Saint Peter Claver, Priest
Audomarus (Omer) of Thérouanne, OSB B (RM)
Born in Coutances, France, c. 595; died September 9, c. 670. Saint Omer was the only son of wealthy and noble parents, Friulph and Domitilla, whose only thoughts were for the benefit of their son-- both secular and spiritual. Upon the death of Domitilla, Friulph sold his estate, and distributed the entire proceeds among the poor. Thereafter, Friulph and Omer were welcomed by Abbot Saint Eustasius to Luxeuil monastery near Besançon, where they were both professed.
Omer was distinguished by his humility, obedience, and devotion. Within a short time his reputation for sanctity became widely known. After spending more than 20 years at Luxeuil, Saint Omer was nominated by Bishop Saint Acharius of Noyon-Tournai and appointed by King Dagobert to be bishop of Thérouanne, a diocese sadly in need of evangelization than then encompassed the Pas-de-Calais and Flanders. The choice was applauded by the king, bishops, and nobility, but not by Saint Omer.
Upon receiving notification, he cried out: "How great is the difference between the secure harbor in which I now enjoy a sweet calm, and that tempestuous ocean into which I am pushed, against my will, and destitute of experience!" Without listening to his humble objections, the deputies presented him to the bishops, who consecrated him at the end of 637.
Omer succeeded in making inroads with the Morini, where others before him had failed or been stopped: Saints Fuscian, Victoricus, and Gentian as well as Quintinus had brought the Gospel to them but were martyred; Saint Victricius of Rouen had worked among them but lacked enough pastors during the incursions of the barbarians to keep the people from falling back into heathenism; and in the 6th century, Saint Remigius sent Antimund and Adelbert to evangelize them. The work of completing the conversion of the Morini was left to Saint Omer.
He began this task as always--with prayer--and completed it by dedicating himself totally to the mission. He destroyed pagan idols and temples and patiently instructed the people. His first priority was to bolster the faith of the few Christians that he found. His own zeal, piety, and good works drew others to the faith, as did his eloquent preaching that emphasized disinterested service and reconciliation. He also enlisted the service of other holy monks from Luxeuil, including Saints Mommolinus, Bertrand, and Bertin. They literally covered the district with abbeys that served as centers for their missionary activities. Omer himself was the co-founder of Sithiu (Sithin), around which grew the town now known as Saint-Omer.
The author of his life recounts many miracles performed by Omer. In his old age he was blind (from at least 663), but that did not stop him from tending to his flock. When Bishop Saint Aubert of Arras-Cambrai translated the relics of Saint Redact in 667 from the cathedral to the monastery which he had built in his honor, Saint Omer assisted and recovered his sight for a short time on that occasion. His body was buried by Saint Bertin at our Lady's church, which is now the cathedral (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Husenbeth).
In art, Saint Omer is portrayed by a stream in episcopal vestments holding a bunch of grapes. At his feet, a man saved from drowning and a casket of relics. He may also be shown with Saint Bertin (Roeder). He is venerated at Saint Omer (Sithiu) and Luxeuil (Roeder).
Bettelin of Croyland, OSB Hermit (AC)
(also known as Beccelin, Bertelin, Berthelm, Bertram, Bethlin, Bethelm)
8th century. Saint Bettelin, a disciple of Saint Guthlac, was a hermit who practiced the most austere penances and lived a life of continual prayer in the forest near Stafford, England. He received counsel from his master on his deathbed and was present at his burial. After the death of Guthlac, Bettelin and his companions continued to live at Croyland under Kenulphus, its first abbot.
There are unreliable legends about Bettelin, including a later one that he had to overcome temptation to cut Guthlac's throat while shaving him. They also say that Bettelin was the son of a local ruler who fell in love with a princess during a visit to Ireland. On their return to England, she died a terrible death. He left her in the forest when she was overcome by labor pains, while he had gone in search of a midwife. During his absence she was torn to pieces by ravenous wolves. Thereafter, Bettelin became a hermit. Another legends relates that Saint Bettelin left his hermitage to drive off invaders with the help of an angel, before returning to his cell to die.
Some of his relics may have been translated to Stafford before the plunder and burning of Croyland by the Danes. He is the patron of Stafford, in which his relics were kept with great veneration (Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Husenbeth).
Ciaran of Clonmacnoise (the Younger, Cluain Mocca Nois), Abbot (AC)
(also known as Kieran, Kyran, Ceran, Queran)
Born in Connacht, Ireland, c. 516; died at Clonmacnoise, c. 556. Saint Ciaran is one of the 12 Apostles of Ireland.
