St. Patrick Catholic Church
Saint of the Day

April 17

Anicetus, Pope M (RM)
Born in Emesa, Syria; died c. 160-166. Towards the end of the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, Anicetus was elected pope (about 152). For about eight years he labored to defend the faith against those who said, first that the physical life of Jesus was really illusory (Gnostics), and secondly, that the Jewish background to Christianity was dangerous and needed to be shed completely (Marcionists).

Marcion, after having embraced a state of continence (perhaps as a priest), fell into a crime with a young virgin; for which he was excommunicated by his father, the bishop of Pontus. He ran to Rome in the hope of being restored to communion, but was rejected until he had made penitential satisfaction to his own bishop. Tertullian and Saint Epiphanius relate that rejected this notion he began his career as a heretic. First he professed himself a Stoic philosopher. Then during the time of Pope Saint Hyginus, he joined the heresiarch Cerdo, who was come out of Syria to Rome. According to Marcion, there are two gods: one good, the other evil. The first is the author of the New Testament and opposed to that of the Old Testament and Jewish law. He won many followers to his error in Rome, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Persia, and Cyprus. Tertullian relates that Marcion eventually repented of this idea and was promised that he would be received again into the Church once he had corrected the error in all those he had perverted. He died while in the process of satisfying this penance.

During the reign of Anicetus a further anxiety arose because Christians had begun to quarrel about determining the correct date for Easter. Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, a disciple of Saint John the Divine, visited Rome to settle this very question, but the conference was unsuccessful. Anicetus agreed to allow the Asiatics to continue to celebrate Easter on the 14th day after the first moon of the vernal equinox. Unsettled, the controversy was to accelerate and grow more heated in the course of the following centuries.

Anicetus died worn out by these troubles which he had been unable to resolve. (Anicetus also forbade priests to wear long hair, perhaps because the Gnostics did so.) Some say he died a martyr's death, but this seems unlikely. The greater possibility is that he is deemed a martyr because of the suffering he underwent for the faith (Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Coulson, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Husenbeth).

Blessed Clare Gambacorta, OP Widow (AC)
(also known as Thora or Theodora of Pisa)

Born in Venice(?), Italy, in 1362; died 1419; beatified by Pope Pius VIII in 1830.

Clare, baptized Victoria, was the only daughter of the pre-eminent family of Pisa, which was in political exile at the time of her birth. When Victoria was seven, the family returned triumphantly to Pisa, and her father, Peter Gambacorta, was installed as chief magistrate of the city, a position full of both glory and uncertainty.

Victoria, a pretty and pious child, used to gather the children together to recite the Rosary. She was both devout and penitential; therefore, she did not relish the marriage her father had arranged for her. Nevertheless, as a dutiful daughter she married and became a dutiful, loving wife. When her young husband died of the plague just three years after their marriage, Victoria was grief-stricken. She did truly love him. But now that she was free, she determined that no one was going to urge her to marry again.

In the first year of her marriage, when she was 13, Victoria had met the famous and saintly Catherine of Siena, who had come to Pisa to talk to Victoria's father about he league of cities. The saint had advised the lovely young bride to give her heart to God and her husband.

Now that he was dead, Catherine wrote to the 15-year-old widow saying: "Strip yourself of self. Love God with a free and loyal love." Victoria knew that another marriage was being arranged for her, and before the contract could be concluded she fled to the Poor Clares and took the habit and the religious name Sister Clare.

Her brothers forcibly took her home. They locked her up in a dark little room in her own home. For five months she could neither talk to her friends nor receive the sacraments, but she retained the name Clare, and she wore the Franciscan habit.

The pretty, young prisoner was a daughter of her times, and she managed to get errands done by her friends. One by one, her jewels were sent out and sold, and the money was given to the poor. It was the only active charity she could manage from a prison cell. Finally, on Saint Dominic's day, when her father and brothers were away, her mother got her out and took her to Mass. It was the first time in months that she had been able to receive Communion.

