This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Monday, January 31, 2011

February 1 -- Feast of St. Brigid

Not to take anything away from the other patron saint of Ireland, (or even Columba, the other patron) but for this day at least, let's celebrate the only female bishop in the Catholic tradition (or at least the legend says so).

Brigid's mother, Broccha, was the slave of her father, Dubtach. When Dubtach sold Broccha, young Brigid went with her until she was old enough to return to her master's (father's) house. While under her mother's guidance, she was baptized by the bishop of Ireland (the famous one who is the other patron) and later heard him preach.

When she went back to Dubtach's, she was so filled with Christian mercy that she kept giving away his wealth to the poor. When she gave an ancient and expensive sword, a family heirloom, to a leper, Daddy Dubtach would have beaten her, but her explanation that it was given to the Lord through this leper was persuasive -- the King forbade Dubtach to beat her, so he freed her instead, saying that he needed to keep some of his property for himself and she would have given it all away.

Brigid went back to her mom, who was in charge of her master's dairy. The dairy flourished with Brigid's help, but she kept giving out the surplus cream and milk to the poor. The master freed her mother to get Brigid to go -- again, better to have a little and keep it than to have a lot but have it all given to the needy.

There are other legends of her ability as a provider for the poor -- cows that give milk three times a day and a barrel of beer that never runs dry. She was no doubt a significant leader in the Church in her region, whether or not she actually was the bishop or just got to pick the man who held the office. A pre-schism figure, she is venerated in the Eastern tradition as well as the Western.

January 31 -- Feast of St. John (Don) Bosco

Don Bosco was an Italian priest during the second half of the nineteenth century, a perilous time to be a religious leader, especially one with a social mission. Yet Don Bosco perceived the great need for someone to work with the older boys of Turin, those who lacked vocational skills, education, and direction in life. He founded a small oratorio (prayer house) for six homeless boys, dedicating it to St. Francis de Sales. During his life, this house would assist more than 800 boys by providing shelter, food, work, entertainment, and marketable skills. [Entertainment: Don Bosco was a juggler and acrobat.]

Leading a religious organization was dangerous work in post-unification Italy. The Church was seen as a rival to the fledgling state, resulting in arrests and closures all over the country. Don Bosco and his boys were evicted by a nervous landlord, but they found new digs and kept on.

During a cholera outbreak, Don Bosco and his boys worked hard to comfort the sick and remove the dead. The boys were understandably worried that they might contract the disease, but he told them that as long as they washed with vinegar after touching someone infected, they'd be okay. They must have also had a good source of clean drinking water because none of them fell ill.

Bosco dreamt of state funerals and wrote a letter to the king, advising him on an anti-religious bill. The King blew off Bosco's advice, but after four members of his family died, he relented. Of course he also accused Bosco of the deaths, but not in a formal, legal way. Admitting that he believed a priest could kill someone from so far away would be tantamount to admitting the supernatural powers of the Church, a position counter to the rational anti-clericalism of the age.

His order, the Salesians, continues worldwide to this day.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30 -- Feast of St. Bathild

Details. Their absence can create an entirely different impression. Consider the case of St. Bathild.

As a young English girl, she was sent into slavery in France. Apparently she was a relative of the last pagan king of East Anglia. When a Christian named Sigeberht overthrew him with the help of the Franks, Bathild got packed off to the Frankish royal household as a slave. Bangley says that pirates took her, but don't believe it -- these were new rulers punishing a deposed dynasty.

She learned to run the household competently, and was apparently easy on the eyes, as well. Erchinoald, the Mayor of the Palace (think of Denethor) and her actual owner, was a widower and took a shine to her, but she ran away until he married again; apparently this was okay since she eventually returned and resumed her service. Then young Pepin II, one of those boy kings whose kingdom is really being run by his Mayor, caught sight of her. She was nineteen when they were married; he was at most sixteen, no younger than twelve.

She was a force in the kingdom, and here we come to my point about details. Bangley says, "Because of her own experience, she took an active part in suppressing the slave trade and worked to release those already captured." Catholic Encyclopedia says: "She abolished the disgraceful trade in Christian slaves, and firmly repressed simony among the clergy. She also led the way in founding charitable and religious institutions, such as hospitals and monasteries."

