Perhaps nowhere in the history of the Church is there a better example of a man possessed of so many of the saintly virtues—piety, charity, deep humility, pastoral zeal, and simplicity—than in this holy Pope. Let us remember his life and follow his example of faithfulness to the Lord.
Father Giuseppe Sarto was ordained at the cathedral in Castelfranco on Sep 18, 1858. The young priest’s first assignment was as curate at Tombolo, a parish of 1500 souls in the Trentino district of Italy. Eight years later, he became pastor of Salzano, one of the most favored parishes in the diocese of Treviso. There, he arranged for the instruction of young and old in the fundamentals of Christian Doctrine, because it was his firm conviction that devotion meant little if it’s meaning was not understood.
Later, he was appointed Canon of the Cathedral, Chancellor of the diocese and spiritual director at the seminary. In spite of these many duties, he remained ever the teacher. He often journeyed from the seminary into the city to teach catechism to the children, and he organized Sunday classes for those children who attended public schools, where religion had been banned. When the diocese of Mantua fell vacant in 1884, Pope Leo XIII named Canon Sarto as bishop of that diocese.
Those days in Italy there was a general government opposition to religion which was manifested in many ways. This negative atmosphere helped allow dangerous errors of thought to creep into the clergy, and these faults of the shepherds eventually spread to the flock. In general, a pall of religious indifference and secularism spread over the diocese. With his characteristic energy and spiritual strength, Bishop Sarto sought to correct these errors, giving first attention to the seminary. By his own example of zeal and teaching, he won back the clergy to full and faithful service. He then noted a laxity in the faith of the people which he attributed to the neglect of parish priests in the instruction of the catechism. This led to Bishop Sarto establishing the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) in all parishes where he often taught the classes himself.
God blessed this work, and in 1893, Leo XIII elevated Bishop Sarto to Cardinal and Patriarch of Venice. Social and economic problems were of prime concern to the new cardinal, and any worthy social action organization was assured of his help. When the Workingmen’s Society was founded in Venice, the name of Cardinal Sarto was at the top of the list and he paid regular dues as a member!
On July 20, 1903, the world mourned the death of a great Pontiff, Leo XIII. Bishop Sarto was elected by the Cardinals on August 9, 1903, and he accepted and took the name of Pius X. The world was now the parish of the new Pontiff, and in his first encyclical he announced the aim of his reign. It was his desire, in the words of St. Paul, “to restore all things in Christ.” (Eph 1:10). The prime means of accomplishing this restoration was through the clergy, and so he exhorted bishops to reorganize the seminaries: only through a trained and disciplined clergy could a program of return to Christ be realized.
The religious instruction of young and old became the second most important means toward the Christian restoration: the evils of the world were traceable to an ignorance of God, he said, and it was necessary for priests to make the eternal truths available to all and in a language that all could understand. Ever an example, he himself gave Sunday instruction to the people in one of the Vatican courtyards. However, no reform of Pius’ was more widely acclaimed than the Decrees on Holy Communion, and Pius X is thus often called “the Pope of the Eucharist.” These decrees allowed the reception of first Holy Communion at an earlier age than had formerly been required, encouraged the frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist by all Catholics, and relaxed the fast for the sick.
The Pope likewise vigorously promoted reforms within the liturgy of the Church. In his Motu proprio on the Restoration of Church music, he listed the aims of such music to be sanctity, beauty of form, and universality. Gregorian Chant, the Pope felt, was the music best suited to attain those aims. However, an attempt to make all Church music Gregorian was exaggerated, and modern compositions were always welcomed as long as they fulfilled the prescribed norms. Pius also reformed the Breviary, and was founder of the Biblical Institute for the advancement of scholarship in the study of the Scriptures. He initiated and closely supervised the construction of the Code of Canon Law.
The crowning achievement of the Pontiff was his encyclical “On the Doctrines of the Modernists.” In this work, which was a death blow to the philosophy of Modernism, which pretended to “modernize” the Church and to make it keep pace with the changing times, but in reality its end would have been the destruction of the foundation of faith. The Pope gave a systematic exposition of the errors involved, their causes, and provisions for combating these errors by definite preventive measures.
Sadly, a little more than a month after the outbreak of the First World War, the Pope died on Aug 20, 1914. The inscription on his tomb in the crypt of the basilica of St. Peter’s gives the most eloquent testimony to a life spent in the service of God:
“Born poor and humble of heart,
Undaunted champion of the Catholic faith,
Zealous to restore all things in Christ,
Crowned a holy life with a holy death.”
