Saint Bruno of Cologne

Bruno was born in Cologne about the year 1030. According to tradition, he belonged to the family of Hartenfaust, or Hardebüst, one of the principal families of the city. Little is known of his early years, except that he studied theology in the present-day French city of Reims before returning to his native land.

His education completed, Bruno returned to Cologne, where he was most likely ordained a priest around 1055, and provided with a canonry at St. Cunibert’s. In 1056 Bishop Gervais recalled him to Reims, where the following year he found himself head of the episcopal school, which at the time included the direction of the schools and the oversight of all the educational establishments of the diocese.

He was then appointed chancellor of the archdiocese at the age of 45. He supported Pope Gregory VII in his fight against the decadence of the clergy, and took part in the removal of his own scandalous archbishop, Manasses. Bruno suffered the plundering of his house for his pains.

He had a dream of living in solitude and prayer, and persuaded a few friends to join him in a hermitage. After a while he felt the place unsuitable and through a friend, was given some land which was to become famous for his foundation “in the Chartreuse”—from which comes the word Carthusians. The climate, desert, mountainous terrain, and inaccessibility guaranteed silence, poverty, and small numbers.Read More »

Saint Wenceslaus Duke of Bohemia

Wenceslaus was the son of Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia from the Přemyslid dynasty. His grandfather, Bořivoj I of Bohemia, was converted to Christianity by Saints Cyril and Methodius. His mother, Drahomíra, was the daughter of a pagan tribal chief of the Havelli, but was baptized at the time of her marriage. His paternal grandmother, Ludmila of Bohemia, oversaw his education, and at an early age, Wenceslas was sent to the college at Budeč.

In 921, when Wenceslas was about thirteen, his father died and his grandmother became regent. Jealous of the influence that Ludmila wielded over Wenceslas, Drahomíra arranged to have her killed. Ludmila was at Tetín Castle near Beroun when assassins murdered her on September 15, 921. She is said to have been strangled by them with her veil. She was at first buried in the church of St. Michael at Tetín, but her remains were later removed, probably by Wenceslas, to the church of St. George in Prague, which had been built by his father.

In 924 or 925, at about the age of 18, Wenceslas assumed leadership of the government and had his mother Drahomíra exiled. He then defeated a rebellious duke of Kouřim named Radslav. He also founded a rotunda consecrated to St. Vitus at Prague Castle in Prague, which exists as present-day St. Vitus Cathedral.Read More »

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus

Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, (born c. 330, Arianzus, near Nazianzus, in Cappadocia, Asia Minor [now in Turkey]—died c. 389, Arianzus; Eastern feast day January 25 and 30; Western feast day January 2), 4th-century Church Father whose defense of the doctrine of the Trinity (God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) made him one of the greatest champions of orthodoxy against Arianism.

Gregory’s father, also named Gregory, was converted to the Christian faith from the monotheistic sect known as the Hypsistarii under the influence of his Christian wife. He was soon afterward consecrated bishop of his native city, Nazianzus in 325. Born some years later, the younger Gregory thus grew up in a Christian and clerical family. Nevertheless, he received a classical as well as religious education, studying first at Caesarea, the provincial capital, at least briefly at Alexandria, and finally at Athens (c. ad 351–356). He was a close friend of Basil, his fellow student and later bishop of Caesarea, and in his panegyric at Basil’s death in 379 he gave a vivid picture of student life of the period. Among Gregory’s other contemporaries as a student at Athens was the future Roman emperor Julian, who in his brief two-year reign would attempt to revive paganism. Soon after returning to Cappadocia, Gregory joined the monastic community that Basil had founded at Annesi in Pontus. During this time, in order to preserve the thought of the great Alexandrian theologian Origen, many of whose speculative views were under attack, the two friends collaborated in editing the Philocalia, an anthology of theological and devotional selections from the works of Origen.Read More »

Saint Lydia of Thyatira

Lydia was from Thyatira, a town in Asia Minor. The second part of her name “Purpuraria” was not really her name, but we call her this because it means “merchant of purple”, a person who traded in luxury purple dyes and fabrics for which the city of Thyatira was noted. Purple goods were part of a high value industry and were used only by royalty and rich and important people; emperors, high government officials, and priests of the pagan religions. Dealing in luxury goods, Lydia would have owned a nice big house and had the means to support the Christian cause.

