Archive for November, 2009

Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Monday, November 30th, 2009

St. Andrew: the first called…

To Peter Jesus has given firmness of faith; to John, warmth of love; the mission of Andrew is to represent the cross of his divine Master. Now it is by these three, faith, love, and the cross, that the Church renders herself worthy of her Spouse. Everything she has or is bears this threefold character. Hence it is that after the two apostles just named, there is none who holds such a prominent place in the universal liturgy as St. Andrew.

— Dom Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Feast of St. Andrew

As a child, I was taught to pray the following prayer fifteen (15) times each day, from the Feast of St. Andrew through Christmas Day:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold.  In that hour vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, through the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His blessed Mother.   Amen.

Novena in Preparation for Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sunday, November 29th, 2009

Mother of the Eternal High Priest

November 29 through December 7:

The Novena (in Latin/English) may be downloaded here: Immaculate Conception Novena

+ Father Robert J. Fox (1927-2009)

Friday, November 27th, 2009


Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of Father Robert Joseph Fox, retired priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls and founder of the Fatima Family Apostolate, who died in Hanceville, Alabama at the age of 81 on Thanksgving Day after a courageous battle with cancer:

O God, Thou didst raise Thy servant, Robert, to the sacred priesthood of Jesus Christ, according to the Order of Melchisedech, giving him the sublime power to offer the Eternal Sacrifice, to bring the Body and Blood of Thy Son Jesus Christ down upon the altar, and to absolve the sins of men in Thine own Holy Name. We beseech Thee to reward his faithfulness and to forget his faults, admitting him speedily into Thy Holy Presence, there to enjoy forever the recompense of his labors. This we ask through Jesus Christ Thy Son, our Lord.   Amen.

The Reverend Robert J. Fox (December 24, 1927 – November 26, 2009) was a priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, SD and a prolific author.  Father Fox ministered in a number of rural parishes in South Dakota, including the parishes of Millbank, Hoven, Bristol, Waubay, Redfield, and Alexandria.  He was the Founder and Director of the national Fatima Family Apostolate and Youth for Fatima Pilgrimages as well as the editor of the Immaculate Heart Messenger. 

He was born in Watertown, South Dakota in 1927.  His father, Aloysius Fox, was a farmer.  Fox was raised in a religious family and developed a vocation at an early age.  After graduating from Watertown High School, Fox studied at St John’s University, a Benedictine liberal arts college in rural Minnesota, between 1947 and 1950.  Fox graduated from the St Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1955.

After priestly ordination, Fox served as a parochial vicar in several parishes where some of his superiors suggested that he start working as a writer.  He started sending in letters and articles to Catholic publications and they were published.  He eventually became a weekly columnist for the National Catholic Register.

Fox became the pastor of St Anthony’s parish in Bristol, South Dakota in 1962.  He was the pastor in a number of parishes in South Dakota between 1961 and 1971. He became the pastor at St Bernard’s Church in Redfield, South Dakota in 1971.

In 1971, Cardinal John Wright, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy asked him to write six books as part of the General Catechetical Directory.  Fox did so and started a prolific career with well over 50 books to his credit.  In 2005, he published an autobiography entitled: A Priest is a Priest Forever.

In thanksgiving for his work for the General Catechetical Directory, Fox built his first shrine to Our Lady of Fatima in Redfield in 1972.  He took his first pilgrimage group to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima in Portugal in 1974 and continued to do so for almost 30 years.

Fr. Fox gave talks at many conferences across the globe, appeared often on television, and produced a quarterly magazine, The Immaculate Heart Messenger.  He was also a frequent visitor to Russia for the purpose of evangelization, bringing message of Fatima to many Christians in that country.

Among Fr. Fox’s numerous television and radio appearances are several Mother Angelica Live Shows; an appearance on Johnette Benkovic’s The Abundant Life; EWTN Doug Keck’s Bookmark; Daily Mass; WEWN shortwave radio and Sirius Satellite Radio and Relevant Radio.

Prayer had always been first and foremost in his life and often he faithfully fulfilled the 81-day novena which is composed of nine nine-day novenas, in which one prays the Rosary Novena three times (27 days) in request, three times (another 27 days) in adoration, and three more times (final 27 days) in thanksgiving. It was a novena from ancient Catholic traditions he learned while a teenager.

Fr. Fox was responsible for having built four shrines to the Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Fatima since 1972: the second at Immaculate Conception Church in Waubay, SD, the third at St. Mary of Mercy Church in Alexandria, SD, and the fourth at the new headquarters of the Fatima Family Apostolate in Hanceville, Alabama.

He began the Fatima Family Apostolate in 1986 and has been the director of the apostolate since then, as well as the editor of its newsletter.  In 1987, he began the first National Marian Congress in Alexandria, South Dakota.  In June of each year the conference would attract an average attendance of 8,000.  The last Marian Congress in Alexandria was held the weekend of June 13, 2003.  Fr. Fox celebrated his Golden Anniversary of Priesthood (50 years) in 2005.

After his retirement, Fr. Fox moved to Hanceville, Alabama, where he celebrated daily Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, which is part of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.  He took with him the Fatima Family Apostolate he founded in Alexandria, SD, firmly reestablishing it in Hanceville, Alabama, only 8 miles from the now famous Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Father Fox died in the early afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2009.


Books published/authored by the Rev. Robert J. Fox:

