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November 30, 2012

Saint Andrew

St Andrew was a native of Bethsaida, a town in Galilee, upon the banks of the lake of Genesareth. He was the son of Jonas, or John, a fisherman of that town, and brother to Simon Peter, but whether elder or younger the Holy Scriptures have not acquainted us. They had afterwards a house at Capharnaum, where Jesus lodged when he preached in that city. It is no small proof of the piety and good inclinations of St. Andrew, that when St. John Baptist began to preach penance in the desert, he was not content with going to hear him as others did, but became his disciple, passed much of his time in hearing his instructions, and studied punctually to practice all his lessons and copy his example; but he often returned home to his fishing trade. He was with his master when St. John Baptist, seeing Jesus pass by the day after he had been baptized by him, said, "Behold the Lamb of God." Andrew, by the ardour and purity of his desires and his fidelity in every religious practice, deserved to be so far enlightened as to comprehend this mysterious saying, and without delay he and another disciple of the Baptist went after Jesus, who drew them secretly by the invisible bands of his grace, and saw them with the eyes of his spirit before he beheld them with his corporal eyes. Turning back as he walked and seeing them follow him, he said, "What seek ye?" They said they desired to know where he dwelt; and he bade them come and see. There remained but two hours of that day, which they spent with him, and, according to several fathers, the whole night following. "O how happy a day, how happy a night did they pass I " cries out St. Austin. "Who will tell us what things they then learned from the mouth of their Saviour!"After Christ's resurrection and the descent of the Holy Ghost, St. Andrew preached the gospel in Scythia, as Origen testifies. Sophronius, who wrote soon after St. Jerome and translated his catalogue of illustrious men and some other works into Greek, adds Sogdiana and Colchis. Theodoret tells us that he passed into Greece; St. Gregory Nazianzen mentions particularly Epirus and St. Jerom Achaia. St. Paulinus says this divine fisherman, preaching at Argos, put all the philosophers there to silence. St. Philastrius tells us, that he came out of Pontus into Greece, and that in his time people at Sinope were persuaded that they had his true picture, and the pulpit in which he had preached in that city. The Muscovites have long gloried that St. Andrew carried the gospel into their country as far as the mouth of the Borysthenes, and to the mountains where the city of Kiou now stands, and to the frontiers of Poland. If the ancients mean European Scythia, when they speak of the theatre of his labours, this authority is favourable to the pretensions of the Muscovites. The Greeks understand it of Scythia, beyond Sebastopolis in Colchis, and perhaps also of the European; for they say he planted the faith in Thrace, and particularly at Byzantium, afterwards called Constantinople. But of this we meet with no traces in antiquity. Several Calendars commemorate the feast of the chair of St. Andrew at Patrae, in Achaia It is agreed that he laid down his life there for Christ. St. Paulinus says, that having taken many people in the nets of Christ he confirmed the faith which he had preached by his blood at Patrae. St. Sophronius, St. Gaudentius, and St. Austin assure us that he was crucified; St. Peter Chrysologus says, on a tree; Pseudo-Hippolytus adds, on an olive-tree. In the hymn of Pope Damasus it is barely mentioned that he was crucified. When the apostle saw his cross at a distance, he is said to have cried out, "Hail, precious cross, that hast been consecrated by the body of my Lord, and adorned with his limbs as with rich jewels. I come to thee exulting and glad: receive me with joy into thy arms. O good cross, that hast received beauty from our Lord's limbs; I have ardently loved thee; long have I desired and sought thee: now thou art found by me, and art made ready for my longing soul; receive me into thy arms, taking me from among men, and present me to my master; that he who redeemed me on thee, may receive me by thee." The body of St. Andrew was translated from Patrae to Constantinople in 357, together with those of St. Luke and St. Timothy, and deposited in the Church of the Apostles, which Constantine the Great had built a little before. St. Paulinus and St. Jerome mention miracles wrought on that occasion. The churches of Milan, Nola, Brescia, and some other places, were at the same time enriched with small portions of these relics, as we are informed by St. Ambrose, St. Gaudentius, St. Paulinus, &c.

It is the common opinion that the cross of St. Andrew was in the form of the letter X, styled a cross decussate, composed of two pieces of timber crossing each other obliquely in the middle. That such crosses were sometimes used is certain; yet no clear proofs are produced as to the form of St. Andrew's cross. It is mentioned in the records of the duchy of Burgundy, that the cross of St. Andrew was brought out of Achaia and placed in the nunnery of Weaune, near Marseilles. It was thence removed into the abbey of St. Victor, in Marseilles, before the year 1250, and is still shown there. A part thereof, enclosed in a silver case gilt, was carried to Brussels by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy and Brabant, who, in honour of it, instituted the Knights of the Golden Fleece, who for the badge of their Order, wear a figure of this cross, called St. Andrew's cross, or the cross of Burgundy. The Scots honour St. Andrew as principal patron of their country, and their historians tell us that a certain abbot, called Regulus, brought thither from Patrae in 369, or rather from Constantinople some years later, certain relics of this apostle, which he deposited in a church which he built in his honour with a monastery called Abernethy, where now the city of St. Andrews stands. Usher proves that many pilgrims resorted to this church from foreign countries, and that the Scottish monks of that place were the first who were called Culdees. Hungus, King of the Picts, soon after the year 800, in thanksgiving for a great victory which he had gained over the Northumbrians, gave to this church the tenth part of all the land of his dominions. Kenneth II, King of the Scots, having overcome the Picts, and entirely extinguished their kingdom in North Britain, in 845, repaired and richly endowed the Church of St. Regulus, or Rueil, in which the arm of St. Andrew was reverently kept. The Muscovites say he preached the faith among them, and honour him as the principal titular saint of their empire. Peter the Great instituted under his name the first and most noble order of knighthood, or of the blue ribbon; leaving the project of a second Order of St. Alexander Newski, or of the red ribbon, to be carried into execution by his widow.
St. Andrew, by conversing with Christ, extinguished in his breast all earthly passions and desires, and attained to the happiness of his pure divine love. We often say to ourselves that we also desire to purchase holy love, the most valuable of all treasures, and the summit of dignity and happiness. But these desires are fruitless and mere mockery unless we earnestly set about the means. We must first, with the apostle, leave all things; that is to say, we must sincerely and in spirit forsake the world (though we live in it), and must also renounce and die to ourselves before we can be admitted to the familiar converse of our Redeemer and God, or before he opens to us the treasure of his choicest graces. In the same proportion that the world and self-love are banished from our hearts shall we advance in divine love. But this great virtue is learned, exercised, and improved by conversing much with God in holy meditation, reading, and assiduous prayer and recollection; also by its external acts, in all manner of good works, especially those of fraternal charity and spiritual mercy.

November 23, 2012

Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro S.J.

 Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was the eldest son of Miguel Pro and Josefa Juarez.
Miguelito, as his doting family called him, was, from an early age, intensely spiritual and equally intense in hi mischievousness, frequently exasperating his family with his humor and practical jokes. As a child, he had a daring precociousness that sometimes went too far, tossing him into near-death accidents and illnesses. On regaining conciseness after one of these episodes, young Miguel opened his eyes and blurted out to his frantic parents, "I want some cocol" (a colloquial term for his favorite sweet bread). "Cocol" became his nickname, which he would later adopt as a code name during this clandestine ministry.

 Miguel was particularly close to his older sister and after she entered a cloistered convent, he came to recognize his own vocation to the priesthood. Although he was popular with the senoritas and had prospects of a lucrative career managing his father's thriving business concerns, Miguel renounced everything for Christ his King and entered the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan in 1911.
He studied in Mexico until 1914, when a tidal wave of anti-Catholicism crashed down upon Mexico, forcing the novitiate to disband and flee to the United States, where Miguel and his brother seminarians hiked  through Texas and New Mexico before arriving at the Jesuit house in Los Gatos, California.