Plainly she's a good person and a rare woman for her times. She found herself in a good position through some ill luck, capitalized on it, and assisted all three of her sons in ruling the kingdom until she eventually retired to a convent and spent her last years in prayer. But the difference between suppressing the slave trade and abolishing the enslavement of Christians is considerable in our time. Details.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

January 29 -- Feast of St. Juniper

Juniper was a disciple of St. Francis himself, which no doubt enhanced his well-deserved reputation for holiness. Juniper was taking a long, slow journey to Rome, and by the time he got there, rumor of his holiness had preceded him and he was greeted by a large crowd. His humility and desire for solitude got the better of his dignity, so he crossed to a group of children and began playing with them on a see-saw. (I'll be you never thought about 13th century seesaws. I never did, but of course the technology is pretty simple.) The crowd was disgusted and abandoned him, so he excused himself from the children and continued on to the monastery.

On another occasion, a sick man requested ham. Juniper took the leg of a pig from a nearby farmer, roasted it, and gave it to the man. The farmer protested, and Juniper was so effusive in his apology that the farmer donated the rest of the pig to him.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January 28 -- Feast of St. Cannera of Inis Cathaig

Yeah, I know that January 28 is the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the biggest dogs in the whole canon of saints. I recognize that you can't overstate his influence on the development of the western Church unless you say that he was bigger than Jesus and Paul (he wasn't). I can even see that he and I share a name. Maybe next year, T.Aq but this year goes to Cannera.

With Pyrrhic victories, it is hard to judge who won and who lost. So it is with Cannera's insistence on going to Inis Cathaig, an island on the River Shannon under the direction of an abbot named Senan. Cannera had a vision that she would be buried there, and so she set out promptly to establish her residence there.

Senan told her that she could not land on the island as it was reserved for men only. She of course countered with her vision. He insisted that she could not come ashore, but she countered that Jesus died for women as well as men. Senan relented and she stepped out of her coracle and onto the beach. Point: Cannera.

She dropped dead as soon as she stepped on the beach. Once he recovered from the shock and no doubt sincere concern, Senan must have felt a certain satisfaction that he had told her so. If he did not, he too should be recognized as a saint. Point: Senan.

Any satisfaction Senan felt must have been short-lived; having died on his beach, Cannera was entitled to last rites and burial on Inis Cathaig. I don't know that it is worth a hurried death, but Point: Cannera.

Senan did in fact give Cannera burial on the island, though it was on the very edge of the land rather than in the Abbey pale. Penalty: Senan.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 27 -- Feast of St. Angela Merici

Angela was only fifteen years old when she had a vision telling her to form a Company of Virgins, women who would dedicate themselves to God. It was actually quite a company that announced this mission, including several saints and her own deceased sister. She joined the Franciscans and eventually made a para-military organization of nuns. They were non-violent, but organized into units and sub-units, headed by colonels. Having done this in the 1530s, I'd say she beat Major Barbara and the Salvation Army by, oh, three hundred years or so.

Her accomplishments were a little more extraordinary because she had become blind while on a pilgrimage to Rome.

January 26 -- Feast of St. Timothy and St. Titus

In the auditorium of Portland High School, a quote from Paul's Second Letter to Timothy (2:15): "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." When they renovated, they did not paint over the quote, but to see it, you have to know where to look because it is obscured by some of the new fixtures.

Timothy and Titus were converted by Paul and traveled with him as he proselytized. Titus was also instrumental in Paul's debate with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem -- as a Greek, he put a face on the debate about whether Gentiles should have to convert to Judaism before becoming Christian. Paul won the debate, sparing Titus a circumcision. Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother and Greek father, had not been so fortunate.

Titus became the first bishop of Crete, where he died and most of his relics remained. His head was taken to Venice in the ninth century. There probably wasn't enough of Timothy's head to take anywhere. He was chastising the people of Ephesus for their Dionysian rituals. They were all armed with clubs and beat him to death. What relics remained were later taken to Constantinople.

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 25 -- St. Dwynwen

Dwynwen was a beautiful fifth century Welsh princess (sounds miraculous already, right?) who felt dreadfully sorry that a handsome man named Maelon was in love with her. Oh, she liked him fine, but she had already pledged to remain a virgin. She prayed devoutly that he and all lovers might find true and lasting love, but not with her.

