Sunday, January 31, 2010

St. John Bosco (Aug. 16, 1815 to Jan. 31, 1888)

"When tempted, invoke your angel. He is more eager to help you than you are to be helped."
     (St. John Bosco)

St. John Bosco was born in Becchi, near Castelnuovo, Italy in 1815. He was just two years old when his father died. He was raised a poor shepherd boy and enjoyed doing magic tricks to entertain his friends. At age 16, St. John Bosco entered the seminary in Chieri and was ordained a priest in 1841.
He set up a residence for poor and neglected boys with the help of his mother. He dealt with the youngsters as Jesus did the Apostles, being patient with their roughness, ignorance, and unfaithfulness. St. John Bosco treated sinners with kindness. As a follower of St. Francis de Sales, he founded the Society in his name. A Salesian motto: give me only souls and keep all the rest.
Along with being the patron saint of editors, publishers, and school children, St. John Bosco reminds us to treat youngsters with respect and give them the good guidance that they need.
He died on Jan. 31, 1888. Canonized: 1934.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Hyacinth Mariscotti (1585 to Jan. 30, 1640)

Even bad girls can become saints. Just look at St. Hyacinth Mariscotti who was born in Viterbo, Italy in 1585. St. Hyacinth Mariscotti's sister married the man she loved which some accounts say was the reason she became a nun of the Third Order of Francis. Other documentation notes that St. Hyacinth Mariscotti was placed in a monastic life because of her troublesome nature. In other words, she was forced to become religious.
Yet even though she became a nun, St. Hyacinth Mariscotti received and paid for visits of pleasure and lived a life of luxury. Eventually, she made a public confession of her faults. With that, she discarded her beautiful garments, wore an old habit, and went barefoot. St. Hyacinth Mariscotti scolded her body with severe scourging. When there was a plague outbreak, she devoted her time to helping the ill. She died on Jan. 30, 1640. Canonized: 1807.

Friday, January 29, 2010

St. Blath (? to 523)

One of my favorite cookbooks is "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups" by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette. Last time I looked at it, I pictured monks eating at banquet tables or alone in a dark, cool cave. And I discovered St. Blath, who we might call the personal chef to St. Brigid and the lovely sisters in the convent in Kildare, Ireland.
Nevermind the stars of the Food Network. I find it more intriguing to think about being in the company of the lovely nuns eating dishes made with the fresh vegetables and herbs that they picked that day.
St. Blath, who was often referred to as Flora, devoted her life to her dear friend Brigid. (Order St. Brigid crosses here.) She died in 523. Her feast day is Jan. 29.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1226 to March 7, 1274)

In the year that St. Francis of Assisi passed away, the man who would be called a Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, was born in 1226 in the castle of Roccosecca in Aquino, Italy. At age five, St. Thomas Aquinas was sent to live with the Benedictines of Monte Cassino. When I was a young backpacker in my twenties, I had the chance to visit the abbey at Monte Cassino where my maternal grandfather's cousin was the abbott.
In 1243, St. Thomas Aquinas joined the Dominicans of Naples. As a reward for his fidelity, God granted him the gift of perfect chastity, something the average person would consider a curse. St. Thomas Aquinas was a prolific writer who left his "Summa Theologica" incomplete. He is known as the foremost proponent of natural theology. He died on March 7, 1274. Canonized: 1323. He said, "The things that we love tell us what we are."

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

St. Angela Merici (March 21, 1474 to Jan. 27, 1540)

When I was 16-years-old, long before Angelina Jolie was a household name, my maternal grandmother asked a favor of me. The reason it was so significant is that she never asked me for anything.
Her mother's name was Angelina (Angela for short) and so my grandmother suggested that I take it as my confirmation name. We were told the name had to be that of a saint (St. Angela Merici). I did choose it and because of that, she gave me her diamond.
Unfortunately, when I got to college, I desperately needed money, so I sold the ring. It hurts to think about it. Yet, I've come to terms by reminding myself that we are only here for a short time and worldly goods are things that the saints, especially, did without.
St. Angela Merici was born on March 21, 1474 in Desenzano del Garda, Italy. She was orphaned at age 10. When her sister died without receiving the Last Rites, St. Angela was so upset and joined the Third Order of St. Francis so that her constant prayers might help her sister's soul rest in peace. It worked because she later had a vision of her sister in heaven.
St. Angela Merici founded the Order of Ursulines in 1535. She died in Brescia on Jan. 27, 1540. Canonized: 1807. Her feast day is Jan. 27

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

St. Paula (May 5, 347 to Jan. 26, 404)

