Fidelis was born in 1577 at Sigmaringen, Prussia. His father Johannes Rey was burgomaster of the city. He entered the University of Freiburg in Breisgau to study law and philosophy. After receiving his degree, he was chosen to be tutor to three young princes with whom he traveled in France and Italy. The father of St. Fidelis was burgomaster of Sigmaringen, Prussia
In 1611, he returned to Freiburg to earn his doctorate in canon and civil law, and then began practice as a lawyer in Kolmar. Disappointed with the open fraud in the law courts and general corruption of society, he decided to abandon the world. He was ordained a priest the following year, and immediately after was received into the Capuchin Order at Freiburg at age 35. He took the name of Fidelis.
In notes that he left about his life during that period, he wrote: “From now on I want to live in complete poverty, chastity, and obedience amidst sufferings and persecutions and in austere penance and profound humility. I came from the womb of my mother with nothing, and with nothing I desire to return to the arms of my Savior.”
St. Fidelis was a remarkable orator. He preached in numerous German, Austrian and Swiss cities. From the beginning of his apostolic career, he struggled tirelessly to convert heretics; nor did he confine his efforts to the pulpit, but also used his pen. He wrote many pamphlets against Calvinism and Zwinglianism.
He was named Superior first at the Monasteries of Rheinfelden and Freiburg, and afterwards at Feldkirch, where he exerted a strong influence. Because of this, he was also appointed by the Papal Nuncio to reform monasteries of other Orders.
Since Calvinism was spreading over Switzerland, especially in the region of the Grisons, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith appointed the Capuchins to combat it there. Fr. Fidelis was chosen to be head of the mission.
St. Fidelis labored indefatigably and with such success in the region that the heretics became alarmed and set themselves to inflame the people against him. They spread rumors that his mission was political rather than religious, and that he was preparing the way for the subjugation of the country by Austria.
In January 1622 on returning to the region of the Grisons, he was met everywhere with the cry: “Death to the Capuchins!” On April 24, 1622, being then at Grusch, he made his confession and afterwards celebrated Mass and preached. Then he set out for Sevis. When he arrived, he entered the church and began to preach, but was interrupted by a sudden tumult both within and without the church. Several Austrian soldiers who were guarding the doors of the church were killed by the attackers and Fidelis himself was struck.
Outside the church he was surrounded by a crowd led by Calvinist preachers who offered to save his life if he would apostatize. Fidelis replied: “I came to extirpate your heresy, not to embrace it.” The Calvinists killed him with blows of swords.
It is interesting to note the action of this great orator, St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen. He was so successful in his sermons that the Holy See chose him to head the group of Capuchin preachers sent to the region infested by Calvinism, a branch of the Protestant heresy. The intention of the Holy See was to convert those who had been fooled by the heretics, and also to prevent Catholics from falling into the same trap.
Through his sermons, he had an enormous influence in the city of Feldkirch, the capital of an Austrian province in the Alps. There he had already strongly attacked the Protestants. He was designated, then, to enter Switzerland to continue the assault against the heretics. Before he left, he had a premonition revealing that he would suffer martyrdom there. As a supernatural, indomitable, energetic man, he did not step back because of that threat; on the contrary, he went forward facing death with a kind of joy. It is the attitude of a warrior.
To this tenacity he added another proof of valor: he infuriated the Calvinists. No one aggravates the enemy unless he counts victories over them. To prevent more of his remarkable successes, the Calvinists decided to murder him. They plotted his death and carried it out. He became a martyr.
St. Fidelis was, therefore, an audacious, strong, and vigorous missionary who willingly faced martyrdom. He presents to us an admirable example of fortitude. This is the spirit that should be seen in the notes he wrote about his life:“From now on I want to live in complete poverty, chastity, and obedience amidst sufferings and persecutions and in austere penance and profound humility. I came from the womb of my mother with nothing, and with nothing I desire to return to the arms of my Saviour”
Let us ask St. Fidelis the Sigmaringen who strongly attacked the Revolution of his time to give us the love for wisdom that oriented his life in order to make us zealous counter-revolutionaries – as he was – for the glory and exaltation of Holy Mother Church
Quotes of St.Fidelis Sigmaringen
“It is because of faith that we exchange the present for the future.”
“O Catholic faith, how solid, how strong you are! How deeply rooted, how firmly founded on a solid rock! Heaven and earth will pass away, but you can never pass away. From the beginning the world opposed you, but you mightily triumphed over everything. This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. It has subjected powerful kings to the rule of Christ; it has bound nations to his service. What made the holy apostles and martyrs endure fierce agony and bitter torments, except faith, and especially faith in the resurrection? What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love. It is this that makes us put aside the goods of the present in the hope of future goods. It is because of faith that we exchange the present for the future.
“I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I fear not death. . . Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Mary, Mother of God, succor me!” – St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, upon his death