Born into a Meath family of pre-Celtic descent, Saint Ciaran was the son of the carpenter Beoit. As a boy he left home with a dun cow for company in order to be trained for the monastic life in Saint Finnian's monastery at Clonard. At Clonard he taught the daughter of the king of Cuala because he was considered the most learned monk in the abbey.
About 534, he migrated to Inishmore in the Aran Islands, where he spent seven years learning from Saint Enda and was ordained priest. He left after having a vision that Enda interpreted for him. Ciaran travelled slowly eastward, first Scattery Island where he learned from Saint Senan, then to Isel in the center of Ireland. He was forced to leave here because of his excessive charity and moved on to Inis Aingin (Hare Island).
He left there with eight companions and eventually settled at Clonmacnoise on the Shannon River south of Athlone in the West Meath, where he built Clonmacnoise monastery. He gave his monks an extremely austere rule, known as the Law of Kieran. The saint is said to have lived only seven months after founding the great school of Clonmacnoise, dying at the age of 34. Clonmacnoise may have been one of the most famous in Ireland, attracting students from throughout the country. When Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, it was the only school that he visited. The monastery survived many invasions and raids until 1552, and there are still many notable ruins remaining from its early days. Although Ciaran's shrine was plundered several times during the medieval period, the Clonmacnoise crozier remains in the National Museum in Dublin.
Various legends, some outlandish, are told of Ciaran. One relates that a fox's whelp would carry his lessons to Ciaran's master until it was old enough to eat the satchel containing the saint's writings. Another says that the other Irish saints were so jealous of him that they fasted and prayed that he might die young--hardly to be given any credit. (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, Farmer, Macalister, Montague).
The following stories derive from the Vitae Sanctorum Hiberniae as translated by Plummer, which includes the moving account of his death:
The abbot Ciaran "was like a burning lamp, of charity so rare that not only did the fervor and devotion of his pitiful heart go out to the relieving of the hunger of men, but he showed himself tireless in caring for the dumb beasts in their necessity. . . ."
Ciaran left Saint Senan to live for a time with his brethren Luchen, abbot, and Odran, prior, at Isel Monastery, where he was appointed almoner. One day "Ciaran was reading out of doors in the graveyard in the sun, when he suddenly spied some weary travellers going into the guest house; and hurriedly getting up, he forgot his book, and it lay open out of doors until the morrow.
"Meantime, as he busied himself settling his guests in their quarters and bathing their feet and eagerly tending them, the night fell. In that same night there fell great rains; but by God's will the open book was found dry and sound; not a drop of rain had fallen upon it, and all the ground round about it was damp. For which Saint Ciaran and his brethren gave Christ praise. . . .
"One day, when Saint Ciaran was working in the field, there came to him a poor man asking for alms. At that very hour a chariot with two horses had been brought in offering to Saint Ciaran by a certain lord, the son of Crimthann, King of Connaught; and these horses and chariot gave Ciaran to this poor man.
"Now Saint Ciaran's brothers could not endure the vastness of his charity, for every day he divided their substance among the poor, and so they said to him, 'Brother, depart from us; for we cannot live in the same place with thee and feed and keep our brethren for God, because of thy unbounded lavishness.' To whom Saint Ciaran made reply: 'If I had remained in this place, it would not have been Isel (that is, the low-lying): not low but high, but great and honorable.'
"And with that Saint Ciaran blessed his brothers, and taking his wallet with his books on his shoulder, he set out from thence. And when he had gone a little way from the place, there met him on the path a stag, awaiting him in all gentleness; and Saint Ciaran set his wallet on his back, and wherever the stag went, the blessed Ciaran followed him. And the stag came to Lough Ree, which is in the east of Connaught, and stood over against Hare Island, which is in the lake.
"Then Saint Ciaran knew that God had called him to that island; and blessing the stag, he sent him away, and went to that island and dwelt there. And the fame of his holiness spread abroad, and from far and near good men came together to him, and Saint Ciaran made them his monks. . . .
"And one day as they rowed across, Saint Ciaran's gospel which a brother was holding carelessly fell into the lake, and for a great while it lay under the waters and was not found. But one summer day the cows came into the lake, to cool themselves in the water from the great heat of the sun; and when they were coming out from it, the leather wallet in which the Gospel had been put had caught about the foot of one of the cows, and so the cow dragged the wallet with her back to dry land; and inside the sodden leather the book of the Gospel was found, clean and dry and shining white, with no trace of damp, as if it had been hidden in a library. For which Saint Ciaran rejoiced, and his brethren with him. . . .