The well at her tidal island nunnery became a wishing well, especially for young lovers. Young women would scatter bread crumbs on the surface, and then place their handkerchiefs over the crumbs. If an eel rose and disturbed the surface, their husbands would be faithful. I might say something, but it hardly seems necessary.

January 24 -- St. Francis de Sales

...or Franz von Sales, depending on who was occupying Thorens at the time.

Like a lot of brilliant Church leaders, Francis forsook wealth when he began his religious career. Unlike many, he really meant it.

Francis was born to a wealthy and powerful family, whose intention it was that he would become a lawyer, marry the woman selected for him, and continue to build the de Sales holdings. He did in fact earn his doctorate in law, but also earned a doctorate in theology. He became a Senate advocate, but soon after, he declined the arranged marriage, quit his job, and became a priest. Tough blow to the parents, but a nice break for one of the eleven other children who must have inherited the Chateau and all that goes with it.

His first bishopric was Geneva, which is pretty funny, because the Calvinists had a death grip on the place. Well, perhaps not literally a death grip -- that better describes the French Catholic efforts to keep the Calvinists out, but they were in control. So being posted there was akin to a south Pacific missionary post, except the chocolate is better but the weather is worse.

Francis was gentle and persuasive. He was innovative in his use of sign language to preach to the deaf. His success was sufficient to warrant an offer of a rich bishopric in France, a real plum gig where the money just rolled into the diocese treasury. Francis of course declined and stayed where he felt God had planted him.

Fun Fact: His heart was preserved in France as a holy relic. In order to prevent its destruction by the anti-religious zealots of the French Revolution, it was moved to Venice, Italy, where it remains today.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23 - St. John the Almsgiver

Noticing that John, the Patriarch of Alexandria, is celebrated by the Eastern Church on November 11 and the Western Church on January 23, I thought it might be time to check the Eastern Calendar instead. Sts. Clement of Ancyra and Agathangelos are celebrated today, but their story is brief and all too common. Diocletian is said to have killed 20,000 Christians; these are two of them, both beheaded. If I knew more about them, they'd be our featured saints on January 23, but lacking that knowledge, I'm turning to John the Almsgiver.

John was a seventh century Cypriot who moved to Alexandria, Egypt in his fifties. He was tight with Nicetas, who had helped the Emperor Heraclitus come to power, so Nicetas hooked his boy up with one of the top bishoprics in the world. Usually that sort of personal preference for an ecclesiastical office suggests a low score on the piety scale, but John was nearly absolute in his devotion. Upon taking office, he opened the treasury of his church and gave 80,000 gold pieces to hospitals and monasteries. You might think monasteries didn't need the money, especially if you've read Chaucer or seen films about fat monks who quarrel with townspeople about who owes whom money. Set those images aside. Think instead about small enclaves of austere and devout men and women who will take in aging no-hopers to either put them back on their feet or give them a permanent home.

Not impressed yet? How about opening seven maternity hospitals with forty beds each? Founding poor houses and hostels to combat the homelessness of Alexandria? Sending food, oil, grain, clothes, and money to help the refugees from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked it? [Someone's always sacking that City.] He ransomed captives back from the Persians, especially the nuns, and spent a fortune resettling the refugees who came to Alexandria from Jerusalem.

He used to sit in front of his Church on Wednesdays and Fridays, giving out assistance to anyone who showed up to ask for it. He was warned that some who asked were malingerers, impostors, and probably even non-Christians, but he didn't worry about it, believing that generosity would beget generosity. A little leakage on the side was just the cost of doing good work.

Of course he was not infallible. When a monk showed up in the company of a beautiful young woman several days in a row, the tongues started wagging and John went into action, not concerned that they might be taking advantage of the alms, but troubled by the apparent flouting of a monastic vow of chastity. He had the girl beaten and the monk flogged and locked up. Then he learned that she was Jewish, but considering conversion. He apologized to the monk, even offering him money (the monk refused, of course); no word what ever happened to the woman, though we might guess that she ran to the nearest synagogue and never contemplated Christianity again.

Notwithstanding that singular and spectacular lapse in judgment, John stands as a model fo generosity and kindness in a time when the Church's monopoly had fostered privilege, arrogance, and corruption.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22 -- Feast of St. Vincent Pallotti

Here's an odd one. Two sources (Bangley and Wikipedia) offer two very different accounts of this saint's life. They do no contradict, but they focus on entirely different aspects of his life, work, and spirit. One finds this less with older saints, I suppose, since the sources all go back to the same few ancient writers.

