Be a Name Dropper! Familiar and Unfamiliar Saints for May

May 10: Saint Damien de Veuster of Molokai, Priest

1840–1889
Patron Saint of outcasts and those suffering from leprosy
Canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009

Jozef de Veuster was the youngest of seven children born into a poor farming family in central Belgium. Jozef went to school until age thirteen when he left to assist his father on the family farm. Jozef’s father sent him to college to prepare him to take over the family business, but during a mission, Jozef heard God’s call to religious life. At age twenty, Jozef followed in his older brother’s footsteps, entering the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Jozef took the name Damien after a fourth-century saint who was a physician and martyr. His brother took the name Pamphile. During Brother Damien’s formation, Pamphile tutored him to catch him up to the other students. Brother Damien often prayed before an image of Saint Francis Xavier, seeking his intercession for the grace of being sent on a foreign mission.

In 1863, Father Pamphile was to serve in Hawaii as a missionary but became seriously ill before he could leave. Brother Damien asked for permission to take his brother’s place. The superiors agreed, and Brother Damien arrived in Honolulu, after a six-month voyage, on March 19, 1864. Two months later, he was ordained a priest.

In the 1830’s, Chinese ships had brought the dreaded disease of leprosy to the Hawaiian islands. On January 1, 1865, the Hawaiian government passed legislation forcing those who contracted leprosy to be exiled to a remote part of the island of Molokai. The law tore families apart and devastated those who became infected. Many who were sent to Molokai fell victim to alcohol abuse and immoral conduct. There was scarcely enough food, and morale was quite low.

In 1873, Father Damien volunteered to go to the leper colony to meet the outcasts’ spiritual needs. Shortly after his arrival, Father Damien sent a letter to the Hawaiian Board of Health, describing the state of the approximately 700 lepers. Those suffering were grouped together, regardless of condition, and passed their time playing cards, drinking beer, “and giving themselves over to various excesses.” Father Damien could not obey his superiors’ order not to touch the lepers, not to be touched by them, and not to eat with them, knowing that Jesus freely touched the lepers. 

For fifteen years, Father Damien worked tirelessly as a father, doctor, construction worker, farmer, gravedigger, and priest. He built coffins and dug more than 1,000 graves for the people he served. He built homes, chapels, roads, hospitals, and even a fresh water system. He taught catechism to the orphans, celebrated the sacraments, and converted many souls. He regularly visited every person under his care—regardless of their faith. He transformed a wretched community into a community of believers, giving them the hope of the Gospel and the dignity they deserved. Letters Father Damien wrote home were published in European newspapers, and donations poured in. 

After eleven years of ministering to the lepers, Father Damien contracted leprosy himself. He suffered with the disease for five years, dying during Holy Week in his sixteenth year of ministry on the island. On his deathbed, he announced to his companions that the Lord was calling him to celebrate Easter that year in Heaven. He died with a heart filled with joy.

Saint Damien, you heard God’s call and you responded, holding nothing back and laying your life down out of love. Please pray that I will have eyes of love to see the broken and rejected all around me and will have the courage to respond to them with the Heart of Christ. Saint Damien of Molokai, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

May 12: Saint Pancras, Martyr

c. 289–c. 304
Patron Saint of children, jobs, and health
Invoked against cramps, false witnesses, headaches, and perjury
Pre-Congregation canonization

When Pancras was born toward the end of the third-century, Diocletian was the emperor of the Roman Empire, sharing ruling authority with three others. Emperor Diocletian slowly reversed a trend of tolerating Christianity, beginning the final wide-reaching persecution of Christians. In 303, Diocletian and his co-ruler Galerius published an edict under which churches were destroyed, Scriptures burned, those who refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods were killed. A fourteen-year-old boy named Pancras was among them.

Pancras was born in Phrygia, Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey. Orphaned by the age of eight, Pancras was entrusted to the care of Denis, his uncle, who took him to live in Rome. In Rome, Pancras and Denis converted to Christianity and lived their faith with deep devotion. In 304, Pancras was among the Christians who were routinely being brought before the authorities to renounce their faith and offer sacrifice to the gods. Tradition states that Pancras was brought before Diocletian and refused to offer sacrifice to the gods. Impressed with the fourteen year old’s courage, Diocletian tried to persuade him, offering Pancras wealth and honor if he only burned incense to the gods. One thirteenth-century legend gives Pancras’ response to the emperor as: “Though I am a child in body, my heart is old, and by the virtue of my Lord Jesus Christ, your threats and menaces move me no more than does the painting that I see upon the wall. These gods that you want me to worship are but deceivers of creatures…” The emperor was outraged and ordered that Pancras and his uncle, now Saint Denis, be beheaded on May 12 on the Via Aurelia outside of Rome.

