Sunday, February 28, 2010

St. Anthony of Padua (c.1195 to June 13, 1231)

I don't even know the official prayer but every time I lose a contact lens, my wallet, or piece of jewelry, I say something like "Please, St. Anthony, please help me" and it suddenly reappears. And this was even before I went to Padua, Italy.
When I stepped off the train, it was a dark, gloomy day. In the square outside the basilica, vendors sold balloons in an almost circus-type atmosphere creating a colorful contrast against the ominous sky. Young and old descended upon Padua and as I turned the knob to open the basilica door, I could hear the voice of Mr. Thomas reciting the Litany of the Saints at Easter Vigil, "St. Anthony of Padua." (Actually St. Anthony wasn't on the list but Mr. Thomas added him anyway. Maybe because he was part Portuguese.)
St. Anthony's tongue (his relic) is located in the apse of the church. It is said that it was chosen because he was a great orator.
He was born in Lisbon, Portugal c.1195 and joined the Franciscan Order in 1221. St. Anthony's story needs no explanation. He is one of the most popular saints of all time. He died in Padua, Italy on June 13, 1231 and is the patron saint of lost articles and American Indians.
St. Anthony was canonized less than a year after his death on May 30, 1232.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

St. Lucy (283 to 304)

I've worn contacts since junior high school and I've never experienced any kind of problems with my eyes. So, when I woke up with a large bubble on the white of my right eye, it was cause for concern. For more than a week, I went from doctor to doctor. I was given antibiotics and even had it drained but it would not go away. One doctor even said to me that she had never seen anything like it before.
I'm more of a fan of the saints than modern medicine, so I was certain if I prayed to St. Lucy, she would help. The next morning I called a practice near my house and was given an appointment that day. The physician took one look at me and said it was a cyst which he would remove the next day.
"It's going to be fine. Your eye will be as good as new in a week," he said.
When I checked out with the receptionist, I looked at the date. It was within 24 hours of St. Lucy's feast day which is Dec. 13. 
The next day when the cyst was removed, I felt the incision but by focusing on St. Lucy it was a breeze.
She was born in Syracuse, Italy in 283 and was a young Christian martyr. St. Lucy (also known as St. Lucia) is celebrated in a modern day festival in Sweden filled with sweets and lights. A young girl wears a crown of candles on her head and a white robe. In the procession other girls carry candles.
St. Lucy died in Syracuse in 304 and is the patron saint of eyesight. Canonization: pre-congregation.

Friday, February 26, 2010

St. Isabel of France (March 1225 to Feb. 26, 1270)

When I was young girl in grade school, the name Isabel was considered unusual. My parents chose it as my middle name after my grandmother and she told me that it would be popular again, one day.
Fast forward 38 years, and she was right. My grandmother has since passed away, but her name lives on in me.
St, Isabel, the daughter of Louis VIII of France and Blanche of Castille, was born in March 1225. She is known for helping the poor and sick. She founded the Franciscan Monastery of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Longchamp, France. She died on Feb. 26, 1270.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Infant Jesus of Prague

   Many years ago, in the middle of the night, I awoke to a glowing red light that appeared on my bedroom wall. I was actually scared to death and didn't want to move because right there in the middle of the light was an image of the Infant Jesus of Prague.
   I jumped out of bed, turned on the light, and went over to the wall. There was nothing there. I remember that the date was Sept. 1 because it was my late Uncle Vinnie's birthday who had died from a heart attack.
   The following morning, I told my parents what had happened.
    "It felt bad. Like something wasn't right," I said.
   My mom was fascinated that I knew it was the Infant Jesus of Prague rather than it appeared to me in the middle of the night. My dad thought nothing of it because since I was a child I've always been intuitive about things.
   That afternoon, my mom told me she was worried about my older brother. At the same time I saw the glowing red light, he saw a person in his bedroom in an old house where he lived in New York. Always a man of logic and reason (who earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of  Technology), my brother described what he saw as a person in a long, blue robe with  familiar big, blue eyes like my mother.
   But, the strange thing was, this person had no hair. My brother said he wasn't afraid when the person went up into the air and disappeared.
  We never mentioned that mysterious night until a couple of years later in July 1999. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my mother. She had terminal cancer and it was one month before she died.
  "Do you remember the night you had that dream about the Infant Jesus of Prague and your brother saw a person in his room with big, blue eyes and no hair?" she asked me.
  I nodded "yes."
  "That was me," she said confidently.
  I told her she was being ridiculous and that she was going to get better very soon.
  Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
  The day before my mother died, her cousin, Jerry,arrived at the house with his 7-year-old daughter, Jennifer who had a gift for her.
  She handed me a brown scapular, which is a symbol of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. My mother was born on that feast day (July 16). It was the name given to Mary as the patroness of the Carmelite Order.
  I thanked Jennifer and promised I would give the scapular to my mother. There was no way I was going to let her into the bedroom. I wanted Jennifer to remember my mother as the lively, beautiful, and vibrant person that she was in her lifetime.
   A few months after my mom died, it all came together for me. What my brother and I experienced were premonitions. When my younger brother questioned why he didn't see anything, I told him he probably didn't need to because he's less of a skeptic.
  The blue robe represented Mary or Our Lady of Mount Carmel who holds the infant Jesus. The Infant Jesus of Prague ended up being a gift to the Discalced Carmelites. The image with the blue eyes that rose up through the ceiling and disappeared meant that my mom was safe in heaven now.
  Many references to the Infant Jesus of Prague are often referred to as legends. The most common one is that the statue was given to Maria Manrique de Lara, a Spanish princess as a wedding gift from her mother Isabella. Maria went to Prague to marry a man of Czech royalty. When Maria's daughter, Polyxena, got married she gave her the statue.
  In turn, it ended up as a gift to the Discalced Carmelites who lived near the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague, where the statue is now kept. This was around the year 1628.
  Some stories say after the city and church were invaded (by Turks or Protestant Swedes) and the statue's hands were broken off.
  A Friar named Father Cyril claimed that the infant Jesus told him to repair the statue saying, "The more you honor me, the more I will bless you." He fixed it and to this day the statue is said to perform miracles.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