Vincent was apparently single-minded and serious in his attachment to God's work. Bangley says that he was the victim of practical jokes by jealous fellow priests. I'd like to know what those were -- Ipecac in the communion wine? Ganja in the censor? I doubt it, but the possibilities are many.

Vincent joined many other nineteenth century saints in recognizing the plight of the urban poor and dedicated himself to addressing their needs. He apparently ran afoul of the more conservative elements of the Church, as his Society of the Catholic Apostolate was briefly suppressed by Pope Gregory. Other upper echelon types sprang to his defense, and the suppression order remained unenforced. It was re-invoked in the 1850s, so the Society changed its name to the Pious Society of Missions. Unofficially, its members were called Pallotines and their work remained unchanged. In 1947, the Church recognized the silliness of the name change and permitted them to be called the Society of the Catholic Apostolate again.

Bangley offers us one intriguing aspect into the character of Vincent. When a dying man was refusing last rites, threatening to shoot any priest who came near his bed, Vincent dressed as a woman to get close enough to talk to him. I need a better account of this to know whether the dying man accepted extreme unction or not.

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21 -- Feast of St. Agnes

Today, in Rome, two lambs will be presented at St. Agnes Church in Rome. There they will be blessed. When the time for shearing comes, their wool will be presented to the nuns of St. Agnes to be spun and woven into cloth. That cloth will then be used to make the pallia that the Pope will then give to metropolitan archbishops. A pallium is a thin, outer-garment that hangs over the shoulders; it makes a sort of Y-shape in front and behind. The presentation of the pallia goes back to the fifth century at latest, but was marred by simony in the Middle Ages; Popes were charging millions of florins from archbishops eager for the added prestige. The archbishops could afford the bribe by fleecing their flocks -- I am glad that practice ended and the only fleecing will be of the two lambs led into Rome today.

By the way, the story of Agnes has a familiar pattern. Young Christian who dedicated her virginity to Christ, she declines a marriage invitation from a powerful Roman (in this case, the son of the Praefectus Urbi). Angry, the prefect orders her to be work in a brothel, where she is stripped naked and presented to a customer. Upon gazing at her, the man is blinded. They decide that maybe death would be better, so they burn her at the stake, except of course she doesn't burn, so they behead her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 20 -- St. Eutyches the Senator et al.

I got to clicking around the internet, looking at several Roman senators whose feasts are on January 20. I was making the odd connection between the feast of these martyred Roman senators and the American presidential inauguration day, but something more fun came to my attention. More on that in a moment, but first, let's think about saints, senators, and presidents. In the last half century, only four members of the US Senate have made it to the Oval Office.
1. JFK -- martyr, but not a saint
2. LBJ -- definitely not a saint
3. Richard Nixon -- ditto
4. Barack Obama -- insert your own view here

The four martyred senators celebrated on January 20 are St. Bassus, St. Basilides, St. Eutyches, and St. Eusebius. I don't know anything about Bassus' execution except that he was tortured before they killed him. Basilides was tortured, de-limbed and thrown in a pit to bleed to death. Eusebius was tortured, de-limbed and hung up to bleed to death. I figure (all things being equal) that Eusebius would have bled out faster just because of gravity. While I looked for Eutyches, I landed on a page listing 160 individual saints martyred by Diocletian, as well as several aggregates of martyred saints, including the Martyrs of Lichfield, Rome, Tarsus, Trier, Via Lavicana, and the Salarian Way. And let us not forget the Four Crowned Martyrs, the Guardians of the Holy Scriptures, and most especially the Innumerable Martyrs of Saragossa.

That got me to thinking. Diocletian was neither a senator nor a saint, but if he is responsible for more than 160 other people becoming saints -- hell, if he's responsible for innumerable people becoming saints -- then he should probably have a feast day too. And what better day than the feast of the senators he martyred, those senators after all being senators and therefore unlikely to be saints but for their martyrdom.

Happy Diocletian Day.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 19 -- St. Germanicus

There's a letter from around AD 156 that tells how St. Germanicus died. Busted as a Christian, he was thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Unlike some folks, who cringed and cowered, he took an aggressive posture. The proconsul, whether for pity or admiration, urged Germanicus to recant his faith and offer a stick of incense to the Emperor's numen (divinity). Germanicus then began to antagonize the beasts in earnest so that they would fall upon him, killing him quickly. He stands as a model of constancy.