"And after these things came a man of Munster . . . Donnan by name, to Saint, Ciaran dwelling on Hare Island. And to him one day Saint Ciaran said, 'What seek you, my father, in these parts?' And Saint Donnan replied, 'Master, I seek a place to abide in, where I may serve Christ in exile.'
"Then said Saint Ciaran, 'Abide, father, in this place; for I shall go to some other; I know that this is not the place of my resurrection.' Then Saint Ciaran gave Hare Island with his household goods to Saint Donnan, and came to a place called Ard Mantain on the River Shannon; but he would not dwell in that place, and said, 'I will not to dwell in this place, for here there will be a great plenty of the things of this world, and worldly delight; and heard would it be for the souls of my disciples to go to heaven, if I should live here, for the place belongs to the men of this world.'
"And thereafter Saint Ciaran left that place and came to the place which was called of old Ard Tiprat, but is now called Clonmacnoise. And coming to the place he said: 'Here shall I dwell; for many souls shall go forth from this place to the Kingdom of God; and in this place shall my resurrection be.' So there the blessed Ciaran lived with his disciples, and began to found a great monastery there; and many found all sides came to him, and his parish spread about him far; and the name of Saint Ciaran was famous throughout all Ireland. And a famous and holy city rose in that place to the honor of Saint Ciaran, and its name was Clonmacnoise . . . and in it whether they be kings or princes, the chiefs of the sons of Niall and of Connaught are buried beside Saint Ciaran there. . . .
"So for one year did our most holy patron Saint Ciaran dwell in his city of Clonmacnoise. And when he knew that the day of his death was drawing nigh, he prophesied, weeping, of the future evils that would fall after his day upon that place; and said that their life would be a poor thing. Then said the brethren: 'Father, what shall we do in the day of these calamities? Shall we abide here beside thy relics? Or shall we seek another place?'
"To whom Saint Ciaran said: 'Haste ye to some other place of peace, and leave my relics as it might be the dry bones of a stag on the mountain. Better for you that your life should be with my spirit in heaven, than that ye should abide dishonored beside my bones upon earth.'
"And when the hour of his departing drew nigh he bade them carry him out of doors from the house, and gazing up at the sky said, 'Steep is that road; and it must needs be.' The brethren said to him, 'Father, we know that nothing is hard for thee: but for us feeble folk, there is sore dread in this hour.'
"And again brought back into the house he lifted up his hand and blessed his people and his clergy, and having received the sacrifice of the Lord, on the ninth day of September he gave up the ghost, in the thirty-third year of his age" (Plummer).
Dorotheus (Dorothea), Peter, and Gorgonius (Goroon) M (RM)
Died 303; feast day formerly March 12 on which day it is still celebrated in the East. The martyrdom of Saints Dorotheus, Peter, and Gorgonius was recorded by their contemporary Eusebius of Caesarea (History of the Church, viii, 6). They were members of the imperial court- -favorite eunuchs of Emperor Diocletian and officials of his body guard at Nicomedia. Dorotheus was the first chamberlain; the other two, under-chamberlains. They sacrificed their fine place to remain faithful to their baptismal promises.
When the palace at Nicomedia was set ablaze, perhaps at the instigation of Galerius, the Christians were unjustly blamed, including these three Christian men. They were cruelly tortured, and at length Gorgonius and Dorotheus were hanged. Peter, who had refused to sacrifice, was hung up naked in the air, and brutally whipped. When his flesh was so torn that the bones were exposed, the executioners poured salt and vinegar into his wounds. Then he was broiled on a gridiron, but he remained resolute, and died while still being tortured. Diocletian had the bodies cast into the sea, so that the Christians could not collect their relics (Benedictines, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth).
Blessed Frédèric Ozanam
Born in Lyons, France, in 1813; died 1853; beatified in 1997 by Pope John Paul II.
For the first 17 years of his life, Frédèric Ozanam saw Catholicism practiced daily by his devout parents. His father was a physician who gave his services freely to the poor. Frédèric's first enthusiasm was for philosophy, but defense of the faith became his chief intellectual concern. He studied the comparative history of religions in his leisure time, while he was a full-time law student in Paris. Both mystical and practical. Humble, no pride of intellect
In Paris, he lived with the famous scientist Ampère. His faith was tested by the secularism that surrounded him, by the unbelief. Ampère's faith created abut Ozanam an atmosphere unfavorable to doubt. His confessor Abbé Noirot really saved Ozanam by his instructions.
Ozanam worked with the publication L'Avenir, which aimed at cementing bonds between the Church and the working class, and at securing political liberty and equal rights for all people. Soon in conflict with Socialism, so aimed at the liberals. Pope disapproved, so the publication stopped in 1833.