St. Michael the Archangel

My family parish was St. Michael's Church in Georgiaville which is why I've always enjoyed anything that has to do with St. Michael the Archangel.
By the time I was four, the church where I was baptized was knocked down and replaced with a modern one down the street. I was told the young priest who baptized me wrote the song Roman's Eight (For To Those Who Love God) and went on to become a songwriter to the Pope. He has since written many spectacular operas.
My only recollection now of the old St. Michael's is following the Mass in a folded program and my dad taking me for a lemon-lime soda afterward.
St. Michael, who defends God's honor against the devil, is shown stepping on Satan or a serpent, and carrying a sword, scales, and banner. Since the time of the Apostles, he has been considered the patron saint of the church. His feast day, along with Archangels St. Gabriel and St. Raphael, is Sept. 29.
St. Michael is also the patron saint of police officers. I didn't know that until 10 years ago when a friend of mine, who was a police sergeant, showed me a large tattoo of St. Michael the Archangel on his upper arm.
"He is there to protect me," he said.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Raphael the Archangel

St. Raphael the Archangel is first mentioned in the Holy Scripture in the book of Tobias in which he says "I am the Angel Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God." He appears disguised in human form when he travels with Tobias.
There is a bible story which explains that the archangel healed the Earth when it was made impure by the sins of the fallen angels. This is referred to in the book of Enoch.
In artwork, he is often depicted holding a flask or staff, wearing a flowing robe and sandals, or is shown with Tobias. His symbol is a fish.
His feast day is celebrated on Oct. 24 and also on Sept. 29 with the Archangels Michael and Gabriel.
St. Raphael the Archangel is the patron saint against nightmares (I'm surprised it's not St. Gabriel the Archangel who appeared to the Virgin Mary). It is said that single women should wear the archangel on a pendant and they will find the right man.

Monday, February 22, 2010

St. Gabriel the Archangel

One day when I was at Mass at St. Joseph's Church in Providence, Father McCaffrey posed a good question about the Annunciation (March 25). It's when the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she would conceive a child who was the son of God.
The priest asked if a teenage girl who lived in Fox Point went home and told her parents she never had sex but was going to have a baby and, in addition to that, it would be the son of God, do you think they would believe her? Probably not.
We can only imagine how Mary and her parents must have felt.
Gabriel told Mary to name the child Jesus who would be conceived by the Holy Spirit, Son of the Most High, and the Savior of the world.
The archangel is depicted with a lily, shield, trumpet, or spear. He is also mentioned in the prophecies of Daniel in the Old Testament and in the apocryphal book of Henoch.
Gabriel the Archangel's feast day is celebrated Sept. 29 along with Archangels Michael and Raphael.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656 to April 17, 1680)

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was beatified by Pope John Paul II on June 22, 1980. Since she will be the first Native American saint, I was curious to learn more about her, so took a road trip to the National Kateri Shrine in Fonda, New York in August 2004.
She was born in 1656 to a Mohawk chief father and a Catholic Algonquin mother near Auriesville, New York. When she was four-years-old she contracted the small pox. The disease killed her parents and brother and caused Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha to have a scarred face and poor eyesight.
She was adopted by an uncle and two aunts. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was baptized at age 20 and because of this, she endured hostility from her tribe. Eventually she moved to the new Christian colony of Native people in Canada.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha cared for the sick and elderly and was devoted to the Eucharist and the Crucified Jesus. She died at age 24 in Kahnawake near Montreal, Canada on April 17, 1680. The people who witnessed her death saw the scars on her face disappear, including a pair of French trappers who knew her from many years earlier. They dropped to their knees and cried.
Then, the Frenchmen built her a wooden coffin, put her inside, and carried her to the riverbank.
When I was 12-years-old my parents took our family on a vacation to Quebec, Canada. We went to Ste. Anne de Beaupre Shrine and there was a beautiful statue outside of a Native American girl. It was Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha.
In 1994, I visited the Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano in California. I wanted to go there since I was in third grade and learned about the swallows that return every March 19 (St. Joseph's Day and also my cousin Cindy's birthday ) Thirteen years later a large statue in which Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha is depicted was put up behind the main altar.
Pray to her and she will help you. The more you pray, the quicker she will become a saint. Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha's feast day is July 14.