  • Religious Education: Its Effects, Its Challenges Today, Daughters of St. Paul, 1972.
  • The Catholic Prayerbook, Our Sunday Visitor, 1974.
  • Renewal for All God’s People, Our Sunday Visitor, 1975.
  • Charity, Morality, Sex and Young People, Our Sunday Visitor, 1975.
  • The Marian Catechism, Our Sunday Visitor, 1976.
  • Saints and Heroes Speak, Our Sunday Visitor, 1977.
  • A Prayer Book for Young Catholics, Our Sunday Visitor, 1977.
  • Principles of spiritual growth]: Phase 2 : module on guilt (Genesis 2 bridges the gap between the old and the new), Intermedia Foundation – 1978
  • Teenagers and Purity; Teenagers and Going Steady; Teenagers Looking toward Marriage, St. Paul Editions, 1978.
  • Ten sermons on the Mother of God,: In light of Vatican II and Our Lady of Fatima, with addendum: Four articles on Communism and the Church, AMI Press – 1978
  • Catholic Truth for Youth, Ave Maria Press, 1978.
  • A World at Prayer, Our Sunday Visitor, 1979.
  • A Catechism of the Catholic Church: Two Thousand Years of Faith and Tradition, Franciscan Herald, 1980.
  • A Catholic Prayer Book, Our Sunday Visitor, 1980
  • Rediscovering Fatima, Our Sunday Visitor, 1982.
  • Prayerbook for Catholics, Christendom Press 1982
  • The Call of Heaven: Life of Stigmatist of San Vittorino, Father Gino, Christendom Publications, 1982.
  • The Mary Book, Mother of Evangelism, Fatima Family Apostolate
  • The call of heaven: Bro. Gino, stigmatist, Christendom Publications, 1982.
  • A Prayer Book for Young Catholics, Our Sunday Visitor, 2nd ed., 1982.
  • Jacinta of Fatima: Her Life As She Might Tell It, Ami Intl Pr, 1982
  • St. Therese of Lisieux: Her Life As She Might Tell It, Ami Intl Pr, 1982
  • St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort: His Life As He Might Tell It, A M I Press, 1983
  • Fatima Today, Christendom Publications, 1983.
  • The Catholic Faith, Our Sunday Visitor, 1983.
  • Opus Sanctorum Angelorum:, AMI Press – 1983
  • The Work of the Holy Angels, AMI International, 1984.
  • Family Bonding Through Discipline, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1987.
  • Families, Seedbeds for Vocations, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1987.
  • Blessed Jacinta and Francisco, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1987.
  • Immaculate Heart of Mary: True Devotion, Our Sunday Visitor, 1986.
  • Guidance for Future Priests, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1988.
  • A Handbook on Guadalupe, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1988.
  • Until Death Do Us Part, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1988.
  • National Children’s Day to Honor Our Lady: Second Sunday of October : a handbook for parents, teachers and pastors, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1988.
  • St. Joseph Promise, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1989.
  • True Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1989.
  • Marian Manual, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1989.
  • First Saturdays, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1989.
  • To Russia with Love, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1989.
  • The Gift of Sexuality: A Guide for Young People, Our Sunday Visitor, 1989.
  • Fox-Sight: Telling the vision of Robert J. Fox, Our Sunday Visitor, 1989.
  • Mary’s White League for Children, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1990.
  • Illustrated Rosary Meditations for Children, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1990.
  • Protestant Fundamentalism and Born Again Catholic, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1990.
  • Fatima Today – The Third Millennium, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1990,2002.
  • Mary Book: Mother of Evangelism, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1991.
  • Only Heroic Catholic Families Will Survive, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1991.
  • Catechism of Church History, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1991.
  • The World and Work of the Holy Angels, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1991.
  • Covenant With Jesus, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1992.
  • Kolbe St. of the Immaculata, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1993.
  • A Man Called Francis, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1996.
  • Mary Through the Ages, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1996.
  • A Young Catholic’s Apology for the Faith, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1995.
  • Jesus – Light of the World, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1997.
  • Catechism on Mary and the Pope Who Changed the World, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1998.
  • Manual of Prayers, Our Sunday Visitor 1998
  • Fundamentals of Faith, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1999.
  • Mary in Mid-America Shrine Book, Fatima Family Apostolate, 1999.
  • Documents on Fatima & Memoirs of Sister Lucia, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2000.
  • The Intimate Life of Sister Lucia, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2001.
  • Light from the East – Miracles of Our Lady of Soufanieh, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2002.
  • Reclaiming Your Children for the Faith , Fatima Family Apostolate, 2003.
  • Catechism in Poetry , Fatima Family Apostolate, 2003.
  • Messages from the Heart of Your Mother, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2004.
  • A Priest is a Priest Forever – Autobiography, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2005.
  • Ray Likes to Pray, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2006.
  • Fatima is Forever, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2006.
  • Masculinity: The Gentle Man , Fatima Family Apostolate, 2007.
  • Eucharist: Heaven and Earth Unite , Fatima Family Apostolate, 2008.
  • Mary Teaches the Faith at Fatima, Fatima Family Apostolate, 2009.


Sisters of the Presentation BVM

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin were founded on Christmas Day in 1775 by Nano Nagle in Cork, Ireland, to teach poor children.   When not teaching, they also ministered to the sick. 

The Catholic Church in South Dakota has a long history with the Presentation Sisters, beginning in 1880, when they arrived in the Dakota Territory from Dublin, Ireland, to teach the children of the Lakota Indians and the French settlers in the area.  During their first year they experienced the isolation and suffering of the blizzard of 1880.

Eventually, the community grew!  The Sisters began teaching throughout what would soon be the Diocese of Sioux Falls.  The also openend and staffed Catholic hospitals, the most famous being McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.

You can learn more information on the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by visiting the website of their South Dakota Motherhouse in Aberdeen:

St. Mary, Salem was never blessed with having the Presentation Sisters staff our schools.  The first Religious Sisters to staff our schools (and for the longest time) were the Sisters of St. Francis from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  For a few years, we had the Bernardine Sisters of Loretto, PA.  The third and last group of Religious to teach at Salem were the Benedictine Sisters from Yankton, South Dakota.  

However, in the early 1960’s, during the tenure of the Benedictines, St. Mary High School was honored with the presence of two Presentation Sisters: Sister M. Anne, PBVM (pictured below, photo on the right), taught Social Studies and Biology, and Sister M. Suzanne, PBVM (photo on the left), taught English and Government.  The photos below are from the 1962 yearbook of St. Mary High School,  Marylight.


Nov. 21: Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady

Saturday, November 21st, 2009
Presentation of Our Lady by Titian

Presentation of Our Lady by Titian

This morning, the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Missa Cantata in the Usus Antiquior was sung at 10:00 am at St. Mary Church, Salem, SD.  Organ music used included works by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707) and J. S. Bach (1685-1750) and vocal music by Msgr. Lorenzo Perosi (1872-1956) and Orlando de Lassus (c. 1532-1594).  The music for the Ordinary was Missa “In Simplicitate” by Jean Langlais (1907-1991).

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Giotto

Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Giotto


The Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

By the Rev. Father Matthew R. Mauriello – Priest of the Diocese Bridgeport, Connecticut

Many of the celebrations in honor of Mary are based in historical fact. The Sacred Scriptures tell of her acceptance of God’s invitation to be the mother of the Savior at the Annunciation. We know of her maternity and of her faithfulness to her son, Jesus, even standing at the side of his cross.

The Scriptures tells us nothing of Mary’s hidden life. The inspired Word of God gives us no word about her Presentation in the Temple, the feast which we celebrate each year on November 21st.  However, we do have the testimonies of tradition which are based on accounts which come to us from apostolic times. That which is known about the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is found in the Apocrypha, principally in chapter seven of the Protoevangelium of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD.

This book gives us a detailed account in which Mary’s father, Joachim, tells Anna his wife that he wishes to bring their child to the Temple of the Lord. Anna responds that they should wait until the child is three years old lest she yearn for her parents. When the day arrived, the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews were invited to accompany Mary with their lamps burning to the Temple. There the priest received her, blessed her, and kissed her in welcome. He proclaimed, “The Lord has magnified thy name in all generations. In thee, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel.” Mary was placed on the third step of the Temple and there danced with joy and all the house of Israel loved her. It was there that she was nurtured and her parents returned, glorifying the Almighty.  Even in her childhood, Mary was completely dedicated to God.  It is to this apocryphal account that we owe the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady.

