Proper of the Saints and Feasts |
Wednesday, October 9:
Semi-Double Feast of Saint John Leonardi, Confessor and Religious Founder, and Saint Dionysius and Companion Martyrs.
Semi-Double Feast. White Vestments
Saint John Leonardi
Born in Lucca, Italy in the year 1541, Saint John Leonardi sought the career of a pharmacist but at 25 was swayed by Heavenly inspiration to enter the seminary where at the age of 20 John became a priest. His vocation was to dedicate all he did to teaching the catechism to youth - childrens and teens. It was St. John Leonardi who founded the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine in 1571, known the world over today as CCD and three years later he founded the Congregation of Clerks of the Mother of God to help preach the catechism and live all the Church taught. The Congregation was approved in 1595 by Pope Clement VIII St. John was persecuted greatly by those who doubted his sincerity and thought he had a personal agenda in his efforts to form the Congregation. Thus, unable to execute his duties without slander in his own town, John went to Rome where he met St. John Calasanz and his spiritual director and confessor, the great St. Philip Neri. There, under his influence, St. John Leonardi sent many members of his Congregation to foreign missions and, with the help of Spanish prelate Bishop G.B. Vives, founded the seminary City College for the Propagation of the Faith (Collegium Urbanum de Propaganda Fide) for the specific purpose of forming priests to send to the missions. All his life St. John Leonardi lived the Gospel, dedicating his life to evangelizing as Jesus asked in Mark 16: 15 to "Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature." In 1607 Pope Paul V merged the Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools with the Congregation St. John founded to make it stronger and encouraged by this event and the universal evangelization efforts of his Order, their founder died in Rome on October 9, 1609.
Saint Dionysius and Companions
Of all the Roman missionaries sent into Gaul, Saint Dionysius or Saint Denis the Areopagite, converted by Saint Paul in Athens, carried the Faith farthest into the west, fixing his see at Paris. France claims him as one of her greatest glories.
He was a highly educated philosopher of Greece, and one of the nine archontes or leaders of the city of Athens, a counselor, as some say, if not the Head of the Athenian senate. He was born in the year 9 of the Christian era, and had traveled to Heliopolis in Egypt to learn mathematics and astrology. There he saw for himself, in his early twenties, the eclipse of the sun contrary to all the laws of nature, which occurred at the death of the Son of God. His teachers could not explain it to him otherwise than as a sign of changes in divine matters. In his letters to Saint Polycarp he says himself that the astrologer he questioned had answered him rather by divine inspiration than by any natural knowledge. And he himself had cried out: “Either the God of nature is suffering, or the entire mechanism of the world is going to be destroyed to return to its ancient state of chaos!” Already he was being prepared for his conversion twenty years later, which is related by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter seven.
Through Saint Paul, the see of Athens was established with Saint Denys as its first bishop, and this flock, which he extended through the entire region, became one of the most considerable of Greece. He made a number of journeys outside Greece and was present when the Apostles were assembled at the Dormition and glorious Assumption of the Mother of God. He wrote of Her, and he became a friend of Saint John, Her guardian. He corresponded with Saint Timothy, Saint Titus, Saint Polycarp and others of the Apostles’ successors. It appears that it was after a conversation with Saint John the Apostle that Saint Denys, already in his late sixties, determined to go to the Occident to preach to the idolaters of that region. He left Saint Publius as his successor in Athens, and departed for Rome with Eleutherius and Rusticus. Pope Saint Clement of Rome confirmed this enterprise, and added to the group at least ten more priests, all of whom are now listed among the Saints. The authors of the oriental church are steadfast in asserting, with Roman tradition, that it was Saint Denys the Areopagite, converted by Saint Paul, who was sent to Gaul. Others have thought Saint Denys was a fourth century missionary, but this theory cannot be credited, as the Bollandists explain at length in a dissertation.
