Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set out for us.
Gianna Beretta Molla
Gianna Beretta was born in Magenta, near Milan, Italy, in 1922, to a very active Catholic family. Her mother and father were Third Order Franciscans, and there were a number of priests in the family. For various reasons, her family moved around Italy quite a bit, but she returned to the area of Milan in 1942 to study medicine. She completed her studies in 1949 by obtaining a degree from the University of Pavia and began pediatric practice. She originally hoped to join her brother, who had become a priest in Brazil, to offer medical services to poor women there, but these plans fell through due to her own health issues. She continued with her own medical work, and with furthering her medical education, and actively participated in her church and in Azione Cattolica. She married Pietro Molla in 1954 and they had several children. In her fourth pregnancy, however, it was discovered that she had a fibroma on her uterus. The path to dealing with the problem that had the greatest chance of saving her own life involved aborting the child. If, on the other hand, they tried to focus on saving the child, they could do a Caesarean section, but her chances would be uncertain. Molla, as mother and doctor and Catholic, chose the latter route. The daughter, Gianna Emmanuela, survived. Molla, however, spent a week in pain and died of septic peritonitis on April 28, 1962. Her daughter would go on to become a geriatric physician. Molla herself was beatified in 1994 and canonized in 2004 by St. John Paul II. Her feast is April 28.
Margaret of Scotland
Margaret was born to the exiled English prince, Edward Ætheling, while he was in Hungary, so she grew up in the Hungarian court of King Andrew I. She returned to England when her father was recalled in 1057; she would have been somewhere around 12 years old at the time. Her father died almost immediately after his arrival, but the family stayed in the English court for a while until, after the Battle of Hastings, Edgar was declared King of England by the Witengamot. Alas, he was never crowned; William the Conqueror invaded and the nobles of England just handed Edgar over. Margaret and the rest of her family had to flee northward to Northumbria. They would eventually end up in Scotland. The story is that they had decided to return to the continent, but their ship was blown off course to a place that is today called St. Margaret's Hope, near North Queensferry. There they met King Malcolm III Canmore (the same Malcolm who is fictionalized in Shakespeare's Macbeth), a widower with two sons; Malcolm was intrigued by Margaret. That she was one of the last surviving members of an English dynasty was probably one of the reasons, although it may not have been the only one. They married in 1070. It was not the kind of marriage one would expect to be successful -- Malcolm was a very rough man and seems not to have had a religious bone in his body -- but they actually thrived together. He seems to have liked the polish she brought to the court and actively encouraged her to do whatever religious work she deemed appropriate. He did not participate in her regular prayer and religious devotions, but he did not at all stand in the way of them. He seems to have particularly liked having a literate wife (he himself could not read); despite his lack of interest in religion, he often had her read Bible stories to him, and he had gold and silver covers made for her devotional books. In order to facilitate pilgrimage to Dunfermline Abbey, Margaret established a ferry across the Firth of Forth, which gives the towns of South Queensferry and North Queensferry their names. She also did extensive charitable work for the poor. Malcolm died at the Battle of Alnwick in 1093; St. Margaret died on November 16 of the same year, just a few days after having received word of his death. She was canonized in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV; her feast day is November 16.
Yu Tae-chol Peter
Born in 1826 in Korea, Peter was raised by his father to be Catholic, but his mother was not Catholic. When his father was killed for his faith, his mother, fearing for her son, tried to stop him from engaging in Catholic practices. He insisted, however, that to honor his mother as he should required first honoring his Father in heaven. When a new persecution targeting Catholics broke out, he turned himself in to the government. He was found guilty of being a Catholic from a Catholic family and thrown in prison, where he was often beaten or whipped. He became well known in the prison, however, for always maintaining a cheerful demeanor, no matter how the guards treated him. Peter was eventually given over to be beaten to death, but the beating took so long that he was eventually just strangled. He died in October of 1839, at the age of 13. His feast in the Roman Martyrology is October 21, and he is also celebrated with the Holy Korean Martyrs, of whom he is the youngest, on September 20.
Justa and Rufina of Seville
Justa and Rufina are said to have been sisters living in Hispalis, modern day Seville. They sold fine pottery and were known for their aid to the poor. Because of their reputation, the local authorities attempted to buy their pottery for a pagan festival. When Justa and Rufina refused to sell their wares for pagan purposes, a mob broke into their store and smashed all their works. The sisters, being somewhat fiery in temperament, responded by smashing a statue dedicated to Venus. They were arrested and tortured, then thrown into prison, where they were not given sufficient food and water. Justa died from malnutrition. According to the legend, Rufina lasted longer and was thrown to the lions. But as the lions did not harm her, she was killed by strangulation. The two came to occupy an important role in the Mozarabic liturgy and have long been a favorite subject of Spanish artists.