Historians tell us that the Emperor Justinian built a splendid church dedicated to Mary in the Temple area in Jerusalem. It was dedicated on November 21, 543 but was destroyed by the Persians within a century. Many of the early church Fathers such as St. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople (+730) and St. John Damascene, his contemporary, preached magnificent homilies on this feast referring to Mary as that special plant or flower which was being nurtured for better things.” She was planted in the House of God, nourished by the Holy Spirit and kept her body and soul spotless to receive God in her bosom. He Who is all-holy rests among the holy.”

We know that in the Byzantine Church this feast is considered one of the twelve great feasts of the liturgical year, called the Dodecaorton. Scholars believe that Mary’s Presentation in the Temple is considered a major feast for the Eastern churches celebrating the same values that the Western church celebrates in the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  It appears that this feast was not celebrated in Rome at the time of Pope St. Sergius (+701) who established four other principle feasts dedicated to Mary. By the ninth century it is celebrated in the monasteries of southern Italy which had been influenced by the traditions of the Byzantine churches. By the fourteenth century it had spread to England and it is recorded that it was celebrated in Avignon, France in 1373. Its acceptance is considered very slow and it was not until the year 1472 that Pope Sixtus IV extended its celebration to the universal Church.

Mother Cabrini’s First Miracle…1920

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Brother of ‘miracle baby’ continues devotion to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Left to right: Frs. Peter Smith & John Francis Xavier Smith

Left to right: Frs. Peter Smith & John Francis Xavier Smith

From the Catholic Northwest Progress, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Seattle, Washington

                                                                                                                                   By Terry McGuire

As the beneficiary of the first miracle attributed to St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Father Peter Smith would have had a compelling story to share this month about his eyesight being restored and his life being saved following a horrific hospital accident just hours after his birth.

In a trip tentatively arranged several years ago, the priest was to visit St. Frances Cabrini School in Lakewood and Villa Academy in Seattle next week. But then God called him home at age 80, in February 2002.

Now his message of praying to the saints for intercession and for nourishing a devotion to the sacraments is being carried on by his younger brother, also a priest: Father John Francis Xavier Smith.

Father Smith will be the homilist Nov. 12 at a Mass at 1 p.m. at St. Bridget Church in Seattle. The liturgy will celebrate the centennial of Villa Academy, a private Catholic school that started as an orphanage founded by St. Cabrini on Oct. 17, 1903.

He will speak in Lakewood on Nov. 13, the saint’s feast day, at a Mass at 11 a.m. at St. Frances Cabrini Church.

Receptions will follow both liturgies. In addition, the archives and relics of St. Cabrini will be displayed in the Villa Academy chapel during school hours Nov. 12-20.

The miracle involving his brother was actually two miracles combined into one, the 68-year-old Father Smith said by phone last week from the New York City suburb of Tuxedo, where he is pastor of a small parish.

On March 14, 1921, Margaret Riley Smith had a normal delivery. Peter Joseph was not only her firstborn, he was the first baby born in New York City’s new Mother Cabrini Memorial Hospital, an extension of Cabrini of Columbus Hospital in Manhattan.

“My mother had told me she was conscious at the time of the birth, and she made the remark what beautiful eyes he had,” Father Smith recalled last week. Like Mother Cabrini, who had died four years earlier, young Peter’s eyes were blue.

But then, less than a few hours later, the attending nurse mistakenly poured a 51 percent solution of silver nitrate into those bright blue eyes, believing the bottle contained the standard one percent solution that was used to bathe the eyes of newborns. The deadly solution destroyed the infant’s corneas and then rolled down his cheek and into his mouth, where he swallowed it.

“The eyes were literally burned out of his head,” Father Smith said.

Specialists summoned to the scene soon determined it was hopeless: Young Peter had not only been blinded, he was dying of double pneumonia, the nitrate having seared his lungs. His body temperature surpassed the 108 degree maximum reading on the thermometer.

In an understatement, Father Smith said his mother later recalled how shocked she was when they returned her newborn to her. His face was covered in bandages, “and the pillow on which he was brought to her was very hot.”

Meanwhile, the sisters at the hospital took the only action they could: They pinned a piece of Mother Cabrini’s habit to the infant’s garment and prayed in the hospital’s chapel for God’s intercession through her.

Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Mother Cabrini (1850-1917) had established 67 institutions in her 67 years of life, operations ranging from hospitals to orphanages to schools and childcare centers. Though born in Italy, she had become an American citizen in 1909 in Seattle, and was to leave her charitable legacy in cities around the country, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, New Orleans, Philadelphia and New York City.

Following the accident with young Peter, her sisters at the hospital prayed before the Blessed Sacrament for two nights, “and within 48 after his birth, the eyes were perfect,” Father Smith said. “One doctor remarked to the other, ‘Am I seeing things?’ And the doctor replied, ‘No, he is.'”

Still, the sisters thought it strange that his eyesight would be restored yet he was still so close to death, so they prayed a third night, “and within 72 hours after his birth, the eyes were perfect and the temperature was gone,” Father Smith said.

Seventeen years later, as the first of two miracles attributed to the future saint, Peter was invited to Rome for Mother Cabrini’s beatification. While there, he spotted his name at the bottom of a huge banner honoring the nun. He was to note in sermons later that the people around him didn’t realize they were standing closer to the real thing than they were to the name on the banner.

Following the beatification ceremony, the miracle baby was asked to speak on Vatican Radio by Chicago’s Cardinal George Mundelein, who had presided at Mother Cabrini’s funeral. In a broadcast carried to America, the 17 year old noted: “I for one know that the age of miracles has not ended.”

The Smith family, of course, developed a great devotion to Mother Cabrini, Father John Smith said. But the miracle “was not a topic of conversation at home,” he said. “We never mentioned it.”

He said his brother’s vocation to the priesthood — and even his own — were not so much a result of the miracle as it was of being raised in a strong Irish Catholic family that nourished the faith daily.

He said Peter had considered the priesthood as a boy, but then entered Fordham University to study accounting. His entire class of young men was drafted into the Army, and Peter went on to serve in the closing days of World War II in the mop-up operations on Okinawa.

Following the war, he entered the seminary for the Diocese of Corpus Christi, Tex., and was ordained in Manhattan at the altar of the shrine that held Cabrini’s body. The ordaining bishop remarked in jest that the new priest “has Mother Cabrini’s eyes, and she was winking at him.” Proud onlookers that day included the nurse who had accidentally blinded him.

