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St. Elizabeth Ann Seton: Patron saint of widows and seafarers

If you ever had an opportunity to attend Catholic school in the United States, you have Elizabeth Ann Seton to thank for it. The first American-born saint, Mother Seton, as she became known, would end up traveling an often painful road, which led from a privileged upbringing in New York to her eventual vocation as a Sister of Charity in Baltimore, Md.
 
Born Elizabeth Ann Bayley in New York in 1774, she was raised as a staunch Episcopalian by her father, Dr. Richard Bayley. Although the family moved in the highest social circles, Bayley made sure that his daughter learned early the value of love and service to others.
 
At the age of 19, Elizabeth married a wealthy businessman, William Magee Seton, with whom she was deeply in love. Together they had five children, and she felt, at the time, as if she had everything she could want.
 
Ten years into their marriage, however, life began to take a different turn. Seton’s business failed, and he contracted tuberculosis. In an attempt to recover his health, the family moved to Italy, where he had business friends. The move, however, saved neither him nor his finances; he died in 1803, leaving his wife an impoverished widow with five children to raise on her own.
 
While in Italy, however, she came in close contact with Catholicism for the first time through the Filichi family, who took her and her children in. Through their influence, she became deeply devoted to both the Real Presence and the Blessed Mother.  When she converted to Catholicism in 1805, the news was not warmly received by many of her strict Episcopalian family and friends. 
 
Although she considered entering a convent in Canada, then-Archbishop John Carroll (whose cousin Charles had been a signer of the Declaration of Independence) convinced her instead to come to the Diocese of Baltimore. There, she founded a school in 1808 to help support herself and her children; though it was a secular institution, it was run along the lines of a religious community.  In fact, when news of her Catholicism spread, many of the girls enrolled there were withdrawn by their parents.
 
As other young women began to join Elizabeth, the archbishop asked her to establish a free Catholic girl’s school in Baltimore, and the parochial school system in America was inaugurated. In 1809, Elizabeth founded the Sisters of Charity to run the schools, and from that point on, she was known as Mother Seton. Archbishop Carroll officially approved the order in 1812.
 
Both her order and the parochial school system grew. Although she contracted tuberculosis, Mother Seton continued to work with both until her death in 1821.
 
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s feast day is Jan. 4; she is the patron saint of widows and seafarers (two of her sons went to sea), and against loss of parents.
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
  
www.catholiconline.com
 
“Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton“. CatholicSaints.Info. 30 September 2016.
 
Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z”.  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Publications, 2002.
 
 

Street saints and brave martyrs: Pope to declare 7 new saints

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis will create seven new saints Oct. 16. Here are brief biographies of the six men and one woman about to be canonized.

-- Blessed Jose Gabriel del Rosario Brochero, affectionately known as the "gaucho priest," was born in Argentina in 1840 and died in 1914. Ordained for the Archdiocese of Cordoba, he spent years traveling far and wide by mule to reach his flock. Pope Francis, in a message in 2013 for the priest's beatification -- a ceremony scheduled before the Argentine pope was elected -- said Father Brochero "did not stay in the sacristy combing the sheep," but went out in search of the lost.

"This is what Jesus wants today, missionary disciples, street priests of faith!" the pope said.

The new saint gained particular fame for caring for the sick and dying, devoting himself to ensuring they received the sacraments. He eventually contracted Hansen's disease, commonly known as leprosy, possibly from sharing a cup of mate tea with someone who was infected.

-- Blessed Jose Sanchez del Rio was martyred several weeks before his 15th birthday in 1928. Born in Michoacan, he wanted to join his brothers in the Cristero War, a civil war between rebels and the government of Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles who introduced tough anti-clerical laws and confiscated church property.

Although his enlistment was refused, the young boy's persistence wore down the rebel general and he was allowed to be the flag bearer of a unit. During an intense battle, he was captured by government forces and threatened with death if he didn't renounce his faith. In an attempt to break his resolve, he was forced to witness the hanging of a fellow soldier. Instead, the young boy encouraged the soldier, saying they would soon meet in heaven.

After enduring two weeks of torture following his capture, Blessed Sanchez was executed. Witnesses say that before his death, he drew a cross in the dirt and kissed it. He was declared a martyr by St. John Paul II and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005.

-- Blessed Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclerq, commonly called by his religious name, Salomone, entered the De La Salle Christian Brothers in 1767. After serving several years as a teacher and provincial, Blessed Leclerq along with his confreres found themselves and other Catholic clergy targeted during the French Revolution.

The Christian Brothers were among the many Catholic institutions deemed illegal for refusing to pledge the oath of allegiance to the new government after King Louis XVI was deposed. Despite being monitored, Blessed Leclerq continued to write to his relatives and even planned to form a new religious congregation.