"Oh God who among the many marvels of your grace in the New World did cause to blossom on the banks of the Mohawk and the St. Lawrence the pure and tender Lily, Kateri Tekakwitha, grant we beseech you the favor we beg through her intercession; that this Young Lover of Jesus and his Cross may soon be counted among her saints by Holy Mother Church, and that our hearts may be enkindled with a stronger desire to imitate her innocence and faith. We ask this through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Our Lady of the Woods

The Blessed Mother is the patroness of the United States and each state has its own representation of her. As I head out on vacation to Oregon this week, I would like to recognize Our Lady of the Woods, its patron saint. Mary's birth is celebrated on Sept. 8 and her death on the Assumption (Aug. 15).
"Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Our life, our sweetness and our hope."

Friday, February 19, 2010

Blessed Brother Andre Bessette (Aug. 9, 1845 to Jan. 6, 1937)

When I was a reporter at the Kent County Daily Times in West Warwick, Rhode Island in 2001, I wrote an article about Blessed Brother Andre Bessette, a French Canadian, who in his early twenties, worked in a mill in Natick for several years.
Today, Pope Benedict XVI announced that Blessed Brother Andre Bessette has reached sainthood and will be canonized on Oct. 17, 2010. Being of French Canadian descent, this is particularly exciting for me and I'm even happier for the people of West Warwick.
The piece I was writing was in preparation for a French Canadian Heritage Festival which would begin with a Mass at St. John the Baptist Church, where Blessed Brother Andre Bessette served Mass and lived for a time.
Father Alphonse O. Lethiez said that one day he would become a saint. "I just know he will in my lifetime," he told me.
I learned that after working in the mill (he was not yet in the clergy), Blessed Brother Andre Bessette returned to his native Canada. However many years later, after performing thousands of healings in Canada, he returned to West Warwick, where he had numerous friends in the community.
Blessed Brother Andre was born Alfred Bessette in St. Gregoire d'Iberville, Quebec on Aug. 9, 1845. He was one of 12 children. His father died in a lumbering accident and his mother died from tuberculosis leaving him an orphan at age 12.
He was a sickly boy who took jobs as a baker, shoemaker, blacksmith, and farmhand for six years then moved to New England to work in the mills with thousands of other French Canadians.
Blessed Brother Andre Bessette moved back to Canada in 1867 and told his parish priest that he was interested in a religious life. He was sent to the Community of Holy Cross Brothers in Montreal where he entered the noviate of the congregation and took his final vows at age 28.
The Blessed worked as a doorman at the College of Notre Dame in Montreal for 40 years. He had healing powers which cured thousands of people and a tremendous devotion to St. Joseph who he attributed the miracles to.
Blessed Brother Andre founded St. Joseph's Oratory on Mount Royal. It is now a basilica which receives two million pilgrims each year. When I was 12-years-old, my family went there while on vacation. It is high atop a hill. This was two years before Blessed Brother Andre Bessette had been named a venerable in 1978.
When he died on Jan. 6, 1937, one million people walked by his casket. Blessed Brother Andre Bessette is buried at the basilica. His heart, which was stolen in March 1973 and returned in December 1974, is in a reliquary in the oratory.
It is my hope that the people of Rhode Island realize what an honor it is that this man lived part of his life here and will in some way celebrate his canonization in October.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

St. Jerome (c.340/347 to Sept. 30, 420)

"Lord show me your mercy and make my heart glad."

St. Jerome was born between 340 and 347 in Stridon, a small town in northern Italy on the Yugoslavian border. At age 18, he was baptized by Pope Liberius in Rome.
He is best known for his translation of the bible into Latin. St. Jerome died in Bethlehem, Judea on Sept. 30, 420. He was buried in St. Mary Majorin in Rome and is the patron saint of librarians.
I've only met one person named Jerome in my life and he happened to be a member of the clergy. When I was 15-years-old, our parish priest was named Father Jerome. We called him Father Jerry. He was not more than 28-years-old, wore flannel shirts, and rode a motorcycle. He offered us confession in unlikely places such as outdoors on the church steps.
And, we held him and our religion in the highest regard. I had lost my grandfather at that time and because of it questioned my faith. Many of my peers were experimenting with cigarettes, alcohol, and sex.
Father Jerry was kind to us and understood what it was like to be a teenager. I'm not sure what his method was for getting through to my Confirmation class but it worked. He taught us to respect our parents yet be independent thinkers.
The last I heard Father Jerry was a chaplain in the Army. Wherever he is today, may he know that he had a profound and positive influence on me that I will never forget.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

"Dust you were born, and to dust you will return."