Father Peter, who later wore glasses for nearsightedness, went on to serve more than 40 years of active ministry as a pastor and parish priest in the Diocese of Corpus Christi, then returned to his native New York in retirement. He was serving as a nursing home chaplain operated by the Carmelite sisters when he died unexpectedly of an aneurysm on Feb. 12, 2002.

“On the last day of his life, he anointed 40 people in the nursing home,” his brother recalled, “so he literally died with his boots on.

“I anointed him and heard his confession…The next day he died on the operating table.”

Fourteen years older than he, Father Smith had looked upon Peter and his late brother, Ray, who was 12 years older, as father figures more than brothers. Their father had died when John was one, and the brothers had helped raise him.

Throughout his years of priestly ministry, Father Peter spoke about his role as the miracle baby at parishes, schools and other institutions around the country that owed their legacies to St. Cabrini.

“It was never on the point of he was boasting about himself — but of the power of intercession of Mother Cabrini,” Father Smith said. “He liked to quote the preface of the Mass of the saints, ‘On whose intercession we rely for help.'”

That is also Father John Smith’s message: That it’s important to pray for intercession through the saints, and to nourish a devotion to the sacraments.

“We have such a need for vocations, today,” he said, and they have to come from the home.

“If the parents are not going to church, it’s rather rare….later on that someone in the family would become a priest or religious.”

He notes that St. Cabrini — whose middle name he carries — is cause for celebration in the U.S. because she was the first American saint, who performed works of charity in many American cities. She was canonized in 1946.

A pretty woman, small in stature but very feminine and with an “enchanting voice,” she may have been very unlike the plain style of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Father Smith said, but both were hard workers who were totally reliant on God in their ministries.

“She accomplished so much,” he said. “And she did it with the motto of St. Paul: ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me.'”


To find the above article on line, go to:

Nov. 13: St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917)

Friday, November 13th, 2009

TODAY is the feast of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, first U.S. citizen to be canonized and Patroness of Immigrants.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

Note from the Priest of Salem, whose home town is New Orleans, LA:  In 1892, Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini laid down the foundations of a convent, school and orphanage in New Orleans.  New Orleans was a ghetto just like New York which desperately needed her spiritual touch. The buildings that were built under Mother Cabrini were a blessing for the Italian/Sicilian immigrant community who so desperately needed them. The establishment of the convent, school, and orphanage helped the Sacred Heart missionaries gain more recognition then before.  The Missionary Sisters also made a practice of visiting the outlying rural sections where Italians were employed on the great plantations.

Short biography of Mother Cabrini taken from the EWTN website;                     to

As saint of our own time and as the first United States citizen to be elevated to sainthood, Mother Cabrini has a double claim on our interest. Foundress of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and pioneer worker for the welfare of dispersed Italian nationals, this diminutive nun was responsible for the establishment of nearly seventy orphanages, schools, and hospitals, scattered over eight countries in Europe, North, South, and Central America. Still living are pupils, colleagues, and friends who remember Mother Cabrini vividly; her spirit continues to inspire the nuns who received their training at her hands. Since the record remains fresh in memory, and since the saint’s letters and diaries have been carefully preserved, we have more authentic information about her, especially of the formative years, than we have concerning any other saint.

Francesca Cabrini was born on July 15, 1850, in the village of Sant’ Angelo, on the outskirts of Lodi, about twenty miles from Milan, in the pleasant, fertile Lombardy plain. She was the thirteenth child of a farmer’s family, her father Agostino being the proprietor of a modest estate. The home into which she was born was a comfortable, attractive place for children, with its flowering vines, its gardens, and animals; but its serenity and security was in strong contrast with the confusion of the times. Italy had succeeded in throwing off the Austrian yoke and was moving towards unity. Agostino and his wife Stella were conservative people who took no part in the political upheavals around them, although some of their relatives were deeply concerned in the struggle, and one, Agostino Depretis, later became prime minister. Sturdy and pious, the Cabrinis were devoted to their home, their children, and their Church. Signora Cabrini was fifty-two when Francesca was born, and the tiny baby seemed so fragile at birth that she was carried to the church for baptism at once. No one would have ventured to predict then that she would not only survive but live out sixty-seven extraordinarily active and productive years. Villagers and members of the family recalled later that just before her birth a flock of white doves circled around high above the house, and one of them dropped down to nestle in the vines that covered the walls.

The father took the bird, showed it to his children, then released it to fly away.

Since the mother had so many cares, the oldest daughter, Rosa, assumed charge of the newest arrival. She made the little Cecchina, for so the family called the baby, her companion, carried her on errands around the village, later taught her to knit and sew, and gave her religious instruction. In preparation for her future career as a teacher, Rosa was inclined to be severe. Her small sister’s nature was quite the reverse; Cecchina was gay and smiling and teachable. Agostino was in the habit of reading aloud to his children, all gathered together in the big kitchen. He often read from a book of missionary stories, which fired little Cecchina’s imagination. In her play, her dolls became holy nuns. When she went on a visit to her uncle, a priest who lived beside a swift canal, she made little boats of paper, dropped violets in them, called the flowers missionaries, and launched them to sail off to India and China. Once, playing thus, she tumbled into the water, but was quickly rescued and suffered only shock from the accident.

At thirteen Francesca was sent to a private school kept by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart. Here she remained for five years, taking the course that led to a teacher’s certificate. Rosa had by this time been teaching for some years. At eighteen Francesca passed her examinations, <cum laude>, and then applied for admission into the convent, in the hope that she might some day be sent as a teacher to the Orient. When, on account of her health, her application was turned down, she resolved to devote herself to a life of lay service. At home she shared wholeheartedly in the domestic tasks. Within the next few years she had the sorrow of losing both her parents. An epidemic of smallpox later ran through the village, and she threw herself into nursing the stricken. Eventually she caught the disease herself, but Rosa, now grown much gentler, nursed her so skillfully that she recovered promptly, with no disfigurement. Her oval face, with its large expressive blue eyes, was beginning to show the beauty that in time became so striking.

Francesca was offered a temporary position as substitute teacher in a village school, a mile or so away. Thankful for this chance to practice her profession, she accepted, learning much from her brief experience. She then again applied for admission to the convent of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart, and might have been accepted, for her health was now much improved. However, the rector of the parish, Father Antonio Serrati, had been observing her ardent spirit of service and was making other plans for her future. He therefore advised the Mother Superior to turn her down once more.