 In 1915, Miguel was sent to a seminary in Spain, where he remained until 1924, when he went to Belgium for his ordination to the priesthood in 1925. Miguel suffered from a severe stomach problem and after three operations, when his health did not improve, his superiors, in 1926, allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the grave religious persecution in that country.
The churches were closed and priests went into hiding. Miguel spent the rest of his life in a secret ministry to the sturdy Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out the works of mercy by assisting the poor in Mexico City with their temporal needs. He adopted many interesting disguises in carrying out his secret ministry. He would come in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to fashionable neighborhoods to procure for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable businessman with a fresh flower on his lapel. His many exploits could rival those of the most daring spies. In all that he did, however, Fr. Pro remained obedient to his superiors and was filled with the joy of serving Christ, his King.

Falsely accused in the bombing attempt on a former Mexican president, Miguel became a wanted man. Betrayed to the police, he was sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process.
On the day of his execution, Fr. Pro forgave his executioners  prayed, bravely refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, "Viva Cristo Rey", "Long live Christ the King!"
Information courtesy of ProVision and Brother Gerald Mueller.
The prayer below was composed by Bl Miguel Pro; it is a hard prayer to say with conviction but it is especially beneficial to those with a serious illness....

Does our life become, from day to day, more painful, oppressive, more replete with afflictions? Blessed be He a thousand times who desires it so. If life be harder, love makes it also stronger, and only this love, grounded on suffering, can carry the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ.Love without egotism, without relying on self, but enkindling in the depth of the heart an ardent thirst to love and suffer for all those around us: a thirst that neither misfortune nor contempt can extinguish….I believe, O lord; but strengthen my faith…. Heart of Jesus, I love Thee; but increase my love. Heart of Jesus, I trust in Thee; but give greater vigour to my confidence. Heart of Jesus, I give my heart to Thee; but so enclose it in Thee that it may never be separated from Thee. Heart of Jesus, I am all Thine; but take care of my promise so that I may be able to put it in practice even unto the complete sacrifice of my life.

Novena to Bl. Miguel Pro
We ask this through Thy Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who lives and reigns with Thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and ever. 

Eternal Father, Thou did raise up Thy heroic servant, Blessed Miguel Pro as a witness of Thy great love and mercy for mankind.  He was faithful unto death.  When facing his executioners, he forgave them and then stretching out his arms in the Sign of the Cross he died proclaiming the name of Thy Most Holy Son.
Let his faithfulness and courage shine before us as an example of true faith in these trying times.  Let his love of Thy Divine Son Jesus and Our Blessed Mother Mary be our guide to holiness in our daily lives, and grant us, O Lord, through the intercession of Thy martyr priest Miguel Pro the favors we now ask.....
here mention your petition(s)...

Viva Cristo Rey!
Bl. Miguel Pro, pray for us.