Tradition relates that she and her husband may have been involved in this business. At some point Lydia and her household moved from Asia Minor to the city of Philippi in Macedonia. The reasons she moved may have been business related as Philippi was a Roman colony on the major east-west trade route, the Egnation Highway, between Rome and Asia. Also, she may have been a Jewish convert who no longer could worship in the custom of the Thyatirans.

The words of The Acts quoted below describe Lydia’s meeting with the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey about the year 50. Paul and his companions started their journey visiting the established churches in western Asia Minor when he answered a vision in which he saw a man dressed in a Macedonian manner calling upon him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.“Read More »

Blessed Mary Stella and Companions

When life is built on and around love, it has a special kind of strength, even in the most difficult kind of circumstances. It has the resilience of steel without being stoic; it has a flexibility to shape to the challenges, without closing in on itself; it embraces the harshness of everyday realities, because it grasps a meaning of love that outlasts death.

One example of such heroic love is found in the story of Sister Stella and her ten companions, Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, the martyrs of Nowogródek. Their story of love and resilience begins when the first group of Sisters arrived in Nowogródek on 4 September 1929. At the time, Nowogródek was a small town in the eastern part of the Republic of Poland, now known as Belarus. This town embraced a diversity of people, including Belarusians, Russians, Poles, Jews, Muslims and others. When the Sisters arrived, they were not universally welcomed.

Establishing themselves in the convent under the patronage of Christ the King, the Sisters worked strenuously to identify the local needs they could address. Initially the Sisters opened a school which was linked with the Church of the Transfiguration, called Biala Fara meaning the White Church. The school was open to Christians and non-Christians. With tenacity they approached the challenges of this new apostolic work, and with the same fervour the lived their religious and community life, providing a witness of a live filled with faith, hope and love. It is not surprising that the Sisters were gradually at least respected and even accepted by the locals.Read More »

Saint Jeanne Jugan

Born on Oct. 25, 1792 in a port city of the French region of Brittany, Jeanne Jugan grew up during the political and religious upheavals of the French Revolution. When Jeanne was three and a half years old, her father, a fisherman, was lost at sea. Her widowed mother was hard pressed to raise her eight children alone; four died young. At the age of 15 or 16, Jeanne became a kitchen maid for a family that not only cared for its own members, but also served poor, elderly people nearby. Ten years later, Jeanne became a nurse at the hospital in Le Rosais.

Jeanne worked as a shepherdess, and later as a domestic servant. At age 18, and again six years later, she declined two marriage proposals from the same man. She told her mother that God had other plans, and was calling her to “a work which is not yet founded.”

At age 25, the young woman joined the Third Order of St. John Eudes, a religious association for laypersons founded during the 17th century. Jeanne worked as a nurse in the town of Saint-Servan for six years, but had to leave her position due to health troubles. Afterward she worked for 12 years as the servant of a fellow member of the third order, until the woman’s death in 1835.

In 1837, the forty-five year old Jeanne and a seventy-two year old woman named Francoise Aubert rented part of a humble cottage. They were joined by Virginie Tredaniel, a seventeen year old orphan and the three formed a community of prayer. They taught catechism and assisted the poor. Whatever they had left over from their earnings, they gave to the poor.Read More »

Saint Camillus de Lellis

Camillus de Lellis was born on May 25, 1550, at Bucchianico (now in Abruzzo, then part of the Kingdom of Naples). His mother, Camilla Compelli de Laureto, was nearly fifty when she gave birth to him. His father was an officer in both the Neapolitan and French royal armies and was seldom home. De Lellis had his father’s temper and, due to her age and retiring nature, his mother felt unable to control him as he grew up. She died in 1562.

Humanly speaking, Camillus was not a likely candidate for sainthood. His mother died when he was a child, his father neglected him, and he grew up with an excessive love for gambling. At 17, he was afflicted with a disease of his leg that remained with him for life. In Rome he entered the San Giacomo Hospital for Incurables as both patient and servant, but was dismissed for quarrelsomeness after nine months. He served in the Venetian army for three years.

Then in the winter of 1574, when he was 24, Camillus gambled away everything he had—savings, weapons, literally down to his shirt. He accepted work at the Capuchin friary at Manfredonia, and was one day so moved by a sermon of the superior that he began a conversion that changed his life. He entered the Capuchin novitiate, but was dismissed because of the apparently incurable sore on his leg. After another stint of service at San Giacomo, he came back to the Capuchins, only to be dismissed again, for the same reason.Read More »