Father Serrati, soon to be Monsignor Serrati, was to remain Francesca’s lifelong friend and adviser. From the start he had great confidence in her abilities, and now he gave her a most difficult task. She was to go to a disorganized and badly run orphanage in the nearby town of Cadogno, called the House of Providence. It had been started by two wholly incompetent laywomen, one of whom had given the money for its endowment. Now Francesca was charged “to put things right,” a large order in view of her youth-she was but twenty-four-and the complicated human factors in the situation. The next six years were a period of training in tact and diplomacy, as well as in the everyday, practical problems of running such an institution. She worked quietly and effectively, in the face of jealous opposition, devoting herself to the young girls under her supervision and winning their affection and cooperation. Francesca assumed the nun’s habit, and in three years took her vows. By this time her ecclesiastical superiors were impressed by her performance and made her Mother Superior of the institution. For three years more she carried on, and then, as the foundress had grown more and more erratic, the House of Providence was dissolved. Francesca had under her at the time seven young nuns whom she had trained. Now they were all homeless.

At this juncture the bishop of Lodi sent for her and offered a suggestion that was to determine the nun’s life work. He wished her to found a missionary order of women to serve in his diocese. She accepted the opportunity gratefully and soon discovered a house which she thought suitable, an abandoned Franciscan friary in Cadogno. The building was purchased, the sisters moved in and began to make the place habitable. Almost immediately it became a busy hive of activity. They received orphans and foundlings, opened a day school to help pay expenses, started classes in needlework and sold their fine embroidery to earn a little more money. Meanwhile, in the midst of superintending all these activities, Francesca, now Mother Cabrini, was drawing up a simple rule for the institute. As one patron, she chose St. Francis de Sales, and as another, her own name saint, St. Francis Xavier. The rule was simple, and the habit she devised for the hard-working nuns was correspondingly simple, without the luxury of elaborate linen or starched headdress. They even carried their rosaries in their pockets, to be less encumbered while going about their tasks. The name chosen for the order was the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

With the success of the institute and the growing reputation of its young founder, many postulants came asking for admission, more than the limited quarters could accommodate. The nuns’ resources were now, as always, at a low level; nevertheless, expansion seemed necessary. Unable to hire labor, they undertook to be their own builders. One nun was the daughter of a bricklayer, and she showed the others how to lay bricks. The new walls were actually going up under her direction, when the local authorities stepped in and insisted that the walls must be buttressed for safety. The nuns obeyed, and with some outside help went on with the job, knowing they were working to meet a real need. The townspeople could not, of course, remain indifferent in the face of such determination. After two years another mission was started by Mother Cabrini, at Cremona, and then a boarding school for girls at the provincial capital of Milan. The latter was the first of many such schools, which in time were to become a source of income and also of novices to carry on the ever-expanding work. Within seven years seven institutions of various kinds, each founded to meet some critical need, were in operation, all staffed by nuns trained under Mother Cabrini.

In September, 1887, came the nun’s first trip to Rome, always a momentous event in the life of any religious. In her case it was to mark the opening of a much broader field of activity. Now, in her late thirties, Mother Cabrini was a woman of note in her own locality, and some rumors of her work had undoubtedly been carried to Rome. Accompanied by a sister, Serafina, she left Cadogno with the dual purpose of seeking papal approval for the order, which so far had functioned merely on the diocesan level, and of opening a house in Rome which might serve as headquarters for future enterprises. While she did not go as an absolute stranger, many another has arrived there with more backing and stayed longer with far less to show.

Within two weeks Mother Cabrini had made contacts in high places, and had several interviews with Cardinal Parocchi, who became her loyal supporter, with full confidence in her sincerity and ability. She was encouraged to continue her foundations elsewhere and charged to establish a free school and kindergarten in the environs of Rome. Pope Leo XIII received her and blessed the work. He was then an old man of seventy-eight, who had occupied the papal throne for ten years and done much to enhance the prestige of the office. Known as the “workingman’s Pope” because of his sympathy for the poor and his series of famous encyclicals on social justice, he was also a man of scholarly attainments and cultural interests. He saw Mother Cabrini on many future occasions, always spoke of her with admiration and affection, and sent contributions from his own funds to aid her work.

A new and greater challenge awaited the intrepid nun, a chance to fulfill the old dream of being a missionary to a distant land. A burning question of the day in Italy was the plight of Italians in foreign countries. As a result of hard times at home, millions of them had emigrated to the United States and to South America in the hope of bettering themselves. In the New World they were faced with many cruel situations which they were often helpless to meet. Bishop Scalabrini had written a pamphlet describing their misery, and had been instrumental in establishing St. Raphael’s Society for their material assistance, and also a mission of the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo in New York. Talks with Bishop Scalabrini persuaded Mother Cabrini that this cause was henceforth to be hers.

In America the great tide of immigration had not yet reached its peak, but a steady stream of hopeful humanity from southern Europe, lured by promises and pictures, was flowing into our ports, with little or no provision made for the reception or assimilation of the individual components. Instead, the newcomers fell victim at once to the prejudices of both native-born Americans and the earlier immigrants, who had chiefly been of Irish and German stock. They were also exploited unmercifully by their own padroni, or bosses, after being drawn into the roughest and most dangerous jobs, digging and draining, and the almost equally hazardous indoor work in mills and sweatshops. They tended to cluster in the overcrowded, disease-breeding slums of our cities, areas which were becoming known as “Little Italies.” They were in America, but not of it. Both church and family life were sacrificed to mere survival and the struggle to save enough money to return to their native land. Cut off from their accustomed ties, some drifted into the criminal underworld. For the most part, however, they lived forgotten, lonely and homesick, trying to cope with new ways of living without proper direction. “Here we live like animals,” wrote one immigrant; “one lives and dies without a priest, without teachers, and without doctors.” All in all, the problem was so vast and difficult that no one with a soul less dauntless than Mother Cabrini’s would have dreamed of tackling it.

After seeing that the new establishments at Rome were running smoothly and visiting the old centers in Lombardy, Mother Cabrini wrote to Archbishop Corrigan in New York that she was coming to aid him. She was given to understand that a convent or hostel would be prepared, to accommodate the few nuns she would bring.

Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding as to the time of her arrival, and when she and the seven nuns landed in New York on March 31, 1889, they learned that there was no convent ready. They felt they could not afford a hotel, and asked to be taken to an inexpensive lodging house. This turned out to be so dismal and dirty that they avoided the beds and spent the night in prayer and quiet thought. But the nuns were young and full of courage; from this bleak beginning they emerged the next morning to attend Mass. Then they called on the apologetic archbishop and outlined a plan of action. They wished to begin work without delay. A wealthy Italian woman contributed money for the purchase of their first house, and before long an orphanage had opened its doors there. So quickly did they gather a house full of orphans that their funds ran low; to feed the ever-growing brood they must go out to beg. The nuns became familiar figures down on Mulberry Street, in the heart of the city’s Little Italy. They trudged from door to door, from shop to shop, asking for anything that could be spared—food, clothing, or money.