When my maternal grandfather's younger sister, Vera, was 32-years-old, she became a widow. This was around 1937 and she had two young children. Aunt Vera devoted her life to raising Martha and Pat, and she never remarried. Yes, of course, she dated but her family came first. So, she ran a grocery store and, after the kids were grown, worked as a house mother to nursing students.
Aunt Vera was devoted to all the saints. She particularly loved St. Anne and St. Martha (Aunt Vera and her husband had a baby girl Anne who died at two days old). She was also extremely intuitive and had premonitions that came true.
"If God wants, I'll see you again," she'd say each and every time I left her house. This was something that she said since 1951, according to my dad. Aunt Vera lived to be 98-years-old
St. Paula, like Aunt Vera, became a widow at at age 32.
She was born on May 5, 347 in Rome, Italy. She and her husband, Toxotius, had five children. After his death, St. Paula devoted her life to caring for and helping the poor. One of her close friends was St. Jerome.
St. Paula moved with him to Bethlehem, the Holy Land. Together they opened up churches, and founded communities for nuns and monks. St. Paula died on Jan. 26, 404 in Bethlehem. She is the patron saint of widows and her feast day is Jan. 26.

Monday, January 25, 2010

St. Dwynwen (? to 460)

"I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
  I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul."
       (Pablo Neruda)

It's time to spread the love. There's no need to wait until St. Valentine's Day.
St. Dwynwen, a nun, was born in the 5th century and lived on the Isle on Anglesey, Wales. The G-rated version of her story is that she was one of 24 daughters of Brychan Brycheinog. He also had 11 sons.
St. Dwynwen fell in love with a lad named Maelon. Her dad forbade the marriage, so she ran off into the woods. There she encountered an angel's apparition which proclaimed her the Saint of Love.
We know that her church was established at Llanddwyn Island and she died in 460. In the 1960's it became fashionable in Wales to send St. Dwynwen cards for her feast day, Jan. 25. The tradition is still popular today.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

St. Francis de Sales (Aug. 21, 1657 to Dec. 28, 1622)

"Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly." (St. Francis de Sales)

St. Francis de Sales was born near Annecy in Savoy, France in 1567. At age 13, he believed he was damned to Hell and by 1586 he became physically ill. It wasn't until a visit to a church in southern France a year later, that things changed for the better and St. Francis de Sales decided to devote his life to God.
Among the places where he studied was at the University of Padua in Italy and while there, he decided to become a priest.
St. Francis de Sales is recognized for his spiritual writings and working to convert Protestants back to the Catholic faith. In order to help a deaf man, he created a sign language. Hence he is the patron saint of the deaf.
St. Francis de Sales is also the patron saint of journalists.
He died in 1622 and is buried at the Basilica of the Visitation in Annecy. The relic of his heart is in Venice. Canonized: 1665.
Perhaps my favorite of his sayings is: "Make friends with angels, who though invisible are always with you."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

St. John the Almoner (c.550 to Nov. 11, 616)

Each day, I try to somehow demonstrate the goodness and kindness of the saints. It was easiest to do when I was a journalist at a daily newspaper. The most fulfilling part of my job was writing about local charities or people in need that would not have been recognized otherwise. It was a small thing to do to emulate someone like St. John the Almoner (also known as St. John the Almsgiver or St. John the Merciful).
He was born c.550 in Cyprus. After the death of his wife and child, St. John the Almoner entered the clergy and devoted his life to helping the poor and needy. He is remembered for saving refugees from the Persian attacks on the Holy Land and was named the Patriarch of Alexandria, Egypt in 608.
St. John the Almoner died on Nov. 11, 616. His feast day is Jan. 23. Some people say his relics are in Venice, Italy and others believe they are in Slovakia.

Friday, January 22, 2010

St. Vincent Pallotti (April 21, 1795 to Jan. 22, 1850)

One day while I was sitting in my grandmother's kitchen, my Uncle Vinnie asked me if I remembered my grandfather.
"Of course I do," I answered. "He died last year."
Uncle Vinnie told me he was 7-years-old when his grandfather died in 1944 and although that was 37 years earlier, it was like he saw him yesterday.
"When someone you love dies, you never forget them no matter how many years go by," he said.
A few nights later, I had a dream that my deceased grandfather called me on the telephone and in a cheerful voice told me that Uncle Vinnie was going to be with him soon.
I woke up and ran into the living room to tell my mother what happened.
"I had a dream about grandpa and he told me Uncle Vinnie was going to die," I said, tears streaming down my cheeks.
"Go back to bed," my mother said. "You're overtired and probably have a cold."
That week, my Uncle Vinnie died unexpectedly from a heart attack. He was 44-years-old and left a wife and five children.
That was many years ago when I was 16. Still, I remember him like it was only yesterday when we had our last conversation in my grandmother's kitchen. I recall his words to me "when someone you love dies, you never forget them."
Our family could easily have fallen apart when my uncle died but in the words of another Vincent, "the love of Christ impels us."
St. Vincent Pallotti was born in Rome, Italy on April 21, 1795. He became a priest at age 16 and is best known as the founder of the Pious Society of Missions or the Pallottines.
If you visit St. Peter's Basilica Square at the Vatican during Christmas, you can see a nativity display made by St. Vincent Pallotti.
He was taken ill after giving his coat to a homeless person on a cold, rainy night and died on Jan. 22, 1850. He is buried at the Church of San Salvatore in Onda in Rome. Canonized: 1963.
St. Vincent Pallotti's feast day is Jan. 22.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

