Let us hold fast, then, by the faith we profess. We can claim a great high priest, and one who has passed right up through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God. It is not as if our high priest was incapable of feeling for us in our humiliations; he has been through every trial, fashioned as we are, only sinless. Let us come boldly, then, before the throne of grace, to meet with mercy, and win that grace which will help us in our needs.
Theodore of Tarsus
Theodore was born in Tarsus in about 602. It was a time of great upheaval in the East, with the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the Sassanid Empire severely crippling both sides. When Theodore was still just a boy, the Persians conquered all the area around which he lived, including not only Tarsus but such important sites as Antioch and Jerusalem. The Persians were tough overlords, but they too fell before a new foe who was sometimes even harsher -- in the 630s Muslim Arab armies swept up and conquered the Levant, and many Greek-speaking refugees fled to the West. It is likely that Theodore was among the earliest of these. He studied at Constantinople and then went West with a group of monks to Rome, there, it seemed, to live out his days in contemplation. However, at the Synod of Whitby in 634 the bishops in England had decided to strengthen their ties with Rome, and when the See of Canterbury fell vacant in 637, King Ecgberht of Kent and King Oswiu of Northumbria agreed to send the bishop-elect, Wighard, to Rome -- we don't know for sure if the intent was that he might be merely confirmed in office and given the pallium or whether he was to be consecrated as well, because the sources we have are confused about whether Wighard ever actually served in the See. But Wighard, in any case, died when he got to Rome, so Pope St. Vitalian had to consider a possible replacement. On the recommendation of St. Hadrian (often called today St. Adrian of Canterbury), St. Vitalian chose Theodore, who was consecrated as the archbishop of Canterbury in 668 and arrived in Kent (with St. Hadrian) in 669. He was nearly seventy, but seems to have been quite active. He called the important Synod of Hertford in 673, which instituted major reforms, and the even more important Council of Hatfield in 680, which brought the results of the Third Council of Constantinople to England. He conducted a thorough survey of the needs of the church in England, consecrated bishops, entered into an intensive dispute over jurisdiction with St. Wilfrid of Northumbria (one of a long line of disputes in the struggle between Canterbury and York for primacy), prevented a major war between Mercia and Northumbria, established a school at Canterbury with St. Hadrian's help, and reformed the curriculum of education for priests and monks. He died peacefully in 690. His feast is celebrated on September 19.
Nilus the Younger
Nilo of Rossano was born in Greek-speaking Southern Italy in the tenth century. He considered becoming a monk, but married instead; after his wife's death, he joined a Basilian monastery. It was a tumultuous time, though, and he ended up moving around to a number of different monasteries, due to Saracen pirates or political disputes disrupting various places he stayed. At one point he even lived in the woods as a hermit. His reputation began to spread, however, and eventually a member of the Byzantine nobility asked the Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino to help Nilus and other monks who gathered around him to found a new monastery. So Nilus came to Monte Cassino. It took some adjustment by both sides -- it's unclear exactly what raised questions, whether it was the Byzantine rite itself or the fact that they could not follow the Greek language. However, he spent some time discussing the details with them, noting that he followed the same rite recognized by the Fathers and the Councils, but that the Latin rite was also good, because God accepted any worthy sacrifice. He convinced them that it was the same liturgy, allowing for differences in language and custom, and that the Basilian rule his monks followed was the same in spirit as the Benedictine rule that they followed. They gave him full support, and helped him set up a monastery at Valleluce, which then later moved to Serperi. However, once when on a journey to visit another monastery, he fell very sick, and while sick had a vision of the Virgin Mary, telling him that the place he fell sick was to be, finally, the permanent home for his monks. Not long after, Gregory, the Count of Tusculum, happened to donate that very land to the monk. Nilus made the preparations to move his monks to their new home, but died before any new buildings could actually be built for them. But the monastery was indeed built, the Abbey of Grottaferrata, which still exists today, the last of the once-common Byzantine Rite monasteries of Italy. He is commemorated on September 26.