With the scene surveyed and the work well begun, Mother Cabrini returned to Italy in July of the same year. She again visited the foundations, stirred up the ardor of the nuns, and had another audience with the Pope, to whom she gave a report of the situation in New York with respect to the Italian colony. Also, while in Rome, she made plans for opening a dormitory for normal-school students, securing the aid of several rich women for this enterprise. The following spring she sailed again for New York, with a fresh group of nuns chosen from the order. Soon after her arrival she concluded arrangements for the purchase from the Jesuits of a house and land, now known as West Park, on the west bank of the Hudson. This rural retreat was to become a veritable paradise for children from the city’s slums. Then, with several nuns who had been trained as teachers, she embarked for Nicaragua, where she had been asked to open a school for girls of well-to-do families in the city of Granada. This was accomplished with the approbation of the Nicaraguan government, and Mother Cabrini, accompanied by one nun, started back north overland, curious to see more of the people of Central America. They traveled by rough and primitive means, but the journey was safely achieved. They stopped off for a time in New Orleans and did preparatory work looking to the establishment of a mission. The plight of Italian immigrants in Louisiana was almost as serious as in New York. On reaching New York she chose a little band of courageous nuns to begin work in the southern city. They literally begged their way to New Orleans, for there was no money for train fare. As soon as they had made a very small beginning, Mother Cabrini joined them. With the aid of contributions, they bought a tenement which became known as a place where any Italian in trouble or need could go for help and counsel. A school was established which rapidly became a center for the city’s Italian population. The nuns made a practice too of visiting the outlying rural sections where Italians were employed on the great plantations.

The year that celebrated the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus’ voyage of discovery, 1892, marked also the founding of Mother Cabrini’s first hospital. At this time Italians were enjoying more esteem than usual and it was natural that this first hospital should be named for Columbus. Earlier Mother Cabrini had had some experience of hospital management in connection with the institution conducted by the Congregation of St. Charles Borromeo, but the new one was to be quite independent. With an initial capital of two hundred and fifty dollars, representing five contributions of fifty dollars each, Columbus Hospital began its existence on Twelfth Street in New York. Doctors offered it their services without charge, and the nuns tried to make up in zeal what they lacked in equipment. Gradually the place came to have a reputation that won for it adequate financial support. It moved to larger quarters on Twentieth Street, and continues to function to this day.

Mother Cabrini returned to Italy frequently to oversee the training of novices and to select the nuns best qualified for foreign service. She was in Rome to share in the Pope’s Jubilee, celebrating his fifty years as a churchman. Back in New York in 1895, she accepted the invitation of the Archbishop of Buenos Aires to come down to Argentina and establish a school. The Nicaraguan school had been forced to close its doors as a result of a revolutionary overthrow of the government, and the nuns had moved to Panama and opened a school there. Mother Cabrini and her companion stopped to visit this new institution before proceeding by water down the Pacific Coast towards their destination. To avoid the stormy Straits of Magellan they had been advised to make the later stages of the journey by land, which meant a train trip from the coast to the mountains, across the Andes by mule-back, then another train trip to the capital. The nuns looked like Capuchin friars, for they wore brown fur-lined capes. On their unaccustomed mounts, guided by muleteers whose language they hardly understood, they followed the narrow trail over the backbone of the Andes, with frightening chasms below and icy winds whistling about their heads. The perilous crossing was made without serious mishap. On their arrival in Buenos Aires they learned that the archbishop who had invited them to come had died, and they were not sure of a welcome. It was not long, however, before Mother Cabrini’s charm and sincerity had worked their usual spell, and she was entreated to open a school. She inspected dozens of sites before making a choice. When it came to the purchase of land she seemed to have excellent judgment as to what location would turn out to be good from all points of view. The school was for girls of wealthy families, for the Italians in Argentina were, on the average, more prosperous than those of North America. Another group of nuns came down from New York to serve as teachers. Here and in similar schools elsewhere, today’s pupils became tomorrow’s supporters of the foundations.

Not long afterward schools were opened in Paris, in England, and in Spain, where Mother Cabrini’s work had the sponsorship of the queen. From the Latin countries in course of time came novice teachers for the South American schools. Another southern country, Brazil, was soon added to the lengthening roster, with establishments at Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Back in the United States Mother Cabrini started parochial schools in and around New York and an orphanage at Dobbs Ferry. In 1899 she founded the Sacred Heart Villa on Fort Washington Avenue, New York, as a school and training center for novices. In later years this place was her nearest approach to an American home. It is this section of their city that New Yorkers now associate with her, and here a handsome avenue bears her name.

Launching across the country, Mother Cabrini now extended her activities to the Pacific Coast. Newark, Scranton, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, Los Angeles, all became familiar territory. In Colorado she visited the mining camps, where the high rate of fatal accidents left an unusually large number of fatherless children to be cared for. Wherever she went men and women began to take constructive steps for the remedying of suffering and wrong, so powerful was the stimulus of her personality. Her warm desire to serve God by helping people, especially children, was a steady inspiration to others. Yet the founding of each little school or orphanage seemed touched by the miraculous, for the necessary funds generally materialized in some last-minute, unexpected fashion.

In Seattle, in 1909, Mother Cabrini took the oath of allegiance to the United States and became a citizen of the country. She was then fifty-nine years old, and was looking forward to a future of lessened activity, possibly even to semi-retirement in the mother house at Cadogno. But for some years the journeys to and fro across the Atlantic went on; like a bird, she never settled long in one place. When she was far away, her nuns felt her presence, felt she understood their cares and pains. Her modest nature had always kept her from assuming an attitude of authority; indeed she even deplored being referred to as “head” of her Order. During the last years Mother Cabrini undoubtedly pushed her flagging energies to the limit of endurance. Coming back from a trip to the Pacific Coast in the late fall of 1917, she stopped in Chicago. Much troubled now over the war and all the new problems it brought, she suffered a recurrence of the malaria contracted many years before. Then, while she and other nuns were making preparations for a children’s Christmas party in the hospital, a sudden heart attack ended her life on earth in a few minutes. The date was December 22, and she was sixty-seven. The little nun had been the friend of three popes, a foster-mother to thousands of children, for whom she had found means to provide shelter and food; she had created a flourishing order, and established many institutions to serve human needs.

It was not surprising that almost at once Catholics in widely separated places began saying to each other, “Surely she was a saint.” This ground swell of popular feeling culminated in 1929 in the first official steps towards beatification. Ten years later she became Blessed Mother Cabrini, and Cardinal Mundelein, who had officiated at her funeral in Chicago, now presided at the beatification. Heralded by a great pealing of the bells of St. Peter’s and the four hundred other churches of Rome, the canonization ceremony took place on July 7, 1946. Hundreds of devout Catholics from the United States were in attendance, as well as the highest dignitaries of the Church and lay noblemen. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first American to be canonized, lies buried under the altar of the chapel of Mother Cabrini High School in New York City.