St. Agnes (c.291 to c.304)

When I was 13-years-old, a typical day might include going to junior high, playing video games at the mall after school, reading a teen magazine, and listening to the soundtrack from Saturday Night Fever when I got home.
St. Agnes died at age 13 and yet she is one of seven women (not including the Virgin Mary) that is recognized in the Canon of the Mass. And, even though she lived only a short time, there is a lovely tradition celebrated on her feast day, Jan. 21.
Two lambs are taken from Tre Fontane, a Trappist abbey in the Eternal City, to the Pope to be blessed. The animals are shorn on Holy Thursday and the wool is made into a vestment which is presented by the Pope to a new archbishop.
St. Agnes, a virgin martyr, was born c. 291 in Rome, Italy. In art work, you can expect to see her as a beautiful blonde usually holding a lamb. On the eve of her feast day, young girls perform rituals to find out their future husbands.
She is the patron saint of gardeners, virgins, rape victims, and engaged couples. St. Agnes died c.304 and her feast day is today.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

St. Sebastian (c.256 to c.288)

"We will have to give you a private tour of the catacombs. I hope you don't mind," said the cardinal who was originally from Boston. "You're the only English speaking tourist here today."
Mind? What a treat! I was at the Catacombe di San Sebastiano along the Appian Way in Rome. It was where St. Sebastian was first buried. He is now in the Basilica Apostolorum directly above. Saints Peter and Paul were once entombed there, too.
If it were stretched out, these catacombs would reach nearly seven miles. And, the passageways were very narrow so you would come face to face with the enemy.
I remember the cardinal asking me if I was claustrophobic, before we went down into the tunnels. I'm not although I did pretend that I was above ground just in case. The artwork I saw was from before the year 400.
St. Sebastian was born c.256 at Narbonne, Gaul. He joined the Roman Army as a soldier in 283. In art, he is often shown tied to a post and shot with arrows. St. Sebastian died c.288. He is the patron saint of athletes and soldiers. His feast day in Jan. 20.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

St. Arsenius of Corfu (? to 959)

It was a long, cold overnight ferry ride back in August 1991. Even though I had money for a cabin, my cousin, Freddie, and his friends insisted I get the full experience of sleeping on a bench with no bedding on an open deck and then waking up to the sun rising as we pulled into port at Corfu (Kikira), Greece.
They were right. Nearly 20 years later, I still remember the turquoise blue water and high cliffs on the lush island St. Arsenius called home.
He was born Jewish in Constantinople and later converted to Christianity. St. Arsenius was the first Bishop of Corfu. I cannot imagine what it would have felt like to change religions even though I came close myself.
When I was 22-years-old, I married a Jewish guy I graduated from college with. He was a friend of mine and back then it was kind of the thing to do whether you were in love or not.
I was raised Roman Catholic (baptized, made my First Communion, and confirmed) and something as simple as my mother telling me not to marry someone Jewish made me want to do it even more. My ex-husband's father told me if we got married in a Roman Catholic church he wouldn't go to the wedding. Out of respect for my then father-in-law, we got married by a Justice of the Peace. Shortly thereafter, I decided I wanted to be Jewish.
We met with Rabbi Rosenberg at the family temple. To this day I am grateful for his honesty. Here he had someone who wanted to convert and he said to me, "if you were confirmed a Roman Catholic, I guarantee, you'll never become Jewish. You'll take classes and, at the last one, you will say, 'I don't want to convert.'"
I was young and thought I knew everything. Each week, I went to the classes and learned about Judaism and, sure enough, at the end of the very last one, I told Rabbi Rosenberg I just couldn't do it.
Then, like a slap in the face, my former father-in-law went to the second wedding of my husband's older brother, two years after we were married. It took place in a Roman Catholic church. I confronted him on the front lawn of his house before the wedding reception (we didn't go the wedding) and asked him why he did that after telling me he wouldn't go to our wedding if it was in a Roman Catholic church.
"You didn't challenge me, Marilyn," was my ex-father-in-law's answer. Then, he went into the house.
There were guests inside and I waited a few minutes, then I went into the kitchen. I stood up on the table and announced, "now I know how Jesus felt. You're a bunch of Christ killers."
Within weeks, I decided to go to confession at St. Leo's Church in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I wanted to start attending Mass again.
In the confessional, I told the priest I got married outside the church. He told me that I couldn't go to Communion until I had my marriage blessed. He said that if I did go to Communion, I'd feel guilty every night and I wouldn't be able to live with myself.
So, I listened to the priest. First, I had to take marriage classes. My Jewish husband learned all about the crucifixion. Class upon class, we heard how every time Jesus took a breath on the Cross it hurt terribly. He was being asphxyiated.
We had the marriage blessed and then, one month short of my fourth wedding anniversary, I filed for divorce. My dad encouraged me to have the marriage annulled. That way, he said, it never existed. Well, I was all for that.
But, first, I went back to the priest that insisted I have my marriage blessed.
"You got me into this," I said. "Now, you get me out of it."
He wrote the appropriate letter I needed to begin the annulment process.
I didn't care how much it cost. It was the paperwork that went over the top. To my estimation, I had to answer 10 essay questions per page and there were 50 pages. If I recall correctly, it took two years for a decision to be made. It had to go through the Diocese of Hartford, Connecticut and then to the Tribual at the Vatican.
I remember being really pissed off that a bunch of priests sitting around a table were going to determine my future. I still have the official documents. I got the annulment and I wasn't even a Kennedy!
Still, even though it was a success, I had to have a "closing interview" with the Diocese of Providence. It was 1993 and the person who spoke with me asked when I was getting married again.
"Married?" I asked. "What do you mean?"
I was told that 95 percent of people who got an annulment did it because they were going to get married again.
"I will never get married," I said. "Even if Jesus Christ himself came down from Heaven and asked me."
So, when I think about St. Arsenius, I'm thrilled that he had the nerve to follow through with being a Christian.
He died in 959, although some documents give a conflicting year of 800. His relics are in the cathedral in Corfu. St. Arsenius' feast day is Jan. 19.