Soon Ozanam realized that Christianity is not just an intellectual pursuit, which led him to understand there cannot be faith without works and to the founding of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. Active charity throughout the rest of his life. "The defense of the faith and the love of the poor became the two master passions of his life."
1830-1850 saw the rise of secularism and anti-clericalism in Europe. Ozanam fought these trends wherever possible. In 1832, he wrote to a friend, "It is most necessary to make it clear to the student body that one can be a Catholic and have common sense, and that one can love both religion and liberty." He initiated the Lenten Conferences at Notre Dame de Paris, which were still on- going a hundred years later and are now heard on the radio.
Saint Vincent de Paul Society is not simply for works of Christian charity, but primarily for sanctification of its members. Faith only maintained by the practice of charity. Also intended for the Society to be a practical exemplification of the principles of true democracy; rights of men founded on charity, not justice. Catholic men must become the servants of the poor, giving their hearts as well as their substance. He who was given gave as much as the one who helped him. "Almsgiving is a reward for service done which has no salary." Partial payment of the debt we owe the poor. "They suffer where we do not; they serve God by suffering in a way we do not: they win for us graces from Him, which without them we would never have; they make humanity itself more like Jesus."
Ozanam maintained that almsgiving is an honor, "when it takes hold of a man and lifts him up; when it looks first and foremost to his soul, . . . when it leads him to real independence and makes him a truer man. Help is an honor and not a humiliation when to the gift of bread is joined a visit that comforts, a word of advice that clears away a cloud, a shake of the hand that revives a dying courage; when it treats the poor man with respect, not only as an equal, but in many ways as one above us, since he is with us as one sent by God himself, to test our justice and our charity, and by our own attitudes towards him to enable us to save our souls."
Ozanam started a new journal L'ère Nouvelle. In July 1835, Ozanam won his doctorate in law and soon felt a spiritual dryness. In 1837 his father died from a fall down a dark staircase while visiting a poor patient and Ozanam became the head of the family. Sad, he poured out his soul to a priest who responded, "Rejoice in the Lord always!" which Ozanam realized was audaciously the right response. At this time he was trying to discern his vocation. By the end of 1840, he was engaged to Amélie Soulacroix, daughter of the Rector of the University of Lyons. He left the decision of his teaching in Paris or Lyons to her and she chose Paris.
For Amélie, Frédèric was consecrated to God, a man upon whom God and the poor held prior claims. Ozanam loved and cherished his wife; she was like Dante's Beatrice, the source of truth and virtue. In his The history of civilization in the fifth century, Ozanam wrote: "Christian marriage is a double oblation, offered in two chalices. . . . These two cups must both be full to the brim, in order that the union may be holy, and that heaven may bless it." Within one year after his marriage, he was elected to succeed Fauriel in the Sorbonne chair of comparative literature. His lectures and writings did much to make the Church more respected in the intellectual world of his day.
He was a man of unusual personal magnetism. His method of apologetic was primarily historical--he showed what the Church had done for mankind in the past, and argued from that to what it could and should do in the present. He said once in an address to working men that we work out our destinies here below, but without knowledge of the functions they will fulfill in the purposes of God. Another time: "The greatest men are those who have never drawn up in advance the plan of their lives, but have let themselves be led by the hand."
Five years after their marriage, their daughter Marie was born. Ozanam died in 1853 (age 40) when she was only eight.
From: Delany, Selden P. 1950. Married Saints (Westminster, MD, The Newman Press).
Blessed Gaufridus of Savigny, OSB Abbot (AC)
Died 1139. Gaufridus succeeded Blessed Vitalis as abbot of Savigny about 1122, and spread the new Benedictine congregation to 29 houses in Normandy, England, and Ireland (Benedictines).
Gorgonius M (RM)
Date unknown. This Saint Gorgonius is sometimes confused with the martyr of Nicomedia of the same name who is celebrated today with Saint Dorotheus. He was a martyr buried on the Via Lavicana, who was honored with an office in the sacramentary of Pope Saint Gelasius. Several reputable early historians record that Saint Chrodegang of Metz obtained his relics from Pope Paul to enrich his monastery at Gorze. Pope Saint Damasus, who died about 384, wrote an epitaph on Saint Gorgonius, which indicates that his cultus was extremely early (Farmer, Husenbeth).
Hyacinth, Alexander, and Tiburtus MM (RM)
Date unknown. This trio of saints are said to have been martyred in the Sabine country, about 30 miles from Rome (Benedictines).