Nov. 11: St. Martin of Tours (c. 315 – c. 395)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009


Almighty God,
Who didst call Martin from the armies of this world
to be a faithful soldier of Christ:
give us grace to follow him
in his love and compassion for those in need,
and empower thy Church to claim for all people
their inheritance as the children of God;
through Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord,
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

From Saints and Angels for November 11th at


When Sulpicius Severus first met Martin of Tours he was stunned. Not only did the bishop offer him hospitality at his residence — a monk’s cell in the wilderness instead of a palace — but Martin washed Sulpicius’ hands before dinner and his feet in the evening. But Sulpicius was just the kind of person Martin showed the greatest honor to — a humble man without any rank or privilege. People of nobility and position were turned away from his abbey by chalk cliffs, out of fear of the temptation to pride. From that visit, Sulpicius became Martin’s disciple, friend, and biographer. Little is known of many of the saints who died in the early years of Christianity but thanks to Sulpicius, who wrote his first biography of Martin before the saint died and who talked to most of the people involved in his life, we have a priceless record of Martin’s life.

Born in 315 or 316 in Pannonia, a Roman province that includes modern Hungary, Martin came into a world in transition. Christians were no longer persecuted by the Roman empire but Christianity was still not accepted by all. Martin’s father, an Roman army officer who had risen through the ranks, remained faithful to the old religion and suspicious of this new sect, as did Martin’s mother. Therefore it was Martin’s own spiritual yearning and hunger that led him to secretly knock on the door of the local Christian church and beg to be made a catechumen — when he was ten years old. In contemplative prayer, he found the time to be alone with God that he ached for. In the discussion of the mysteries, he found the truth he hoped for.

He was still an unbaptized catechumen when he was forced to join the army at 15. The Roman army apparently had a law that required sons of veterans to serve in the military. Still, Martin found this so far removed from his desire to be a Christian monk that he had to be held in chains before taking the military oath. Once the oath was administered he felt bound to obey. He was assigned to a ceremonial cavalry unit that protected the emperor and rarely saw combat. Like his father, he became an officer and eventually was assigned to garrison duty in Gaul (present-day France).

Even in the military Martin attempted to live the life of a monk. Though he was entitled to a servant because he was an officer, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant’s boots instead of the other way around!

It was on this garrison duty at Amiens that the event took place that has been portrayed in art throughout the ages. On a bitterly cold winter day, the young tribune Martin rode through the gates, probably dressed in the regalia of his unit — gleaming, flexible armor, ridged helmet, and a beautiful white cloak whose upper section was lined with lambswool. As he approached the gates he saw a beggar, with clothes so ragged that he was practically naked. The beggar must have been shaking and blue from the cold but no one reached out to help him. Martin, overcome with compassion, took off his mantle. In one quick stroke he slashed the lovely mantle in two with his sword, handed half to the freezing man and wrapped the remainder on his own shoulders. Many in the crowd thought this was so ridiculous a sight that they laughed and jeered but some realized that they were seeing Christian goodness. That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels and saints that surrounded him, “See! this is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.” When he woke, it was the “yet a catechumen” that spurred Martin on and he went immediately to be baptized. He was eighteen years old.

We don’t know much about the two years that followed but his baptism must have fed his growing desire to make a total commitment to Christ, a commitment that was in conflict with his military role. This conflict came to a crisis when the nomad Franks and Allemanni invaded the empire.

It was the practice at the time to give money to soldiers before battle, in order to infuse the soldiers with a greater love of their country and desire to fight. When Julian lined up the soldiers in Gaul to give them their bounty, Martin refused to accept the money — and to fight — saying, “Put me in the front of the army, without weapons or armor; but I will not draw sword again. I am become the soldier of Christ.” There seems to be no evidence that Martin had been in combat before so perhaps he never had to reconcile his Christian beliefs with war. In any case, it does seem an unfortunate time to make such a decision. Julian, furious at what he saw as cowardice, told Martin he would grant him his wish and put him right in the middle of battle the next day. Until that happened, he had Martin imprisoned. However, against all predictions and all explanation, the nomads sent word that they wanted to negotiate for peace and the battle was postponed. Martin was released from his prison and from the army.

Searching for direction in his new life, Martin wound up in Poitiers, seeking the guidance and example of Saint Hilary. Hilary wished to make this promising young man a priest but Martin, out of humility, refused even to be ordained a deacon. He finally agreed to be ordained an exorcist (someone who performed rituals for those who were sick or possessed) when Hilary told him his refusal meant that he thought he was too good for such a lowly job.

On a trip over the Alps to visit his parents, he was attacked by robbers who not only wanted to steal what he owned but threatened to take his life. Calm and unperturbed, Martin spoke to the robbers about God. One was so impressed he converted and became a law-abiding citizen who told his own story to Sulpicius years later.

But Martin was to find even more trouble in his own home town. Though his mother converted, his father stubbornly refused. When Martin began to denounce publicly the Arian heretics that were then in power throughout the empire — even within the Church — Martin was whipped and driven out of his own hometown!

He could not escape trouble by leaving. When he discovered that Hilary had been exiled from Poitiers as well for the same reason, Martin went to an island near Milan to live as a hermit. The Arians soon discovered that Hilary was even more trouble in exile, because of the writing he did, and let him come back. When Hilary returned to Poitiers, Martin was there to meet him and renew their old friendship. In order to fulfill Martin’s call to solitude, Hilary gave Martin a wilderness retreat. As disciples came to Martin for direction, he founded a monastery for them called Ligug‚. It was there he performed the first of many miracles. When a catechumen died before baptism, Martin laid himself over the body and after several hours the man came back to life. Sulpicius also had talked to this man who was baptized immediately but lived many years after that. Martin remained in this monastery near his teacher and friend until after Hilary died.

This was still the era when bishops were chosen by the people and when the bishop of Tours died, the people decided they wanted an example of holiness as their new bishop. After that their choice was simple — Martin. But as well as they knew his holiness, they also knew he would never agree to be a bishop so they conceived a trick. A citizen of Tours came to Martin and begged him to come visit his sick wife. When the kindhearted Martin got to Tours crowds of people came out of hiding and surrounded him. Unable to escape, he was swept into the city. The people may have been enthusiastic about their choice but the bishops there to consecrate the new bishop declared they were repelled by this dirty, ragged, disheveled choice. The people’s reply was that they didn’t choose Martin for his haircut, which could be fixed by any barber, but for his holiness and poverty, that only charity and grace could bring. Overwhelmed by the will of the crowds the bishops had no choice but to consecrate Martin.

Instead of living in a palace, Martin made his first home as bishop in a cell attached to a church in hopes of being able to maintain his lifestyle as a monk. But at that time bishops were more than spiritual pastors. With the Empire’s administration disintegrating under outside invasion and internal conflict, often the only authority in a town like Tours was the bishop. People came to Martin constantly with questions and concerns that involved all the affairs of the area.

