelona. Pope Pius IX gave approval to the congregation on December 22, 1865.

Pope Pius IX, at the request of the Spanish crown (Isabella II), appointed him archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1849. He was consecrated at Vic in October 1850. The Santiago seminary was reorganized, clerical discipline strengthened and over 9,000 marriages validated within the first two years of his arrival. He built a hospital and numerous schools. Three times he made a visitation of the entire diocese. Among his great initiatives were trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he first tested himself. In August 1855, he founded the Religious of Mary Immaculate, the first female religious institute in Cuba. He also visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. His work stirred up opposition and was stabbed by a would-be assassin.

In February 1857, Claret was recalled to Spain by Queen Isabella II, who made him her confessor. He obtained permission to resign his Cuban see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanpolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning. He lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years, he was rector of the Escorial monastic school, where he established a scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, library, college and schools of music and languages. In 1868, a new revolution dethroned the queen and sent her with her family into exile. His life was also in danger and he accompanied her to France which gave him the opportunity to preach in Paris. He stayed with them for a while and then went to Rome where he was received by the pope.

He continued his popular missions and distribution of books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish court. In 1869, he went to Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council. Owing to failing health, he withdrew to the French Pyrenees, where he was still harassed by his Spanish enemies. Shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide, Narbonne, southern France, where he died on October 24, 1870, aged 62. His remains were buried in the Catalan city of Vic.

Anthony Mary Claret wrote 144 books. By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language, although most of his books were published in Spanish, especially during his time in Cuba and Madrid.

In addition to the Claretians, which now has over 450 houses and 3100 members, with missions in five continents, Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities or religious sisters.

He was declared venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, beatified by Pius XI on February 24, 1934 and canonized by Pius XII on May 7, 1950. He is the patron saint of textile merchants, weavers, savings, Catholic press, the Canary Islands, technical and vocational educators and Claretian students and educators.

Holy Week

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week before Easter. It includes Palm Sunday, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The earliest allusion to the custom of making this week as a whole with special observances dates back to the the third century.

Of the special observances, the first to come into being was naturally Good Friday. The next was the “Great Sabbath” (Holy Saturday) with its vigil, which in the early church, was associated with an expectation that the second coming of Christ would happen on an Easter Sunday.

Holy Week begins with what Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists call Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. In the Roman Rite, before 1955 it was known simply as Palm Sunday, and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday. Among Lutherans and Anglicans, the day is known as the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. In many liturgical denominations, to commemorate the Messiah’s entry into Jerusalem to accomplish his paschal mystery it is customary to have a blessing of palm leaves. The blessing ceremony includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. Immediately following this great time of celebration over the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, he begins his journey to the cross. The blessing is thus followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands. The Mass or service of worship itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.

A special observance that happens during this week is Tenebrae. Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) is celebrated on the evening before or early morning of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

On Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper occurs, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his twelve apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples. In the Roman Catholic Church and (optionally) in the Anglican Church, a sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose.” In the Catholic Church, the altars of the church (except the one used for altar of repose) are later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled.

The evening liturgical celebration on Holy Thursday begins the first of the three days of the Easter Triduum, which continues in an atmosphere of liturgical mourning throughout the next day in spite of the name “Good” given in English to this Friday.

For Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians, Good Friday is a fast day. Western Catholic Church practice is to have only one full meal with, if needed, two small snacks that together do not make a full meal. The Anglican Communion defines fasting more generically as: “The amount of food eaten is reduced.”

  • The Church mourns for Christ’s death, reveres the Cross, and marvels at his life for his obedience until death.
  • In the Catholic Church, the only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.
  • Outside the afternoon liturgical celebration, the altar remains completely bare in Catholic churches, without altar cloth, candlesticks, or cross. In the Lutheran and Methodist churches, the altar is usually draped in black.
  • It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation for the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.
  • In some parishes of the Anglican Church, Catholic Church, and Lutheran Church, the “Three Hours Devotion” is observed. This traditionally consists of a series of sermons, interspersed with singing, one on each of the Seven Last Words of Christ, together with an introduction and a conclusion. Another pious exercise carried out on Good Friday is that of the Stations of the Cross, either within the church or outside.

Mass is not celebrated on what is liturgically Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on what, though still Saturday in the civil calendar, is liturgically Easter Sunday.

The name of the Easter Vigil, even if the vigil is held on what on the civil calendar is still Saturday, indicates that liturgically it is already Easter, no longer part of Holy Week, but still part of the Easter Triduum.