Isaac (Sahak) I the Great B (AC)
Born c. 350; died at Ashtishat, Armenia, c. 440. Saint Isaac, descendent of Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was the son of Patriarch (Katholikos) Saint Nerses the Great of Armenia. After studying in Constantinople, he married. Upon the death of his wife, he became a monk. In 390, he was consecrated patriarch of Armenia. He secured metropolitan rights for the Armenian Church from Constantinople in order to end its long dependence upon the Church of Caesarea in Cappadocia. In all practical terms, Isaac was both the spiritual and civil ruler of the country. He ended the practice of married bishops, enforced Byzantine canon law, fought Persian paganism, built churches and schools, and encouraged the growth of monasticism. He supported Saint Mesrop in the creation of an Armenian orthographic system and helped him to translate a large portion of the Bible into Armenian. Isaac also supported the translation of the Greek and Syrian doctors into the vernacular and initiated the creation of a national liturgy. His efforts can be said to have launched Armenian literature. Saint Isaac's opposition to Nestorianism and his contacts with the imperial court at Constantinople led to his being forced into retirement in 428, when the Persians invaded part of his territory. He returned to the cathedra at Ashtishat when he was very old. Isaac is considered the founder of the Armenia Church (Attwater, Benedictines, Delaney, White).
Joseph of Volokolamsk
Born in Lithuania, c. 1439; died 1515; canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1578. Joseph Sanin, a man of imposing personality and intellectual ability, became abbot of Borovsk in 1477. Like many reformers before and after him, he found his brothers less the willing to change. It became such an unbearable situation that Joseph left them and founded a new community near Volokolamsk. Joseph saw the role of the monastery as that of supporting social work in the area, under the direction of the local secular authorities. This was a totally different concept than that of another saintly reformer, Nilus of Sora. During a church council in Moscow in 1503, Saint Joseph's vision for monastic life won out over that of Saint Nilus, which was an important step for the future of the Russian Church (Attwater).
Blessed Mary de la Cabeza, Widow (AC)
Born at Torrejon, Spain; died at Caraquiz, Spain, c. 1175; cultus approve in 1697. Blessed Mary was the irreproachable wife of Saint Isidore the Farmer. After his death, she retired to Caraquiz (Benedictines, Encyclopedia).
Osmanna (Argariarga) of Brieuc V (AC)
Died c. 650. Saint Osmanna was descended from an illustrious Irish family. She migrated to Brittany in northern France to live as a consecrated virgin and served God with fervor in solitude until her death near Saint Brieuc. Until the Reformation, her relics were enshrined in a chapel under her patronage in the abbatial church of Saint Denys near Paris; but some of them were dispersed by the Calvinists in 1567 (Benedictines, Husenbeth).
Peter Claver, SJ Priest (RM)
This entry is taken nearly verbatim from Lunn.
Born 1581; died 1654.
"Jesus Christ, Son of God, you will be my father and my mother and all my good. I love you much. I am sorry for having sinned against you. Lord, I love you much, much, much."
--Saint Peter Claver.
Saint Peter Claver was unable to abolish the slave trade, but he did what he could to mitigate its horrors by bringing them the consolations of religion and ministering to their bodily wants. He landed in Cartagena (Colombia) in 1610 and for forty years strove to alleviate their lot, with true apostolic fervor, declaring himself "the slave of the Negroes forever."
Cartagena, which was founded by Pedro de Heredia in 1533, owed its great commercial importance to its superb harbor. It is situated in the Caribbean Sea near the most northerly point of South America, to the east of the Isthmus of Panama. It is in the tropics, about 700 miles north of the Equator.
When Peter Claver first set foot in Cartagena, he kissed the ground which was to be the scene of his future labors. He had every reason to rejoice, for the climate of Cartagena was disagreeably hot and moist, the country around was flat and marshy, the soil was barren, the necessities of life had to be imported, and in the time of Peter Claver fresh vegetables were almost unknown. In the seventeenth century Cartagena was the happy hunting ground of fever-bearing insects from tropical swamps. These, the natural disadvantages of Cartagena, might have been wasted on a robust saint, but Claver must have been consoled to feel that the fine edge of these discomforts would not be blunted by a naturally healthy constitution. He had, indeed, been warned that his delicate health might easily succumb to excessive heat.
Cartagena was the chief center for the slave trade. Slave-traders picked up slaves at four crowns a head on the coast of Guinea or Congo, and sold them for 200 crowns or more at Cartagena. The voyage lasted two months, slaves cannot live on air, even foul air, and the overheads may fairly be credited with 33 per cent or so of slaves who died en route.