He's not, however, the point of the letter. His story is followed up by Quintus the Phrygian, who apostatized. I'm not saying I'd cave like he did, but watching an old man get dismembered by angry animals, up close and personal, with the crunches of bone and tendon loud as life and the smell of fresh kill in the air, knowing I'd be next... yeah, actually I guess I am saying that I'd fold too.

Not Polycarp (February 23) though. He was an 86 year old man who saw himself busted and burned -- he saw it clear as crystal, but didn't run. They came to gaffle him, and demanded that he offer incense and say "Away with the atheists." [Romans called the Christians atheists because the Christians denied the existence of all the gods of the empire.] Polycarp declined the incense, looked toward heaven, and said, "Away with the atheists," waving his hand at his accusers.

I think it is a pretty good joke, but I guess the Romans didn't appreciate the humor. They started in with all sorts of threats to get Polycarp to apostatize, but he was steadfast, so they ordered him to be burned to death. The built a pyre and put him in, but he just glowed like precious metal being refined. A guard was ordered to stab him, but when he did, a dove flew out of his body, and then so much blood gushed out that the fire was extinguished. But so was Polycarp.

I didn't really mean to hijack Germanicus' story with Polycarp's, but it all seemed of a piece. It's sort of an apostate sandwich between two slices of martyr. So even though I will have to find another saint for February 23, I'm keeping Polycarp and Germanicus together.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January 18 - Feast of St. Chair

Saint Chair in the Treasury Museum

Nota Bene:  I read today (2/18/13) that this feast was suppressed in 1960 and the feasts for the two chairs were rolled into one.  Thus, February 22 is rightly the Feast of Saint Chair.  If this distresses you as much as it distresses me, jump right to the Feast of Blessed Maria Teresa Fasce, also celebrated on this day. 

While the Church is very serious about the feast of St. Peter's Chair, I'm having a hard time following suit. Sure, there is a chair at the Vatican that has been St. Peter's since the first century. And there's a collection of phials full of oil from the lamps that burned at the graves of saints; one of these phials, held at the cathedral in Monza, Italy, is labeled “oleo de sede ubi prius sedit sanctus Petrus” (oils from the chair where Saint Peter first sat). And actually, there are actually two feast days -- one for each cathedra (chair), Rome and Antioch. And there is even a Mass said on each feast day (January 18 and February 22).

Sure, Peter himself, keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven, may have planted himself on the chair, but it is still a piece of furniture, not the man who sat on it. Today's saint is not a saint at all, but the contemplation of a reverential spirit carried ad absurdum. 

January 17 -- St. Anthony of Egypt

Anthony is the father of western monasticism. He lived for about fifteen years in a small community of anchorites, and then moved into the Egyptian desert, barricading himself in an abandoned fort so that he might live and pray in solitude. Folks kept breaking in, asking to be permitted to consult with him or even live with him. Eventually, he established to monasteries nearby. They sustained themselves by making baskets and brushes for sale, so he became known as the patron of those trades, as well as a long list of other things. He is, for example, the patron of pig and of swineherds, even though the representation of him with a pig was meant to signify his ability to cure skin diseases with prayer (pork fat was a common remedy).

Around age sixty, he left the relative solitude of his fort for the teeming streets of Alexandria. He had two missions in mind. First, the heresy of Arianism was growing in popularity and he wanted to speak up against it. Second, one of the Roman imperial persecutions of Christians was under way and he wanted to comfort the survivors. He walked into the city wearing the white wool tunic that plainly identified him as a Christian, went about his preaching and visiting, and then returned to the desert without incident. His defense of (what would become) orthodox Christian doctrine had a lasting effect on the debate, though Arianism continued to grow in popularity.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January 16 -- St. Henry of Coquet Island

Henry was a Dane who dodged marriage by becoming a hermit on an isolated island, living apart from the other islanders and eating only one meal a day. I don't know what his parents' marriage was like, but it hardly seems worth it. How bad could marriage really be for a man in the twelfth century?