Monday, January 18, 2010

St. Fazzio of Verona (1190 to 1272)

Verona, Italy was on my intinerary of must-see cities during my second trip to Europe. It was the birthplace of St. Fazzio, born in 1190.
Although I'm not one for doing touristy things (I skipped seeing the Colosseum the first time I went to Rome to the disbelief of many people), I made the long walk from the train station to Casa di Giulietta which was built in the 13th century and said to be the home of Juliet Capulet.
There I saw the balcony and a bronze statue of Shakespeare's heroine in the courtyard. There was also the monstrous Arena di Verona (the third largest Roman amphitheater in Italy) built in 290.
St. Fazzio made his living as a goldsmith and when he moved to Cremona founded the Order of the Holy Spirit which was a charitable organization working with pilgrims and the sick. He was a pilgrim himself known for travelling on foot to places like Rome and Spain.
St. Fazzio died in 1272 and his feast day is celebrated on Jan. 18.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

St. Anthony the Abbot (250 to 356)

So many times I've chosen to run away from my fears and disappointments. Yet, for St. Anthony the Abbot, when he lived his hermit life, he was forced to face such things. And, as hard as the devil tried to tempt him, it didn't work and St. Anthony the Abbot became all the more stronger.
He was born in Egypt in 250. At age 35, St. Anthony the Abbot made his home on a mountaintop in the desert where he stayed for 20 years. He later established the first Christian monastery in Fayum and another one in Pispir.
From 312 until his death in 356, St. Anthony the Abbot lived in a cave on Mt. Kolzim with one of his disciples. He is the patron saint of eczema and epilepsy. His feast day is Jan. 17.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

St. Valerius (? to 453)

"Do you ship your limoncello to other countries?" I asked the father and son whose lemon grove I was standing in on a hot Sorrento day.
"Yes," they responded.
I had backpacked throughout the Amalfi Coast in Italy and still had three weeks of travelling to do, so I was happy not to have to carry a bottle of lemon liqueur around with me. But, after I made my payment by credit card, I realized that they didn't ship to the United States.
"Well this had better be delicious," I said as the father and son carefully wrapped it for me to take on my journey.
They were nice enough and even invited me inside their home to enjoy some lemon cake, but I declined since the sun would soon be setting and I had plenty of exploring ahead of me.
My memories of Sorrento are nothing but beauty: citrus trees, bright sun, and beautiful sandy beaches. So, it's no wonder St. Valerius chose to live as a hermit in the surrounding area.
He was known as a gentle and kind man. The people of Sorrento loved and respected him so much that they made St. Valerius their bishop. He died in 453. His feast day is Jan. 16 (my godmother's birthday).
And, yes, the bottle of limoncello made it safely back home to Rhode Island with me!