In the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian traditions, the Easter Vigil, one of the longest and most solemn of liturgical services, lasts up to three or four hours, consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light
  2. The Liturgy of the Word
  3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.
  4. Holy Eucharist

(I go into greater detail on the Vigil in an earlier post).

Easter Sunday, which immediately follows Holy Week and begins with the Easter Vigil, is the great feast day and apogee of the Christian liturgical year: on this day the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. It is the first day of the new season of the Great Fifty Days, or Eastertide, which runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday is the main reason why Christians keep Sunday as the primary day of religious observance.

This week is the greatest of all weeks in the church calendar when we go through Christ’s last days on earth and his Passion. As my priest said today, it is to be celebrated prayerfully. Through prayer and fasting, we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mysteries on Easter.

 

Martin of Tours: Soldier for Christ

The following is from my book, Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage.

PROFILE FIVE

MARTIN OF TOURS

Soldier for Christ

(316-397)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the comic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12

We are called to be soldiers for Christ. We are commanded to preach the good news to the ends of the earth and to help establish God’s kingdom here on earth. History is filled with great examples of men and women who have answered that call. St. Martin of Tours is one of them.

The son of pagan Roman officials, Martin was born in Upper Pannonia—present day Hungary—in 331 and was educated in Pavia in northern Italy. He knew from the age of ten that he wanted to become a Christian, but was enrolled in the Imperial cavalry five years later against his will. He had yet to be baptized. This is the basis of his patronage of soldiers and horsemen. On one bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half his cloak to a naked and freezing beggar. Soon afterward, he saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment. Martin was finally baptized soon after this.

He asked for a discharge from the army, believing that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight. He was accused of cowardice. His answer was to stand unarmed in the battle line, holding only a cross—at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. MartSt_Martin_Icon_2006in was given his discharge and he left the army in his early 20s to become a disciple of Hilary of Potiers. He later traveled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary, who encouraged him to found a community of hermit-monks at Liguge, the first monastery is what is now France.

In 372, at the age of 56, he accepted the epicopate of Tours. Though he was reluctant to accept the offer and continued to live as a monk, he was zealous in the discharge of his duties. He was a dedicated missionary to the Franks who adopted military methods to lead an army of monks through the land destroying idols, pagan temples, and graves and preaching the good news to all. He traveled to the remotest parts of his diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat and was a wonder-worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the
dead. He later established another great monastic center at Marmoutier.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of his day, but he opposed the practice of putting heretics to death. He unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy. He interceded with the emperor Maximus arguing that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

Martin, the first great pioneer of Western monasticism, died at Candes near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks accompanied his body back to Tours. St. Martin of Tours is the patron saint of France and over 4,000 churches in France are named after him.

Martin of Tours’ selfless dedication is an inspiration to us all. Each and every one of us should be zealous in spreading the gospel by using whatever gifts has given us. Not every one of us is called to be preaching on the street corner or to go the remotest parts of the globe. We are all gifted in different ways. But whatever gifting each of us may have, we are all to be about the kingdom’s work. As St. Augustine once said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Words to live by!

O God, who are glorified in the Bishop Saint Martin both by his life and death, make new, we pray,

the wonders of your grace in our hearts, that neither death nor life may separate us from your love.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Common of Pastors)

Big Announcement

My first book is now available for purchase on Amazon Kindle. It is entitled Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage. It is priced at $3.99.  I posted the link below.

http://www.amazon.com/Torchbearers-Profiles-Christian-Robert-Gorham-ebook/dp/B014TW9JVA/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1441232438&sr=8-6&keywords=torchbearers&pebp=1441232580723&perid=049AC42Y0DZK5DTWG9ZB

If you like what you read on my blog, this book is very similar. If you are looking for your next devotional, this book is also for you. It is a “church history devotional.” Each of the 25 profiles have a scripture verse, bio on the saint, application and a concluding prayer.  I am very excited to have this published and available to the masses. I hope you will consider purchasing it. Here is a sample. Enjoy!

PROFILE ONE:

LAURENCE Of ROME

The True Treasures of the Church

(225-258)

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” James 2:5

Perhaps one of the most celebrated of all Roman martyrs, Laurence, was one of the seven deacons of Rome. He was put to death a few days after Pope Sixtus II, during the Valerian persecution. He was buried outside the road to Tivoli and the basilica of St. Laurence Outside the Walls was constructed over his tomb.

Laurence is thought to have been born in Spain, at Huesca, a town in the Aragon region. Here he encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, a highly esteemed teacher at that time. Eventually both left Spain for Rome. When Sixtus became pope in 257, he appointed Laurence a deacon. Though still young, the pope made him first among the seven deacons of Rome. He is therefore called “Archdeacon of Rome,” a position of great trust that included the care of the treasury and riches of the church and the distribution of alms among the poor.