Look at that clever calumniator! He begins by fetching a deep sigh, he affects to be humble, and puts on a modest look, and with a voice choking with sobs tries to gloss over the slander which is on the tip of his tongue. One would fancy that he expressly assumed a calm and easy demeanor; for when he speaks against his brother, it is in a tender and compassionate tone. I am really hurt, says he, to find that our brother has fallen into such a sin; you all know how much I love him, and how often I have tried to correct him. It is not today that I have noticed his failing; for I should always be on my guard to speak of others, but others have spoken of it too. It would be in vain to disguise the fact; it is only too true, and with tears in my eyes I tell it to you. This poor unfortunate brother has talent, but it must be confessed that he is very guilty, and however great may be our friendship for him, it is impossible to excuse him.
~Saint Bernard of Clairvaux from a sermon~
John Eudes was born at Ri, Normandy, France, on November 14, 1601, the son of a farmer. He went to the Jesuit college at Caen when he was 14, and despite his parents’ wish that he marry, joined the Congregation of the Oratory of France in 1623. He studied at Paris and at Aubervilliers, was ordained in 1625, and worked as a volunteer, caring for the victims of the plagues that struck Normandy in 1625 and 1631, and spent the next decade giving Missions, building a reputation as an outstanding preacher and confessor and for his opposition to Jansenism. He became interested in helping fallen women, and in 1641, with Madeleine Lamy, founded a refuge for them in Caen under the direction of the Visitandines. He resigned from the Oratorians in 1643 and founded the Congregation of Jesus and Mary (the Eudists) at Caen, composed of secular priests not bound by vows but dedicated to upgrading the clergy by establishing effective seminaries and to preaching missions. His foundation was opposed by the Oratorians and the Jansenists, and he was unable to obtain Papal approval for it, but in 1650, the Bishop of Coutances invited him to establish a seminary in that diocese. The same year the sisters at his refuge in Caen left the Visitandines and were recognized by the Bishop of Bayeux as a new congregation under the name of Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge.
John founded seminaries at Lisieux in 1653 and Rouen in 1659 and was unsuccessful in another attempt to secure Papal approval of his congregation, but in 1666 the Refuge sisters received Pope Alexander III’s approval as an institute to reclaim and care for penitent wayward women. John continued giving missions and established new seminaries at Evreux in 1666 and Rennes in 1670. He shared with St. Mary Margaret Alacoque the honor of initiating devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus (he composed the Mass for the Sacred Heart in 1668) and the Holy Heart of Mary, popularizing the devotions with his “The Devotion to the Adorable Heart of Jesus” (1670) and “The Admirable Heart of the Most Holy Mother of God”, which he finished a month before his death at Caen on August 19th. He was canonized in 1925. His feast day is August 19th.
Like so many other towns in Umbria, Montefalco is a small city set on a hill. It overlooks the valley of Spoleto, and some distance to the north Assisi is visible. Here Clare Damiani was born about 1268; and as a little girl of six she was placed in the convent of Saint Illuminata, where her sister Jane was superior.
From the beginning little Clare observed the rule of the Third Order of St Francis and added severe penances, keeping strict silence, taking only bread and water, and sleeping on the ground. About eight years later, Clare and the other sisters moved to a new convent, that of Santa Croce, which had been built for them on a nearby hill. During these years all of them followed the rule of the Third Order; but in 1290 the bishop of Spoleto substituted the rule of St Augustine.
After the death of her sister in 1298, Clare, who distinguished herself by her spirit of prayer and penance and was then about thirty years old, was chosen superior. Not only did she carry out her duties as a religious and a superior in an exemplary manner, but she exerted an extraordinary influence also on the outside world. She confuted heretics, converted sinners, reconciled families which were at odds with one another, made peace between neighboring warring towns, drove out devils, foretold future events, healed the sick, and raised the dead. During the latter part of her life, she also received the gifts of ecstasy and supernatural knowledge.
It is related that our Lord, carrying His Cross, appeared to Saint Clare of Montefalco and said: “I have been searching for a long time, daughter, to find a firm and solid place on which to plant My Cross, and I have not found one more suitable than your heart. You must receive it and allow it to take root.”
Clare herself once told a sister in her convent: “If you seek the Cross of Christ, take my heart. There you will find the suffering Lord.”