Before I made my First Communion, I knew little about Ash Wednesday except for when my older brother explained that when I died I was going to be a speck of dust.
"Like that," he said pointing into the sunlight by the window.
I never paid much thought to what he said since I had yet to learn that a person's soul lives on when they pass away. In my vocabulary, dust was something to do with Tinkerbell and fairies.
Ash Wednesday (which falls between Feb. 4 and March 10) takes place 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays) and marks the beginning of Lent. Roman Catholics between the ages of 14 and 59 are supposed to refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays until Easter. In addition, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday people ages 18 to 59 should fast by eating just one meal. (The left over pot roast from last night must wait until tomorrow!)
Being raised a Catholic was a pleasure for me because of my love of the saints, the way we celebrated Easter and Christmas, and the smell of incense at special Masses. However, with it came a kind of fear. Like going to confession. As an 8-year-old, I learned that when I went into the confessional I would say, "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (amount of time) since my last confession. These are my sins." Then the priest would tell me what prayers to say. I had to say them correctly or it wouldn't count and then I couldn't receive Communion.
I trembled in fear. What if I heard the priest wrong? What if I didn't remember when my last confession was?
Father Lyons spoke fast and mumbled. So every Saturday afternoon I hoped that Father Tetreault would be on the other side of the screen.
Still, as much as my experiences with church were sometimes scary there were just as many wonderful memories. Such as when the priests explained to us about the ashes used on Ash Wednesday
They are made from the previous year's Palm Crosses from Palm Sunday. They are burned and often mixed with sacred oils. And, although I haven't been to Mass in a very long time, every year, my dad still sets aside Palms for me which I tie into a Cross and keep in my bedroom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

St. Nicholas of Bari (c.270 to Dec. 6, 347)

The doors of the train slammed shut, and I stood on the platform looking at the name "Bari" on a nearby sign. And, as twilight set in, I remembered why it sounded so familiar. In my "Let's Go Italy" travel guide, a bold caption read: "In Bari, women should not go into the old city, especially at night."
I was returning from Greece where I had left my cousin and his friends. It's not that I wasn't enjoying myself, but I was tired of drinking ouzo and playing infantile card games like High-Low-Jack in 90 degree temperatures.
It was back in the days of telephone booths and through the help of an operator, I tried calling my parents in the United States. I didn't want to worry them. I just wanted to let them know they might never see me again. Lucky for them, no one was home.
Next, I dialed an Italian operator for the phone number of the organization that assists women travellers. After several attempts to find an interpreter in her office, she told me to dial 112.
Within minutes a policeman from the Immediate Action Service of the Carabinieri arrived.  He was a member of the military police and I had called the equivalent of 911. Suddenly, ouzo and High-Low-Jack didn't seem so bad.
He yelled at me until I broke into tears. Then, after assuring me that Bari was a safe place, he took me to "Stop Over in Bari," a student organization located at the train station.
It was August, so most of the hotels in southern Italy were closed for the month. But, the owners of the Hotel Bari, were kind enough to open the hotel especially for me. That, in itself, was spooky.
The concierge said I'd be the only person staying there that night, escorted me to the third floor, and told me he'd be back in the morning so I could check out. Before I fell asleep, I looked over some guidebooks and found that the Basilica di San Nicola was located right there in Bari near the harbor.
From as early as I can recall, my great aunt, Vera, who was now in her mid-eighties, would say she was born on Dec. 6, the Feast of San Nicola di Bari. I would have to go there the next day and get her rosary beads or I could never live with myself.
It was cat call city as I walked two miles to get to the Puglian-Romanesque basilica. At one point, a police officer stopped and told me to watch out for guys in the alleyways.
I told him I had to get my great aunt, Vera, rosary beads. Besides, this was Italy, the country where my grandfather was born. No one was going to harm me.(Although, the next day, after I had left on a train to Rome, 10,000 Albanian refugees forced their way into the southern port of Bari on a commandeered freighter. Authorities responded with gunfire over their heads, batons charges, and helicopters.)
I did get the rosary beads for my great aunt who lived until her late 90s and I learned more than I'll ever need to know about St. Nicholas of Bari (yes, Santa Claus).
He was born in Myra in Lycia (Asia Minor) c.270 and became a bishop who helped those in poverty. Upon hearing that a poor father would have to sell his three daughters into prostitution, St. Nicholas of Bari waited until dark and threw three small bags of gold into the man's window. The daughters were able to get married and St. Nicholas of Bari was discovered as the bearer of gifts.
He also saved fishermen who were out to sea off the coast of Lycia during a huge storm. He appeared out of nowhere on the ship to man the ropes and sails. In Germany, he became associated with Christmas and as a giver of gifts. He is known as Santa Claus in America.
St. Nicholas of Bari died on Dec. 6, 347. Canonized: pre-congregation. His relics were carried to Bari in 1087 and the basilica was built that year to hold them. It is said on his feast day each year, a flask of manna (myrrh) is taken from his tomb. The liquid-like substance has a lovely rose smell. He is the patron saint of children, sailors, and fishermen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

St. Gerard Majella (1726 to Oct. 16, 1755)

One of my favorite co-workers of all time was a woman I'll call "Elle" who was 10 years older than me. By the time I met her, she was an established curator at a prominent library.
I loved hearing her wild tales about growing up a juvenile delinquent in western Massachusetts, in the 1960s amid drugs, alcohol, and promiscuous sex, and nearly being sold into white slavery.
So, I was more than happy to help her the day she called me to her department.
"I read your article about St. Francis of Assisi in the travel magazine," she said. "It drove me to tears. I know you know a lot about the saints. Can you help me?"
I was flattered that she liked my writing but also surprised that would ask me to consult the saints for her.
"Elle" revealed she was three months pregnant with twins and because of a female problem her doctor said it was highly unlikely that she would carry them to term.
Although she had another child, she thought that because she was now 40 it would be her last chance for more children.
"Marilyn, if you tell me what to do I promise to believe," she pleaded desperately.
Twenty years earlier my aunt prayed to St. Gerald Majella, the patron saint of expectant mothers, and when my cousin was born healthy named him Matthew Gerard.
"Elle" would need a prayer card for starters which I got for her at the gift shop at LaSalle shrine.
Every day until the following February, she prayed to the saint often stopping by my desk to give me updates about her doctor's appointments. When the twins were finally born, I went to the hospital to see "Elle" and brought her a mom's gift of a necklace and a cute t-shirt to wear home from the hospital.
She told me she kept the St. Gerard card with her at all times and because of him the babies were born healthy.
He was born in Muro, Italy in 1726. His dad died when he was twelve and he was brought up in poverty. In 1749, he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.
One day a pregnant woman made up a lie that he was the father of her child. She later admitted that it wasn't true and soon afterward his association as the patron saint of expectant mothers began.
He died of tuberculosis at age 29 on Oct. 16, 1755. Canonized: 1904.
St. Gerard Majella continues to be recognized throughout the world. Every October there is a nine-day Novena Festival in his honor at St. Joseph's Redemptorist Church in Dundalk, Ireland.
But, you don't have to be expecting a child to seek his help. St. Gerard is also the patron saint of the falsely accused.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

St. Valentine (? to c.269)

I don't quite get it when people say they dread Valentine's Day if they aren't in a relationship. I celebrated it long before I had a boyfriend or even a grade school crush. Every year, my dad would get me a heart-shaped box of chocolates, conversation hearts, and a valentine card.
When I got older, I'd still get chocolates, a big bag of conversation hearts, and flowers. And, we'd make valentines in school and also pass out cards to our friends.
To this day, my dad always gets me candy and some kind of flowering plant on February 14. In fact, I should be hearing from him at any moment! So, my earliest memories of Valentine's Day predate any kind of romantic love.
St. Valentine is the name of at least two martyred saints from Rome, and another saint, and most of the stories conflict as to whose feast day it belongs to. Legend has it that when St. Valentine was about to be beheaded, he left a note to the jailer's daughter and signed it "Your Valentine." Other stories say he was a priest during the time of Emperor Claudius.
Love lotteries took place on February 14 which was the eve of Lupercalia, a pastoral festival which celebrated health, fertility, and lovemaking.
St. Valentine died c.269. His relic (his skull) can be seen in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. He is the patron saint of love and happy marriages.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

St. Joseph of Cupertino (June 17, 1603 to Sept. 18, 1663)

I had a good feeling the other day, when I discovered St. Joseph of Cupertino. When I'm in an airplane, my mantra is safe and happy flight. I repeat it over and over in my head no matter what I'm doing whether it's ordering from the "beverage service," reading a fashion magazine, or making my way to the restroom.
Although I put it out of my head that I'm flying at 35,000 feet and have no control, it seems like the second I forget to think of this chant, there will be turbulence or an unfamiliar noise that frightens the hell out of me. That's when the promises occur, like I will go to church every week if I get off this plane alive, etc.
When the prayer to St. Isidore of Seville got me on my computer last Wednesday, I was gleeful and giddy and couldn't wait for my trip to Oregon in two weeks because I am certain that St. Joseph of Cupertino will be with me the entire way.
He was born in the Kingdom of Naples, near Brindisi, Italy on June 17, 1603. (I actually took the ferry from Brindisi to get Greece back in 1991.) St. Joseph's father died before he was born and because of this he lived a life of modest means.
St. Joseph joined the Franciscan Friars of Minor Conventual and became a priest.
He was blessed with ecstasies and levitations, often floating high into the sky when something spiritual came up in conversation. This continued to happened whether he was serving Mass or walking in a religious procession. He became known as the "Flying Friar" and often hid in embarrassment over it. He was also known to heal the sick.
St. Joseph of Cupertino died on Sept. 18, 1663. Canonization: July 16, 1767.
So, in a week and a half when I hear the overhead compartments click shut and feel the plane taxiing for takeoff, that feeling of entrapment won't be there thanks to 5 mg of valium and a little help from St. Joseph of Cupertino.

Friday, February 12, 2010

St. Isidore of Seville (c.560 to April 4, 636)

When I heard there was going to be a snowstorm early Wednesday, I was excited about the prospect of being stuck indoors. I would stay up late the night before and bake, watch DVDs, make valentines, drink a glass or two of wine, and chat with friends on Facebook. Then, since I wouldn't be able to get to work in the morning, I'd sleep late, catch up on my reading, do more fun things, and check back in on Facebook.
So I was surprised when I got home from work on Tuesday afternoon and couldn't get on Facebook. It said something like it was a technical problem and that it should be back on in a few hours. Sorry for the inconvenience. So, for more than 24 hours, I couldn't get on the site. It got to the point where I decided it was time to consult the saints. Sure enough. He existed. The patron saint of computers and the Internet.
St. Isidore of Seville was born in Cartagena, Spain in c. 560. That alone is funny enough for the obvious reasons. When his brother Leander died, St. Isidore succeeded him as the Bishop of Seville, a position he held for 37 years.
He wrote etymologies (a type of dictionary) and it is said that his work is similar in structure to a database. St. Isidore created a system of thought that is known as "flashes" today.
Now that I had discovered him and since nothing had worked to get me back on Facebook I would pray to St. Isidore no matter how ridiculous that sounded.
I asked for his divine intervention and I'll admit I was laughing. Then for the fiftieth time in the past 26 hours, I tried to get onto Facebook and it worked! The first thing post my thankfulness, following the tradition of recognizing a saint when they answer your prayers. I also promised St. Isidore that I would honor him on his feast day (April 4). But since it falls on Easter Sunday this year and, I'm so excited that he helped me, I thought it best to share my enthusiasm today.
St. Isidore died on April 4, 636. Canonized: 1598.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

St. Bernadette (Jan. 7, 1844 to April 16, 1879) and Our Lady of Lourdes

A few days before my mom passed away many years ago, I took a late night drive to St. Anne's Shrine in Fall River, Mass. to light some candles and ask that her suffering end and she die peacefully. It was a familiar place that I went to as a child and I remember, at Christmastime, how much I loved looking at the candles flickering in their green, blue, and red holders.
In the basement of the church (which was modeled after St. Anne de Beaupre Cathedral in Quebec, Canada), there were statues of all the popular saints, and lesser known ones like Martin de Porres, and I would listen intently as my mom and grandmother told their stories as we went from one to the other.
But, tonight would be different. I was 26 years older and would just be stopping at my mom's favorite depiction of St. Bernadette of Lourdes kneeling in a grotto before the Virgin Mary.
"She's French like you are," I could here my mom's voice say as I lit a candle and knelt down. My mom was brought up at a time when Italians and French could not go to the same parish (my mom was Italian and my dad was French) and she always made it a point to remind me of my ethnicity. She would mention time and again how much she adored the movie "The Song of Bernadette" (1943) and its star Jennifer Jones.
I began to pray and, in moments, I felt a sense of relief that it wouldn't be long before my mom would join her brother, parents, everyone else she missed and loved who had gone before her, St. Bernadette, and Our Lady of Lourdes.
St. Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl, was born on Jan. 7, 1844 in Lourdes, France in the Pyrenees. On Feb. 11, 1858, she saw the first of 18 apparitions of a beautiful woman dressed in white with a blue ribbon sash (the Virgin Mary) in a grotto. The last sighting was on July 16 (which happens to be my mom's birthday and the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel) of that year.
One day the apparition told Bernadette to drink from a fountain which she could not see that was at the grotto. The young girl touched the ground and water burst forth from a spring. Another day the woman in white told her to tell the priests to build a chapel there. One priest said to Bernadette that he would not believe her unless the mysterious apparition gave her its name.
On March 25 (the Feast of the Annunciation), Bernadette asked the Virgin Mary her name and she said "I am the Immaculate Conception." The fourteen-year-old did not know what that meant and the priest explained that in 1854, the Pope declared the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Four years after Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary the bishop of the diocese declared Our Lady a reality. A basilica was built and in 1873 the pilgrimages began.
St. Bernadette died on April 16, 1879 in Nevers, France. Her body was exhumed three times (1909, 1919, and 1925) and was not decomposed which is a miracle to support canonization. Hers took place on Dec. 8, (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) 1933. The Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11. St. Bernadette's Feast Day is celebrated on Feb. 18 and April 16.
A few months before my mom died, I learned of the passing of a young genealogist I knew from my days of employment at the Rhode Island Historical Society Library. Bob, who was just a few years older than me, was a auto mechanic who spent his spare time at the library researching family histories. He even wrote a genealogy guide.
Bob was the type of person that you could go months without seeing and then he'd show up out of nowhere and brighten your day. He'd fill me in on his adventures, ask me about mine, and then go to a table and do his research. One day he told me he wasn't feeling well but he didn't say how sick he really was with cancer.
I remember the last time I saw Bob which was a little more than a year before he died. He said that a miracle had happened. I was so excited thinking that he meant the cancer was gone. He told me that he still had it but just returned from a special trip to Lourdes, France where he visited the shrine and got some water from the Holy spring. He said he was cured.
I didn't get what Bob meant until I knelt in front of the statue of St. Bernadette and Our Lady in the grotto in St. Anne's Shrine a few days before my mom died. Through St. Bernadette, Bob found peace and had accepted what was going to happen to him. That was the miracle. And, I'm convinced that St. Bernadette is here to help those of us who believe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

St. Scholastica (480 to 543)

When I said I was going to have a dove (which I call the Holy Ghost) tattooed on my lower back 11 years ago, I was told by friends and family that knew about it that it was a foolish and careless thing to do. These are the same people who many years before that, said if I travelled throughout central Italy, alone, I would not live to tell about it.
Being the adventurous, free spirit that I am, I did both things and unknowingly honored St. Scholastica, whose feast day is today (February 10).
She was born the twin sister to St. Benedict in Nursia, Italy in 480. When St. Benedict started his monastery at Monte Cassino (which I visited in central Italy), St. Scholastica moved to nearby Plombariola and founded a community of women. She is thought to be the first Benedictine nun.
St. Scholastica visited St. Benedict once a year although she was not allowed at the monastery. So, they met at a farmhouse. They would talk about spirituality and on what would be the final visit between the two, she asked her brother to stay a little longer. He said he couldn't because of monastery rules. St. Scholastic prayed and a thunderstorm occurred that kept St. Benedict from leaving the house.
He scolded her for doing such a thing and she replied that after he said he couldn't stay, she prayed to God and the storm came. The siblings then talked until early morning. Three days later, in 543, St. Scholastica died. At that very moment, St. Benedict saw her image and her soul turned into a dove and flew to Heaven. He had her body brought to Monte Cassino and buried in the tomb that was originally made for him.
St. Scholastica's relics are in a silver shrine in St. Peter's Church in Le Mans, France. She is considered the patron saint of Monte Cassino and thunderstorms.
I like to think that my Holy Ghost tattoo represents her pure soul.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

St. Alto (? to c.760)

I have nothing against Henry David Thoreau, but more than a millenium before he moved into his cabin in the woods, wrote books about it, and earned a cult-like following as a result, St. Alto, lived as a hermit in a modest hut in the wilderness near Augsburg, Germany around 743.
The Irish missionary earned a reputation of self denial and holiness, and when he returned to "civilization" seven years later he founded the Benedictine monastery called Altomunster Abbey in Bavaria. It was dedicated by St. Boniface (the patron saint of Germany who is credited with inventing the Christmas tree) in 750, later attacked by Huns, and restored in 1000.
St. Alto died around 760. His feast day is February 9 and, in his honor, let's reflect on nature, solitude, and living a calm and peaceful life.

Monday, February 8, 2010

St. Oncho of Clonmore (? to c.600)

When I think of Irish saints, Patrick, Brigid, and Columba immediately come to mind, yet there are hundreds of them. So many, that at one time, Ireland was known as the land of saints and scholars.
Today's feast day is dedicated to St. Oncho of Clonmore (also known as Onchuo meaning fierce hound). He was a poet and a pilgrim. Much like the genealogists of today, he devoted his time to preserving Celtic traditions by researching the relics of the Irish saints and, in turn, he became one.
His life came to an end in c.600 at Clonmore monastery (founded by St. Maidoc of Ferns) while he was looking for memorials of the Irish saints. His body was enshrined there with the relics that he gathered.
It is said that the site had been raided by Norsemen and the church was burned in 1040. Today, nothing remains of the monastery although, nearby, carved stones, Celtic crosses, and a Holy Well can be found.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

St. Juliana of Bologna (? to c.435)

My dad once told me, had he not met my mother, chances are he would have become a priest. Years after she died, he earned a master's degree in theology from Providence College. He still goes to Mass every week and is one of the most religious people I know.
Now, the relationship between St. Juliana of Bologna, Italy and her husband is a whole different story. After giving birth to her fourth child, her husband asked to be freed from the marriage so he could become a priest. Sounds like a nice guy to me!
She agreed but who knows what she was thinking. Did she do something that drove him to celibacy after having four children? Maybe she felt it a blessing that her husband left her for something other than a woman.
Juliana was well liked by St. Ambrose of Milan. She raised her children and devoted the rest of her life to helping the poor. She died in c.435. And, in the end, it was she, not her husband, that became a saint.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

St. Dorothy (? to c.311)

St. Dorothy, a virgin martyr, was born c.311. She lived in Caesarea, Cappadocia, and was known for angelic virtue. It is said that parents were martyred before her. When it was time for her execution, a lawyer named Theophilus asked her mockingly to send him apples or roses from the garden she would soon be living in. Just as she was about to die, St. Dorothy began to pray and an angel holding three apples and three roses appeared before her. She sent the angel to Theophilus who upon seeing this became a Christian and was later martyred. St. Dorothy's feast day is February 6. She is the patron saint of horticulture, brewers, and brides.

Friday, February 5, 2010

St. Mel of Ardagh (? to c.488)

With St. Valentine's Day just around the corner, solo ladies listen up. St. Mel of Ardagh might just be your man. He is fast becoming a patron saint of singles, joining the ranks with Saints Benedict Joseph Labre, Agatha, and Raphael.
St. Mel, the nephew of St. Patrick, went with his uncle to Ireland and worked alongside him until he became Bishop of Ardagh. He helped evangelize Ireland and professed St. Brigid as a nun.
For a while, St. Mel lived with his Aunt Lupait which caused tongues to wag with scandalous accusations. Because of this, St. Patrick took it upon himself to investigate the situation. By miraculous means, St. Mel was plowing a field and managed to scoop up a live fish as though it were in the water and Aunt Lupait carried fiery coals without burning herself, they were cleared of any charges. Still, St. Patrick ordered that they live apart to avoid further scandal.
St. Mel died around 488 AD.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

St. Veronica (1st century AD to 1st century AD)

One of my biggest regrets of my three visits to St. Peter's in Vatican City is not that I had permission for an audience with the Pope and overslept that day (I still have the ticket dated Nov. 6, 1991) but rather that a legendary relic is housed there and had I known I would have happily arranged one of my vacations during Holy Week which is the only time (excuse the pun) that it is unveiled.
The story of St. Veronica, who was born and died in the 1st century AD, is one that has fascinated me since I first participated in the Stations of the Cross. Whether it was on a Friday during Lent or a visit to LaSalette in Attleboro, Mass. where the suggested way to do it was outdoors climbing up steps on your knees (and when I was with my grandmother Isabel and Great Aunt Vera, it took much longer), I always knew what would happen at the sixth Station of the Cross. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
"We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you. Because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world."
St. Veronica was a woman from Jerusalem who wiped the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. She gave him her veil and he accepted. When he handed it back to her, the imprint of his face was on it.
This is such a lovely story (or should I say legend) yet there is no mention of Veronica in the Gospel and no historical evidence to support that she existed. It is said that the veil was taken from the Holy Land to cure Emperor Tiberius of illness, then it went to Rome in the 8th century, and, finally, to St. Peter's in 1297 where it remains to this day.
If you ever have the chance to go, surrounding the baldacchino in St. Peter's are four great piers. I had the honor of seeing the statue of St. Veronica but I had no idea that the veil is kept in its podium.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

St. Blaise (3rd century AD to c.316)

When I was a little girl not more than 6 years old, my grandmother, Isabel, told me we'd go for a walk to do something special that day. It was winter, so she bundled me up and held my hand as we walked down the street.
It wasn't the usual route we took to have lunch and then go to the store to pick out paper dolls or a coloring book. Today, we were going to St. Lawrence Church in Centredale.
Along the way, my grandmother told me the persistent cough I had would finally go away because the priest was going to bless my throat. I wasn't afraid. It sounded like a folk remedy to me.
We went to Mass and while I sat in the basement of the old, dark church it was then that I learned about St. Blaise. Legend has it that a boy had a fish bone stuck in this throat and was about to die. St. Blaise saved him and is therefore the protector of throats.
He was born in the 3rd century AD in Armenia and is also the patron saint of wild beasts.
He was martyred (c. 316) by being beaten, torn with hooks, and then beheaded. Canonized: Precongregation.
When the time came to have my throat blessed, I remember walking up to the altar with my grandmother and the priest crossing two unlit candles near my throat. He said a prayer and almost instantly my cough went away. Later, when we went back into the February cold, my grandmother gave me a kiss and held my hand. And we didn't go back to the house. Instead, we walked into town like we did almost every Saturday and this time it was for dinner and paper dolls.
The Prayer: "St. Blaise prayer for us that we may not suffer from illnesses of the throat and prayer that all who are suffering be healed by God's love. Amen"

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Just before midnight last night (Feb. 1), I hung my St. Brigid ribbon on a Green Man wreath outside my front door. Then, I pictured her wandering by in the freezing cold night to bless it with good health.
When I awoke this morning, it was where I had left it but a little bit shinier. Could it be magic?
My French grandmother died on Feb. 2, 1972. At the time, I was a small child, so I remembered it as Groundhog Day but to the adults it was Candlemas.
Traditionally, in the Western world, at Candlemas priests blessed beeswax candles for use throughout the year. It is 40 days after Christmas and marks the end of the season. Since Vatican II, the Roman Catholic Church calls it the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord with references to candles, the Purification of Mary, and an emphasis on Simeon the Righteous.
The English poet Robert Herrick (1591 to 1674) had a thing for Candlemas and wrote about it on several occasions.
"If Candlemas day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight.
But if it be dark with clouds and rain,
Winter is gone, and will not come again."

Monday, February 1, 2010

St. Brigid of Ireland (c.451 to Feb. 1, 525)

The life and the legend of St. Brigid of Ireland has been written about in abundance. Along with Saints Patrick and Columba she is one of Ireland's patron saints. She was born in County Louth near Dundalk c. 451 to parents who were baptized by Saint Patrick. Some people believe that since she shares the first name of the Celtic goddess that she may have been created to convert Celts to Christianity. She died in Kildare on Feb. 1, 525. Canonized: Precongregation. Saint Brigid of Ireland's feast day coincides with Imbolc, the first of four Celtic fire festivals.
Click here to view beautiful St. Brigid of Ireland crosses and the lovely story behind them.