The Roman authorities had established a norm that all Christians who had been denounced must be executed and their goods confiscated by the imperial treasury. At the beginning of August 258, the emperor Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests and deacons should immediately be put to death. Sixtus was captured on sixth of August 258, and was soon executed. After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Laurence hand over the riches of the Church. Laurence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Laurence worked quickly to distribute as much wealth as he could to the poor, so as to prevent it being seized by the state. At the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect on the third day. When asked to present the treasures, he showed the prefect the poor, crippled, blind and suffering, saying that these were the true treasures of the Church. He then told the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This act of defiance led to his death. On August 10, he suffered a martyr’s death. Legend has it that he was roasted alive on a gridiron. But most scholars agree he was beheaded.

Our culture celebrates the rich and powerful and when we think of treasure, we tend to think of money and material possessions. Laurence reminds us that Christ is not to be found among the rich and powerful, but among the poor and the pilgrim. These are the treasures of the Church. For our God is the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows.” (Ps. 68:5) Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21). How do we store up such eternal treasure? By taking care of the poor and the destitute, the widow and orphan, and those less fortunate. It is so easy to forget about these folk. We often walk right by them on the street without giving them a second thought. But Christ reminds us that what we do for the least of these we did for Him. As James writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (1:27) May we take these words to heart and put them into practice. Let us store up for ourselves treasure in heaven.

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 826).

St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440)

AntoniazzoRomano

Frances of Rome is an Italian saint, wife, mother, mystic,  organizer of charitable work and a Benedictine oblate who founded a religious community of oblates who share a common life without religious vows (still exists today). She is a wonderful example to the church who was faithful to God and remarkable in her charitable work for the poor. She also shows us what happens when we submit to God’s will even when it contrasts with our own.

Frances was born in 1384 in Rome to a wealthy and aristocratic couple in the district of Parione and christened in the nearby Church of St. Agnes on the famed Piazza Novona. When she was eleven, she wanted to become a nun but her parents had other ideas. They had already arranged for her to be married. Her soul was troubled at this point. Yet God granted her a special grace by sending her an archangel to be her guardian angel. The angel questioned her about her motives to become a nun despite her parents’ wishes. Was this honoring to God? She decided to submit to her parents and married Lorenzo Ponziani, commander of the papal troops of Rome and member of an extremely wealthy family. The marriage was a happy one, lasting forty years, partly because Lorenzo admired his wife and partly because he was frequently away at war.

With her sister-in-law, Vannozza, Frances visited the poor and took care of the sick, inspiring other wealthy women of the city to do the same. Soon after her marriage, she fell seriously ill. Her husband called in a man who dabbled in magic but she drove him away. She later recounted that Saint Alexis had appeared to her and cured her.

When her mother-in-law died, Frances became mistress of the household. During a time of flood and famine, she turned part of the family’s country estate into a hospital and she distributed food and clothing to the poor. This angered her father-in-law and he took away her keys to the supply rooms. But then something miraculous occurred: the corn bin and wine barrel were replenished after she finished praying. Upon seeing this, her father-in-law handed the keys back to her. This was also the catalyst for her husband’s conversion.

During the wars of the Great Schism, Lorenzo served the pope in Rome. Their son, Batista, was to be delivered as a hostage to the commander of the Neapolitan troops. Obeying this order on the command of her spiritual director, Frances brought the boy to Campidoglio. Along the way, she stopped in the Church of Aracoeli and entrusted the life of her son to the Blessed Mother. Upon their arrival, the troops put her son on a horse to transport him off to captivity. The horse, however, refused to move despite heavy whipping. The soldiers saw the hand of God in this and returned the boy to his mother.

During a period of exile, much of Lorenzo’s property and possessions were destroyed. In the course of one occupation of Rome by Neapolitan troops, Lorenzo was severely wounded and never fully recovered. Frances nursed him throughout the rest of his life.

She experienced other sorrows as well. She lost two children to the plague. Chaos abounded in Rome in that period of neglect by the pope and ongoing warfare between him and other forces competing for power in Italy. Rome was in ruins and wolves roamed the streets. Once again, Frances saw the opportunity for ministry and responded. She opened her home as a hospital and drove her wagon  through the countryside to collect wood for fire and herbs for medicine. It is said that she had the gift of healing and over sixty cases were attested to during the canonization proceedings.