Father Claver, whose life's work was to be the instruction, the conversion and the care of the Negroes who landed in Cartagena, began his ministry under the guidance of Father Alfonso de Sandoval.
Father Claver never experienced that momentary weakness which always overcame the heroic Sandoval when a slave ship was announced. The horror with which Sandoval contemplated a return to these scenes of squalid misery only serves to increase our admiration of the courage with which he conquered these very natural shrinking of the flesh.
Father Claver, on the other hand, was transported with joy when messengers announced the arrival of a fresh cargo of Africans. Indeed, he bribed the officials of Cartagena with the promise to say Mass for the intentions of whoever was first to bring him this joyful news. But there was no need for such bribes, for among the simple pleasures of life must be counted the happiness of bringing good news to a grateful recipient. The Governor himself coveted this mission, for the happiness of watching the radiant dawn of joy on the saint's face. At the words "Another slave ship" his eyes brightened, and color flooded back into his pale, emaciated cheeks.
In the intervals between the arrival of slave ships, Father Claver wandered round the town with a sack. He went from house to house, begging for little comforts for the incoming cargo. Claver enjoyed the respect of the responsible officials of the Crown in Cartagena, devout Catholics who approved warmly the work of instruction which the good Father carried on amongst the Negroes. They felt responsible for the welfare of these exiles. Such opposition as Claver encountered amongst the Spaniards came from the traders and planters, who were often inconvenienced by Claver's zeal on behalf of his black children.
The black cargo arrived in a condition of piteous terror. They were convinced that they were to be bought by merchants who needed their fat to grease the keels of ships, and their blood to dye the sails, for this was one of the favorite bedtime stories with which they had been regaled by friendly mariners during the two months' passage.
The first appearance of Father Claver was often greeted with screams of terror, but it was only a matter of moments to convince these frantic creatures that Claver was no purchaser of slave fat and slave blood. He scarcely needed the interpreters who accompanied him for this purpose for the language of love survived in the confusion of Babel, and readily translated itself into gesture. Cor ad cor loquitur ("heart speaks to heart"). Long before the interpreters had finished explaining that the story that had so terrified them was the invention of the devil, Father Claver had already soothed and comforted them by his very presence. And not only by his presence, for Claver was a practical evangelist. The biscuits, brandy, tobacco and lemons which he distributed were practical tokens of friendship. "We must," he said, "speak to them with our hands, before we try to speak to them with our lips."
After a brief talk to the Negroes on deck, Claver descended to the sick between decks. In this work he was often alone. Many of his African interpreters were unable to endure the stench and fainted at the first contact with that appalling atmosphere. Claver, however, did not recoil. Indeed, he regarded this part of his work as of special importance. Again and again he was able to impart to some poor dying wretch those elements of Christian truth which justified him in administering baptism.
It is recorded that the person of Father Claver was sometimes illumined with rays of glory as he passed through the hospital wards of Cartagena. It may well be that a radiance no less illuminating lit the dark bowels of the slave ship as Father Claver moved among the dying. There they lay in the slime, the stench and the gloom, their bodies still bleeding from the lash, their souls still suffering from insults and contempt. There they lay, and out of the depths called upon the tribal gods who had deserted them, and called in vain. Then suddenly things changed. The dying Africans saw a face bending over them, a face illumined with love, and a voice infinitely tender, and the deft movement of kind hands easing their tortured bodies, and supreme miracle his lips meeting their filthy sores in a kiss. . . . A love so divine was an unconquerable argument for the God in whom Father Claver believed.
When Father Claver returned next day he was welcomed with ecstatic cries of child-like affection.
Two or three days usually passed before arrangements at the port could be completed to allow the disembarkation of a fresh cargo of slaves. When the day of disembarkation arrived, Father Claver was always present, waiting on shore with another stock of provisions and delicacies. Sometimes he would carry the sick ashore in his own arms. Again and again in the records of his mission, we find evidences of his strength, which seemed almost supernatural. His diet would have been ridiculously inadequate for a normal man living a sedentary life. His neglect of sleep would have killed a normal man within a few years, but in spite of his contempt for all ordinary rules of health, in spite of a constitution which was none too strong at the outset of his career, he proved himself capable of outworking and out-walking and out-nursing all his colleagues. He made every effort to secure for the sick special carts, as otherwise they ran the risk of being driven forward under the lash. He did not leave them until he had seen them to their lodgings, and men said that Father Claver escorting slaves back to Cartagena reminded them of a conqueror entering Rome in triumph.