After Pancras’ death, devotion to him began to grow. In the sixth century, Pope Symmachus built a basilica over his tomb. At the end of the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great sent a Roman monk to England to convert King Æthelberht and to become England’s first bishop. After successfully converting the king and his kingdom, the monk-bishop, now known as Saint Augustine of Canterbury, built the first Church in England and named it after Saint Pancras. Pope Gregory sent relics of the saint to inspire the people. Devotion to Saint Pancras spread widely throughout England from the very beginning of the kingdom’s Christianization. Eventually, miracles were attributed to Saint Pancras’ intercession by those who prayed at his tomb.

It is also said that at the end of the sixth century, the Archbishop of Tours, France, made the claim that anyone who told a lie at the tomb of Saint Pancras would be attacked by demons or even die. As a result, the saint’s relics continued to be distributed to other churches. Oaths made before his relics were thought to be so binding that they were held up in some courts of law.

Saint Pancras, though young in age, you were old in faith and courage. You chose to die rather than to worship false gods. Please pray that I will imitate your faith and courage, holding nothing back from my wholehearted service of the true King of all Kings. Saint Pancras, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

May 15: Saint Isidore

c. 1070–c. 1130
Patron Saint of Madrid, farms, farmers, bricklayers, and rural communities
Invoked against the death of a child
Canonized by Pope Gregory XV, March 12, 1622

Saint Isidore, honored today, is often called Isidore the Laborer, or Isidore the Farmer. He was an ordinary man, husband, and father who lived a humble and simple life working the fields for a landowner. His faith sets an example of achieving sanctity in the ordinary grind of daily work.

Isidore was born into poverty in Madrid to parents who fostered in him a deep faith. From a young age, Isidore worked as a hired hand for a wealthy landowner who grew very fond of Isidore and treated him as a son, even entrusting him with the management of his estate. 

Isidore and his wife regularly distributed the little they had to those who were in even greater need. Isidore regularly attended Mass before work, putting God first every day. As a result of his intercession, miracles abounded, not only during his life but also after his death.

Isidore and his wife had one son. One legend states that their infant child fell into a large pit. Isidore and his wife prayed fervently, and suddenly, the water in the pit began to rise. The water carried the boy to the surface, and Isidore and his wife were able to pull him out.

Another legend states that Isidore’s landowner received complaints that Isidore was late for work after attending Mass each morning. When the landowner went to confront Isidore, he was met with a great surprise. As he walked toward Isidore plowing in the field, he saw others plowing alongside him who looked like angels, using angelic-looking oxen. Thus, God rewarded Isidore with the help of angels to accomplish even more work than the others.

According to one legend, when Isidore was carrying a sack of grain to be milled, he shared some grain with some hungry birds, prompting criticism from a coworker. But after Isidore’s diminished sack of grain was milled and returned to him, he had twice as much flour as the others.

Isidore’s wife, Maria, was also believed to be quite saintly. When their only son died at a very young age, the couple made a promise of celibacy and jointly dedicated themselves solely to God. In Spain, Maria is referred to as Santa María de la Cabeza (Saint Mary of the Head). It is believed that, through her intercession on multiple occasions, rain has fallen in the countryside during droughts.

After Isidore’s death, the miracles continued. Saint Isidore is said to have directed King Alfonso VIII’s army down a path of victory over the Muslims in 1212. Centuries later, when Phillip III, King of Spain, touched Saint Isidore’s body, he was miraculously cured of a serious illness. In all, there have been more than 400 miracles attributed to Isidore’s intercession throughout the centuries.

Another great honor given to this simple, poor, and humble farmer came when was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622, in the same ceremony with some of the most recognized and beloved saints in Church history: Saints Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Ávila, and Philip Neri.

Saint Isidore, you were born into poverty and worked by the sweat of your brow throughout your life to give God glory. Please pray that I will find dignity and holiness by doing the most mundane chores and labors of my life with love. May I always seek first God’s Kingdom, making His will the center of my life. Saint Isidore the Laborer, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

May 21: Saint Christopher Magallanes, Priest and Martyr and Companions, Martyrs

1869–1927
Venerated especially in Mexico
Invoked against government persecution
Canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 21, 2000

The twenty-five saints we honor today died at the hands of the Mexican government during a time of anti-Catholic turmoil. One died in 1915, and the remaining twenty-four died between 1926–1928. Of the three laymen and the twenty-two diocesan priests, two were hanged in the public square, and the rest were shot to death, most by firing squad without a trial. Each priest’s only crime was secretly ministering to the people’s needs. The three laymen were members of a Catholic action group that opposed oppression of the Church and encouraged fellow Catholics to remain strong in their faith.