Henry made the best of his hermetic life by making the worst of it, living so austerely that nearby monks who visited would urge him to loosen up a little. He didn't of course, which eventually brought gawkers and seekers, hoping to get advice from the holy man. He developed quite a reputation for prophecy and telekinesis. He also distributed advice on devotional propriety, including his chastisement of a man who forswore sex during Lent; presumably Henry's view of marriage was that sex was a communal obligation that the man alone could not sacrifice.

Such was Henry's reputation that a group of Danes tried to persuade him to return to the mainland. Denmark had, after all, lots of harsh and isolated land on which a hermit could suffer an uncomfortable life. Henry prayed, held an all-night vigil, took counsel from a vision of Christ on the Cross, and determined to stay. [I don't want to be sacrilegious here, but it seems like Jesus might pick a more comfortable posture if he's going to have an all-night confab with a hermit.]

Eventually, ascetic life got the better of him and he fell ill. He rang his hermit's bell, which would summon help, but when the island residents got there, they found him dead. Over the objections of the locals, the monks of Tynemouth got their way in the end. Henry's body was wrapped up and brought back to the mainland where it could be interred and venerated.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 15 - Blessed Arnold Janssen

Otto von Bismarck's a complex character for me. Yeah, I know this is supposed to be about Arnold Janssen, but bear with me. Father Janssen was born and lived in nineteenth century Germany, so the relevance of Bismarck is large and direct.

Bismarck was trying to build a single nation out of most of the little German kingdoms. I don't blamed him for this; the Germans had been used and abused by the the French for a century or more. And the Austrians, who ought to have been helpful (being German themselves) were indifferent at best, complicit at worst. The Papal States (the Pope's kingdom used to be larger than a couple of city blocks) was plugged into the French power structure and thus called itself to Herr Bismarck's attention as he struggled to erect Germany. I don't find it hard to be sympathetic to Germany's struggle for national self-determination, but subsequent history makes it somewhat ironic. But that's beside this point.

One of Bismarck's policies was called the kulturkampf, the culture struggle. Bismarck knew that Catholicism would be an internationalist force in his Germany, and under Pope Pius IX, it would be sympathetic to France. To break the back of Catholicism in his country, he imposed many restrictions, resulting in the ban on many religious orders, closure of many monasteries and seminaries, and the exile and imprisonment of thousands of clergy and lay people. Not surprisingly, the Polish minority in Prussia suffered collateral persecution.

Thanks for sticking with the story. Arnold was a sweet, studious young man who attended Borromeo College and then Bonn University. He was ordained a priest in 1861, ten years before the kulturkampf started. He taught math and natural sciences for a decade, but felt called to be more active in missionary activity. [Throughout his life, he encouraged religious leaders to study the natural sciences, later co-founding the Anthropos Institute and a journal of the same name for members of the Divine Word Mission.]

Janssen proposed that the priests expelled from Germany begin missionary work, or at least work training others to be missionaries. They told him he was asking for trouble, but he replied, "The Lord challenges our faith to do something new, precisely when so many things are collapsing in the Church." Gotta love his enthusiasm in the face of crushing state repression.

At this point in a lot of saints' lives, the cops bust him, he gets tortured in prison, and either dies of pneumonia from inactivity in a musty dungeon or is drawn, quartered, and beheaded. Not our man Arnold, though. He jumped the border and opened his school for missionaries in Holland. It became very successful, eventually forming its own Order, the Society of the Divine Word. Its members went to exotic places all over the world -- China, Japan, Latin America, even Techny, Illinois and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. A seminary in the latter city produced well over 100 African-American priests, six of whom have become bishops.

Eventually, the kulturkampf ended and Blessed Arnold Janssen was offered the exclusive right to establish mission seminaries in Germany and to conduct the missionary activities in German colonies. This may have been wise in in that age of nationalism and imperialism, and there was probably no one they could have better trusted to be apolitically focused on religion, but such favoritism was just the other side of the coin.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

January 14 -- St. Sava of Serbia

The patron saint of Serbia, son of King Stephen I Nemanya, replaced his given name Rastko with Sava when he entered a monastery at Mount Athos. Personally I like Rastko better, but he's the saint so I guess he knows best. His father abdicated and followed him into the monastery, but Sava was summoned to return to Serbia when a quarrel for succession between his brothers threatened the peace and safety of their homeland. He crowned Stephen II (rather than the very badass-sounding Vulkan) and began work reforming the Serbian Church. He and his monastic brethren founded several monasteries, reformed the rules for the clergy, and sided with the Orthodox Church rather than the Church of Rome. In spite of this, he makes the Roman Catholic Canon of Saints as a peacemaker and an evangelist.