It was after the Negroes had been lodged in the magazines where they awaited their sale and ultimate disposal that Claver's real work began. In the case of the dying, Claver was satisfied if he could awaken some dim sense of contrition of sin, and some faint glimmering of understanding of the fundamental Christian belief. The healthy slaves, however, had to qualify by a course of rigid instruction for the privilege of baptism.
I have already referred to the crowded conditions of the compound in which the Negroes were stocked on disembarkation, and on the squalor and misery which was the result of the infectious diseases from which many of them were suffering. The stink of sick Negroes, confined in a limited space, often proved insupportable to Father Claver's Negro interpreters. It was in this noxious and empoisoned air that Peter Claver's greatest work was achieved.
Before the day's work began, Father Claver prepared himself by special prayers before the Blessed Sacrament and by self-inflicted austerities. He then passed through the streets of Cartagena, accompanied by his African interpreters, and bearing a staff crowned by a cross. On his shoulder he carried a bag which contained his stole and surplice, the necessities for the arrangement of an altar, and his little store of comforts and delicacies. Heavily loaded though he was, his companions found it difficult to keep up with this eager little man who dived through the crowded streets with an enthusiasm which suggested a lover hurrying to a trysting place.
On arrival, his first care was for the sick. He had a delicacy of touch in the cleansing and dressing of sores which was a true expression of his personality. After he had made the sick comfortable on their couches and given them a little wine and brandy and refreshed them with scented water, he then proceeded to collect the healthier Negroes into an open space.
In his work of instruction Claver relied freely on pictures. This method appealed effectively to the uneducated mind, and was, moreover, in accordance with the teachings of his Order, for, as we have seen, Saint Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises was constant in urging the exercitant to picture to himself sensibly the subject-matter of his meditations. His favorite picture was in the form of a triptych, in the center Christ on the Cross, his precious blood flowing from each wound into a vase, below the Cross a priest collecting this blood to baptize a faithful Negro. On the right side of the triptych a naively dramatic group of Negroes, glorious and splendidly arrayed; on the left side the wicked Negroes, hideous and deformed, surrounded by unlovely monsters.
Claver was particularly careful to make every possible arrangement for the comfort of his catechumens. He himself remained standing, even in the heat of the day, and the slave-masters, who sometimes attended these edifying ceremonies, often remonstrated with the slaves for remaining seated while their instructor stood. But Father Claver always intervened, and explained with great earnestness to the slave-masters that the slaves were the really important people at this particular performance, and that he himself was a mere cipher who was there for their convenience. Sometimes, if a Negro was so putrescent with sores as to be revolting to his neighbors, and worse still, to prevent them from concentrating their thoughts on Father Claver's instruction, he would throw his cloak over him as a screen. Again, he would often use his cloak as a cushion for the infirm. On such occasions the cloak was often withdrawn so infected and filthy as to require most drastic cleansing. Father Claver, however, was so engrossed in his work, that he would have resumed his cloak immediately had not his interpreters forcibly prevented him.
This cloak was to serve many purposes during his ministry: as a veil to disguise repulsive wounds, as a shield for leprous Negroes, as a pall for those who had died, as a pillow for the sick. The cloak was soon to acquire a legendary fame. Its very touch cured the sick and revived the dying. Men fought to come into contact with it, to tear fragments from it as relics. Indeed, before long its edge was ragged with torn shreds.
Claver's work was not confined to Cartagena. Cartagena was a slave mart, and very few slaves whom Father Claver baptized in Cartagena remained there. Now, Father Claver was determined not to lose his converts, and it was therefore his practice to conduct a series of country missions after Easter. He went from village to village, crossing mountain ranges, traversing swamps and bogs, making his way through forests. On arriving in a village he would plant a cross in the market place, and there he would await the sunset and the return from the fields of the slaves whom he had first met it might be some weeks, it might be some years before in Cartagena. The ecstatic welcome which marked these scenes of reunion were a royal recompense for the hardships of the missionary journey.
Father Claver never lost his ascendancy over the men whom he had baptized. On one occasion a mere message from him was sufficient to arrest the flight of a panic-stricken Negro population retreating in disorder from a volcano in eruption. Father Claver's messenger stopped the rout, and Father Claver's bodily presence next day transformed a terror-infected mob into a calm and orderly procession which followed him without fear round the very edge of the still active crater, on the crest of which Father Claver planted a triumphant cross.