Friday, January 15, 2010

St. Ita (c.475 to Jan. 15, 570)

Materials goods mean nothing, so why are there so many arguments and so many stingy people?
In my lifetime I've seen a heck of a lot of people die young or unexpectedly. And, it seems, they always worried about money. Save, save, save, and for what? They're dead now and didn't enjoy themselves. I'm not saying to spend your money like a maniac. I'm saying there are other things in life that are more important.
When St. Ita was asked what was abhorred by God, she answered, "arrogant trust in the power of money." She taught her students to live with an open hand inspired by charity.
St. Ita (also known as St. Mida) was born in County Waterford, Ireland in c.475. She was a nun who founded a community of women in Killeedy, Limerick and a school for boys. One of her students was St. Brendan the Navigator. She died on Jan. 15, 570. Her feast day is Jan. 15.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Martyrs of Raithu (5th century)

When I was younger, if a loved one said something hurtful to me, it would destroy my self-esteem. Now that I'm older and wiser, my thought is "if you don't like me, there's someone out there who will."
Just think about what it would feel like to be martyred, next time someone insults you. That's significant. Not if someone dislikes your physical appearance.
The Martyrs of Raithu were hermit monks who were killed by the Blemmyes tribe in the 5th century. They lived in Raithu which is near Mount Sinai in Palestine close to the Red Sea.
Their feast day is today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

St. Reparata (3rd century)

She had curly, blondish-brown hair, hazel eyes, a turned-up nose, and a skinny almost little-boyish-type body. If I hadn't just gotten off the train in Nice, France, I would have thought I was looking at myself in my bedroom mirror.
It is said that everyone has a twin and this girl, who was about my age (26), stopped in her tracks (excuse the pun) when she saw me. We looked at each other and continued on. If I had any doubt that I wasn't half French and half Italian, it was now gone. Here I was on the border of the two countries and saw someone who looked just like me.
I only spent a couple of days in Nice. The beaches were rocky and the pastries were supreme. I even managed to lock myself out of my hotel room wearing only a lace bra and matching thong. I guess the concierge had seen it all before. He wasn't the least bit surprised when I slipped into the lobby and asked for a spare key.
"This happens all the time in France," he said with the wink of an eye.
Nice is home to the Cathedral of St. Reparata. She was born in the 3rd century in Caesarea, Palestine. She was tortured for her faith as young as 11-years-old. Most of what is know about St. Reparata is through legends. She was thrown into a hot furnace and survived. Later, when she was beheaded, her spirit rose up as a dove.
Her body was placed in a boat and the angels blew it to Nice at the Baie de Anges. Her relics were brought to the cathedral in 1690. St. Reparata's feast day is Oct. 8 and she is the patron saint of Nice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our Lady of LaSalette

Along with being a beautiful place to view the annual Christmas lights display, LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, Mass. was always a serene, safe haven to visit when I needed to be alone or reflect and find answers. It was a nice place to look at books, prayer cards, and statues of the various saints and I could always count on having a delicious slice of French meat pie in the cafeteria.
The shrine was built in honor of Our Lady of LaSalette, an apparition of the Blessed Mother that appeared on a mountain in the small village of LaSalette, France near Grenoble. On Sept. 19, 1846, she told Melanie Calvat, 15, and Maximin Giraud, 11, to "make my message known to my people."
The Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSalette were founded in 1852 and is still going strong.
Our Lady of LaSalette feast day is Sept. 19.

Monday, January 11, 2010

St. Leucius of Brindisi (? to 180)

"Sis, you can wear the same clothes four days in a row. No one will notice," my cousin Freddie insisted as we maneuvered through the streets of Venice, Italy carrying backpacks filled with clothing, food, souvenirs, and anything else we could fit. On top of that, we hadn't showered in several days and I'm the type of person who needs at least one a day.
I also change my clothes two or three times, so this jaunt across Europe was literally foreign to me. The shower at the pensione was a disaster. Seven people to a room didn't help. By the time it was my turn, the drain in the middle of the bathroom floor was clogged.
Three days later in Brindisi (the heel of the boot), I had had enough. My cousin informed me that we wouldn't be getting a hotel there. Instead, we would take the overnight ferry to Greece. My options were to wait another day or use the public shower.
I picked door number two. When I walked out of the stall, I was dirtier than when I went in.
"I think I want to be alone for a while," I said to my cousin and our friends. "I'll be back in time for the ferry."
Now I could wander the streets and check out shops, restaurants, and cathedrals. One of the city's most prominent saints was St. Leucius of Brindisi. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt in the early 2nd century. After his mother passed away, he decided to live a monastic life and help convert the pagans in southern Italy.
He founded the Diocese of Brindisi and became its first bishop in 165. He was responsible for building two churches there: St. Mary and St. John the Baptist.
In legend, it is said that St. Leucius slew a dragon that tortured the people of Brindisi.
He was martyred in 180. His remains are in Benevento and a relic of his arm is in the Basilica Cathedral in Brindisi. St. Leucius' feast day is Jan. 11.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