Saint Clement I

According to Tertullian, writing c. 199, the Roman Church claimed that Clement was ordained by St. Peter (De Praescript., xxxii), and St. Jerome tells us that in his time "most of the Latins" held that Clement was the immediate successor of the Apostle (De viris illustr., xv). St. Jerome himself in several other places follows this opinion, but here he correctly states that Clement was the fourth pope. The early evidence shows great variety. The most ancient list of popes is one made by Hegesippus in the time of Pope Anicetus, c. 160 (Harnack ascribes it to an unknown author under Soter, c. 170), cited by St. Epiphanius (Haer., xxvii, 6). It seems to have been used by St. Irenaeus (Haer., III, iii), by Julius Africanus, who composed a chronography in 222, by the third—or fourth-century author of a Latin poem against Marcion, and by Hippolytus, who see chronology extends to 234 and is probably found in the "Liberian Catalogue" of 354. That catalogue was itself adopted in the " Liber Pontificalis ". Eusebius in his chronicle and history used Africanus; in the latter he slightly corrected the dates. St. Jerome's chronicle is a translation of Eusebius's, and is our principal means for restoring the lost Greek of the latter; the Armenian version and Coptic epitomes of it are not to be depended on. The varieties of order are as follows: Linus, Cletus, Clemens (Hegesippus, ap. Epiphanium, Canon of Mass). Linus, Anencletus, Clemens (Irenaeus, Africanus ap. Eusebium). Linus, Anacletus, Clemens (Jerome). Linus, Cletus, Anacletus, Clemens (Poem against Marcion), Linus, Clemens, Cletus, Anacletus [Hippolytus (?), "Liberian Catal."—"Liber. Pont."]. Linus, Clemens, Anacletus (Optatus, Augustine).
At the present time no critic doubts that Cletus, Anacletus, Anencletus, are the same person. Anacletus is a Latin error; Cletus is a shortened (and more Christian) form of Anencletus. Lightfoot thought that the transposition of Clement in the "Liberian Catalogue" was a mere accident, like the similar error "Anicetus, Pius" for "Pius Anicetus", further on in the same list. But it may have been a deliberate alteration by Hippolytus, on the ground of the tradition mentioned by Tertullian. St. Irenaeus (III, iii) tells us that Clement "saw the blessed Apostles and conversed with them, and had yet ringing in his ears the preaching of the Apostles and had their tradition before his eyes, and not he only for many were then surviving who had been taught y the Apostles ". Similarly Epiphanius tells us (from Hegesippus) that Clement was a contemporary of Peter and Paul. Now Linus and Cletus had each twelve years attributed to them in the list. If Hippolytus found Cletus doubled by an error.(Cletus XII, Anacletus XII), the accession of Clement would appear to be thirty-six years after the death of the Apostles. As this would make it almost impossible for Clement to have been their contemporary, it may have caused Hippolytus to shift him to an earlier position. Further, St. Epiphanius says (loc. cit. ): " Whether he received episcopal ordination from Peter in the life-time of the Apostles, and declined the office, for he says in one of his epistles 'I retire, I depart, let the people of God be in peace', (for we have found this set down in certain Memoirs), or whether he was appointed by the Bishop Cletus after he had succeeded the Apostles, we do not clearly know." The "Memoirs" were certainly those of Hegesippus. It seems unlikely that he is appealed to only for the quotation from the Epistle, c. liv; probably Epiphanius means that Hegesippus stated that Clement had been ordained by Peter and declined to be bishop, but twenty-four years later really exercised the office for nine years. Epiphanius could not reconcile these two facts; Hippolytus seems to have rejected the latter.
The date intended by Hegesippus is not hard to restore. Epiphanius implies that he placed the martyrdom of the Apostles in the twelfth year of Nero. Africanus calculated the fourteenth year (for he had attributed one year too little to the reigns of Caligula and Claudius), and added the imperial date for the accession of each pope; but having two years too few up to Anicetus he could not get the intervals to tally with the years of episcopate given by Hegesippus. He had a parallel difficulty in his list of the Alexandrian bishops. Hegesippus Africanus (from Eusebius) Interval Real Dates AD Linus 12 Nero 14 12 Nero 12 66 Cletus 12 Titus 2 12 Vesp 10 78 Clemens 9 Dom 12 (7) Dom 10 80 Euaristus 8 Trajan 2 (10) Tajan 2 99 Alexander 10 Trajan 12 10 Trajan 10 107 Sixtus 10 Hadrian 3 (9) Hadrian 1 117 Telesphorus 11 Hadrian 12 (10) Hadrian 11 127 Hyginus 4 Anton 1 4 Anton 1 138 Pius 15 Anton 5 15 Anton 5 142 Anicetus Anton 20 Anton 20 157
If we start, as Hegesippus intended, with Nero 12 (see last column), the sum of his years brings us right for the last three popes. But Africanus has started two years wrong, and in order to get right at Hyginus he has to allow one year too little to each of the preceding popes, Sixtus and Telesphorus. But there is one inharmonious date, Trajan 2, which gives seven and ten years to Clement and Euaristus instead of nine and eight. Evidently he felt bound to insert a traditional date—and in fact we see that Trajan 2 was the date intended by Hegesippus. Now we know that Hegesippus spoke about Clement's acquaintance with the Apostles, and said nothing about any other pope until Telesphorus, "who was a glorious martyr." It is not surprising, then, to find that Africanus had, besides the lengths of episcopate, two fixed dates from Hegesippus, those of the death of Clement in the second year of Trajan, and of the martyrdom of Telesphorus in the first year of Antoninus Pius. We may take it, therefore, that about 160 the death of St. Clement was believed to have been in 99.
Identity Origen identifies Pope Clement with St. Paul's fellow-labourer, Phil., iv, 3, and 80 do Eusebius, Epiphanius, and Jerome—but this Clement was probably a Philippian. In the middle of the nineteenth century it was the custom to identity the pope with the consul of 95, T. Flavius Clemens, who was martyred by his first cousin, the Emperor Domitian, at the end of his consulship. But the ancients never suggest this, and the pope is said to have lived on till the reign of Trajan. It is unlikely that he was a member of the imperial family. The continual use of the Old Testament in his Epistle has suggested to Lightfoot, Funk, Nestle, and others that he was of Jewish origin. Probably he was a freedman or son of a freedman of the emperor's household, which included thousands or tens of thousands. We know that there were Christians in the household of Nero (Phil., iv, 22). It is highly probable that the bearers of Clement's letter, Claudius Ephebus and Valerius Vito, were of this number, for the names Claudius and Valerius occur with great frequency in inscriptions among the freedmen of the Emperor Claudius (and his two predecessors of the same gens) and his wife Valeria Messalina. The two messengers are described as "faithful and prudent men, who have walked among us from youth unto old age unblameably ", thus they were probably already Christians and living in Rome before the death of the Apostles about thirty years earlier. The Prefect of Rome during Nero's persecution was Titus Flavius Sabinus, elder brother of the Emperor Vespasian, and father of the martyred Clemens. Flavia Domitilla, wife of the Martyr, was a granddaughter of Vespasian, and niece of Titus and Domitian; she may have died a martyr to the rigours of her banishment The catacomb of Domitilla is shown by existing inscriptions to have been founded by her. Whether she is distinct from another Flavia Domitilla, who is styled "Virgin and Martyr", is uncertain. (See FLAVIA DOMITILLA and NEREUS AND ACHILLEUS) The consul and his wife had two sons Vespasian and Domitian, who had Quintilian for their tutor. Of their life nothing is known. The elder brother of the martyr Clemens was T. Flavius Sabinus, consul in 82, put to death by Domitian, whose sister he had married. Pope Clement is rep resented as his son in the Acts of Sts. Nereus and Achilleus, but this would make him too young to have known the Apostles.
Of the life and death of St, Clement nothing is known. The apocryphal Greek Acts of his martyrdom were printed by Cotelier in his "Patres Apost." (1724, I, 808; reprinted in Migne, P. G., II, 617, best edition by Funk, "Patr. Apost.", II, 28). They relate how he converted Theodora, wife of Sisinnius, a courtier of Nerva, and (after miracles) Sisinnius himself and four hundred and twenty-three other persons of rank. Trajan banishes the pope to the Crimea, where he slakes the thirst of two thousand Christian confessors by a miracle. The people of the country are converted, seventy—five churches are built. Trajan, in consequence, orders Clement to be thrown into the sea with an iron anchor. But the tide every year recedes two miles, revealing a Divinely built shrine which contains the martyr's bones. This story is not older than the fourth century. It is known to Gregory of Tours in the sixth. About 868 St. Cyril, when in the Crimea on the way to evangelize the Chazars, dug up some bones in a mound (not in a tomb under the sea), and also an anchor. These were believed to be the relics of St. Clement. They were carried by St. Cyril to Rome, and deposited by Adrian II with those of St. Ignatius of Antioch in the high altar of the basilica of St. Clement in Rome. The history of this translation is evidently quite truthful, but there seems to have been no tradition with regard to the mound, which simply looked a likely place to be a tomb. The anchor appears to be the only evidence of identity but we cannot gather from the account that it belonged to the scattered bones. (See Acta SS., 9 March, II, 20.) St. Clement is first mentioned as a martyr by Rufinus (c. 400). Pope Zozimus in a letter to Africa in 417 relates the trial and partial acquittal of the heretic Caelestius in the basilica of St. Clement; the pope had chosen this church because Clement had learned the Faith from St. Peter, and had given his life for it (Ep. ii). He is also called a martyr by the writer known as Praedestinatus (c. 430) and by the Synod of Vaison in 442. Modern critics think it possible that his martyrdom was suggested by a confusion with his namesake, the martyred consul. But the lack of tradition that he was buried in Rome is in favour of his having died in exile.
The Basilica
The church of St. Clement at Rome lies in the valley between the Esquiline and Coelian hills, on the direct road from the Coliseum to the Lateran. It is now in the hands of the Irish Province of Dominicans. With its atrium, its choir enclosed by a wall, its ambos, it is the most perfect model of an early basilica in Rome, though it was built as late as the first years of the twelfth century by Paschal II, after the destruction of this portion of the city by the Normans under Robert Guiscard. Paschal II followed the lines of an earlier church, on a rather smaller scale, and employed some of its materials and fittings The marble wall of the present choir is of the date of John II (533-5). In 1858 the older church was unearthed, below the present building, by the Prior Father Mulooly, O. P. Still lower were found chambers of imperial date and walls of the Republican period. The lower church was built under Constantine (d. 337) or not much later. St. Jerome implies that it was not new in his time: "nominis eius [Clementis] memoriam usque hodie Romae exstructa ecclesia custodit" (De viris illustr., xv). It is mentioned in inscriptions of Damasus (d. 383) and Siricius (d. 398). De Rossi thought the lowest chambers belonged to the house of Clement, and that the room immediately under the altar was probably the original of the saint. These chambers communicate with a shrine of Mithras, which lies beyond the apse of the church, on the lowest level. De Rossi supposed this to be a Christian chapel purposely polluted by the authorities during the last persecution. Lightfoot has suggested that the rooms may have belonged to the house of T. Flavius Clemens the consul, being later mistaken for the dwelling of the pope; but this seems quite gratuitous. In the sanctuary of Mithras a statue of the Good Shepherd was found.

Saint Columban

This great missionary abbot founded monastic centers in France, Switzerland, and Italy that became centers of evangelization and learning for the whole area. He was a monk of the monastery of Bangor in north Ireland, founded by St. Comgall, one of the notable monastic founders of Ireland.

At Bangor, sanctity and scholarship were prized, and St. Columban became a teacher in the monastic school there. He was born in Leinster, and after a youthful struggle he lived at Cluain Inis for a time. After thirty years at Bangor, he received Comgall's permission to spread the Gospel on the continent of Europe, and taking twelve companions with him he settled in Gaul where the devastation of the barbarian invasions had completely disrupted civil and religious life. Invited by the Merovingian King Childebert, he founded a monastic center in Burgundy at Annegray and two others at Luxeuil and Fontaines. From these three monasteries over two hundred foundations were made, and Columban composed for these monasteries two monastic rules.
With the zeal of a prophet, he attacked the immoral court life of the Merovingian kings, the lax local clergy, and introduced to the continent the Irish penitential system, which became the basis for private confession. Reproving a local king for his immoral life, Columban was expelled from Burgundy, traversed France and Germany, leaving disciples behind to found monasteries, and crossed the Alps to found his most famous monastery at Bobbio in Italy.
He was a firm opponent of Arianism, wrote letters to popes on the religious issues of the day, and left a legacy of writings that deeply influenced the monasticism that came after him.
He impressed his contemporaries as a giant of a man in mind and spirit, who revived religion on the continent and prepared the way for the Carolingian renaissance. He died at Bobbio on November 23, 615, and is buried in the crypt of St. Columban's Church there.
The St. Columban's Missionary Society took its name from him, recognizing in him a missionary genius with a uniquely Irish spirit.