He published the first constitution of Serbia, and is rightly considered one of the founding national (as well as religious) figures. Bez muke nema nauke.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

January 13 - St. Kentigern

Fish and rings. They're like virgin-martyrs and repenting playboys -- very common in the stories of saints. In this one, the Queen of Cadzow (a Scottish town that was renamed Hamilton) asked for help from Kentigern, a sixth century monk and bishop. She had been wrongly suspected of intrigue by her husband; his suspicions were fueled by the disappearance of her ring. Presumably, she had given her lover her ring as a pledge, and after he killed her husband and took over Cadzow, he'd give it back to her at their wedding. Kentigern prayed, and then went fishing in the River Clyde. As he gutted his first catch, he found the ring, of course! The King and Queen were greatly relieved, though no mention of a gratuity or finder's fee was in the story. I guess that's where the sainthood comes in. (Of course, unanswered was the question of how the ring left her finger and got into the fish's belly, but as long as the King was happy, everybody was happy.)

Kentigern's crest (all the best saints have crests) has a tree and a bird on it as well. These both go back to when he was a young monk in the abbey of St. Serf. The spirited young monks were playing and somehow Serf's pet robin got killed. The other lads blamed it on Kentigern; he picked up the bird and prayed. It perked right up and flew to a nearby tree. There's nothing in the record to say that Kentigern was subsequently the fallguy for every mishap in the abbey, but I think it's a safe assumption.

The tree on the crest recalls the time he fell asleep on fire duty. The fire on the hearth burned out, which is the second worst thing that can happen on fire duty. (The first is obviously that the house burns down and they die in their sleep.) Recognizing his error, Kentigern went outside, broke some frozen branches off a hazel tree, put them on the hearth and prayed. The fire was rekindled.

Any old saint can find a ring in a fish. Bernardo Corleone was pretty good at healing animals. But Kentigern could do both and build a fire with frozen wood and faith.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

January 12 - Bernardo de Corleone

Bernardo de Corleone. Sicilian, right? Correct. Must be one bad dude, right? Correct. Especially if he had aliases like Filippo Latino, Philipi Latini, and Knuckles Cardozzo. (Okay, I made the last one up.) He was the son of a shoemaker, but Spanish troops occupying Sicily thought it would be entertaining to teach the kid to handle a sword. He became the protector of his small town, and then the best swordsman in all Sicily. Sure, I'm thinking The Godfather, but with the exception of Michael Corleone's futile attempt to save the Pope in the farce that was Part III, I don't see much connection between the Corleones and the saints.

After Bernardo killed a man in a duel, he sought sanctuary in a Capuchin friars' church. But really, it is Sicily; who hasn't killed someone and hidden in a church at one time or another? The difference for Filippo, err, Bernardo, is that he reflected on the emptiness of his life and experienced a spiritual conversion.

He was very tough on himself, which is why someone should probably not set his own penances anymore than he should represent himself in court or perform dentistry on himself, but he was very kind to animals. Neighbors from the whole region would bring sick animals to him, and his prayers were said to cure them. Michael might have been tight with the Vatican brass but I didn't see him cure anything. At least Fredo could make the fish take the bait with his prayers, until he became fishbait himself, that is.

January 11 -- St. Vitalis of Gaza

Vitalis was a seventh century monk and hermit who left the wilderness of Gaza to go to the teeming, corrupt metropolis of Alexandria. He was sixty years old at the time, but suddenly felt a strong vocation for a peculiar form of missionary work.

He'd find work as a day laborer and then spend all his wages on a prostitute in the evening. Shocking, I know, but it is less so than it sounds. He'd hire the companion with the stipulation that she spend the whole evening with him and that they NOT have sex. If she was willing, he talked about God's mercy, forgiveness of sins, and salvation. He also stipulated that she NOT discuss what had happened after they parted the following morning. I have to admire his indifference to reputation as he sought to save these women.

Naturally he was in for some gossip. Who was this hard-working old man that spent all his money on hookers? Why was he with a different woman every night? Some said he had hired every prostitute in the city. Apparently the local leaders of the Church knew what he was doing and approved, but no one made his secret mission public, which is what undid him in the end.