St. Bona of Pisa (1156 to 1207)

"I'm looking for the Leaning Tower of Pisa," I said to numerous locals outside the train station. No one knew what I meant.
Maybe, if I started walking around, I might spot it in the distance but in Italy, it's different. Some of the most famous structures are situated on side streets or in nooks where you'd never think to look.
Then, it hit me. If I tilted my body to one side when I asked my question, someone might get it. Sure enough.
"Torre pendente di Pisa," said the elderly man shaking his head in recognition.
Thank God I waited for directions. The Leaning Tower of Pisa was nowhere near the train station. It was on the other side of the city.
Forty five minutes later, there it was, in the Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). An image that appears so frequently on takeout pizza boxes in the United States.
I was glad I took my cousin Freddie's advice early that morning at the kitchen table of his apartment in Santa Margherita Ligure when he said, "Sometimes, Sis, you have to do touristy things. You've got to see it."
Despite what one might think, there was so much more to the medieval city than its famous bell tower. I stayed a couple of nights and got to spend time at the university (founded in 1343), have dinners in the piazza, enjoy music, and learn about St. Bona of Pisa, it's patron saint.
She was born in 1156 and early on became known as a mystic. She had frequent visions of the Blessed Mother, Jesus, and many saints surrounded in light. I know the feeling having seen an apparition of the Infant Jesus of Prague with a red glow around it.
James the Greater, one of the Twelve Apostles, was a popular vision of St. Bona of Pisa. And, he calmed her fears. By age 10, she devoted her life to the Augustian tertiary.
In her lifetime, she encountered many adventures travelling to Jerusalem, being captured by Muslim pirates on her way home, and leading 10 pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela in Spain which is dedicated to St. James the Greater.
St. Bona of Pisa died in 1207 and her remains are on display at the Church of San Martino in Pisa. Her feast day is May 29. She is the patron saint of travellers, flight attendants, and Pisa.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

St. Francis Xavier (April 7, 1506 to Dec. 3, 1552)

   "You're not going to a Catholic school. I don't want to hear another word about it," my mother said sternly after I pleaded with her several times when I was about to enter junior high school.
   My best friend, Karen, was going to one and a couple of my other friends from sixth grade. My mother was a public school teacher and she insisted that I would receive a public school education.
   "You need to be exposed to all kinds of people," she added. "You won't get that at a Catholic high school."
    Maybe she thought that I'd want to be a nun or never meet any guys. Maybe that's why I rebelled from that day forward, didn't care about school, and married a Jewish guy.
   I was devastated. So, the for the next six years, I kept to myself in school and only hung out with a few close friends.
  My friends went to St. Xaxier's. Funny name for an all-girls high school.
  St. Francis Xavier is considered to be one of the greatest missionaries of the Roman Catholic Church. He was born on April 7, 1506 at the castle of Xavier near Pamplona, Spain. He met St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, while a student at the College of St. Barbara at the University of Paris, France.
  St. Francis Xavier was a co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He led missions throughout the world to places like India and Japan. He died on Dec. 3, 1552 at Shangchuan Island, China. He is the patron saint of missions and his feast day is Dec. 3. Canonized: 1622
  Not long before my mother died, she called me into the living room.
  "I know where I went wrong wtih you," she said. "I should have let you go to a Catholic school."
   I didn't say a word. She was absolutely right. The damage was done. I walked away in disgust. Why do parents wait until they're dying to look back on the mistakes they made? Why can't they reason with situations in the moment?

Friday, January 8, 2010

St. Gudula (c.646 to c.714)

The only real connection I have with Brussels, Belgium is that it was the first place I set foot in Europe. So, it will always hold that unique distinction. And, as far as my French ancestry goes (I am half French), the family tree goes back 15 generations to France with only one couple being from Brussels.
The city has two patrons, each often depicted with the devil. St. Gudula holds a lantern that Satan tries to blow out and, of course, St. Michael the Archangel is shown slewing him.
St. Gudula was born c.646 to Count Witger and St. Amalberga in the Duchy of Brabant (today's Belgium). She received her education from St. Gertrude of Nivelles, her cousin.
St. Gudula spent her life in religious devotion and died c. 714. Her feast day is Jan. 8.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

St. Monica (c.322 to 387)