After Spanish Franciscans brought the faith to Mexico in the 1500s, the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe aided efforts to share the Gospel. By the turn of the nineteenth century, some political rulers resented the Church’s influence and sought to eradicate it, beginning with a new Mexican constitution in 1857. The government confiscated Church property, and the state and Church began to separate. After a period of relative peace, a new Mexican president began enforcing anti-Catholic laws in 1926. He eliminated the Catholic education of youth, expelled all foreign priests, banned celibacy and religious vows, and confiscated all remaining Church property. The devastation was immense. At the beginning of the century, 4,500 mostly foreign-born priests were serving in Mexico. By 1934, only 334 state-licensed native priests remained for approximately fifteen million Catholics.

Today’s memorial mentions one martyr by name: Saint Christopher Magallanes. Cristobal Magallanes Jara was born in Totatiche, Jalisco, Mexico to devout parents who were farmers. As a child, Christopher worked the land and tended the sheep. In 1888, at the age of nineteen, Christopher entered seminary and was ordained a priest eleven years later. He began his ministry as a teacher in Guadalajara but soon became a parish priest in his hometown, serving for more than twenty years.

Father Magallanes served his parishioners’ spiritual needs and evangelized the indigenous people. He also founded schools and opened a carpentry shop to employ the locals and build the town’s infrastructure. In 1915, after the government closed the seminary in Guadalajara, Father Christopher operated a secret seminary in his own home for seventeen seminarians.

Though Father Magallanes did not support armed rebellion, he was arrested for supporting the Christeros, peasants who opposed the government’s anti-Catholic oppression. Four days after his arrest, on May 21, 1927, he was shot to death without receiving a trial. His last words are recorded as, “I am innocent and die innocent. I absolve with all my heart those who seek my death and ask God that my blood bring peace to a divided Mexico.”

Father Agustín Caloca Cortés, Father Magallanes’ assistant, was arrested on the same day as Father Magallanes and imprisoned with him. Since Father Cortés was only twenty-nine years old, the officers offered to set him free. He refused unless Father Magallanes was set free, which the guards refused to do. Father Cortés’ last words were, “For God we lived and for Him we die.”

Saint Christopher Magallanes and Companions, you valued the Catholic faith over your own lives. Please pray that I will have your courage so that I can give witness to my love of God, even to the shedding of my blood. Saint Christopher Magallanes and Companions, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

May 25: Saint Bede the Venerable, Priest and Doctor

c. 673–735
Patron Saint of lectors, scholars, English writers, and historians
Pre-Congregation canonization
Canonization confirmed and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century and the removal of Roman troops from Britain, Angles and Saxons from central Europe conquered Britain, dividing England into nine smaller kingdoms. Gradually, the Anglo-Saxons eliminated Christianity from their new land, except from the southeast where many Britons had fled. After Pope Saint Gregory the Great sent Saint Augustine of Canterbury to evangelize England, all of the Anglo-Saxon kings converted and their subjects followed. It is into this historical context that Saint Bede was born and ministered.

Bede was born near a Benedictine Monastery in Wearmouth and Jarrow, modern-day Tyne and Wear, in the northeastern United Kingdom. As was common, Bede was given to the care of the monks of Wearmouth at the age of seven with the expectation that he would remain with them and become a monk himself. A few years later, young Bede was sent to the monks’ newly founded sister monastery at Jarrow. When Bede was about thirteen, a plague ravaged the monastery, leaving only Bede and Abbot Ceolfrid alive. The oblate Bede and the abbot carried on, chanting the Divine Office faithfully every day. After more than a decade of study and prayer under Abbot Ceolfrid, Bede was ordained to the diaconate at age nineteen. Eleven years later, he was ordained to the priesthood. Bede spent his thirty-two years as a monk compiling the works of the Church Fathers and writing notes on the meaning and interpretation of Scripture.