However, he was arrested and imprisoned with other priests in a convent in Paris in 1792. Several weeks later, he and his fellow inmates were executed in the convent garden.

-- Known as the "bishop of the tabernacle," Blessed Manuel Gonzalez Garcia was deeply devoted to eucharistic adoration. Born in Seville, Blessed Gonzalez felt called to the priesthood at the age of 12. After his ordination in 1901, he was sent to preach at a church that he found was unclean and abandoned.

It was there, praying before the tabernacle that he decided to dedicate his life to bringing souls back to the church and founded the "Union Eucaristica Reparatoria" ("Eucharist Reparation Union"), an order devoted to the Eucharist and caring for the sick, the poor and abandoned children.

He was appointed as auxiliary bishop of Malaga and later named bishop of Palencia in 1935 by Pope Pius XI. He died in 1940 and because his final request was to be buried at the foot of the tabernacle, he was buried at the main altar of the Cathedral of Palencia.

-- Blessed Ludovico Pavoni was born in Brescia, Italy, in 1784. Ordained to the priesthood in 1807, he opened an oratory dedicated to the personal and social education of young people.

With his bishop's support, he also opened an orphanage and vocational school, which was among the first schools to admit deaf children. He established the Sons of Mary Immaculate, now commonly known as the Pavonians, to continue his work. He died in 1849.

-- Blessed Alfonso Maria Fusco was born in Angri, Italy, to parents who, hoping for a child, went to pray at the tomb of St. Alfonso Maria de Liguori. A priest there told them they would have a son, who they should name Alfonso and that he would become a priest. One year later, the baby was born.

After his ordination to the priesthood in 1863, he dedicated himself to evangelization and gained fame as an understanding confessor. He founded the Congregation of the Baptistine Sisters of the Nazarene and opened the Little House of Providence, a home for abandoned children. After dedicating his life to opening similar houses throughout Italy, he died in 1910.

-- Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity was born Elisabeth Catez in France in 1880 and died in 1906.

Against the wishes of her mother, who wanted her to marry, she entered the Discalced Carmelite Order in 1901. Throughout her life, she desired a deeper understanding of God's love, which she expressed in her writings. A writer and mystic, she died at the age of 26.
  • Published in Vatican

St. Clement I

St. Clement I
 
Pope St. Clement I occupied the Chair of Peter in the very early years of the Church. Known as one of the Church’s “Apostolic Fathers,” he provided a direct link between the apostles who knew Jesus and the later generations who succeeded them.
 
The most concrete information we have about him comes from a letter he wrote to the Church in Corinth around the year 96. In it he admonishes a group within the community who were actively trying to split away from the established clergy, to instead seek reconciliation. Like other Apostolic Fathers of the time, he stressed unity over division and understanding over conflict.
 
“Charity unites us to God…,” he wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians. “There is nothing mean in charity, nothing arrogant. Charity knows no schism, does not rebel, does all things in concord. In charity, all the elect of God have been made perfect.”
 
Clement I died in about the year 100, and his feast day is celebrated Nov. 23.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Chapman, John. "Pope St. Clement I." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908.
 
“Pope Saint Clement I“. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 May 2016. 

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo
 
To say that St. Charles Borromeo moved in the highest circles of his time would be an understatement.  Born in 1538 into Milanese nobility, he was not only related to the powerful Medici family of Florence, Italy, but was also a nephew of Pope Pius IV, who ruled from 1559-1565. Because of his family connections, Charles became a prominent member of the administration of the Church, even while he was still a layman; the unexpected death of both his father and elder brother, however, set him on a path that would become synonymous not with power and prestige but with charity and reform.
 
The Church of Charles’ time was undergoing a period of great turbulence; Martin Luther had instigated the Protestant Reformation and Rome was responding with a Counter-Reformation. Although many religious orders had been founded to help with Church renewal – the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, being perhaps the most prominent of these – an ecumenical council of the entire Church was necessary to complete needed reforms. The Council of Trent, which convened from 1545 to 1563, thus became known as the Reform Council. Due primarily to political circumstances, the Council met in a series of three periods, and it was during the last one, from 1562 to 1563, that Charles Borromeo proved himself to be such an able leader.
 
Charles was both intelligent and well educated, thus perfectly suited to the weighty responsibilities that were ultimately placed upon him. Although his family pressured him to marry when both his father and elder brother died, he chose instead to become a priest. It was about the time of his ordination (at age 25) that he participated in St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, an experience that changed him radically. From then on, until the end of his life, his purpose became not power but holiness, and he eschewed all luxury, devoting himself instead to charitable works and the poor.
 