November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

History books have long portrayed images of the US’s first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, with Pilgrims, dressed in black and white, sharing turkey with American Indians. St. Augustine, the US’s oldest city, was the site of the first Thanksgiving. This first Thanksgiving took place in 1565, 55 years before the Pilgrims landed, when the Spanish founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menindez de Avilis, and 800 Spanish settlers shared in a Mass of Thanksgiving. Following the sacrafice of the Holy Mass, Menindez ordered a communal meal to be shared by the Spaniards and the Seloy Indians who occupied the landing site. Prof. Gannon, in his book, The Cross in the Sand, states that the nation’s first Thanksgiving menu would most likely have consisted of what the Spanish settlers had with them during their voyage: cocido, a stew made from salted pork and garbanzo beans laced with garlic seasoning, hard sea biscuits, and red wine. If the Seloy natives contributed to the meal, the table would have seen wild turkey, venison, gopher-tortoise, mullet, corn, beans, and squash.

Saint Cecilia

The name of St. Cecilia has always been most illustrious in the church, and ever since the primitive ages is mentioned with distinction in the canon of the mass, and in the sacramentaries and calendars of the church. Her spouse Valerian, Tiburtius, and Maximus, an officer, who were her companions in martyrdom, are also mentioned in the same authentic and venerable writings. St. Cecilia was a native of Rome, of a good family, and educated in the principles and perfect practice of the Christian religion. In her youth she by vow consecrated her virginity to God, yet was compelled by her parents to marry a nobleman named Valerian. Him she converted to the faith, and soon after gained to the same his brother Tiburtius. The men first suffered martyrdom, being beheaded for the faith. St. Cecilia finished her glorious triumph some days after them. Their acts, which are of very small authority, make them contemporary with Pope Urban I, and consequently place their martyrdom about the year 230, under Alexander Severus; others, however, place the triumph of these martyrs under Marcus Aurelius, between the years 176 and 180. Their sacred bodies were deposited in part of the cemetery of Calixtus, which part, from our saint, was called St. Cecilia's cemetery. Mention is made of an ancient Church of St. Cecilia in Rome in the fifth century, in which Pope Symmachus held a council in the year 500. This church being fallen to decay, Pope Paschal I began to rebuild it; but was in some pain how he should find the body of the saint, for it was thought that the Lombards had taken it away, as they had many others from the cemeteries of Rome, when they besieged that city under King Astulphus in 755. One Sunday, as this pope was assisting at matins as was his wont, at St. Peter's, he fell into a slumber, in which he was advertised by St. Cecilia herself that the Lombards had in vain sought for her body, and that he should find it; and he accordingly discovered it in the cemetery called by her name, clothed in a robe of gold tissue, with linen cloths at her feet, dipped in her blood. With her body was found that of Valerian, her husband; and the pope caused them to be translated to her church in the city; as also the bodies of Tiburtius and Maximus, martyrs, and of the popes Urban and Lucius, which lay in the adjoining cemetery of Praetextatus, on the same Appian road. This translation was made in 821. Pope Paschal founded a monastery in honour of these saints, near the Church of St. Cecilia, that the monks might perform the office day and night. He adorned that church with great magnificence, and gave to it silver plate to the amount of about nine hundred pounds—among other things a ciborium, or tabernacle, of five hundred pounds weight; and a great many pieces of rich stuffs for veils and such kinds of ornaments; in one of which was represented the angel crowning St. Cecilia, Valerian, and Tiburtius. This church, which gives title to a cardinal priest, was sumptuously rebuilt in 1599 by Cardinal Paul Emilius Sfondrati, nephew to Pope Gregory XIV, when Clement VIII caused the bodies of these saints to be removed under the high altar, and deposited in a most sumptuous vault in the same church called the Confession of St. Cecilia; it was enriched in such a manner by Cardinal Paul Emilius Sfondrati as to dazzle the eye and astonish the spectator. This church of St. Cecilia is called In Trastevere, or Beyond the Tiber, to distinguish it from two other churches in Rome which bear the name of this saint.

St. Cecilia, from her assiduity in singing the divine praises (in which, according to her Acts, she often joined instrumental music with vocal), is regarded as patroness of church music. The psalms, and many sacred canticles in many other parts of the holy scripture, and the universal practice both of the ancient Jewish and of the Christian church, recommend the religious custom of sometimes employing a decent and grave music in sounding forth the divine praises. By this homage of praise we join the heavenly spirits in their uninterrupted songs of adoration, love, and praise. And by such music we express the spiritual joy of our hearts in this heavenly function, and excite ourselves therein to holy jubilation and devotion. Divine love and praise are the work of the heart, without which all words or exterior signs are hypocrisy and mockery. Yet as we are bound to consecrate to God our voices and all our organs and faculties, and all creatures which we use, so we ought to employ them all in magnifying his sanctity, greatness, and glory, and sometimes to accompany our interior affections of devotion with the most expressive exterior signs. St. Chrysostom elegantly extols the good effects of sacred music, and shows how strongly the fire of divine love is kindled in the soul by devout psalmody. St. Austin teaches that "it is useful in moving piously the mind and kindling the affections of divine love." St. Charles Borromeo in his youth allowed himself no other amusement but that of grave music, with a view to that of the church. As to music as an amusement, too much time must never be given to it; and extreme care ought to be taken, as a judicious and experienced tutor observes, that children be not set to learn it very young, because it is a thing which bewitches the senses, dissipates the mind exceedingly, and alienates it from serious studies, as daily experience shows. Soft and effeminate music is to be always shunned with abhorrence, as the corrupter of the heart and the poison of virtue.

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Religious parents never fail by devout prayer to consecrate their children to the divine service and love, both before and after their birth. Some amongst the Jews, not content with this general consecration of their children, offered them to God in their infancy, by the hands of the priests in the temple, to be lodged in apartments belonging to the temple, and brought up in attending the priests and Levites in the sacred ministry. It is an ancient tradition, that the Blessed Virgin Mary was thus solemnly offered to God in the temple in her infancy. This festival of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin, or, as it is often called by the Greeks, the entrance of the Blessed Virgin into the Temple, is mentioned in the most ancient Greek Menologies extant.