The Catholic Encyclopedia writes, “With her husband’s consent, Frances practiced continence, and advanced in a life of contemplation. Her visions often assumed the form of drama enacted for her by heavenly patronages. She had a gift of miracles and ecstasy, as well as the bodily vision of her guardian angel, had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Great Schism. She could read the secrets of consciences and detect plots of diabolical origin. She was remarkable for her humility and detachment, her obedience and patience.”

On August 15, 1425, the Feast of the Assumption, she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of pious women, under the authority of the Olivetan monks of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. But these women would neither be cloistered nor bound by formal vows in order so they could follow her pattern of combining a life of prayer with answering the needs of their society.

In March 1433, she founded a monastery at Tor de’ Specchi, near the Campidoglio, in order to allow for a common life by those members of the confraternity who felt called to this. It remains the only house of the Institute. On July 4 of that year, they received the approval of Pope Eugene IV as a religious congregation of oblates with private religious vows. They later became known simply as the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome.

Frances herself remained in her own home, nursing her husband for the last seven years of his life from his battle wounds. When he died in 1436, she moved into the monastery and became their superior. She died in 1440 and was buried in Santa Maria Nova.

On May 9, 1608, she was canonized by Pope Paul V and in the following decades there was a diligent search for her remains, which had been hidden due to the troubled times in which she lived. Her body was found incorrupt some months after her death. Her grave was identified on April 2, 1638 (but this time only the bones remained) and her remains were reburied in the Church of Santa Maria Nova on March 9, 1649, which has since then been her feast day. In 1869, her body was exhumed and has since been on display in a glass coffin for the veneration of the faithful. The Church of Santa Maria Nova is often referred to as the Church of St. Frances.

In 1925, Pope Pious XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because of the account that an angel used to light the road before her with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her safe from hazards. She is honored as the patron saint of oblates. She is also the patron saint of widows.

Frances had an implicit trust in God: suffering from a painful illness, giving away food to the poor and never wavering from her faith when ridiculed. Frances shows us the balance of active life, prayer and works of charity. She believed her family came first and must never be slighted in order to spend more time in prayer or acts of charity. As a Benedictine oblate myself, she certainly serves as an example to me and I hope you as well.

Desire to Work for Others: Katherine Drexel

Katherine-drexel

Katherine Drexel, born on November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, was born into the wealthiest families in America. She was the daughter of an investment banker. Her family owned a considerable fortune. Her uncle was the founder of Drexel University. When her father died, he established a trust for his three daughters worth fourteen million dollars. Devout Catholics, all three of them regarded their fortune as an opportunity to glorify God through the service of others.

As a young and wealthy woman, she made her social debut in 1879. However watching her stepmother’s three year battle with cancer taught her money could not save her from pain and death. Her life took a profound turn. She had several marriage proposals. But she decided to give herself and her fortune to God. There were plenty of claims on her generosity. But Katherine felt a special dedication to those who were ignored by the Church, especially blacks and Native Americans. She was appalled by the treatment of Native Americans. She endowed scores of schools on Indian reservations and supported Catholic missions on reservations. She also established 50 missions for Native American in 16 states. In 1878 during a private audience with Pope Leo XIII she begged the pope to send priests to serve the Native Americans. He responded, “Why not become a missionary yourself?” It was another turning point.

Finding no existing religious orders corresponding to her sense of mission, she founded her own: The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. A few months later, the Philadelphia Archbishop Ryan blessed the cornerstone of the motherhouse in Bensalem, PA. In the first of many incidents that indicated not all shared her concern for social justice, a stick of dynamite was discovered near the site. She insisted that her sisters rely on alms, while she reserved her fortune for initiatives such as the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic College established for black students. Such efforts on behalf of blacks drew the ire of the KKK who made multiple threats. Segregationalists harassed her work even burning a school in Philadelphia. But by 1942, Drexel and her order founded and established a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools.

In 1935, Drexel suffered a heart attack and in 1937 she relinquished the office of superior general. Though becoming gradually more infirm, she was able to devote the rest of her life to Eucharistic adoration and therefore fulfilling her lifelong desire for a contemplative life. Over the course of six decades, Mother Katherine spent about $20 million dollars of her fortune building schools and churches, as well as the paying the salaries of teachers in rural schools for blacks and Indians.

Mother Drexel, whose life spanned the era of slavery and the dawn of the civil rights movement, died on March 3, 1955, at the age of 96. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Numerous schools, parishes and churches are named in her honor.

Mother Drexel: “Often in my desire to work for others…some hostile influence renders me powerless. My prayers seem to avail nothing…In such cases I must not grieve. I am only treading in my Master’s steps.”