Anne was probably born as Alice Higham in a Puritan family; 'Anne' seems to be the name that she took when she converted to Catholicism with her brother William Higham and a family friend, Roger Line; all three were disinherited as a result of their conversion. She married Roger in 1583. It was not to be blissful; Roger and William were arrested for attending Mass, and while William was eventually released, Roger was exiled to Flanders. Anne herself was often sick. But while Roger was in Flanders, occasionally sending back what money he could until he died not long after, the local priest, the daring Fr. John Gerard, set up a refuge for Catholic priests on the run, and Anne became integral to its operation. When Fr. John was caught and imprisoned in the Tower of London, she continued to run it by herself for about three years until Fr. John managed to escape. Because of the notoriety of the escape, Anne had to close down the house and set up a different arrangement for hiding priests from the law. But on the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady in 1601, she had an unusual number of Catholics show up for Mass, and neighbors noticing the crowd called the police. The priest at the Mass, Fr. Francis Page, managed to escape by means of the priest-hole, but Anne Line was arrested and sent to Newgate Prison. She was sentenced to death for the felony of assisting a priest and was hung on February 27. The case had some notoriety, and Anne is sometimes argued to be the referent of various allusions in Shakespeare. She was beatified by Pius XI in 1929 and canonized by Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Mark Ji Tianxiang
Beginning in the late nineteenth century, in response to the interference of Western powers, China began to be swept up in an intense anti-foreigner frenzy, which reached its peak with the so-called Boxer Rebellion between 1899 and 1901. Christians, whether foreign or not, were often regarded as foreign spies by the Boxers, and the violence against them was brutal. Thousands of Christians died. Among these was Mark Ji Tianxiang, who was an opium addict. He had suffered from the addiction for decades, always trying to break free but always being dragged back by the cravings. Because of it, he was barred from communion, but he never wavered in his faith. He was seized in July of 1900 with a large number of others and given the opportunity to recant his faith. He refused, and was killed at the age of 66. He is honored with a large number of Chinese martyrs on July 9.
Maria Elisabetta Hesselbad
Nineteenth century Scandinavia was sometimes a difficult place to make ends meet, and Maria Elizabeth Hesselbad, a Lutheran from Sweden, found it so. She eventually ended up migrating to the United States in order to study nursing and, hopefully, make a better life for herself. For experience, she began home nursing, and had her first close contact with Catholicism -- that of the poor patients she was helping. In order to better assist them, she began studying the Catholic faith, and converted in New York in 1902. She made a pilgrimage to Rome, where she as confirmed, and there visited the house of St. Bridget of Sweden. Not long afterward, she petitioned Pope Pius X to take religious vows under the original rule established St. Bridget, with the intention of founding a convent where St. Bridget had lived. The Pope gave permission, and she took her vows, but her original plan fell through -- she couldn't find any volunteers to help her with it. So she reflected a bit and began to focus instead on assisting the sick; this slowly drew others to her, and thus were the Bridgettine Sisters founded. They eventually acquired the house of St. Bridget, so part of her earlier dream was reached by a longer way around. In 1943 a family of Jews sought refuge at the convent, and Hesselbad and the Bridgettine Sisters began to shelter Jews and political refugees, as well as help those displaced by World War II. She died in 1957 and was beatified in 2000 by Pope John Paul II; Pope Francis canonized her in June 2016. Her feast day is June 4.
Sergius of Radonezh
Born in the fourteenth century near Rostov, Bartholomew and his older brother Stefan decided to become monks; Bartholomew took the name of Sergius. Sergius tried to be a hermit, but word of Sergius's devotion spread, and soon other monks began to gather around him, and finally convinced him to become the superior of the entire community. Eventually the community was given a monastic charter by Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople. Soon the monastery was overflowing, and monks from Sergius's monastery began founding other monasteries elsewhere. The result was an extraordinary flourishing of monastic life. When Prince Dmitry of the Don went to battle against the Tartars, he first sought Sergius's blessing, which Sergius only gave after interviewing the prince as to whether he had first tried to solve the political problems with the Tartars through more peaceful means. Sergius died in 1392 and soon became one of the most highly venerated saints among the Russian Orthodox. In 1940, Ven. Pius XII was asked to authorize a liturgical calendar for Russian Catholics (that is, Byzantine Rite Catholics in communion with Rome), which he did; the calendar included a number of saints that had only to that point been venerated by the Orthodox, including St. Sergius himself. Thus veneration of St. Sergius was approved for Russian Catholic churches. St. Sergius was later enrolled in the Roman Martyrology for September 25 (by Bl. Paul VI, if I'm not mistaken), which is universally his feast day. Because he is said to have regularly shared his meager meal with a bear while living as a hermit, he is often portrayed in icons with a bear nearby.
Anna Pak Agi
Anna Pak Agi led a very simple life in Korea. She did not find study of any kind easy, and found many of the details of Catholic theology too difficult to follow easily, so her theology consisted almost entirely of attending Mass and reflecting on the Passion of Christ. She married a fellow Catholic and raised her children as best she could in the Catholic faith. But there was a slow increase in persecution of Christians in Korea in her day, and she and her family were eventually arrested. Under pressure, her husband and her son apostatized, but Anna refused to do so for three months, even when her husband and her son begged her to do so. She died in prison in May 1839, at the age of fifty-seven; she was beatified by Pius XI and canonized by St. John Paul II, and is celebrated with other Korean martyrs on September 20.