When Saint Clare of Montefalco’s heart was opened after her death, the Cross and other instruments of the Passion were found within, formed solidly in fibrous tissue. As an example, the crucifix was found to be about the size of a person’s thumb. The corpus is white and clearly formed as if sculpted, except for the tiny wound of the lance, which is bright red. A white tissue covers the loins of the corpus. For this reason she is also called Saint Clare of the Cross.
There were also three pellets found in the gall of St Clare. About the size of hazel nuts, they were found to be symbols of the Holy Trinity for the following reason – any single one of them weighed exactly the same as the other two, and any one of them equalled the weight of two or all three of them together. These pellets can still be seen.
Commending her sisters to her Franciscan brother, Father Francis Damiani, Saint Clare of Montefalco died at the age of forty on August 17, 1308, and was buried in the chapel of Santa Croce Convent. Later a church was built next to it and dedicated to her. Here her body, which has been preserved incorrupt in a most unusual manner, can still be seen; in fact, it seems to be that of a living person who is asleep. The miracle of liquefaction and ebullition of her blood has also taken place. The cult which had been paid to her as Blessed from the time of her death was approved in 1624; and in 1881 Pope Leo XIII canonized her.
~from The Franciscan Book of Saints, edited by Marion Habig, OFM~
St. Maximilian Kolbe was born as Raymund Kolbe on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. He was a Polish Conventual Franciscan friar and a martyr in the German death Camp of Auschwitz during World War II.
St. Maximilian Kolbe was very active in promoting the Immaculate Virgin Mary and is known as the Apostle of Consecration to Mary. Much of his life was strongly influenced by a vision he had of the Virgin Mary when he was 12.
“That night I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both.”
One year after his vision, Kolbe and his elder brother, Francis joined the Conventual Franciscans. In 1910, Kolbe was given the religious name Maximilian, after being allowed to enter the novitiate, and in 1911, he professed his first vows.
At the age of 21, Kolbe earned a doctorate in philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. He would also earn a doctorate in theology by the time he was 28.
St. Maximilian Kolbe organized the Militia Immaculata (Army of the Immaculate One) after witnessing demonstrations against Pope St. Pius X and Benedict XV. His goal was to work for the conversion of sinners and enemies of the Church, specifically, the Freemasons and he would so with the intercession of Mary.
In 1918, he was ordained a priest and continued his work of promoting Mary throughout Poland. Over the next several years, Kolbe took on publishing. He founded a monthly periodical titled, “Rycerz Niepokalanej” (Knight of the Immaculate). He also operated a religious publishing press and founded a new Conventual Franciscan monastery at Niepokalanow, which became a major religious publishing center.
Kolbe also founded monasteries in both Japan and India. To this day, the monastery in Japan remains prominent in the Roman Catholic Church in Japan.
In 1936, Kolbe’s poor health forced him to return home to Poland, and once the WWII invasion by Germany began, he became one of the only brothers to remain in the monastery. He opened up a temporary hospital to aid those in need. When his town was captured, Kolbe was sent to prison but released three months later.
Kolbe refused to sign a document that would recognize him as a German citizen with his German ancestry and continued to work in his monastery, providing shelter for refugees – including hiding 2,000 Jews from German persecution. After receiving permission to continue his religious publishing, Kolbe’s monastery acted as a publishing house again and issued many anti-Nazi German publications.
On February 17, 1941, the monastery was shut down; Kolbe was arrested by the German Gestapo and taken to the Pawiak prison. Three months later, he was transferred to Auschwitz.
Never abandoning his priesthood, Kolbe was the victim to severe violence and harassment. Toward the end of his second month in Auschwitz, men were chosen to face death by starvation to warn against escapes. Kolbe was not chosen but volunteered to take the place of a man with a family.
It is said during the last days of his life Kolbe led prayers to Our Lady with the prisoners and remained calm. He was the last of the group to remain alive, after two weeks of dehydration and starvation. The guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. The stories tell that he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death.
St. Maximilian Kolbe died on August 14 and his remains were cremated on August 15, the same day as the Assumption of Mary feast day.
Recognized as the Servant of God, Kolbe was beatified as a “Confessor of the Faith” on October 17, 1971 by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 10, 1982. Pope John Paul II declared Kolbe not a confessor, but a martyr.
Kolbe’s is often depicted in a prison uniform and with a needle being injected into an arm. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, prisoners, families, and the pro-life movement and his feast day is celebrated on August 14.