Charles was named cardinal-archbishop of Milan in 1561, but because he was so involved in the workings of the Council, he was not permitted to actually live in his diocese until the Council proceedings were concluded. He deserves the lion’s share of the credit for keeping Trent in session, even as internal circumstances threatened to break it up. He conducted all correspondence at the end and guided the drafting of the Roman Catechism.
 
The close of the Council did not mean the end of Charles’ work. Upon returning to Milan, he found his local church much in need of religious education and practical reform. To help address these issues, he established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and founded seven seminaries designed to better educate and reform the clergy. 
 
Not everyone greeted his work with enthusiasm, however. Because he insisted on strict enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline, there was an attempt on his life by a group of disgruntled monks in 1569. Though he was seriously wounded in the attack, he was not killed.
 
Charles believed strongly that if he were to insist on reform, he himself had to lead by example. When famine struck Milan in 1570 and the plague followed from 1576 to 1578, it was the archbishop who fed and cared for thousands of his fellow citizens, even as civil authorities fled the city. Although the circumstances of his birth would have entitled him to wealth, luxury and honors, he did without them all to become as poor as his people. 
 
Worn out with work and the burdens that had been his since his youth, Charles Borromeo died in 1584 at the age of 46. The patron saint of catechists, catechumens and seminarians, his feast day is Nov. 4.
 
 
Sources for this article include:
 
www.americancatholic.org
 
www.catholiconline.com
 
Keogh, William. "St. Charles Borromeo." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 
 
“Saint Charles Borromeo“. CatholicSaints.Info. 26 May 2016.
 
 
 

St. John Leonardi

St. John (or Giovanni) Leonardi was born about 1541 into an interesting time in European history.  The Protestant Reformation was underway, and the Church, though disagreeing with the separation that had occurred, acknowledged that reforms within Catholicism needed to be undertaken.
 
The youngest of seven children, Giovanni at first studied to be a pharmacist, but by the age of 27 had decided that his true vocation was to the priesthood.  Ordained in 1572, Giovanni soon attracted a small group of men who were also interested in religious life.  He became their spiritual director, and the communal form of life they lived eventually led to the formation of the Clerks Regular of the Mother of God.
 
Becoming a recognized order did not go smoothly, however; the political pressures of the time forced Giovanni and his fellow priests into a kind of exile outside their native town of Lucca.  When they were finally approved in 1595, Giovanni sought to aid the efforts of the Church’s Counter Reformation by educating both the clergy and the laity, emphasizing the need for holiness for all.  His work laid the foundation for the Vatican department now known as the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
 
St. Giovanni Leonardi died in 1609 of disease contracted while tending the victims of plague.  His feast day is Oct. 9, and he is the patron of pharmacists.
 

St. Faustina Kowalska

Sometimes that which seems most ordinary is, in fact, the hiding place of something truly extraordinary.  Such was the case with Maria Faustina Kowalska, who is known today as the saint through whom God chose to communicate His Divine Mercy to the world.  Her humility was such that most people didn’t realize what a remarkable soul they had had the privilege of encountering until after her death.
 
St. Maria Faustina was born Helena Kowalska in a small village in western Poland in 1905.  The third of ten children in a poor family, Helena received only three years of formal education before going to work as a housekeeper in the homes of more well-to-do families.  She had had a desire early on to enter religious life, but her parents were reluctant to give her permission to do so.  Consequently, it was not until she was 20 that she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw, Poland, where she took the name Sister Maria Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament.
 
The Order to which Maria Faustina belonged was devoted in particular to the care and education of troubled young women.  Although her place within the congregation was very unpretentious – Maria was a cook, gardener and porter in various houses during her 13 years as a nun – it was not long before she began to receive visions and revelations.  These she recorded in a diary which her confessors – and God – requested her to keep.
 
The essence of these messages to Sister Maria and the world was the incredible extent of God’s Divine Mercy.  It was a time when many Catholics harbored an image of God as such a strict judge that some were tempted to despair of ever being truly forgiven by Him.  What God revealed to Sister Maria was quite the opposite:  “Today I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world,” Jesus once said to her.  “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart” (Diary, 1588).
 
Outwardly, Sister Maria did not seem to be anything special.  She went about her work within the order with kindness and serenity, observing its Rule and treating those around her with mercy and love.  In her heart, she grew in child-like trust in God, offering her own life in imitation of His for the good of others.
 
In the 1930’s, Sister Maria was directed by Jesus to have a picture painted of Him containing the inscription “Jesus, I Trust in You.”  The image, which she commissioned in 1935, also has a red and white light emanating from Christ’s Sacred Heart and is the portrait of Divine Mercy which hangs in many chapels and churches throughout the world today.
 