Shortly thereafter, a Spanish bishop came to visit the family, and Clare's father asked him to try to talk some sense into the girl. He apparently did not know that the Spaniard had been confessor to Saint Bridget of Sweden, and that he was highly in sympathy with women who wished to dedicate themselves to God. In the end, Clare's family relented and allowed her to make plans to enter a convent. Her contact with Saint Catherine had convinced her that she could be nothing but a Dominican, so she took refuge with the local community until she could build a convent of her own.

Due to the ravages of plague and schism, many convents, including that of the Dominicans of Pisa, were weak in observance and did not live the common life. Clare wanted a strictly religious form of life, and, within four years, with the help of her stepmother, the new convent was built for her and Blessed Mary Mancini. It was first blessed in 1385, and a strict canonical cloister was imposed upon it, forbidding any man but the bishop and the master general from entering.

Eight years later, this strict enclosure was to cost Sister Clare a terrible loss. Her father was betrayed by a man who had always been his friend, and the volatile public turn against him and killed him in the street outside her convent. One of her brothers also fell in the fight, and a second, wounded, begged to be let into the convent. Clare had to tell him, through the window, that she could not open the door to him. While she watched in horror, he was dragged away and killed.

Some time after this, Sister Clare fell seriously ill and was thought to be dying. She made a curious request: some food from the table of the man who had betrayed and killed her father and brothers. The wife of the guilty man sent a basket of bread and fruit; Sister Clare ate the bread and was cured. Shortly afterwards the man who had seized the power unjustly was killed himself, and she offered sanctuary to his widow and daughters.

Clare's brother, Peter, who had fled from the court to become a hermit about the time she went to the Poor Clares, converted a band of highwaymen and began a community of hermits. When his father and brothers were murdered, he wished to go back to secular life and seek revenge, and Clare talked him out of it.

Clare Gamacorta died after a holy life. Many prodigies were reported at her tomb, and there is an interesting little legend to the effect that every time a sister in her house is about to die, the bones of Blessed Clare rattle in her coffin. This gives the sister warning (Attwater2, Benedictines, Dorcy, Encyclopedia).

Donnan and Companions MM (AC)
(also known as Dounan)

Died on Eigg, c. 616-618. Saint Donnan was an Irishman monk of whom little is known except that he must have been one of the most active early Scottish saints judging from the trail of place names (usually Kildonan) stretching from Galloway to Perth and Aberdeenshrie in Uig, South Suist, Sutherland, Arran, and Eigg. Many were converted to Christianity through his efforts. Some say he was a monk of Iona under Saint Columba; others that he was associated with the Pictish Chuch and followed the missionary path of Saint Ninian.

He eventually established a community of monks on the island of Eigg at Loch Ewe in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. While he was celebrating Mass on Easter eve, a gang of armed men arrived. When Mass was over, they herded the 52 monks into the refectory, set fire to it. Those who tried to escape were killed by the sword.

According to D'Arcy, the record of Columba's death in the Martyrology of Aengus prophesies Donnan's end: "Donnan then went with his monastic family to the Western Isle and they took up their abode there in a place where the sheep of the queen of the country were kept. 'Let them be killed,' said she. 'That would not be a religious act," said her people. But they were murderously assailed. At this time the cleric was at Mass. 'Let us have respite till Mass is ended,' said Donnan. 'Thou shalt have it,' said they. And went it was over they were slain, every one of them."

Thus, it is said that the deed was prompted by the local chieftainess, who resented the monks' presence on the island, or by a local woman who had lost her grazing rights; but it may simply have been a Viking raid. The monks, whose names are recorded in the Martyrology of Tallaght compiled c. 792, are viewed as martyrs. His feast is kept at Argyll and the Isles. His staff was venerated at Husterless until its destruction during the Reformation. Eigg has remained Catholic "as if by special blessing of these martyrs" (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, D'Arcy, Farmer, Gill, Montalembert, Moran, Simpson, Skene).

Blessed Eberhard of Marchtal, O.Praem. (PC)
Died 1178. The Premonstratensian monk Eberhard of Roth was provost of Marchtal in Swabia, Germany, when it was handed over to his order in 1166 (Attwater2, Benedictines).