By the consecration which the Blessed Virgin made of herself to God in the first use which she made of her reason, we are admonished of the most important and strict obligation which all persons lie under, of an early dedication of themselves to the divine love and service. It is agreed amongst all masters of Christian morality, that everyone is bound in the first moral instant of the use of reason to convert his heart to God by love; and if divine faith be then duly proposed to him (which is the case of Christian children) by a supernatural assent to it, he is bound then to make an act of faith; also an act of hope in God as a supernatural rewarder and helper, and an act of divine charity. Who can be secure that in the very moment in which he entered into his moral life and was capable of living to God, did not stain his innocence by a capital omission of this duty? How diligent and solicitous are parents bound to be in instructing their children in the first fundamental mysteries of faith, and in the duty of prayer, and in impressing upon their tender minds a sense of spiritual things in a manner in which their age may be capable of receiving it. These first fruits of the heart are a sacrifice of which God is infinitely jealous, an emblem of which were all the sacrifices of first fruits prescribed in the old law, in token that he is our beginning and last end. Such a heart, adorned with the baptismal grace of innocence, has particular charms. Grace recovered by penance is not like that of innocence which has never been defiled; nor is it the same happiness for a soul to return to God from the slavery of sin, as for one to give him her first affections, and to open her understanding and will to his love before the world has found any entrance there. The tender soul of Mary was then adorned with the most precious graces, an object of astonishment and praise to the angels, and of the highest complacence to the adorable Trinity, the Father looking upon her as his beloved daughter, the Son, as one chosen and prepared to become his mother, and the Holy Ghost as his darling spouse.
Her first presentation to God, made by the hands of her parents and by her own devotion, was then an offering most acceptable in his sight. Let our consecration of ourselves to God be made under her patronage, and assisted by her powerful intercession and the union of her merits. If we have reason to fear that we criminally neglected this duty at the first dawning of our reason, or, if we have since been unfaithful to our sacred baptismal engagements, such is the mercy and goodness of our gracious God, that he disdains not our late offerings. But that these may be accepted by him, we must first prepare the present he requires of us, that is, our hearts. They must be washed and cleansed in the sacred laver of Christ's adorable blood, by means of sincere compunction and penance; and all inordinate affections must be pared away by our perfectly renouncing in spirit, honours, riches, and pleasures, and being perfectly disengaged from creatures, and ready to do and suffer all for God, that we may be entirely his, and that neither the world nor pride, nor any irregular passion may have any place in us. What secret affections to this or that creature lurk in our souls, which hinder us from being altogether his, unless they are perfectly cut off or reformed! This Mary did by spending her youth in holy retirement, at a distance from the commerce and corruption of the world, and by the most assiduous application to all the duties and exercises of a religious and interior life. Mary was the first who set up the standard of virginity; and, by consecrating it by a perpetual vow to our Lord, she opened the way to all virgins who have since followed her example. They, in particular, ought to take her for their special patroness, and, as her life was the most perfect model of their state, they ought always to have her example before their eyes, and imitate her in prayer, humility, modesty, silence, and retirement.
Mary lived retired until she was introduced into the world and espoused to St. Joseph. Some think her espousals were at first only a promise or betrothing: but the ends assigned by the fathers, seem rather to show them to have been a marriage. These are summed up by St. Jerome as follows: that by the pedigree of Joseph, the descent of Mary from the tribe of Juda, might be demonstrated; that she might not be stoned by the Jews as an adulteress; that, fleeing into Egypt, she might have the comfort and protection of a spouse. A fourth reason, says St. Jerome, is added by the martyr Ignatius: that the birth of the Son of God might be concealed from the devil. The words of that apostolic father are: "Three mysteries wrought by God in silence were concealed from the prince of this world. the virginity of Mary, the bringing forth of her Son, and the death of the Lord." Not that God could fear any impediment to his designs from the devil; but he was pleased to effect these mysteries in silence and without worldly show and noise, that pride and hell might, by his all-wise and sweet providence, be more meetly triumphed over, whilst the devil himself hastened his own overthrow by concurring to the mystery of the cross. From the marriage of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, St. Austin shows that marriage requires no more than the mutual consent of the will between parties who lie under no impediment or inability to an indissoluble individual society of life. In this holy marriage we admire the incomparable chastity of Mary and Joseph; and the sanctity and honour, as well as the patronage and example, which that holy state receives from this mystery. In certain particular churches the espousals of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph are honoured with an office on the 23rd of January.

St. Mechtilde

Benedictine; born in 1240 or 1241 at the ancestral castle of Helfta, near Eisleben, Saxony; died in the monastery of Helfta, 19 November, 1298. She belonged to one of the noblest and most powerful Thuringian families, while here sister was the saintly and illustrious Abbess Gertrude von Hackeborn. Some writers have considered that Mechtilde von Hackeborn and Mechtilde von Wippra were two distinct persons, but, as the Barons of Hackeborn were also Lords of Wippra, it was customary for members of that family to take their name indifferently from either, or both of these estates. So fragile was she at birth, that the attendants, fearing she might die unbaptized, hurried her off to the priest who was just then preparing to say Mass. He was a man of great sanctity, and after baptizing the child, uttered these prophetic words: "What do you fear? This child most certainly will not die, but she will become a saintly religious in whom God will work many wonders, and she will end her days in a good old age." When she was seven years old, having been taken by her mother on a visit to her elder sister Gertrude, then a nun in the monastery of Rodardsdorf, she became so enamoured of the cloister that her pious parents yielded to her entreaties and, acknowledging the workings of grace, allowed her to enter the alumnate. Here, being highly gifted in mind as well as in body, she made remarkable progress in virtue and learning.

There is another honour, inferior certainly to that of sanctity, yet great in itself and worthy of mention here: the homage of a transcendent genius was to be laid at the feet of St. Mechtilde. Critics have long been perplexed as to one of the characters introduced by Dante in his "Purgatorio" under the name of Matelda. After ascending seven terraces of a mountain, on each of which the process of purification is carried on, Dante, in Canto xxvii, hears a voice singing: "Venite, benedicti patris mei"; then later, in Canto xxviii, there appears to him on the opposite bank of the mysterious stream a lady, solitary, beautiful, and gracious. To her Dante addresses himself; she it is who initiates him into secrets, which it is not given to Virgil to penetrate, and it is to her that Beatrice refers Dante in the words: "Entreat Matilda that she teach thee this." Most commentators have identified Matilda with the warrior-Countess of Tuscany, the spiritual daughter and dauntless champion of St. Gregory VII, but all agree that beyond the name the two have little or nothing in common. She is no Amazon who, at Dante's prayer that she may draw nearer to let him understand her song, turns towards him "not otherwise than a virgin that droppeth her modest eyes". In more places than one the revelations granted to the mystics of Helfta seem in turn to have become the inspirations of the Florentine poet. All writers on Dante recognize his indebtedness to St. Augustine, the Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard, and Richard of St. Victor. These are precisely the writers whose doctrines had been most assimilated by the mystics of Helfta, and thus they would the more appeal to the sympathies of the poet. The city of Florence was among the first to welcome St. Mechtilde's book. Now Dante, like all true poets, was a child of his age, and could not have been a stranger to a book which was so popular among his fellow-citizens. The "Purgatorio" was finished between 1314 and 1318, or 1319 --just about the time when St. Mechtilde's book was popular. This interpretation is supported by the fact that St. Mechtilde in her "Book of Special Grace" (pt. I, c. xiii) describes the place of purification under the same figure of a seven-terraced mountain. The coincidence of the simile and of the name, Matelda, can scarcely be accidental. For another among many points of resemblance between the two writers compare "Purgatorio", Canto xxxi, where Dante is drawn by Matelda through the mysterious stream with pt. II, c. ii. of the "Liber Specialis Gratiae". The serene atmosphere which seems to cling about the gracious and beautiful songstress, her virgin modesty and simple dignity, all seem to point to the recluse of Helfta rather than to the stern heroine of Canossa, whose hand was thrice bestowed in marriage. Besides, in politics Dante, as an ardent Ghibelline, supported the imperial pretensions and he would have been little inclined to sing the praises of the Tuscan Countess. The conclusion may therefore be hazarded that this "Donna Matelda" of the "Purgatorio" personifies St. Mechtilde as representing mystic theology.There is another honour, inferior certainly to that of sanctity, yet great in itself and worthy of mention here: the homage of a transcendent genius was to be laid at the feet of St. Mechtilde. Critics have long been perplexed as to one of the characters introduced by Dante in his "Purgatorio" under the name of Matelda. After ascending seven terraces of a mountain, on each of which the process of purification is carried on, Dante, in Canto xxvii, hears a voice singing: "Venite, benedicti patris mei"; then later, in Canto xxviii, there appears to him on the opposite bank of the mysterious stream a lady, solitary, beautiful, and gracious. To her Dante addresses himself; she it is who initiates him into secrets, which it is not given to Virgil to penetrate, and it is to her that Beatrice refers Dante in the words: "Entreat Matilda that she teach thee this." Most commentators have identified Matilda with the warrior-Countess of Tuscany, the spiritual daughter and dauntless champion of St. Gregory VII, but all agree that beyond the name the two have little or nothing in common. She is no Amazon who, at Dante's prayer that she may draw nearer to let him understand her song, turns towards him "not otherwise than a virgin that droppeth her modest eyes". In more places than one the revelations granted to the mystics of Helfta seem in turn to have become the inspirations of the Florentine poet. All writers on Dante recognize his indebtedness to St. Augustine, the Pseudo-Dionysius, St. Bernard, and Richard of St. Victor. These are precisely the writers whose doctrines had been most assimilated by the mystics of Helfta, and thus they would the more appeal to the sympathies of the poet. The city of Florence was among the first to welcome St. Mechtilde's book. Now Dante, like all true poets, was a child of his age, and could not have been a stranger to a book which was so popular among his fellow-citizens. The "Purgatorio" was finished between 1314 and 1318, or 1319 --just about the time when St. Mechtilde's book was popular. This interpretation is supported by the fact that St. Mechtilde in her "Book of Special Grace" (pt. I, c. xiii) describes the place of purification under the same figure of a seven-terraced mountain. The coincidence of the simile and of the name, Matelda, can scarcely be accidental. For another among many points of resemblance between the two writers compare "Purgatorio", Canto xxxi, where Dante is drawn by Matelda through the mysterious stream with pt. II, c. ii. of the "Liber Specialis Gratiae". The serene atmosphere which seems to cling about the gracious and beautiful songstress, her virgin modesty and simple dignity, all seem to point to the recluse of Helfta rather than to the stern heroine of Canossa, whose hand was thrice bestowed in marriage. Besides, in politics Dante, as an ardent Ghibelline, supported the imperial pretensions and he would have been little inclined to sing the praises of the Tuscan Countess. The conclusion may therefore be hazarded that this "Donna Matelda" of the "Purgatorio" personifies St. Mechtilde as representing mystic theology.