Through him and his disciples, whom he sent to evangelize various districts, the sees of Rouen, Chartres, Evreux, Verdun, and Beauvais were established. With his two original companions, Eleutherius and Rusticus, Saint Denis went to Paris, where he built four oratories. The first baptized Christian, who received them into his house, was decapitated, denounced to a Roman official by his own pagan wife, as an accomplice of their three guests. The three missionaries were imprisoned and chained in such a way as to suffer torture, then flogged while they blessed God. Other torments were devised, but God preserved the bishop, at this time nearly 100 years old. They were finally beheaded on Montmartre; a large group of Christians, who wept on this occasion, as well as others of the city and the entire region, were also massacred. The wife of the first Parisian Christian and martyr was converted and died with the others. Their joint martyrdom occurred about the year 117.
Source: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12.
Thursday, October 10:
Feast of Saint Francis Borgia, Priest and Jesuit General
Semi-Double Feast. White Vestments.
Saint Francis Borgia, named for Francis of Assisi at his birth in 1510, was placed under the tutelage of his uncle, Archbishop of Saragossa, after the death of his mother when he was ten years old. Soon he had to go to the court of Spain, as destined to be one of the great lords of that nation. There he remained Christian, modest and virtuous. His noble and beautiful appearance soon brought upon him snares which he succeeded in escaping, setting for himself regimes of prayer and study to escape from the dangers. He wore a hair shirt, and never would enter into any of those games of chance which cause the loss not only of money but of time, the spirit of devotion, and peace of soul. The Empress arranged for him to marry Eleanor de Castro of Portugal, who like himself was very pious. They were blessed with eight children, five sons and three daughters, who continued to practice the virtue of their parents.
The Duke of Gandia was one of the richest and most honored nobles in Spain when, in 1539, there was laid upon him the sad duty of escorting the mortal remains of his once beautiful sovereign, the Empress Isabella, who had died still young, to the royal burial ground at Granada. The coffin had to be opened for him, that he might verify the body before it was placed in the tomb; and so unrecognizable, so astonishing a sight met his eyes that he vowed never again to serve any earthly sovereign, subject to so drastic and terrible a change.
It was many years before he could follow the call of his Lord; the emperor named him Captain-General of Catalonia, and sent him to bring to justice a group of bandits who had ravaged the countryside. The poor found in him strong protection against oppression. Vices were banished by his ordinances; he endowed poor girls and assisted families ruined by misery and reversals; he delivered debtors from prisons by paying what they owed. He was in effect the very Christian Viceroy of the Emperor. Saint Francis was relieved of this duty when he asked the Emperor, after the death of his father, to return and govern his subjects at Gandia. In Gandia he again did much public good; he built monasteries, founded hospitals, helped the poor in every possible way. But suddenly, his wife was taken from him. He was told by God that this loss was for both his and her own advantage, and amid his tears he offered his own life and that of his children, if that would please the Eternal Master.
After making a retreat according to the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, under Blessed Peter Favre, he made the vows of a Jesuit privately until he could see to the establishment of his children. When he went to Rome with one of them, it was rumored he would be made a cardinal like two of his brothers. But he wished to avoid all dignities, and succeeded in doing so by leaving Rome as soon as possible. Saint Ignatius made him his Vicar General for Spain, Portugal, and the East Indies, and there was scarcely a city of Spain and Portugal where he did not establish colleges or houses of the Company of Jesus. At the death of Saint Ignatius two years later, the Order chose him to be its General. Then his journeys became countless; to narrate them all would be an impossibility.
The Turks were threatening Christendom, and Pope Saint Pius V commissioned two cardinal-legates to go and assemble the European Christian princes into a league for its defense. The holy Pope chose Francis to accompany one of the Cardinals and, worn out as he was, the Saint obeyed at once. The fatigues of the embassy exhausted what little life was left to him. Saint Francis died in the same year as Saint Pius V, happy to do so in the service of God and the Church, when he returned to Rome in October, 1572.
REFLECTION: Francis Borgia learned the value of earthly grandeurs at the funeral of Queen Isabella. Do the deaths of friends teach us anything about what awaits us also?
Sources: Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 12; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).