Elias, Paul & Isidore MM (RM)
Died 856. Elias, a priest of Cordova, Spain, was put to death by the Moors in his old age together with Paul and Isidore, two young men under his spiritual direction. Saint Eulogius, an eye-witness, wrote an account of their martyrdom (Benedictines).

Fortunatus and Marcian MM (RM)
Date unknown. Martyrs, perhaps of Antioch, Syria, but more probably of some town in Africa (Benedictines).

Blessed Gervinus of Oudenburg, OSB Abbot (AC)
(also known as Gervais or Geruln)

Born in Flanders; died 1117. Gervinus had the soul of a pilgrim travelling from Rome to Jerusalem; though through obedience he settled first as a monk of Saint-Winnoc, then as a hermit at Munster, and finally, from 1095, as the governor of the abbey of Aldenbury (Oudenburg) in Flanders (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).

Innocent of Tortona B (RM)
Born in Tortona, Italy; died c. 350. Tortured with his parents in his hometown for remaining steadfast to the Christian faith, Saint Innocent was sentenced to be burnt to death managed to escape to Rome. After the peace of Constantine, Innocent was ordained a priest and, about 326, returned to Tortona as bishop, sent there by Pope Saint Silvester (Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Encyclopedia).

Blessed James of Cerqueto, OSA (AC)
Born in Cerqueto (near Perugia), Italy; died 1367; cultus approved in 1895. James joined the Augustinian friar hermits in Perugia. Many miracles occurred at his tomb (Attwater2, Benedictines).

Landericus of Soignies, OSB B (AC)
(also known as Landry of Metz)

Died c. 700-730. Saint Landry was the eldest of the saintly children of SS. Vincent Madelgarus and Waudru. From 641 to 650 he was bishop of Meaux (or Metz?), but on the death of his father, Landry resigned his see in order to undertake the governance of the abbey of Soignies (Attwater2, Benedictines). Saint Landry is pictured as a bishop with an open razor on a book. He may also be portrayed with his father Saint Vincent Madelgar (Roeder).

Mappalicus & Companions MM (RM)
Died April 250. Eighteen African martyrs who suffered torture and starvation at Carthage under Decius. They are highly praised by Saint Cyprian (Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson).

Pantagathus of Vienne B (RM)
Died 540. Saint Pantagathus, a courtier of King Clovis, left the court in order to study for the priesthood. He was ordained and later raised to be bishop of Vienne (Benedictines).

Peter and Hermogenes MM (RM)
Date unknown. Peter, a deacon, and Hermogenes, his servant, were probably martyred at Antioch (Benedictines).

7th century. Saint Potentienne was a Christian virgin who was known only after her death in Spain (Encyclopedia)

Robert of Chaise-Dieu, OSB Abbot (RM)
(also known as Robert de Turlande)

Born in Auvergne, France; died 1087 (or 1067?); canonized in 1095. Saint Robert de Turlande, descended from Saint Gerald of Aurillac, was a canon of Saint Julian's Church at Brioude. He was noted for his love of the poor, for whom he founded a hospice. After spending many years at Cluny under Saint Odilo and having made a pilgrimage to Rome, Robert retired to the solitude near Brioude in Auvergne where he attracted many followers. With the help of a penitent knight named Stephen, founded Chaise- Dieu. More buildings soon arose to accommodate all of Saint Robert's disciples. These developed into the great abbey of Casa Dei (House of God) or Chaise-Dieu (Chair of God). At its height Chaise-Dieu housed 300 monks under the Benedictine Rule. It also became the motherhouse of an important Black Benedictine congregation (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Encyclopedia).

Stephen Harding, OSB Cist. Abbot (RM)
Born probably in Sherborne, Dorsetshire, England; died at Cîteaux, France, March 28, 1134; canonized in 1623; his feast is celebrated on July 16 among the Cistercians.

Saint Stephen, one of the founders of the Cistercians, was an Englishman of unknown parentage. While he was yet a child, they offered him as an oblate to Sherborne Abbey in Dorsetshire, where he was educated. When he reached maturity, he detested the monastic lifestyle and set out to see the world. He travelled to Scotland, and then on to Paris to study further.