I'm fortunate that no one in my family has ever had a drinking problem. Maybe that's why I hadn't heard about Alcoholics Anonymous until I was in my thirties.
But, I've encountered enough people that say they haven't had a drink in 15 or 20 years and that makes me wonder how anyone could be so dependent on something that they have to eliminate it entirely from their lives. I hear just as many recovering alcoholics talk about going to meetings every week in order to function.
My idea is, instead of sitting in a church basement or library, why not invoke St. Monica, the patron saint of alcoholics into one's life? She is more powerful than any Alcoholics Anonymous leader. How do I know this? I pray to saints and they never fail to help me.
St. Monica was born in Northern Africa c.322. Perhaps her connection to alcohol is that as a child she made frequent visits to the family wine cellar. When hired help told her parents what she was doing, St. Monica was ashamed and immediately stopped drinking.
Years later she married a violent pagan. She was a patient, religious person and she dealt with her horrible husband as best she could. It paid off. Just before his death, he became a Christian.
St. Monica was the mother of St. Augustine of  Hippo, the brilliant theologian and philosopher. She died in 387 in Ostia, Rome and her feast day is Aug. 27. St. Monica is the patron saint of alcoholics and abuse victims.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Epiphany

"Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see? Way up in the sky, little lamb. Do you see what I see? A star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite, with a tale as big as a kite."
(Noel Regney)

I fell asleep to those words each Christmas season when my father would play the annual Firestone Presents Your Christmas Favorites album for me and my older brother. Dad would put the record player in the hallway between our bedrooms and we'd listen intently always hoping to hear each song. But, never fail, we'd be asleep before it finished.
"Do You Hear What I Hear?" was my introduction to the Magi or the Three Wisemen.
It made the Epiphany (January 6) a most magical time for me. The Magi, named Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, followed the Star of Bethlehem to the newborn Christ. Some say they were Persian Kings or astrologers who brought gold, frankincense, and myrrh as gifts.
Christmas was always the day we opened presents. But, in my mother's family, as a child, she received special fruit candies on the Epiphany from her grandfather who was born in Italy. They also heard stories about Befana, an old Italian lady, who would bring treats to the children on January 5 in the tradition of Santa Claus.
The Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2-3)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blessed Ruggiero da Todi (? to Jan. 5, 1237)

I often wonder why some saints-to-be remain forever in Blessed mode. One example that comes to mind is Blessed Ruggiero da Todi (Roger of Todi).
He was a close friend of St. Francis of Assisi and received his habit from him, which I feel should be enough to move the process along.
St. Francis of Assisi also named Blessed Ruggiero the spiritual director of the Blessed Phillipa Mareris Community at Rieti, Italy.
Blessed Ruggiero died in Todi on Jan. 5, 1237. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 5.

Monday, January 4, 2010

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (Aug. 28, 1774 to Jan. 4, 1821)

The most vivid memory I have of my mom getting her M.Ed. degree when I was five-years-old was of a nun, dressed entirely in white, who was being pushed across the stage in a wheel chair as she sat upright and motionless.
I thought she was dead and several other nuns who were sitting nearby and heard my comment, giggled. They told my dad that they thought I was cute. Maybe I was with long, tousled curls and big eyes and I imagine the innocence in what I said would have put a smile on even the most serious nun's face.
The women told my dad that they were Sisters of Charity. The group was founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton who was born Elizabeth Ann Bayley on Aug. 28, 1774 in New York City, New York to a wealthy Episcopalian family.
She married William Magee Seton at age 19 and they had five children. Her husband's health was failing so the couple and one daughter moved to Italy to be in a warmer climate. William Seton died in 1803 and fifteen months later, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton converted to Catholicism.
She died in Emmitsburg, Maryland on Jan. 4, 1821. She was canonized in 1975, making her the first native born United States citizen to become a Roman Catholic saint. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton is the patron saint against in-law problems and against the death of parents and children. Her feast day is Jan. 4.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

St. John Nepomuk (c.1345 to March 20, 1393)

   Where there's a bridge, people will jump. And, two of the most popular in Rhode Island are the Newport and the Jamestown (as the locals call them).
   There was a man my dad used to call the "Bridge Priest." Joe was my mom's ex-boyfriend whom she met when she was a camp counselor at the CYO. He was in the seminary and later became a priest.
   My mom would ask Joe questions like "do you think Jesus was the Son of God?" To which he'd reply, "if he wasn't, then he was a madman."
   She said what really scared her was when Joe's mother died and he cried inconsolably for weeks saying that he'd never see her again. How's that for life everlasting?
   My parents got married, 10 years after their first date. The only mention of Joe was when someone jumped or attempted to jump off the Jamestown bridge, in the town where he was pastor at a Roman Catholic church.
   "Joe had to climb the bridge again," my dad would say.
It always seemed that there were female jumpers whenever Joe was called to assist. And my dad said maybe it was because of him.
    There are more cases of bridge jumping than what is reported in the news. I learned that while working at the Standard-Times in North Kingstown.
   When I'd hear on the scanner that someone had climbed the Jamestown bridge, my editor would yell from his office, "Wait until they jump before you start writing an article."
  The average amount of people that followed through were 9 to 12 a year.
  "The Bridge" (2006) is a documentary I watched about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. If only these people had known about St. John Nepomuk (also known as St. John Nepomucene), the patron saint of bridges, maybe they could have prayed to him in their desperation and been saved.
   He is so popular in Europe that bridges are named for him or have statues of him including the Ponte Milvio in northern Rome.  He was born c.1345 in Nepomuk, Bohemia.
   St. John Nepomuk is called the first martyr of the Seal of the Confessional. He died on March 20, 1393 in Prague, Czechoslovakia when he drowned after being thrown off a bridge into the Vltava River.  He is usually shown with a five-star halo in honor of the five stars that appeared over the river the night he died.
   St. John Nepomuk is buried at St. Vitus Chapel in Prague and is also the patron saint of the Czech Republic. Canonized: 1729.  His feast day is May 16.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