Ten years later (1258) she followed her sister, who, now abbess, had transferred the monastery to an estate at Helfta given her by her brothers Louis and Albert. As a nun, Mechtilde was soon distinguished for her humility, her fervour, and that extreme amiability which had characterized her from childhood and which, like piety, seemed hereditary in her race. While still very young, she became a valuable helpmate to Abbess Gertrude, who entrusted to her direction the alumnate and the choir. Mechtilde was fully equipped for her task when, in 1261, God committed to her prudent care a child of five who was destined to shed lustre upon the monastery of Helfta. This was that Gertrude who in later generations became known as St. Gertrude the Great. Gifted with a beautiful voice, Mechtilde also possessed a special talent for rendering the solemn and sacred music over which she presided as domna cantrix. All her life she held this office and trained the choir with indefatigable zeal. Indeed, Divine praise was the keynote of her life as it is of her book; in this she never tired, despite her continual and severe physical sufferings, so that in Hisrevelations Christ was wont to call her His "nightingale". Richly endowed, naturally and supernaturally, ever gracious, beloved of all who came within the radius of her saintly and charming personality, there is little wonder that this cloistered virgin should strive to keep hidden her wondrous life. Souls thirsting for consolation or groping for light sought her advice; learned Dominicans consulted her on spiritual matters. At the beginning of her own mystic life it was from St. Mechtilde that St. Gertrude the Great learnt that the marvellous gifts lavished upon her were from God.
Only in her fiftieth year did St. Mechtilde learn that the two nuns in whom she had especially confided had noted down the favours granted her, and, moreover, that St. Gertrude had nearly finished a book on the subject. Much troubled at this, she, as usual, first had recourse to prayer. She had a vision of Christ holding in His hand the book of her revelations, and saying: "All this has been committed to writing by my will and inspiration; and, therefore you have no cause to be troubled about it." He also told her that, as He had been so generous towards her, she must make Him a like return, and that the diffusion of therevelations would cause many to increase in His love; moreover, He wished this book to be called "The Book of Special Grace", because it would prove such to many. When the saint understood that the book would tend to God's glory, she ceased to be troubled, and even corrected the manuscript herself. Immediately after her death it was made public, and copies were rapidly multiplied, owing chiefly to the widespread influence of the Friars Preachers. Boccaccio tells how, a few years after the death of Mechtilde, the book of her revelations was brought to Florence and popularized under the title of "La Laude di donna Matelda". It is related that the Florentines were accustomed to repeat daily before their sacred images the praises learned from St. Mechtilde's book. St. Gertrude, to whose devotedness we owe the "Liber Specialis Gratiae" exclaims: "Never has there arisen one like to her in our monastery; nor, alas! I fear, will there ever arise another such!" -- little dreaming that her own name would be inseparably linked with that of Mechtilde. With that of St. Gertrude, the body of St. Mechtilde most probably still reposes at Old Helfta thought the exact spot is unknown. Her feast is kept 26 or 27 February in different congregations and monasteries of her order, by special permission of the Holy See.

(Taken from Catholic Encyclopedia)

November 15, 2012

Albertus Magnus

He was known as the "teacher of everything there is to know," was a scientist long before the age of science, was considered a wizard and magician in his own lifetime, and became the teacher and mentor of that other remarkable mind of his time, St. Thomas Aquinas.
St. Albert the Great was born in Lauingen on the Danube, near Ulm, Germany; his father was a military lord in the army of Emperor Frederick II. As a young man Albert studied at the University of Padua and there fell under the spell of Blessed Jordan of Saxony, the Dominican who made the rounds of the universities of Europe drawing the best young men of the universities into the Dominicans.
After several teaching assignments in his order, he came in 1241 to the University of Paris, where he lectured in theology. While teaching in Paris, he was assigned by his order in 1248 to set up a house of studies for the order in Cologne. In Paris, he had gathered around him a small band of budding theologians, the chief of whom was Thomas Aquinas, who accompanied him to Cologne and became his greatest pupil.
In 1260, he was appointed bishop of Regensberg; when he resigned after three years, he was called to be an adviser to the pope and was sent on several diplomatic missions. In his latter years, he resided in Cologne, took part in the Council of Lyons in 1274, and in his old age traveled to Paris to defend the teaching of his student Thomas Aquinas.
It was in Cologne that his reputation as a scientist grew. He carried on experiments in chemistry and physics in his makeshift laboratory and built up a collection of plants, insects, and chemical compounds that gave substance to his reputation. When Cologne decided to build a new cathedral, he was consulted about the design. He was friend and adviser to popes, bishops, kings, and statesmen and made his own unique contribution to the learning of his age.
He died a very old man in Cologne on November 15,1280, and is buried in St. Andrea's Church in that city. He was canonized and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius XI. His writings are remarkable for their exact scientific knowledge, and for that reason he has been made the patron saint of scientists.
Thought for the Day: St. Albert the Great was convinced that all creation spoke of God and that the tiniest piece of scientific knowledge told us something about Him. Besides the Bible, God has given us the book of creation revealing something of His wisdom and power. In creation, Albert saw the hand of God.
From "The Catholic One Year Bible": Since we have a kingdom nothing can destroy, let us please God by serving him with thankful hearts, and with holy fear and awe. For our God is a consuming fire.—Hebrews 12:28-29