As a Benedictine monk he travelled on pilgrimage to Rome, reciting the Psalms daily as he went, but it was no perfunctory repetition, for he drew from them a strength which refreshed his spirit, and their influence deeply affected the rest of his life.

Some say that he had wandered through Europe seeking a community where the Benedictine Rule was strictly kept and had almost given up hope, when he met Saint Robert of Molesmes, a native of Champagne. On Stephen's return from Rome, he and a friend came across a community of monks living a very austere and solitary life in the forest of Langres in Burgundy. Their life of prayer, hard work, and strict adherence to the austere rule of Saint Benedict attracted Stephen, and he settled there. Among the monks were Saint Robert, the abbot, and Saint Alberic.

Everything went well until the bishop of Troyes took it upon himself to moderate the austerities of these enfants terribles and to give them property so they would not be "devoured" by their zeal. The community's devotion to poverty was bypassed and little by little the Benedictines of Molesmes became canons.

Disappointed to find that its discipline had become slack and that wealth and worldliness had bred indifference, Robert no longer desired to be the abbot and left. But the monks of Molesmes increasingly deviated from the rule and the other two, each becoming abbot for a time, in turn departed for the diocese of Langres following Robert's example.

The bishop of Troyes ordered all three to return to Molesmes, but they could not rekindle the flame of enthusiasm, so the three left again. In order to escape the jurisdiction of the bishop of Troyes, they sought refuge in another jurisdiction. Stephen accompanied Robert and Alberic to Lyons to ask the Archbishop Hugh, the papal legate to France, for permission to leave Molesmes to create a stricter order.

The legate made known his opinion in 1098: "We have thought that the best thing would be for you to retire to another convent which the Divine Goodness will grant you. We have therefore permitted you who have appeared before us, Abbot Robert, Brothers Alberic and Stephen and all those who are determined to follow you, to execute this good plan and we exhort you to persevere therein." What is comforting to note is that in the Church, if a work is good, the Holy Spirit gets involved in it and sooner or later, someone always presents himself to support and activate it.

Thus, the permission was granted, and Saint Robert and 20 others, built a monastery at Cîteaux, diocese of Châlon-sur- Saône, in the heart of the forest. The site was chosen, not for its majestic beauty, but because Rainald, the lord of Beaune, gladly donated the site to them. The monastery opened in 1098 with Robert as abbot, Alberic as prior, and Stephen as subprior. Saint Robert returned to Molesmes about a year later at the order of Urban II. The other two shifted positions respectively to abbot and prior.

During Alberic's reign, the new order received definitive approval from Pope Pascal II and was placed under the protection of the Holy See. The Benedictines of Cîteaux received a white habit and made their solemn professions on March 21, 1098, Passion Sunday.

Stephen assisted at the death of Alberic on January 26, 1109. Alberic was the first of the trio to prepare a meeting place for them with God. Stephen missed Alberic, his friend, his "companion in arms," his "general in the battles of the Lord," in the time that they were placed "in the front line of the battle." Stephen's character and temperament are well expressed in this military language.

In the following year, on March 21, 1110, there was a second departure for eternity. Robert died. Stephen was the sole survivor of the three. This vouched-safe, original Cistercian, however, was not to conform in all points with the Benedictine prototype because he was to become the champion of the most absolute poverty with an almost Franciscan insistence.

With the death of Alberic, Stephen found himself elected abbot of Cîteaux against his will. He was now to induce the others to follow him on the path to poverty that was his preferred route. Stephen decreed that magnates could no longer hold their courts at Cîteaux, and thus cut off feudal sources of income, from which the abbey had derived most of its revenue. Until that time the duke of Burgundy and his court could break the sacred silence of Cîteaux whenever he desired.

At Cîteaux they framed the rule of a new order, that of the Cistercians, the Charter of Charity with its insistence on poverty, solitude, and simplicity, and here for years they lived out their poor and barren life. They passed their days in hard manual labor in the fields and vineyards. They raised their own food. They avoided every form of religious corruption and ostentation, forebearing the use of rich vestments, stained glass, and altar vessels of gold and silver, wearing the simplest dress, and allowing only a crucifix of painted wood. Their church was unadorned, their worship plain and severe, but along with such bare austerity they combined grace and beauty.