Sister Maria Faustina died in 1938 of tuberculosis.  Although she had a reputation for holiness, it would be three decades before her beatification process would begin.  Her diary, written as it was by a barely literate woman, was composed phonetically with no punctuation or quotation marks, so when a bad translation of it reached Rome in 1958, it was initially rejected as being heretical.  However, when a later and more accurate translation was undertaken, the Vatican realized that Sister Maria had actually left the world, not a heretical document, but a beautiful work proclaiming God’s love.  Called “Divine Mercy in My Soul," it has been translated into more than 20 languages. 
 
Sister Maria Faustina was canonized in 2000, and her feast day is commemorated on Oct. 5; Divine Mercy Sunday is celebrated on the Second Sunday of Easter.
 
 
 

Thomas of Villanova

St. Thomas of Villanova would never have been accused of being a practical man.  Given his habits and proclivities, some might have termed him “eccentric,” and considered that a kind judgment.  But so often what the world considers impractical, God declares to be holy.  So it was with Thomas of Villanova, who lived from 1488 until 1555.

Thomas was an intelligent and well educated man — he graduated from the University of Alcala and stayed on to become a professor of philosophy there — but he also suffered from absentmindedness, which was probably the result of his poor memory.

When he became an Augustinian friar, he continued to teach but became better known for his embrace of personal poverty and love of the poor.  Throughout his life, he wore the same habit he had received in the novitiate, mending it himself year after year.  The poor flocked to his door in droves and he never refused them, even when others said he was being taken advantage of.   He took in orphans and dealt mercifully with sinners.  All of these things resulted in criticism from his contemporaries, including members of his own order, but Thomas never wavered from what he felt God was calling him to do.

He died peacefully at age 77, his last words being, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.”  His feast day is Sept. 10.    


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.

Teresa of Calcutta

When Pope Francis officially pronounces Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint this month, he will be confirming what many have believed for decades — that those who lived in the 20th century were privileged to watch and learn what a living saint had to teach.  So sure were most people of her sanctity that her name has entered the lexicon as a synonym for holiness.  All of this Mother Teresa would have eschewed, of course.  She once said of herself that she was merely “a pencil in the hand of God,” but she was a pencil that wrote in large letters what an often indifferent world needed to hear.

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in what is now Macedonia in 1910.  Even as a young child she showed an interest in foreign missions and, at age 18, she left her home and her mother (her father had died when she was nine) to join the Loretto Sisters of Dublin.  From there she was sent to India to teach history and geography in a wealthy girl’s school in Calcutta; but even within its sheltered walls Teresa could not avoid the suffering and destitution that surrounded her.

 In 1946, while on her way to her annual retreat in Darjeeling, she heard what she would later term “the call within the call.”  The message was clear, she said.  “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them…to follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor.”

After receiving permission to leave Loretto and found a new congregation, Mother Teresa began to prepare herself for her new vocation.  She took a nursing course and then moved into the slums, where she opened a school for poor children.  She adopted as her “habit” a simple white sari and sandals, because this was the clothing worn by ordinary Indian women.  Visiting her neighbors, she began to learn of their needs and worked to help provide for them.

She was soon joined by other young women, some of them girls she had taught, and the core of the Missionaries of Charity began to take shape.  As more and more people began to learn of what she was doing, they helped as they could with donations of food, clothing and whatever else the sisters needed.  By 1952, the city of Kolkata (Calcutta) gave Mother Teresa a hostel to use as a home for the dying and destitute.

Mother Teresa spent the rest of her life caring for those she called “Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.”  She became known around the globe and traveled extensively, seeking support for the work of the Missionaries of Charity and encouraging others to see the poor as God saw them.  “Find your own Calcutta,” she said.  “Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”

In 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize.  She died of natural causes on Sept. 5, 1997, and the process for her canonization began soon after. At her beatification in 2003, Pope St. John Paul II called her “one of the most relevant personalities of our age…an icon of the Good Samaritan.”

Mother Teresa’s feast day is Sept. 5.


Sources for these articles include:

www.americancatholic.org

Dohan, Edward. “St. Thomas of Villanova.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York:
        Robert Appleton Company, 1912.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Nobel Lecture, 11 December, 1979

“Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” CatholicSaints.Info. 12 July 2016. 

“Saint Thomas of Villanova.” CatholicSaints.Info.
        19 May 2016.

Schreck, Alan.  “Catholic Church History from A to Z.”  Ann Arbor, Michigan:  Servant Press, 2002.
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