According to the Benedictine Rule, Bede took a vow of stability, likely never leaving his monastery, except possibly for occasional short visits to nearby monasteries to assist with teaching. Bede wrote more than forty books, twenty-five of them commentaries on Sacred Scripture that interpreted Scripture passages in the light of the death and Resurrection of Christ, emphasizing their deeper meanings. He also wrote books on history, rhetoric, grammar, the calculation of time, biographies, theology, and poetry. Bede’s most famous book, written when he was fifty-nine, was The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, in which he related the history and growth of the Church in Britain. 

Bede also wrote “On the Reckoning of Time,” in which he taught the correct calculation of months and years. This work enabled the Church in England to accept the correct day on which to celebrate Easter each year. It helped the world establish the current calendar that begins at the birth of Christ, solidifying the use of the term Anno Domini (A.D.), “in the year of our Lord.”

Bede’s works became the foundation for much learning throughout Europe. His contemporaries described him as “the school-master of his age” and “the candle of the Church, lit by the Holy Spirit.” His works were recopied, formed monks throughout Europe, and influenced the whole history of the Church. By the ninth century, Bede was referred to as the “Venerable Bede’” in two Church councils. More than a millennia after his death, he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, the only Englishman to receive such an honor.

Saint Bede the Venerable, you zealously and devotedly embraced your vocation. You prayed, studied, and wrote in accord with God’s holy will. By your hidden service to the Church, God influenced popes, saints, monks, and countless others in ways that we will only understand in Heaven. Please pray that I will heartily embrace my vocation, so as to live my mission and discover my own path to holiness. Saint Bede the Venerable, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

 

May 29: Saint Paul VI, Pope

1897–1978
Patron Saint of Vatican Council II
Canonized by Pope Francis on October 14, 2018

Giovanni “Battista” Montini, the second of three boys, was born about fifty miles east of Milan, Italy. His father ran a Catholic newspaper and was a member of a lay organization that advocated for greater influence of the Catholic faith within society. Battista often missed long periods of school, due to a chronic heart flutter and intestinal difficulties, and was privately tutored  at the family villa. Turning from journalism, Battista entered the seminary at age eighteen and was ordained a priest four years later. Shortly after, Father Montini studied canon law in Rome. Though his ill health continued, he obtained his doctorate in canon law, studied for the Vatican diplomatic corps, and briefly served at the Apostolic Nunciature in Warsaw. Back in Rome, he served as a diplomat in Pope Pius XI’s papal household and assisted at the Secretariat of State. When Pope Pius XII was elected in 1939, Monsignor Montini worked as the pope’s de facto personal secretary.

During World War II, Monsignor Montini organized the Vatican’s efforts to shelter and feed refugees, keep them hidden, and address their mental and spiritual needs. After the war, he was ordained the Archbishop of Milan and held several other offices. In Milan, Archbishop Montini built many churches, organized diocesan-wide catechesis, and sought innovative ways to share the Word of God. To confront the rise of Marxist ideology, he supported unions and immigrants. He reached out to other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and those without any faith.

Archbishop Montini became a cardinal and Archbishop of Milan after Pope John XXIII’s 1958 election. He continued as a papal advisor, visited countries worldwide, and served on a commission that prepared for Vatican II. On October 11, 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council to connect the Church’s ancient faith with the modern world, as well as to unite with people of all faiths and those with no faith. He believed that God wanted the Church to assist all peoples with the issues of modernization, communism, economic progress, war, and poverty. 

After Pope John XXIII’s death, Cardinal Montini was elected pope on June 21, 1963. He presided over the Second Vatican Council’s remaining sessions and oversaw the implementation of its schema. He also implemented new liturgical rites for the sacraments and a new liturgical calendar. Pope Paul VI made apostolic journeys to seventeen different countries. In the Holy Land, he met with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch; the two mutually lifted the excommunications imposed upon the leaders of each Church in 1054. During his other journeys, he exhorted churches and nations to address world peace, social justice, poverty, illiteracy, ecumenism, and world unity.

Pope Paul VI’s most difficult decision was the promulgation of the encyclical Humanae Vitae that reiterated longstanding Church teaching on contraception. Though many bishops and theologians recommended the moral acceptance of contraception, the pope prayerfully followed his conscience. resulting in outrage, especially in the Western World. He foresaw what would result from the liberal use of contraception: infidelity, moral decline, diminished respect for women, governmental abuse of power, and an erroneous belief that humans have an unlimited dominion over their own bodies. 

Pope Saint Paul VI, as a faithful servant of Christ and His Church, you prayerfully sought to share the Church’s ancient and glorious faith with the whole world. Please pray that I will be a faithful servant of Christ’s Church, doing all I can to bring God’s grace and mercy to all. Pope Saint Paul VI, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.