St. Dominic Guzman (1170 to Aug. 6, 1221)

   "Arm yourself with prayer rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes."
                                                  (St. Dominic Guzman)

   My dad was so devastated the day my mother died, that he had a stroke that morning. So, I sat at my mom's bedside at home during her final hours, my younger brother took my dad to the hospital.
   All I could think of was which rosaries should I put in the casket with my mother? I chose ones I had bought at Montecassino Abbey (where my grandfather's cousin was the abbott) and the Basilicia of San Domenico in Bologna, both in Italy.
   I can still picture myself on the living room couch, at 3:15 p.m. on that sweltering hot Monday, as they carried my mother through the kitchen in a black body bag.
   "I don't want you crying over my death," she said months earlier. "Plenty of kids lose their parents at a very young age. You're an adult!"
   I wasn't allowed to cry. I wasn't even allowed to mourn. It was time to plan a funeral, beg the doctors to let my dad out of the hospital so he could attend it, and then take my dad to a physical therapist and more doctor's appointments for the next year with the help of my two brothers and Uncle Frank.
   The rest is a blur. But what stands out for me is that amidst all the chaos, my dad managed to fully recover to the point where he went back to Providence College and earned a master's degree in theology at age 75, seven years later.
   It is the only college/university in North America run by the Dominican Order of Friars. And, in the early 1990s, I went to the Basilica of San Domenico in Bologna, Italy, the final resting place of the founder of this order, St. Dominic Guzman.
   My dad had always told me about the Dominicans, so I had to go there especially for him to get a rosary. I believe, without a doubt, that St. Dominic Guzman helped my dad regain his health and spirit of life after my mom's death.
   I clearly remember being told on the train ride to Emilia-Romagna that, "there's nothing to do in Bologna." But, always up for a challenge, I decided to go there anyway.
   I was so tired that I checked into a hotel and took a nap. When I awoke later in the afternoon, I asked the concierge for directions to the basilica.
  "It's right around the corner, but good luck getting there," he said.
   I left the building and took a quick right, and I couldn't believe what I saw. One of the largest reggae festivals in Europe was taking place right there in the piazza. Thousands of people were dancing around as the music blasted and I was the only Caucasian person to be found. There was enough rowdiness that even I was a bit hestitant to be out walking around.
   St. Dominic Guzman was born in modern day Castile-Leon, Spain in 1170. He moved to Bologna in 1218 and died there on Aug. 6, 1221. St. Dominic Guzman's feast day is Aug. 8. He was canonized in 1234 and is the patron saint of astronomers.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1)

Today is the Holy Day of Obligation of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. One of my favorite statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary is in St. Anne's Shrine in Fall River, Mass. When I need to find answers I kneel in front of it and pray. I watch Mary's eyes and I can see what the result of my question will be. Sometimes see looks elated and other times sad. And, that is it. I cannot change what happens.
It doesn't matter if I've knelt before her at 2 a.m. on a weeknight or just after breakfast on a Saturday morning.
One time, I drove an hour to see her and when I went inside the statue was gone. I was frantic until I found the man who sets up the candles and collects the money.
The only conversation I had with him previously was when he warned me to put my candle money in the collection bin at the front of the church because people were stealing from the smaller boxes in the front of the individual statues.
"Where is Mary?" I asked.
He answered in French that she was taken away to be painted and hopefully would be back in a few weeks.
"Oh my God, what will I do?" I wondered aloud.
The man told me that I didn't need a statue of Mary in order to communicate with her.
"She is everywhere you go," he said. "When you sit under a tree, when you go to bed at night, when you lend a helping hand to someone in need."
How stupid of me not to realize this. When the statue of Mary returned to St. Anne's Shrine she was as beautiful as ever with her crystal clear eyes and flowing robe. I don't see her all that much anymore but she's with me all the same.