November 13, 2012

Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini

As saint of our own time and as the first United States citizen to be elevated to sainthood, Mother Cabrini has a double claim on our interest. Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and pioneer worker for the welfare of dispersed Italian nationals, this diminutive nun was responsible for the establishment of nearly seventy orphanages, schools, and hospitals, scattered over eight countries in Europe, North, South, and Central America. Still living are pupils, colleagues, and friends who remember Mother Cabrini vividly; her spirit continues to inspire the nuns who received their training at her hands. Since the record remains fresh in memory, and since the saint's letters and diaries have been carefully preserved, we have more authentic information about her, especially of the formative years, than we have concerning any other saint.
Francesca Cabrini was born on July 15, 1850, in the village of Sant' Angelo, on the outskirts of Lodi, about twenty miles from Milan, in the pleasant, fertile Lombardy plain. She was the thirteenth child of a farmer's family, her father Agostino being the proprietor of a modest estate. The home into which she was born was a comfortable, attractive place for children, with its flowering vines, its gardens, and animals; but its serenity and security was in strong contrast with the confusion of the times. Italy had succeeded in throwing off the Austrian yoke and was moving towards unity. Agostino and his wife Stella were conservative people who took no part in the political upheavals around them, although some of their relatives were deeply concerned in the struggle, and one, Agostino Depretis, later became prime minister. Sturdy and pious, the Cabrinis were devoted to their home, their children, and their Church. Signora Cabrini was fifty-two when Francesca was born, and the tiny baby seemed so fragile at birth that she was carried to the church for baptism at once. No one would have ventured to predict then that she would not only survive but live out sixty-seven extraordinarily active and productive years. Villagers and members of the family recalled later that just before her birth a flock of white doves circled around high above the house, and one of them dropped down to nestle in the vines that covered the walls.
The father took the bird, showed it to his children, then released it to fly away.
Since the mother had so many cares, the oldest daughter, Rosa, assumed charge of the newest arrival. She made the little Cecchina, for so the family called the baby, her companion, carried her on errands around the village, later taught her to knit and sew, and gave her religious instruction. In preparation for her future career as a teacher, Rosa was inclined to be severe. Her small sister's nature was quite the reverse; Cecchina was gay and smiling and teachable. Agostino was in the habit of reading aloud to his children, all gathered together in the big kitchen. He often read from a book of missionary stories, which fired little Cecchina's imagination. In her play, her dolls became holy nuns. When she went on a visit to her uncle, a priest who lived beside a swift canal, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers missionaries, and launched them to sail off to India and China. Once, playing thus, she tumbled into the water, but was quickly rescued and suffered only shock from the accident.
At thirteen Francesca was sent to a private school kept by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Here she remained for five years, taking the course that led to a teacher's certificate. Rosa had by this time been teaching for some years. At eighteen Francesca passed her examinations, , and then applied for admission into the convent, in the hope that she might some day be sent as a teacher to the Orient. When, on account of her health, her application was turned down, she resolved to devote herself to a life of lay service. At home she shared wholeheartedly in the domestic tasks. Within the next few years she had the sorrow of losing both her parents. An epidemic of smallpox later ran through the village, and she threw herself into nursing the stricken. Eventually she caught the disease herself, but Rosa, now grown much gentler, nursed her so skillfully that she recovered promptly, with no disfigurement. Her oval face, with its large expressive blue eyes, was beginning to show the beauty that in time became so striking.
Francesca was offered a temporary position as substitute teacher in a village school, a mile or so away. Thankful for this chance to practice her profession, she accepted, learning much from her brief experience. She then again applied for admission to the convent of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, and might have been accepted, for her health was now much improved. However, the rector of the parish, Father Antonio Serrati, had been observing her ardent spirit of service and was making other plans for her future. He therefore advised the Mother Superior to turn her down once more.
Father Serrati, soon to be Monsignor Serrati, was to remain Francesca's lifelong friend and adviser. From the start he had great confidence in her abilities, and now he gave her a most difficult task. She was to go to a disorganized and badly run orphanage in the nearby town of Cadogno, called the House of Providence. It had been started by two wholly incompetent laywomen, one of whom had given the money for its endowment. Now Francesca was charged "to put things right," a large order in view of her youth-she was but twenty-four-and the complicated human factors in the situation. The next six years were a period of training in tact and diplomacy, as well as in the everyday, practical problems of running such an institution. She worked quietly and effectively, in the face of jealous opposition, devoting herself to the young girls under her supervision and winning their affection and cooperation. Francesca assumed the nun's habit, and in three years took her vows. By this time her ecclesiastical superiors were impressed by her performance and made her Mother Superior of the institution. For three years more she carried on, and then, as the foundress had grown more and more erratic, the House of Providence was dissolved. Francesca had under her at the time seven young nuns whom she had trained. Now they were all homeless.
At this juncture the bishop of Lodi sent for her and offered a suggestion that was to determine the nun's life work. He wished her to found a missionary order of women to serve in his diocese. She accepted the opportunity gratefully and soon discovered a house which she thought suitable, an abandoned Franciscan friary in Cadogno. The building was purchased, the sisters moved in and began to make the place habitable. Almost immediately it became a busy hive of activity. They received orphans and foundlings, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn a little more money. Meanwhile, in the midst of superintending all these activities, Francesca, now Mother Cabrini, was drawing up a simple rule for the institute. As one patron, she chose St. Francis de Sales, and as another, her own name saint, St. Francis Xavier. The rule was simple, and the habit she devised for the hard-working nuns was correspondingly simple, without the luxury of elaborate linen or starched headdress. They even carried their rosaries in their pockets, to be less encumbered while going about their tasks. The name chosen for the order was the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
With the success of the institute and the growing reputation of its young founder, many postulants came asking for admission, more than the limited quarters could accommodate. The nuns' resources were now, as always, at a low level; nevertheless, expansion seemed necessary. Unable to hire labor, they undertook to be their own builders. One nun was the daughter of a bricklayer, and she showed the others how to lay bricks. The new walls were actually going up under her direction, when the local authorities stepped in and insisted that the walls must be buttressed for safety. The nuns obeyed, and with some outside help went on with the job, knowing they were working to meet a real need. The townspeople could not, of course, remain indifferent in the face of such determination. After two years another mission was started by Mother Cabrini, at Cremona, and then a boarding school for girls at the provincial capital of Milan. The latter was the first of many such schools, which in time were to become a source of income and also of novices to carry on the ever-expanding work. Within seven years seven institutions of various kinds, each founded to meet some critical need, were in operation, all staffed by nuns trained under Mother Cabrini.
In September, 1887, came the nun's first trip to Rome, always a momentous event in the life of any religious. In her case it was to mark the opening of a much broader field of activity. Now, in her late thirties, Mother Cabrini was a woman of note in her own locality, and some rumors of her work had undoubtedly been carried to Rome. Accompanied by a sister, Serafina, she left Cadogno with the dual purpose of seeking papal approval for the order, which so far had functioned merely on the diocesan level, and of opening a house in Rome which might serve as headquarters for future enterprises. While she did not go as an absolute stranger, many another has arrived there with more backing and stayed longer with far less to show.
Within two weeks Mother Cabrini had made contacts in high places, and had several interviews with Cardinal Parocchi, who became her loyal supporter, with full confidence in her sincerity and ability. She was encouraged to continue her foundations elsewhere and charged to establish a free school and kindergarten in the environs of Rome. Pope Leo XIII received her and blessed the work. He was then an old man of seventy-eight, who had occupied the papal throne for ten years and done much to enhance the prestige of the office. Known as the "workingman's Pope" because of his sympathy for the poor and his series of famous encyclicals on social justice, he was also a man of scholarly attainments and cultural interests. He saw Mother Cabrini on many future occasions, always spoke of her with admiration and affection, and sent contributions from his own funds to aid her work.
A new and greater challenge awaited the intrepid nun, a chance to fulfill the old dream of being a missionary to a distant land. A burning question of the day in Italy was the plight of Italians in foreign countries. As a result of hard times at home, millions of them had emigrated to the United States and to South America in the hope of bettering themselves. In the New World they were faced with many cruel situations which they were often helpless to meet. Bishop Scalabrini had written a pamphlet describing their misery, and had been instrumental in establishing St. Raphael's Society for their material assistance, and also a mission of the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo in New York. Talks with Bishop Scalabrini persuaded Mother Cabrini that this cause was henceforth to be hers.