To regain some of his solitude Martin fled outside the city to live in a cabin made of branches. There he attracted as many as eighty disciples who wanted to follow him and founded the monastery of Marmoutiers. He kept in touch with Tours through priest representatives who reported to him and carried out his instructions and duties with the people.

It may seem from this that Martin did not get involved with what was going on but Martin was deeply committed to his responsibilities.

One of those responsibilities was, he felt, the missionary conversion of those who still held to various non-Christian beliefs. In those early days of Christianity such old beliefs survived in abundance. He did not attempt to convert these people from a high pulpit or from far away. His method was to travel from house to house and speak to people about God. Then he would organize the converts into a community under the direction of a priest of monk. In order to let them know of his continued love and to keep them following the faith, he would then visit these new communities regularly.

Of course he ran into resistance. In one rather ridiculous scene, locals decided to get back at him by dressing up as the gods. So in the middle of the night, he was visited by a waggish talkative Mercury, a doltish Jupiter, and an enthusiastically naked Venus, as well as various “wood spirits.” Needless to say, he was unconvinced by this show.

In one town, when he tried to convince the locals to cut down a pine tree they venerated, they agreed — but only if Martin would sit where the tree was going to fall! Martin seated himself directly under the path of the leaning tree and the townspeople began to cut from the other side. However, just as the tree began to topple, Martin made the sign of the cross and the tree fell in the opposite direction — slowly enough to miss the fleeing townspeople. Martin won many converts that day.

Martin tore down many non-Christian temples and always built a Christian church in their place to make a point about true worship and give people a genuine replacement for their false idols. In once case when a huge tower was not torn down under his orders, a bolt of lightning came to destroy it after his prayers.

Martin was also dedicated to freeing of prisoners, so much so that when authorities, even the emperors, heard he was coming, they refused to see him because they knew he would request mercy for someone and they would be unable to refuse. Martin was so dedicated that few escaped his entreaties. One who didn’t was a general named Avitianus who arrived at Tours with ranks of prisoners he intended to torture and execute the next day. As soon as Martin heard of this cruel plan, he left his monastery for the city. Although he arrived there after midnight, he went straight to the house where Avitianus was staying and threw himself on the threshold crying out in a loud voice. Sulpicius tells us that it was an angel who awakened Avitianus to tell him Martin was outside. The servants, certain Avitianus was dreaming, reassured him there was no one out there (without looking themselves). But after the angel woke him up the second time, Avitianus went outside himself and told Martin, “Don’t even say a word. I know what your request it. Every prisoner shall be spared.” Remarkably enough Sulpicius had this story from Avitianus himself, who loved to tell it.

Martin was human and made mistakes. In spite of what we may think of people in earlier times, many were skeptical of his visions of demons, believing them to come from too much fasting. He also announced eight years before he died that the Antichrist had been born. But his visions, whatever the source, are still instructive.

At one point the devil appeared to him dressed in magnificent robes, encrusted with gold and gems, and announced he was Jesus and that Martin was to adore him. Martin immediately saw the mistake the devil had made (and had to make) and asked, “Where are the marks of the nails? Where the piercing of the spear? Where the crown of thorns? When I see the marks of the Passion I shall adore my Lord.” Jesus would not come in riches but with the signs of his suffering and poverty.

Martin’s compassion was as well-known as his miracles. In just one case out of many a father came to him griefstricken that his daughter had never spoken. Martin healed her by asking her to say her father’s name — which she did.

However it was this compassion and mercy that led to what he considered his greatest mistake. Bishops from Spain including a bishop named Ithacius had gone to the emperor soliciting his help in destroying a new heresy taught by a man named Priscillian. Martin agreed completely that Priscillian was teaching heresy (among other things, he rejected marriage, and said that the world was created by the devil) and that he should be excommunicated. But he was horrified that Ithacius had appealed to a secular authority for help and even more upset that Ithacius was demanding the execution of Priscillian and his followers. Martin hurried to intervene with emperor Maximus, as did Ambrose of Milan. Martin stated his case that this was a church matter and that secular authority had no power to intervene and that excommunication of the heretics was punishment enough. He left believing he had won the argument and saved the heretics but after he left Ithacius began his manipulation again and Priscillian and the other prisoners were tortured and executed. This was the first time a death sentence had been given for heresy — a horrible precedent.

Martin’s mistake was yet to come. He hurried back in order to forestall a massacre of the Priscillianists. Once there he absolutely refused communion with the bishops who had murdered the people. This was a strong statement that rejected the persecuting bishops as part of the communion of the Church.

Unfortunately, the emperor Maximus knew the key to Martin’s heart. He had prisoners that supported the former emperor Gratian in captivity and knew Martin wanted mercy for them. Maximus said that he would free these prisoners if Martin would share communion with Ithacius. Martin agreed to do so, but afterwards was so overcome with shame and guilt for giving in to such evil that he never went to any more assemblies of bishops.

On his way home, still weighed down with a feeling that he had sinned by communicating with Ithacius, he had a vision of angel who told him that although he was right to regret what he did, he was wrong to brood over his faults. “You saw no other way out,” the angel said. “Take courage again: recover your ordinary firmness; otherwise you will be imperilling not your glory but your salvation.” This advice we all should remember if we dwell too much on our mistakes.

Martin died when he was over 80 years old on November 8. Historians disagree on the year and place it anywhere from 395 to 402. His feast is November 11, the day he was buried, at his request, in the Cemetery of the Poor.

To read the Life of Saint Martin by Sulpitius Severus (translated with notes by Alexander Roberts) from A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11, go to:


VATICAN CITY, NOV. 11, 2009 ( In his traditional greeting to the sick, youth and newlyweds, Benedict XVI today pointed to the example of charity given by St. Martin of Tours.

The Church celebrates the feast of the fourth-century saint today. 

Legend has it that while still a catechumen and serving in the Roman army, Martin one cold winter day encountered a half-naked beggar. Using his sword, he divided his cloak in two parts and gave one to the beggar. That night, Martin dreamed he saw Christ wearing the half mantle he had given the poor man.

The Holy Father recalled the saint at the end of the general audience in Paul VI Hall.

“Dear young people,” he said, “[…] consider the example of St. Martin whose feast we celebrate today, as a model of generous evangelical witness. Beloved sick people, trust in the Lord, that he will not abandon you in this time of difficulty.  And you, beloved newlyweds, animated by the faith that distinguished St. Martin, always respect and serve life, which is a gift from God.”

St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls…

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Some pictures from the past…part I:

Mount Marty College/Sacred Heart Monastery

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

U.I.O.G.D. – Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Dei: “That in all things God may be glorified.”

Pictures from the past…