Jeanne de Valois
Jeanne was born the daughter of King Louis XI of France and Charlotte of Savoy at Nogent-le-Roi. She was born with physical deformity which would lead to her having a slightly hunched back and a limp. However, she soon showed herself otherwise to be hale and whole, and she received the full education of a princess and she was expected to marry her second cousin, Louis, Duke of Orléans, who was heir to the French throne; they were married in 1476 when Jeanne was 12. However, because of her deformity, gossip widely suggested that she was sterile and that Louis XI was attempting to guarantee that the other branch of the family would no longer have an heir to the throne. Poor Jeanne was not treated well in her marriage because of these rumors. In 1483 Louis XI died, with the throne falling to his heir, Charles VIII, who was just a boy; Anne de Beaujeu, his sister, became regent. Shortly thereafter, Louis, Duke of Orléans, began to lead his armies against the throne, and his military maneuvering continued until 1484, when he was captured. Jeanne managed his estates while he was in prison and negotiated for his release, which happened in 1491. Charles died by accident in 1498, and Louis, Duke of Orléans, became King Louis XII of France. Almost immediately he appealed to the Pope for an annulment of his marriage. The annulment case became one of the most scandalous events of the day, with Louis XII arguing that the marriage had never been consummated due to Jeanne's deformity, which he described in very public detail; Jeanne in response brought witnesses that he had boasted of having sex with her three times in a night. Alas for Jeanne, the Pope to whom the appeal was made was none other than the notorious Pope Alexander VI; the case was decided against Jeanne, almost certainly for purely political reasons. She was given the consolation title, Duchess of Berry, and settled in Bourges. While there, she began devoting her life to prayer and formed a branch of the Poor Clares, the Order of the Virgin Mary, whose constitutions Pope Alexander VI approved in 1502. Jeanne died in 1505 and was buried in the Annonciade monastery. One would look in vain for her there, though. In the Sack of Bourges in 1562, the Huguenots desecrated her grave and burned her body. She was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742 and canonized by Ven. Pius XII in 1950. Her feast day is February 4.
Vigilius of Trent, Claudian, and Magorian; Sisinnius, Martyrius, and Alexander
Vigilius lived in the fourth century in Trent, but studied in Athens; he might have possibly have known St. John Chrysostom personally. When he returned to Trent, he was chosen bishop by acclamation, and consecrated possibly by St. Ambrose (who certainly at least confirmed the consecration). He preached against Arians throughout his diocese (and in Brescia and Verona, which were outside his diocese) and formed a large number of new parishes, drawing priests for them from those missionaries who helped him in his missionary work. In the first few years of the fifth century, he is said to have gone with his brothers, Claudian and Magorian, to the Rendena Valley to preach to the pagan population there. In the course of doing so, Vigilius, always willing to cross a line, threw a statue of Saturn into the river, and the local people stoned him and his brothers to death. Their feast is June 26. Somewhat ironically, the Cattedrale di San Vigilio in Trent is now famous for the statue of Neptune in its plaza. Sisinnius and the two brothers Martyrius and Alexander were among the missionary companions that St. Vigilius planted at his new parishes. They are said to have been Cappadocians who had been sent by St. Ambrose to assist Vigilius in his labors. They were sent at one point to preach to villages in the Alps, and were killed. Vigilius raised a shrine to memorialize their martyrdom; and their traditional memorial is May 29.
Rosa Eluvathingal was born to a Syro-Malabar family in the Indian state of Kerala. She eventually, with some resistance from her family, sought to join the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel (which had been founded by St. Kuriakose Elias Chavara), taking the name of Euphrasia of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She almost was dismissed out the novitiate because of poor health, but after she had a vision of the Holy Family, her health improved. She would, however, continue to have periods of poor health throughout her life. She became known as the Praying Mother for her devotion to the Sacred Heart, her hours spent in Adoration before the Eucharist, and the thoroughness with which she prayed for anyone who needed it. She died peacefully on August 29, 1952, and her convent, St. Mary's Convent of Ollur quickly became a major pilgrimage site in India. She was beatified in 2006 and canonized by Pope Francis in 2014, and her feast day is August 29.
Jose Sanchez del Rio
In the 1920s, the government of Mexico initiated a sharp crackdown on the Catholic Church, ostensibly in the name of separation of Church and state, but in reality going well beyond such a limited goal. Religious buildings that were not churches -- schools, hospitals, convents, and the like -- were seized by the government; churches and priests had to be registered; wearing clerical garb outside of a registered church was made illegal; and so forth. Large sections of the populace rose up in protest of this, thus leading to the Cristero War in 1926. Jose's brothers joined the cause, and Jose, who was only thirteen years old, tried to join with them. Needless to say, the general, Prudencio Mendoza, refused to enlist him. He kept coming back, though, so finally the general allowed him a position in the army as flagbearer. He was well liked by the troops, who nicknamed him Tarcisio, after the boy-martyr Tarcisius from the third century. In January 1928, General Mendoza's horse was killed during an intense battle; Jose gave the general his own horse, and then took cover. He was captured. They made him watch another Cristero being hanged to break his resolve and get him to repudiate the Cristero cause, but he held firm. He was shot the evening of February 10, which is his feastday. He was canonized by Pope Francis in October 2016.