In America the great tide of immigration had not yet reached its peak, but a steady stream of hopeful humanity from southern Europe, lured by promises and pictures, was flowing into our ports, with little or no provision made for the reception or assimilation of the individual components. Instead, the newcomers fell victim at once to the prejudices of both native-born Americans and the earlier immigrants, who had chiefly been of Irish and German stock. They were also exploited unmercifully by their own padroni, or bosses, after being drawn into the roughest and most dangerous jobs, digging and draining, and the almost equally hazardous indoor work in mills and sweatshops. They tended to cluster in the overcrowded, disease-breeding slums of our cities, areas which were becoming known as "Little Italies." They were in America, but not of it. Both church and family life were sacrificed to mere survival and the struggle to save enough money to return to their native land. Cut off from their accustomed ties, some drifted into the criminal underworld. For the most part, however, they lived forgotten, lonely and homesick, trying to cope with new ways of living without proper direction. "Here we live like animals," wrote one immigrant; "one lives and dies without a priest, without teachers, and without doctors." All in all, the problem was so vast and difficult that no one with a soul less dauntless than Mother Cabrini's would have dreamed of tackling it.
After seeing that the new establishments at Rome were running smoothly and visiting the old centers in Lombardy, Mother Cabrini wrote to Archbishop Corrigan in New York that she was coming to aid him. She was given to understand that a convent or hostel would be prepared, to accommodate the few nuns she would bring.
Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding as to the time of her arrival, and when she and the seven nuns landed in New York on March 31, 1889, they learned that there was no convent ready. They felt they could not afford a hotel, and asked to be taken to an inexpensive lodging house. This turned out to be so dismal and dirty that they avoided the beds and spent the night in prayer and quiet thought. But the nuns were young and full of courage; from this bleak beginning they emerged the next morning to attend Mass. Then they called on the apologetic archbishop and outlined a plan of action. They wished to begin work without delay. A wealthy Italian woman contributed money for the purchase of their first house, and before long an orphanage had opened its doors there. So quickly did they gather a house full of orphans that their funds ran low; to feed the ever-growing brood they must go out to beg. The nuns became familiar figures down on Mulberry Street, in the heart of the city's Little Italy. They trudged from door to door, from shop to shop, asking for anything that could be spared—food, clothing, or money.
With the scene surveyed and the work well begun, Mother Cabrini returned to Italy in July of the same year. She again visited the foundations, stirred up the ardor of the nuns, and had another audience with the Pope, to whom she gave a report of the situation in New York with respect to the Italian colony. Also, while in Rome, she made plans for opening a dormitory for normal-school students, securing the aid of several rich women for this enterprise. The following spring she sailed again for New York, with a fresh group of nuns chosen from the order. Soon after her arrival she concluded arrangements for the purchase from the Jesuits of a house and land, now known as West Park, on the west bank of the Hudson. This rural retreat was to become a veritable paradise for children from the city's slums. Then, with several nuns who had been trained as teachers, she embarked for Nicaragua, where she had been asked to open a school for girls of well-to-do families in the city of Granada. This was accomplished with the approbation of the Nicaraguan government, and Mother Cabrini, accompanied by one nun, started back north overland, curious to see more of the people of Central America. They traveled by rough and primitive means, but the journey was safely achieved. They stopped off for a time in New Orleans and did preparatory work looking to the establishment of a mission. The plight of Italian immigrants in Louisiana was almost as serious as in New York. On reaching New York she chose a little band of courageous nuns to begin work in the southern city. They literally begged their way to New Orleans, for there was no money for train fare. As soon as they had made a very small beginning, Mother Cabrini joined them. With the aid of contributions, they bought a tenement which became known as a place where any Italian in trouble or need could go for help and counsel. A school was established which rapidly became a center for the city's Italian population. The nuns made a practice too of visiting the outlying rural sections where Italians were employed on the great plantations.
The year that celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus' voyage of discovery, 1892, marked also the founding of Mother Cabrini's first hospital. At this time Italians were enjoying more esteem than usual and it was natural that this first hospital should be named for Columbus. Earlier Mother Cabrini had had some experience of hospital management in connection with the institution conducted by the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo, but the new one was to be quite independent. With an initial capital of two hundred and fifty dollars, representing five contributions of fifty dollars each, Columbus Hospital began its existence on Twelfth Street in New York. Doctors offered it their services without charge, and the nuns tried to make up in zeal what they lacked in equipment. Gradually the place came to have a reputation that won for it adequate financial support. It moved to larger quarters on Twentieth Street, and continues to function to this day.
Mother Cabrini returned to Italy frequently to oversee the training of novices and to select the nuns best qualified for foreign service. She was in Rome to share in the Pope's Jubilee, celebrating his fifty years as a churchman. Back in New York in 1895, she accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires to come down to Argentina and establish a school. The Nicaraguan school had been forced to close its doors as a result of a revolutionary overthrow of the government, and the nuns had moved to Panama and opened a school there. Mother Cabrini and her companion stopped to visit this new institution before proceeding by water down the Pacific Coast towards their destination. To avoid the stormy Straits of Magellan they had been advised to make the later stages of the journey by land, which meant a train trip from the coast to the mountains, across the Andes by mule-back, then another train trip to the capital. The nuns looked like Capuchin friars, for they wore brown fur-lined capes. On their unaccustomed mounts, guided by muleteers whose language they hardly understood, they followed the narrow trail over the backbone of the Andes, with frightening chasms below and icy winds whistling about their heads. The perilous crossing was made without serious mishap. On their arrival in Buenos Aires they learned that the archbishop who had invited them to come had died, and they were not sure of a welcome. It was not long, however, before Mother Cabrini's charm and sincerity had worked their usual spell, and she was entreated to open a school. She inspected dozens of sites before making a choice. When it came to the purchase of land she seemed to have excellent judgment as to what location would turn out to be good from all points of view. The school was for girls of wealthy families, for the Italians in Argentina were, on the average, more prosperous than those of North America. Another group of nuns came down from New York to serve as teachers. Here and in similar schools elsewhere, today's pupils became tomorrow's supporters of the foundations.
Not long afterward schools were opened in Paris, in England, and in Spain, where Mother Cabrini's work had the sponsorship of the queen. From the Latin countries in course of time came novice teachers for the South American schools. Another southern country, Brazil, was soon added to the lengthening roster, with establishments at Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Back in the United States Mother Cabrini started parochial schools in and around New York and an orphanage at Dobbs Ferry. In 1899 she founded the Sacred Heart Villa on Fort Washington Avenue, New York, as a school and training center for novices. In later years this place was her nearest approach to an American home. It is this section of their city that New Yorkers now associate with her, and here a handsome avenue bears her name.
Launching across the country, Mother Cabrini now extended her activities to the Pacific Coast. Newark, Scranton, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, all became familiar territory. In Colorado she visited the mining camps, where the high rate of fatal accidents left an unusually large number of fatherless children to be cared for. Wherever she went men and women began to take constructive steps for the remedying of suffering and wrong, so powerful was the stimulus of her personality. Her warm desire to serve God by helping people, especially children, was a steady inspiration to others. Yet the founding of each little school or orphanage seemed touched by the miraculous, for the necessary funds generally materialized in some last-minute, unexpected fashion.
In Seattle, in 1909, Mother Cabrini took the oath of allegiance to the United States and became a citizen of the country. She was then fifty-nine years old, and was looking forward to a future of lessened activity, possibly even to semi-retirement in the mother house at Cadogno. But for some years the journeys to and fro across the Atlantic went on; like a bird, she never settled long in one place. When she was far away, her nuns felt her presence, felt she understood their cares and pains. Her modest nature had always kept her from assuming an attitude of authority; indeed she even deplored being referred to as "head" of her Order. During the last years Mother Cabrini undoubtedly pushed her flagging energies to the limit of endurance. Coming back from a trip to the Pacific Coast in the late fall of 1917, she stopped in Chicago. Much troubled now over the war and all the new problems it brought, she suffered a recurrence of the malaria contracted many years before. Then, while she and other nuns were making preparations for a children's Christmas party in the hospital, a sudden heart attack ended her life on earth in a few minutes. The date was December 22, and she was sixty-seven. The little nun had been the friend of three popes, a foster-mother to thousands of children, for whom she had found means to provide shelter and food; she had created a flourishing order, and established many institutions to serve human needs.
It was not surprising that almost at once Catholics in widely separated places began saying to each other, "Surely she was a saint." This ground swell of popular feeling culminated in 1929 in the first official steps towards beatification. Ten years later she became Blessed Mother Cabrini, and Cardinal Mundelein, who had officiated at her funeral in Chicago, now presided at the beatification. Heralded by a great pealing of the bells of St. Peter's and the four hundred other churches of Rome, the canonization ceremony took place on July 7, 1946. Hundreds of devout Catholics from the United States were in attendance, as well as the highest dignitaries of the Church and lay noblemen. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American to be canonized, lies buried under the altar of the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School in New York City.

Pax et Gaudium

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness