Friday, April 30, 2010

St. John Berchmans (March 13, 1599 to Aug. 12, 1621)

My mom, who was an elementary school teacher, said that a lot of students that misbehaved in her class were altar boys. Were they given this duty by the priest to keep them out of trouble or was it a voluntary position.
One altar boy that was obedient and truly loved his work was St. John Berchmans. He was born on March 13, 1599 in Brabant, Belgium. He was a Jesuit seminarian who died on Aug. 12, 1621 in Rome, Italy, before he was ordained a priest.
St. John Berchmans was known as a kind person who lived an ordinary life. He is the patron saint of altar boys and girls. Canonized: 1888. His feast day is Nov. 25.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

St. Catherine of Siena (March 25, 1347 to April 29, 1380)

When I visited Siena, Italy I was young and wild, so I paid no attention to the locals and tourists who told me hotel rooms were scarce and filled up quickly in the walled city. I was content to spend the afternoon wandering around Tuscany, so took the last bus of the day to get there.
When I arrived just before midnight, panic struck in.
"Please, I'll sleep on the floor in the lobby," I begged the concierge at the only hotel that was opened, after he told me there were no vacancies. The tears were real and they worked. A room was available on the first floor.
The following morning my mission was to buy a rosary and get a history lesson about St. Catherine of Siena at her basilica.
She was born in Siena on March 25 (The Annunciation), 1347. At age 6, she experienced what today we would call mystical experiences communicating through visions with the saints, the Blessed Mother, and Jesus.
St. Catherine of Siena's treatise, called "A Dialogue," is well respected in the Roman Catholic Church. She died in Rome, Italy on April 29, 1380. Canonized: 1461. She is the patroness of fire protection and her feast day is April 29.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

St. Justina of Padua (? to 304)

On my visit to Padua, Italy I devoted my time to exploring the Basilica of St. Anthony and learning more about his life and work. So, it was unfortunate that I missed the chance to go to the Basilica of St. Justina, a young woman who was martyred for refusing to pray to the Roman goddess Minerva.
St. Justina shares the title of patron saint of Padua with St. Anthony. She took a vow of chastity and was stabbed to death in 304. The remains of many saints are at her basilica including those of the Apostles St. Matthew and St. Luke. Her feast day is Oct. 7.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

St. Peregrine Laziosi (1260 to May 1, 1345)

When I was in elementary school, I helped my neighbor, Kim, collect money for the American Cancer Society. I did this for years, so when we found out my grandfather was going to die from colon cancer in 1979, I remember my mother being upset for me because of my devotion to raising money for cancer research.
Nineteen years went by and my mother was dying from cancer. My cousin and I spent most of our time trying to find alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation for my mom. My cousin found out about a type of mud that she wanted my mom to spread on her stomach and I discovered an herb that would cleanse the colon and liver.
Still, my mother continued to do what the doctors told her as much as we begged her to try a natural alternative. I think she was afraid because time was moving quickly and eventually the doctors told her if she didn't do chemotherapy and radiation she would die a painful death. That was so cruel to tell her and so sad.
If only I had known about St. Peregrine Laziosi, the patron saint of cancer patients, I wouldn't be writing this today. And, my mother would have been spared the suffering.
St. Peregrine Laziosi was born in 1260 in Forli, Italy. He was a member of the Servite Order. He took it upon himself to do a penance in which he stood on his feet for 30 years, only sitting down when absolutely necessary.
It is said this caused varicose veins and cancer in his leg and foot. The night before his leg was to be amputated, St. Peregrine Laziosi prayed to Jesus who then appeared in a vision and touched his leg. When the saint awoke the cancer was gone and his leg and foot were healed.
St. Peregrine Laziosi died on May 1, 1345. His is generally depicted with cancer on his leg and his feast day is May 2.
Please spread the word to pray to St. Peregrine Laziosi.

Monday, April 26, 2010

St. Maximilian Kolbe (Jan. 8, 1894 to Aug. 14, 1941)

  Several months before digital cameras became the standard in newsrooms, I was told that although I was a journalist and took many of my own photos, I would still have to learn how to develop film should one of the photographers be on vacation, out sick, or on another assignment.
  I was 36-years-old at the time and my "teacher" would be the 23-year-old photographer for the daily newspaper that every woman who worked for the company wanted to have a relationship with. I could care less since I had an on-again, off-again boyfriend and didn't want anything serious with anyone.
 But, when I went into the darkroom for my first "session," I did the unthinkable. I had sex with him. After that day, we'd do it any chance we got and in any place we could find including state parks, cars, hotels, and at night in people's backyards.
  I wasn't the seducer, so I didn't feel I was doing anything wrong. Plus, I wrote five or six cover page articles each day and had a reputation for being the best journalist at the company.
  The thing is, no one knew what was going on except for a young co-worker who was my friend that worked downstairs in the main office.
  "I think that is so cool," she would say me. "I want to be like you, when I'm your age."
  I didn't even want to be involved with the photographer, but my boyfriend barely noticed me (he was a self-centered graphic designer and musician) and the young guy was giving me all the attention in the world and wanted to have sex two or three times a day.
  So, on days that we'd be at it in the darkroom, I'd immediately go back to my desk and conduct interviews over the phone like nothing had happened. The photographer said that it drove him wild.
  At the same time, the married, overweight assistant editor was madly in love with him and she would often tell me she would leave her husband if he expressed any interest in her.
  Finally, I met another guy, and decided to call it quits with the photographer after five months. He continued to pursue me, even after I left that job. Funny thing is, I ran into him on the street a few years later, when I was writing for another newspaper.  He was newly married and still trying to get me to hook up with him. No such deal.
  St. Maximilian Kolbe is a patron saint of journalists. He was born Rajmund Kolbe in what is now Poland on Jan. 8, 1894. As a young boy, he saw a vision of the Virgin Mary which helped influence his career path. He joined the Conventual Franciscan Friars in 1907.
  St. Maximilian Kolbe promoted the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. At the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland, he volunteered to die in place of a man he didn't even know.
  St. Maximilian Kolbe endured starvation, thirst, and abuse for two weeks before he was injected with carbolic acid. He died on Aug. 14, 1941. Canonized: 1982. His feast day is Aug. 14.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

St. Luke the Apostle (? to c.84)

"To shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." (Luke 1:79)

My favorite gospel was written by St. Luke because it contains some of my favorite quotes. He stresses the importance of the Holy Ghost and his gospel is the only one that tells the parable of the Good Samaritan.
St. Luke was an apostle and follower of Jesus. He was born in Syria and worked as a physician and artist. He was martyred c. 84 in Greece.
The relic of St. Luke, his rib, is at his tomb in Greece and the rest of his remains are at the Basilica of St. Justina in Padua, Italy. It is often overlooked because the majority of people make pilgrimages to Padua to the Basilica of St. Anthony. If you are there, both our worthy of a visit.
St. Luke's feast day is Oct. 18. He is a patron saint of physicians and artists.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

St. Agatha (c. 231 to c.251)

When I was doing genealogical research this week, I was surprised to find the tiny village of Castelpizzuto, Isernia, Italy has a patron saint. With just 140 residents, they honor St. Agatha with a celebration every February 5 on her feast day.
She was born in Sicily c.231. When she refused the advances of Quintianus, a judge, he had her thrown in prison and tortured. She was whipped and burnt, and had her breasts cut off. St. Agatha died c.251. She is shown in artwork carrying her breasts on a platter.
St. Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer.

Friday, April 23, 2010

St. George (c.280 to April 23, 303)

Today is the feast day of St. George who is almost always shown killing a dragon in order to save a beautiful lady. He was born c.280 in Turkey. St. George became a Roman soldier and was furious that Christians were being put to death. He fought for his faith and was beheaded on April 23, 303.
The legend of St. George and the dragon began in the 13th century.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8)

In the Roman Catholic Church, it is a Holy Day of Obligation celebrating Mary's moment of conception being free from all stain of original sin. (It has nothing to do with Mary conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit). Mary's birthday is September 8.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

St. Raphael Kalinowski (Sept. 1, 1835 to Nov. 15, 1907)

Prefettura Della Casa Pontificia
Permesso personale per partecipare all'Udienza del Santo Padre che avra luogo in
Vaticano nell'Aula Paola VI, mercoledi 6 novembre 1991, all ore 11.
Ingresso: A No: 494

In an old travel album that I've had for nearly two decades is a folded up piece of green paper with the above words. It's in Italian but you need not speak the language to understand that it's a ticket for an audience with the Pope.
I'm probably one of only a handful of people in the world with an unused ticket since they are hard to come by.
In 1991, Pope John Paul II met with an audience just once a week, on a Wednesday. So, I was told I might not get a ticket. But, I did after going through the proper channels and obtaining letters of permission from my parish priest and the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.
I missed my audience with the Pope because the night before I was walking down the Via Condotti in Rome and a handsome guy in a Lamborghini pulled up alongside me.
"You're not from around here," he said with a killer smile, thick, dark hair, or should I say the stereotypical, extremely masculine Italian look.
I wondered how he knew I was a tourist since I was dressed to blend in with the locals: white pants, a colorful, sleeveless shirt, sunglasses, and sandals.
When I got in the car he told me it was because I was staring at a building that only an American would notice. He said his name was Sandro and that I was crazy for getting in the car with a stranger in a foreign country.
"If my sister did that, I'd kill her," he said.
I explained that he looked like my family back home. I knew I was safe because he seemed like any guy I would meet in North Providence. It's funny that I was a world away and yet in a place so familiar.
So, Sandro gave me an insider's look at Rome, where parties often begin after midnight.
One of our stops was Monte Mario, the highest hill in the Eternal City, where we had sex in his car.
“Have you ever made love with an Italian before?” he whispered to me as he removed my shirt.
“I am Italian,” I replied, barely able to get the words out as he kissed me so hard with passion that my lips were black and blue the following morning.
Although I was divorced, I was still so na├»ve. When we finally got to Sandro's place in Frascati, where women’s clothing was strewn throughout, I was ever hopeful that he might be a cross dresser, not the married womanizer who had me sneak into the house behind him.
Still, I let go that night. We did to each other, whatever our hearts desired.

St. Raphael Kalinowski
It would have pretty amazing to have had an audience with the Pope, because that very week, he canonized St. Raphael Kalinowksi (also known as St. Joseph Kalinowski) on Nov. 17, 1991.
St. Raphael Kalinowski was born on Sept. 1, 1835 in modern day Vilnius, Lithuania. He was a Polish Discalced Carmelite Friar. He died on Nov. 15, 1907 in Wadowice, Poland which was the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. St. Raphael Kalinowski's feast day is Nov. 19.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

St. Maria Goretti (Oct. 16, 1890 to July 6, 1902)

"Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)

When it comes to relationships, we've all made mistakes. I don't dwell on the past. It's not healthy to look back and say I wish I'd done this or that.
St. Maria Goretti was stabbed to death and forgave her attacker on her death bed. She was born on Oct. 16, 1890 in Corinaldo, Italy. When she was 11-years-old, the son of her father's partner tried to rape her. St. Maria Goretti, a devote Roman Catholic, told 20-year-old, Alessandro Serenelli, it was a sin. He ended up killing her. She died on July 6, 1902.
She was canonized in 1950, with her mother and siblings present. Alessandro served time in prison and became a Capuchin laybrother. St. Maria Goretti's feast day is July 6. She is the patron saint of forgiveness and youth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

St. Innocent of Alaska (Aug. 26, 1797 to March 31, 1879)

Beef stroganoff, white rice with vegetables, a crisp garden salad, crunchy bread with butter, and chocolate cake with strawberries for dessert. What better than to enjoy comfort food at a long wooden table in a dining room with an ocean view of Kodiak, Alaska?
I was a guest at St. Innocent's Academy for an afternoon of music and dance.
This is a blog about Roman Catholic saints but I was so impressed with what I saw at the Eastern Orthodox church/school for at-risk students, that I've chose to write about St. Innocent.
Many of the teenagers at the academy were orphaned, abused, or unwanted. Now, they are loved and respected.
In addition to going to school and doing chores and side jobs there, they help on the island in a variety of ways including building stone walls, carpentry, yard work, and lending their time as waiters and waitresses and musicians for local events.
Sure, something like this might not be accepted in Rhode Island or New York City. Still, I think it's a good thing for the small island community,
The academy was named for St. Innocent of Alaska (also of Moscow) who was born on Aug. 26, 1879 in Anginskoye, Irkutsk Oblast. He was a Russian Orthodox priest, bishop, archbishop, and Metropolitan of Moscow and Russia. His mission work brought him to Alaska.
St. Innocent died on March 31, 1879 in Moscow. He was canonized in 1977 and his feast days are March 31 and April 13.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

St. Rita of Cascia (1381 to May 22, 1457)

It saddens me that there are so many women that are abused by their husbands or boyfriends. And, there's no way out for some of them, no matter how hard they try. Maybe they don't have enough money or there are children involved. Still, even if they do manage to escape, there are those men that will continue to harrass or try to destroy their lives.
I want these women to know that they are not alone and that help is out there if they ask. St. Rita of Cascia can help, too. She is the patron saint of abused women and lost and impossible causes.
She was born in 1381 in Roccaporena, Perugia, Italy. At age 12, her parents forced her into an arranged marriage with Paolo Mancini. Despite her begging to join a convent, St. Rita of Cascia was abused, beaten, and cheated on by her husband. They had two sons.
Finally, one of Paolo Mancini's enemies stabbed him to death. Luckily, a short time before, he repented for his sins. Rita of Cascia's sons hunted for the murderer, however, she was able to intercede with her prayers to stop them.
St. Rita of Cascia became an Augustine nun and died in Cascia on May 22, 1457. She was canonized in 1900. If you are reading this and are an abuse victim or feel hopeless, please pray to her. She will help you.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

St. Charles Borromeo (Oct. 2, 1538 to Nov. 3, 1584)

I grew up in a place with an abundance of apple orchards. Every Sunday in autumn, we'd go for a ride to buy apples in my dad's 1960s Volkswagen Beetle.
Yet, the patron said of apple orchards, St. Charles Borromeo, is buried in a place far from my small town. He's in the Duomo in Milan, Italy, a building I climbed in 1991 (all 919 steps of the stone, spiral staircase to reach the top.)
St. Charles Borromeo was born in Novara, Italy on Oct. 2, 1538 and is called the Apostle of the Council of Trent. His life's work was to bring reform and lapsed Roman Catholics to the church.
He died on Nov. 3, 1584 in Milan. His feast day is Nov. 4.
And, what a dramatic view of Milan and the Alps from atop the Duomo. There were at least 3,400 statues (the gargoyles were amazing) including the gold Madonna at the top and 135 spires.
Can I think of a more beautiful place to be? Well, maybe equally as beautiful: an autumn day as a child in my yard, raking and playing in the leaves, enjoying wheel barrel rides, and eating a crisp, sharp Smithfield apple.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Our Lady of Kodiak

Today, I will be flying to Kodiak, Alaska. It's a long way from home and my second time there. Thank you St. Joseph of Cupertino for a safe flight.
I took the picture of the statue of Our Lady of Kodiak at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church. I had the chance to meet with the priest there. He told me he was only there temporarily, so the only information he could give me was that the statue was made in Germany for the parishioners of St. Mary's in Kodiak.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

St. Stephen (1st century to c.35)

"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat." (Traditional)

St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, was born in the 1st century. He was stoned to death c.35 by the Jews after a trial before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy against God and Moses. St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26) is often overshadowed by Christmas in the United States, but it is a public holiday in more than 15 countries including Ireland, Austria, Italy, and the United Kingdom (Boxing Day).
It is said that St. Stephen's tomb is in Caphar Gamala to the north of Jerusalem, however, some people say that he is interred under the high altar at the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Rome, Italy. He is the patron saint of bricklayers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15)

"Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1: 39-56)

In keeping with how my grandmother Isabel named her two daughters, when my mom was 7-years-old her baby sister was born on Aug. 15, 1942. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Holy Day of Obligation. It was when Mary's body and soul rose into Heaven.
My grandmother would hear nothing of it when the name Assunta was suggested for my aunt, however, she was leaning toward Susan. Then, after reading the Gospel for Aug. 15, she chose Elizabeth Mary.
The feast day is a public holiday in more than 40 countries including Italy and France.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16)

   My grandmother was only 21-years-old when she had my mother on July 16, 1935, but she had a mind of her own and simply would not name her first born child Crescenza after her mother-in-law. 
  My mom was born on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Madonna della Carmine) and, back then, Roman Catholics were encouraged to choose names according to the saint's feast day on which the child was born.
   Thank God my grandmother's older sister arrived at the hospital just after seeing a movie starring Marilyn Miller, Ziegfield Folly. So, my mom was named Marilyn Carmen.
  The story of Our Lady of Mount Carmel came to be when the Prophet Elijah climbed Mount Carmel in the coastal mountain range of nothern Israel to ask the heavens for water to clear the drought. And, behold, it began to rain shortly thereafter.
   Sometime in the late 12th to mid-13th century, Christian hermits who inhabited the Mount, decided to form the Carmelite Order honoring the Blessed Mother as a symbol of the rain cloud that opened up and cleared the barren land. A church was built there and the Carmelites chose the brown scapular as its symbol.
   The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel first occurred around 1376.

Monday, April 12, 2010

St. Margaret of Antioch (? to 304)

"Europe is where it's at, Sis," my cousin Freddie told me as I packed my suitcase for a one-week trip to Aruba. I was a newly divorced 26-year-old. I chose the island because it was a honeymoon haven, so I'd be left alone. Boy, was I wrong (that's a story for another time).
"You should come with us this summer," my cousin said and so began the first of three European trips and some wildly exciting times.
Freddie was a student at Syracuse University in New York and that September he and some roommates got a place in the exotic Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy on the Italian Riviera for a semester abroad.
It was a wonderful place to stay and I could use it as my homebase for day or overnight trips to Portofino, Camogli, and Pisa.
Still, with all the excitement of the sunny beaches and million dollar yachts, I was intrigued that Santa Margherita Ligure dedicated a basilica (built in 1658 on the ruins of a 13th century church) to St. Margaret of Antioch (St. Margherita d'Antiochia) who except of her existence and martrydom is considered a mere legend.
She was born in Antioch to a pagan priest. St. Margaret of Antioch became a Christian and worked as a shepherdess. She ignored the advances of Olybrius, a Roman governor, so he had her tortured and imprisoned. While in jail she met up with the devil who was disguised as a dragon and although he swallowed her whole, the crucifix in her hand cut his throat, so he threw her up.
The next attempts to kill her were by burning and drowning. Since it didn't work, the thousands who witnessed it converted to Christianity.
Finally, St. Margaret of Antioch was beheaded. The beautiful saint is most often depicted in art slewing a dragon. Her voice was heard by Joan of Arc and she is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (known for intercession against diseases).
St. Margaret of Antioch died in 304. She is a patron saint of childbirth, peasants, and against kidney diease. Her feast day is July 20.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Our Lady of Pompeii

The best way to describe how I felt after visiting Pompeii, Italy was sick to my stomach. And, I'm sure you won't find my words of caution in any guide book.
I was an intruder viewing the prominently displayed casts of victims of the 79 AD volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Adults, children, and small animals were in glass cases in parks and there was no admission charge to look at them. I'm glad it was only a day trip from Rome by way of Naples.
When Blessed Bartolo Longo, a former Satanic priest, arrived in Pompeii around 1873, he heard a voice in the distance say: "If you seek salvation promulgate the Rosary. This is Mary's message."
He devoted the rest of his life to this mission even bringing a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary to the town. Miracles happened in the name of Our Lady and to this day thanks is given in novenas.
The traditional novena takes place April 28 to May 7 and the feast is celebrated on May 8, although you can start the novena on any day.
I feel no trip to Pompeii is complete, without a stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

St. Therese of Lisieux (Jan. 2, 1873 to Sept. 30, 1897)

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be just like my Auntie Betty when I grew up. She always had the most beautiful clothing, the latest hairstyles and makeup, and she was the sweetest person, too. We'd decorate Easter eggs, go to her beach house by the ocean in the summer, and make candy apples at Halloween.
Auntie Betty had a vanity in a small area off her bedroom. I would sit in front of the mirror and my aunt would put lip gloss and eye shadow on me and give me updo. Then, I'd walk around all day like a little princess.
But, there was one thing that scared the hell out me. It was when I'd be downstairs and my aunt would say, "If you go upstairs and get some nail polish off my vanity, I will paint your nails." That was every child's dream except in order to get to the small room, I had to walk by a painting of a nun dressed in full black garb.
It was terrifying because the eyes seemed to watch my every move. One day, I told my aunt I didn't want to go by the scary picture anymore and she explained to me that it wasn't scary. It was a beautiful person called St. Therese of Lisieux.
She was also known as St. Therese of the Child Jesus or the Little Flower of Jesus. St. Therese was born in Alencon, France on Jan. 2, 1873. She was a French Carmelite nun who took her vows at age 15. Her memoir, "The Story of a Soul," was published after her death.
St. Therese died of tuberculosis in Lisieux on Sept. 30, 1897. She was canonized in 1925.
When I saw the movie "La Vie en Rose," about the life of Edith Piaf, it showed the French singer as a blind 7-year-old at the grave of St. Therese (who was not yet a saint). Miraculously, Edith was cured and able to see again.
St. Therese's feast day is Oct. 3 and she is the patron saint of aviators, AIDS sufferers, florists, and loss of parents.

Friday, April 9, 2010

St. Vincent de Paul (April 24, 1581 to Sept. 27, 1660)

During my teenage years, my mother would often ask me if I had any clothing that I no longer needed. I never hesitated to fill a bag with items that were in good condition and that I wouldn't wear anymore.
My mom, who was a sixth grade teacher, would take the clothing to school and put it aside for children who might need something to wear, but were too shy to ask.
Even before there was a school breakfast program, every morning she would set a table in the back of her classroom with cereals, muffins, juice, and fruit that the kids could enjoy. She was so understanding and would tell them they could come in before classes started and have something to eat. There was nothing to be embarrassed about.
My mom wanted the children to have a nutritious meal so they could do well in school. In a way, she was very much like a modern day St. Vincent de Paul even though her contribution was on a much smaller scale.
St. Vincent de Paul was born on April 24, 1581 in Pouy, Gascony, France to a poor family. He studied at the College of Dax and was ordained a priest in 1600.
St. Vincent de Paul was captured by Turkish pirates who sold him into slavery in Tunis. He managed to escape his owner, but not before converting him to Christianity.
In 1625, he founded the Congregation of the Mission and, in 1633, the Daughters of Charity with St. Louise de Marillac.
After devoting his life to helping the poor, he died on Sept. 27, 1660 in Paris where his incorrupt body is at the Church of St. Vincent de Paul. His feast day is Sept. 27 and he is the patron saint of charities and hospitals.
Many years after my mother passed away, I was in a store and the clerk looked at my credit card and said she had a sixth grade teacher with the same name.
"What do you remember about her?" I asked.
"She was very kind, and she told us that even if we couldn't afford to go to college there would be a way. We could find help through scholarships and financial aid," the young woman said. "And, she was right. But, my favorite thing was that she always brought us in homemade cake on Fridays."
I told the girl that her teacher was my mother. It also made me feel good to know that even the smallest acts of charity leave lasting impressions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

St. Zenobius of Florence (337 to 417)

"This place looks so familiar," was all I could think as I unpacked my bags and opened the bedroom window which overlooked the Arno River. There were hundreds of pensiones in Florence, Italy but something seemed special about this one. Still, I'd never been to the city before and I wasn't about to linger any longer trying to figure it out.
I skipped through the hallway into the lobby and the friendly woman who greeted me said, "Una stanza con vista."
That was it! "A Room with a View!" As I exited the building I pretended, for a moment, that I was Helena Bonham Carter scurrying about to the strains of Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro," only I was wearing sandals, a strapless sundress, and sunglasses.
Last I heard, the pension was renovated and became Hotel degli Orafi.
Since my grandparents were from the area around Rome, I didn't think anything about Florence would "click" for me. So I was surprised to recognize a scent from my childhood as I walked down the street.
It wasn't lemon biscotti or fresh basil or amaretto gelato. It was the smell of cement being mixed with water. I spotted an old man fixing the steps of his basement and I thought of my grandfather, and my uncles who worked for him, and the houses they built.
And, it wasn't just Florence, but throughout the entire country, there were things (people, food, and sights) that brought back memories and made me feel at home.
I'm proud to say that I climbed Il Duomo (Basilica di Santa Maria delle Fiore). It was built between 1296 and 1436 in the Gothic style and houses the remains of St. Zenobius of Florence.
He was born in Florence in 337 to noble pagan parents. St. Zenobius was baptized by Bishop Theodore and later became a bishop of Florence. He gained the friendship of St. Ambrose through his virtues. St. Zenobius resurrected five people and died in 417. His feast day is May 25.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle (April 30, 1651 to April 7, 1719)

"Nothing can be more dangerous than keeping wicked companions. They communicate the infection of their vices to all who associate with them."
(St. Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle)

Turn the other cheek can only go so far. There are some people that you just have to disassociate with. I've experienced it in previous jobs and in my personal life. They are emotional vampires who try to suck positive energy and joy out of your life.
Today's entry is short and sweet.
St. Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle recognized this. He was born on April 30, 1651 in Reims, France and was the founder of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He died on April 7, 1719 in Rouen, France.
St. Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle was canonized in 1900 and his feast day is April 7.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Capuchin Crypt

It happened by accident and had I known what I was getting myself into, I probably would never have gone inside.
One of my favorite things to do when I'm in Rome, Italy is wander the streets which is how I ended up in Piazza Barberini beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concenzione.
The old priest who greeted me was beaming from ear to ear. He explained, in Italian, that I was in the Capuchin Crypt. Call it gruesome or barbaric or whatever you'd like. This was the final resting place of more than 4,000 Capuchin Friars who died between 1528 and 1870 with a few poverty-stricken Romans thrown in.
I was told the soil in the crypt was brought to Rome from Jerusalem which made it a highly desirable place to be "displayed." There was the Crypt of the Resurrection, the Crypt of Pelvises, the Crypt of Skulls, and more spread throughout six rooms.
Some of the bones were made into chandeliers; others were fully clothed skeletons. There is even the heart of Pope Sixtus V's great niece.
It was a "self-guided" tour but the old priest was there to answer any question. If you're claustrophic, then the tiny place is not for you especially since it's packed with bones from floor to ceiling.
There were no saints buried there. Still, I think it's worthy of mention because of the sacred remains and the artwork showing St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony of Padua.
Perhaps the spookiest part of my experience in the Caphucin Crypt happened as I was leaving.
"Would you like me to recommend a place for dinner," asked the smiling priest.
"I think I'll pass tonight," I said as I walked outside into the Eternal City twilight.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Martyrs of Lesbos

Most people are familiar with the Greek island of Lesbos because the word "lesbian" derives from the works of poetess Sappho who was born there c.630 to 612 BC.
So, it may come as a surprise that Lesbos was the home of five Christian virgins who were martyred. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of these saints, the Martyrs of Lesbos, on April 5.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday

"So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." (Matthew 28: 8-20)

My dad always said the best part of his four or so years in the U.S. Air Force in England, was the weekend he spent in Rome, Italy. He was 19-years-old when he got to go to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. And, although my parents kept a small replica of Michelangelo's "Pieta" on their bureau, I never thought that I would have to chance to see it in person and I did for the first time in 1991.
Michelangelo sculpted it in 1499 when he was just 23-years-old. Mary holds Jesus in her arms after the Crucifixion. Why am I mentioning this on Easter Sunday? Because this sorrowful yet beautiful piece is the prelude of his glorious resurrection.
Sure, going to Easter Vigil on Saturday night, having the traditional Italian Sunday dinner with my parents, brothers, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles complete with lasagna, ham, rice pie, braided breads with colored eggs, and enough food to the whole neighborhood are all fond memories, but seeing the "Pieta" in person is an added extra that makes Easter even more meaningful to me.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

St. Melangell (? to c.590)

When I was three-years-old, I decided my favorite animal was the rabbit. It all started with the children's picture book "What Whiskers Did."
I lived in the country and would play in the woods behind my backyard looking for places a rabbit might hide. I would spend hours lying on the moss-covered ground, smelling the pine, and keeping watch amongst the pink Lady's Slippers, always hoping the tiny creatures would scurry by.
Today, all these years later, I still get excited when I see an Eastern cottontail in my yard or out in a field. In the evening, I leave food for them (twilight and midnight are their favorite times to dine) and peek through my window. It's my totem and we are very much alike: love vegetables, like to hide, shy, and lightweight.
A fondness for rabbits goes back milleniums. St. Melangell (also called St. Moncella) is the patron saint of rabbits, hares, and small animals. She was known for hiding a hare in her robe to save it from the hounds of Prince Brochivel of Powys. (The rabbit was the symbol of Eostra, the goddess of spring and fertility, and she is celebrated during the spring equinox).
Saint Melangell was born in Ireland to an Irish or Scottish king. She vowed celibacy and founded a community of women in Wales of which she was the abbess. Her shrine is at Pennant Melangell. St. Melangell died c. 509 and her feast day is May 27.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

"How will I know when I'm in it?" I asked at least five guards as I walked through the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican.
"Believe me, you will know," was the answer I received in Italian each time.
After what seemed liked 40 minutes, I entered the most spectacular place, in all its glory: Cappella Sistina.
I was in the Sistine Chapel and it was more magnificent than you could ever imagine. My time was limited and, boy, was I happy I chose to see this over the Colosseum (that came during another trip).
The northern wall was devoted to the life of Jesus with scenes like his baptism by Perugino and the Temptation of Jesus by Botticelli. And, of course, Michelangelo painted 12,000 square feet of the ceiling between 1508 and 1512. I was surprised because I thought I'd be able to walk right in and view the frescoes. However, that was hardly the routine.
Since the Apostolic Palace is home to the the Vatican Library, Papal Apartments, the Government Office of the Roman Catholic Church, chapels, and the Vatican Museums, there's quite a bit of walking around to do before you can get into the Sistine Chapel.
I'm writing about this on Good Friday because the frescoes celebrate Jesus' life rather than his death. And, that's what I want to do today.
As a youngster, I always had the day out of school. And, I remember my mother telling me that we had to be silent between noon and 3 p.m., the time Jesus died. It was solemn.
"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." (Luke 23:46)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday (The Last Supper)

"Do this in memory of me." (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)

Without thinking twice, I hopped the train from Geneva, Switzerland to Milan, Italy. It's not every day you get to see what I consider to be the world's most famous fresco painting. It was my first trip to Europe and who knew that I'd go back twice more, but I couldn't take a chance. What's an eight-hour round-trip train ride to Milan (where I had been earlier that week), the day before I was to fly out of Geneva to return to the United States?
It was long before the 15-minute viewing rule or needing a ticket to see it. And, it was yet another time when the locals had no idea what I was saying.
"The Last Supper," I repeated to each passerby who would shake their heads back and forth in bewilderment.
I would have saved myself 20 minutes (I never use a guide book and love spontaneity) had I thought of it earlier.
"Leonardo da Vinci," I said and like magic I heard the words "L'Ultima Cena" and "Il Cenacolo."
It was down some side street in the middle of nowhere in a residential area. I still marvel at the tiny building and the magnitude of what was inside.
An old woman took me to a room, pointed to the wall (there was scaffolding up due to renovations of the fresco), and left me to enjoy it alone.
Maybe I was there an hour. Maybe two. It was in full view and when I look back now, it seems like a dream. I was standing in the refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie church where the monks used to dine.
Da Vinci painted the exact moment that Jesus said to his disciples "One of you will betray me."
I bought a poster and a book on the history of the fresco, which I still have, and every Holy Thursday, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, I stop for a moment to reflect on "L'Ultima Cena."