Andrew Kaggwa was born a member of the Munyoro tribe; he was captured and enslaved by traders from the Ganda tribe, and thus came to be a page in the court of the Kubaka, or king, of Buganda, Mutesa I. When the explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, came to court, he brought with him European drums, which Mutesa found fascinating, so the king Kaggwa study how to play them under a well-traveled Muslim from Madagascar, Toli. While studying under Toli, Kaggwa converted to Islam. But Toli, who was a man of many trades, did carpentry work for the Catholic missionaries in the area, and through him Kaggwa came into contact with Catholics. In 1880, he joined the catechumenate. He also became the king's bandmaster. When Mutesa was succeeded by Mwanga II, Kaggwa, a court favorite, was promoted even higher and became a regular companion of the king. Mwanga, however, was not enthusiastic about Christians; he had the incoming Anglican bishop, James Hannington, killed in 1885, and in 1886 he began ordering executions of Anglicans and Catholics in his court. While there were policy reasons involved, since Mwanga saw Christians as potential supporters of foreign powers, the immediate cause of the slaughter seems to have been more personal -- anger at the superior airs of the Christian converts and their refusal to accept his sexual advances. When Mwanga's chancellor, Mukasa, reminded him that Kaggwa was still free, Mwanga tried to put it off, but after Mukasa pointed out that Kaggwa was a major reason there were so many Christians in the court, he reluctantly issued the order for Kaggwa's execution. His arm was cut off and he was beheaded. In 1920, he was beatified and in 1964 Bl. Paul VI canonized him; he is commemorated with other Ugandan martyrs on June 3.
Bellarmine was born to poor but noble parents, and was the nephew of the short-reigning Pope Macellus II. From an early age he showed a knack for Latin and Greek, and went on to study at Padua and then Leuven, where he became a Jesuit priest. Poor health eventually forced him to return to Italy, where he was selected by Pope Gregory XIII to teach at the Roman College (now known as the Pontifical Gregorian University). It was during this period that he published his Controversies, which quickly became one of the major targets for Protestant polemic, to such an extent that when Protestants of the day speak on Catholic views, it is often Bellarmine in particular that they have in mind. Over time, Bellarmine was drawn by various popes into more extensive responsibilities, including commissions for revising the Vulgate and for reforming the Breviary, and ultimately was made Cardinal in 1599. His catechisms, perhaps his most famous and influential works, were written in the years just prior to his being made Cardinal. In 1602 he was made archbishop of Capua, possibly at the instigation of Dominicans trying to get him out of the Curia, in which he was a heavy hitter on the Jesuit side of the dispute between Dominicans and Jesuits about grace (Thomism vs. Molinism), but he was brought back to Rome under a different pope, who at Bellarmine's recommendation decreed toleration for both views. In 1616, his responsibilities led him to deliver the decree to Galileo Galilei that Copernican theory was not to be defended or held; when it was later claimed that Galileo had been forced to abjure his views at the meeting, Bellarmine wrote out a notice that he had not been required to do so, having only been notified of the decree. Throughout his life he had a reputation for being scholarly and fair-minded, and for having a quiet but stead sense of humor (he is said to have been fond of puns). Throughout his life He died in 1621; the process for canonization began in 1627, but went slowly. He was beatified in 1923 and canonized in 1930 by Pope Pius XI, who also declared him Doctor of the Church in 1931. His feast day is September 17.
2015 All Saints Post
Margaret Clitherow, Kaleb Elasbaan of Axum, Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin, Gertrude of Nivelles, Pius V, Clare and Agnes of Assisi, Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Scholastica, Vinh Sơn Phạm Hiếu Liêm, Thorlak Thorhallson, John Damascene
2014 All Saints Post
Marie Guyart, Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, John Neumann, Hildegard von Bingen, Pedro de San José Betancurt, Benedict the Moor
2013 All Saints Post
María Guadalupe García Zavala, Antonio Primaldi, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse and Augustine Zhao Rong, Josephine Margaret Bakhita, John Chrysostom
2012 All Saints Post
Jadwiga of Poland, Kateri Tekakwitha, André Bessette, Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès, Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga
2011 All Saints Post
Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro, Celestine V, Olga of Kiev, Cyril of Jerusalem, Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga
2010 All Saints Post
Moses the Black of Ethiopia, Micae Hồ Đình Hy, Katherine Mary Drexel, Robert Southwell, Lojze Grozde, Andrew Kim Tae Gon