Though Father Claver's activities were not confined to the Negroes, the "slave of the slaves" regarded himself as, above all, consecrated to their service. Proud Spaniards who sought him out had to be content with such time as he could spare from the ministrations of the Negroes. This attitude did not meet with universal approval. Spanish ladies complained that the smell of the Negroes who had attended Father Claver's daybreak Mass clung tenaciously to the church, and rendered its interior insupportable to sensitive nostrils for the remainder of the day. How could they possibly be expected to confess to Father Claver in a confessional used by Negroes and impregnated with their presence? "I quite agree," replied Father Claver, with the disarming simplicity of the saint. "I am not the proper confessor for fine ladies. You should go to some other confessor. My confessional was never meant for ladies of quality. It is too narrow for their gowns. It is only suited to poor Negresses."
But were his Spanish ladies satisfied with this reply? Not a bit. It was Father Claver to whom they wished to confess, and if the worst had come to the worst, they were prepared to use the same confessional as the Negresses. "Very well, then," replied Father Claver, meekly, "but I am afraid you must wait until all my Negresses have been absolved."
In the sight of God the white man and the Negro may be equal, but in the sight of Father Claver the Negro had precedence every time (Lunn)
In art, Saint Peter Claver is a Jesuit with a Negro (Roeder). He is the apostle of Cartagena and patron of missions to non-European nations (Roeder).
Rufinus and Rufinian MM (RM)
Date unknown. Two brothers who were martyred at an unknown time and place (Benedictines).
Blessed Seraphina Sforza, Poor Clare V (AC)
Born at Urbino, Italy, 1434; died in Pesaro, Italy, 1478; beatified in 1754. Seraphina was the daughter of Count Guido of Urbino, lord of Gubbio. In 1448, she married Duke Alexander Sforza of Pesaro, who treated her with contempt and finally threw her out. She took refuge in the convent of the Poor Clares, where she was professed and later became abbess (Benedictines).
Severian of Sebaste M (RM)
Died 322. Saint Severian, an Armenian senator, was martyred at Sebaste, Armenia, during the reign of Licinius. He had witnessed the martyrdom of the 40 soldiers of Sebaste, which moved him to openly profess his own faith. He was torn with iron rakes until he died (Benedictines).
Straton M (RM)
Date unknown. At an unknown time and place, Saint Straton was bound between to trees that were bent toward each other. When they were allowed to recoil, he was torn apart (Benedictines).
Wilfrida of Wilton, OSB Abbess (AC)
(also known as Wulfritha, Wulfthryth)
Died c. 988. Saint Wilfrida was a novice at the convent of Wilton when she caught the eye of the King Saint Edgar the Peaceful, who had bee rejected by her cousin, Saint Wulfhilda. She became his concubine and bore his daughter, Saint Edith of Wilton, out of wedlock. Shortly after Edith's birth, she returned to Wilton with her child. There she took the veil at the hands of Saint Ethelwold. As a nun, and later as abbess, Wilfrida did penance and made ample amends for the irregularity of her liaison with Edgar (Benedictines, Farmer).
Wulfhilda of Barking, OSB Abbess (AC)
Died c. 980-1000; other feasts include that of her translation on September 2, c. 1030 (with the relics of Saints Hildelith and Ethelburga), as well as on March 7 and September 23 at Barking.
Saint Wulfhilda was raised in the abbey of Wilton. When she was a novice, King Saint Edgar sought her hand in marriage, but she had a vocation that was irrevocable. Her aunt, Abbess Wenfleda of Wherwell, invited the young novice to become her successor, but it was just a ploy to lure her from Wilton. When she arrived at Wherwell, she found the king waiting for her and her aunt willing to allow him to seduce her. Wulfhilda escaped through the drains despite the chaperons inside and the guards outside the convent. The king pursued her back to Wilton and caught her in the cloister, but she escaped his grasp and took refuge in the sanctuary among the altars and relics. Thereafter Edgar renounced his claim on her and took her cousin Saint Wilfrida as his mistress instead.
Wulfhilda went on to found and serve as the first abbess of the convent of Horton in Dorsetshire. Later she was appointed abbess of the convent of Barking, which had been restored by King Edgar and endowed with several churches in Wessex towns. During this period she was credited with several miracles, including the multiplication of drinks when King Edgar, Saint Ethelwold, and a naval officer from Sandwich visited the abbey.
After Edgar's death, his widowed queen, Elfrida (Ælfthryth), conspired with some of Wulfhilda's nuns, to drive her out of Barking. She retired to Horton for the next 20 years until she was recalled to Barking by King Ethelred. For the last seven years of her life, Wulfhilda served as abbess of both Horton and Barking. Goscelin wrote her vita within 60 years of her death. Her cultus has always been a local one (Benedictines, Farmer).
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org 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.