He was leaving a brothel one morning. A brief misunderstanding of some kind with another man led to a sound clout on Vitalis' head. He made it back to his home, but collapsed there and died. If I were making this up (and I guess I am making up this part of it), I'd have the angry assailant extracting revenge for the salvation of the man's preferred whore. He'd either be a pimp who lost his top earner or a john who would never again exploit his favorite hooker.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 10 - St. Peter Orseolo

Peter Orseolo was a Venetian, son of one of the best families. He became an admiral by age twenty, ridding the Adriatic of pirates. I figure that's an important thing for a commercial center that was built on an archipelago.

His father had served as Doge of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, but was not holding the office on August 11, 976 AD, when angry Venetian partisans locked the sitting doge, Pietro IV Candiano, in his palace and set it on fire. Their intention was to kill Pietro and his son, which they did. They did not intend to burn down half the city, but they did that also. Good thing Venice is on islands or the whole place might have burned down.

Peter was elected doge the following day. He dedicated all his energy and much of his money to rebuilding the city. First were the orphanages and hospitals and other forms of aid to the neediest. Later came the rebuilding of St. Mark's Cathedral.

On September 30, 978, Peter quietly slipped away in the night without even telling his family where he was going. Having exhausted himself with the restoration of the city, he became a Benedictine monk in the Pyrenees. Even his wife thought this was fair, though of course she was pretty well set.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

January 9 - St. Fillan

St. Fillan (Faolan) was the abbot of a monastery sometime in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. His left arm used to glow when he wanted to read but had no candle or lamp. The bone from this arm, called the Mayne, was sent to Robert the Bruce just before his victory over the English army at Bannockburn in 1314. Fillan's bell and crozier (staff) are still in the Museum of Scotland; the bell, called the Bernane, was placed above the head of those suffering migraines to relieve them. It used to fly through the air when Fillan called it to him. St. Fillan's pool, a pond near his abbey, was used for the treatment of the mentally ill. They were tied up and dunked, and then left in the ruins of the abbey overnight. If they were free of the ropes by morning, they were cured.

January 8 - Blessed Edward Waterson

 Off by one:  Yet again, I seem to have been misinformed.  Blessed Edward was executed on January 7, and so that is apparently his real feast. 

One easy conclusion from the lives of many saints is that if you want to stay alive, don't put too much of a premium on your religious identity. Edward Waterson was a young sixteenth century English merchant. Traveling with other merchants in Turkey, Edward was befriended by a wealthy Turk who offered his daughter in marriage if the young Englishman would convert to Islam. I'd like to think the girl was tempting; it would make the story better, but the account I have doesn't really say one way or the other.

Anyway, Edward declined the offer and eventually headed back home, stopping first in Rome. There, he contemplated his Christianity a little more and converted to Catholicism. It's a pity he didn't meet a Patriarch in the East somewhere; his fellow countrymen probably would have been less threatened by an Orthodox Englishman than a Catholic one. But he was ordained in Rome, and since Catholic priesthood was a capital crime in England under Her Majesty Elizabeth Regina Prima, he was sent to prison, abused, and beheaded.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 7 -- St. Raymund of Penafort

Like so many of these saints, Raymund wanted to hang around the monastery, reading and praying. Sometimes, if he felt like stretching his legs, he'd go evangelize among the Moors and Jews of Spain, or he'd contend with the heretics. It was the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, so there were still plenty of Moors, Jews, and heretics in Spain, and unlike his Dominican heirs, Raymund didn't light his theological opponents on fire.

He did however get called away from these joyous to be the confessor for Pope Gregory IX. Once Ray was in Rome, Pope Gregory decided to take advantage of his doctorates in canon and civil law by asking him to codify all the papal decrees. The resultant law code served the Vatican (and the rest of the Catholic world) for centuries.

Raymund tried to return to the quiet life, but the people of Aragone tried to make him their bishop. He dodged that bullet, but was selected as the third leader of the Dominican Order. He wrote a new constitution for the Order, putting in a clause which allows the leader of the Order to retire at 65 if he wishes. Raymund wished so, and did so, promptly after his 65th birthday. I like a guy who uses his constitutional powers to get out of a job, especially if he then goes out to plant churches and monasteries throughout Spain.