During those 15 years nothing remarkable happened. On the contrary, the little company made no headway, attracted no new followers, and it seemed a hopeless enterprise. Stephen's changes discouraged visitors, which had been a source of new recruits. Combined with a disease that killed several monks, this caused the number of monks to dwindle significantly, and Stephen began to doubt his actions. But they had great faith and patience, pursuing their work with untiring devotion, and in the end their perseverance was rewarded.

One time Stephen sent a friar to the market of Vézelay with three pennies and the instruction to bring back to Cîteaux "all the necessaries of life." The friar actually came back to Cîteaux with three wagons, drawn by three horses, laden with clothes and food because at just the right moment he had found in the market place a man who wanted to bequeath a part of his fortune to the monks. Stephen's trust in God's providence was warranted again.

Yet, because the order did not flourish, Stephen asked a dying monk to "come back after your death, when God wills and if He will allow it, to tell us if our way of life is pleasing to Him, and if our work is to perish." The response came a few days later when Stephen was working in the fields: "I say unto you, in truth, dispel all your doubts, consider it certain that your life is holy and agreeable to God."

Then there came a dramatic day in 1112 when a company of 30 men made their way through the forest to Cîteaux to join them and changed the destiny of the order. The company was of excellent quality, for they belonged to some of the noblest families of Burgundy, and were led by Bernard, afterwards famous as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. They presented themselves as novices and their arrival brought new hope and strength to the community; there followed an era of remarkable expansion, which, in time, infused fresh life into Western Christendom.

From that point, Cistercian communities thrived and spread rapidly, and there were no less than 90 of them--including Pontigny, Morimond, and Clairvaux--when Stephen Harding died. Although Bernard was only 24, Stephen appointed him abbot of Clairvaux. Stephen ruled that the abbots of the monasteries must meet at Clairvaux each year, and that the abbot of the motherhouse must make a visitation of each abbey every year; these rules served to safeguard the original spirit and observance.

In addition to being a Biblical scholar, and perhaps an artist, Stephen was an excellent administrator. In 1119, when there were already ten monasteries, Stephen drew up and presented to the general chapter at Cîteaux a constitution for the Cistercians--the Charter of Charity (Carta caritatis). This charter defined the spirit of the order and provided for the unity of the association of Cistercian abbeys. It is a document of prime importance in Western monastic history because it would influence other orders. The high ideals, the careful organization, the austerity and simplicity of the Cistercian life are an index to the character of Stephen Harding.

He also made emendations to the Vulgate Bible that were designed for the use of Cîteaux. He continued directing the monasteries until 1133, when he was quite old and losing his sight. His last words, uttered on March 28, 1134, were: "I am going to God as I had never done any good. If I have done some good, it was through the help of the grace of God. But perhaps I have received this grace unworthily, without turning it sufficiently to account."

In England, beginning with a thatched barn situated in a wild and narrow glen, there rose their most famous and glorious Cistercian abbey of Fountains. Thus the story of the Cistercians, which is linked for ever with the names of Stephen Harding and Bernard of Clairvaux, is of the reform of the Benedictine Order (for that also resulted) and of a great spiritual awakening. Harding's fellow countryman, William of Malmesbury, wrote of him that he was "approachable, good-looking, always cheerful in the Lord--everyone liked him" (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Bentley, Dalgairns, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Gill, White).

In art, Saint Stephen Harding is depicted as a Cistercian abbot with the Virgin Mary and the Infant appearing to him (Roeder, White). He may also be pictured with Robert of Molesme (Roeder).

Wando of Fontenelle, OSB Abbot (AC)
(also known as Vando)

Died at Fontenelle c. 756. Saint Wando was a monk and abbot of Fontenelle. As a result of a false accusation, he was exiled to Troyes but reinstated after his innocence had been proved (Benedictines).

About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.