Born in Benevento in 1880, Giuseppe Moscati spent most of his early life in Naples. His family became friends with St. Caterina Volpicelli, who would be a major influence on him. He became interested in medicine, particularly physiological chemistry, and graduated from the University of Naples in in 1903, after which he joined the staff of the Ospedale degli Incurabili, Naples's most important medical institution. He was a very busy man, taking on a heavy administrative burden while also continuing his medical research, and his general experience and competence rose to the occasion when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and he successfully evacuated a nearby hospital primarily devoted to paralytics, and again when a cholera epidemic broke out in 1911. He was active in helping Italian soldiers in the First World War. He regularly attended Mass, regarding prayer as an essential part of his medical work, and took a vow of chastity. Moscati became well known for helping patients regardless of whether they could pay, as well as for his prodigious ability to diagnose illnesses correctly. Rumors that he could work miracles began to circulate even before he died. He died on April 12, 1927, having spent a busy day rising early for Mass, finishing administrative work in the hospital, and seeing patients. Feeling unusually tired, he sat down to rest, dozed off, and never woke up. He was beatified by Bl. Paul VI in 1975 and canonized by St. John Paul II in 1987. His feast is November 16, the anniversary of his beatification.
Second son of King Casimir IV Jagiellon and Queen Elisabeth of Hungary, Casimir became heir to the throne when his older brother Vladislaus was elected King of Bohemia. He spent most of his days in princely duties, but his reputation for good deeds spread. He contracted an illness, apparently tuberculosis, although he continued to be active in helping others, and died on March 4, 1484. Stories of miracles at his tomb in Vilnius became widespread, and a canonization cause was eventually opened for him. It seems to have been interrupted by the death of Leo X, since there is no documentation of the process's completion, but St. Casimir was eventually written into the Roman Martyrology. The lack of any surviving documentation of his canonization complicated the spread of his feast, but he was eventually added to the universal calendar by St. Pius V, and his feast is March 4.
Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghaţţas
Soultaneh Maria Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1843 to a poor Palestinian family in a poor Palestinian community. She joined the Congregation of St. Joseph of the Apparition, which had been founded by St. Emilie de Viliar for mission work, and there took the name Marie-Alphonsine. She became a catechist and spent some time in Bethlehem doing this but in the 1870s she began to have visions of the Virgin Mary that she should found a religious community, the Congregation of the Most Holy Rosary. She wrote about the visions in her journal, but told no one except her spiritual director about the visions at the time, and no one else knew she had had them until after her death. She patiently worked to get official permission to leave the Sisters of St. Joseph and to found the new community, and eventually received them. The new congregation was founded under the patronage of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Marie-Alphonsine spent the rest of her life quietly running schools for girls and helping parish ministries, and died on the feast of the Annunciation in 1927. She was beatified in 2009 by Benedict XVI and canonized by Francis in 2015. Her feast is November 19.
Born in 1745 in France, Guillaume-Nicolas-Louis Leclercq lived a quiet life, joining the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools in order to teach; it was there he took the name 'Salomone'. After some years as a teacher, he rose to become provincial in the Institute, and would likely have simply continued quietly living in that position, were it not for the French Revolution. The Institute, like many other religious societies and orders, was outlawed in 1790, when it refused to accept the conditions of the new oath of loyalty that the revolutionary government required. After the dissolution, Salomone's correspondence was monitored by government spies until he and a number of other religious were arrested in August 1792; they were all summarily executed on September 2 of that year. He was beatified by Pius XI in 1926 and canonized by Francis in 2016; his feast day is September 2.
Arnulf of Metz
Arnulf (Arnoul, Arnold) was born into a wealthy noble family, said to have descended from the Roman consul Flavius Afranius Syagrius, in Lorraine in the latter part of the sixth century, during the Merovingian dynasty. He became part of the court, for which he performed a number of missions and had considerable success both as a military commander and as a civil governor. After the death of the king, the king's grandmother, Brunhilda, took the reins of power as regent; she was quite competent, but seems to have had both a ruthless manner of governing and an extremely abrasive personality. The major nobles of the realm, most particularly Arnulf and Pepin of Landen, gave their support to Chlothar (Clotaire), one of her longstanding enemies, and Chlothar seized power and had Burnhilda executed. In reward, Chlothar offered Arnulf the see of Metz, although apparently on condition that he would also continue in court as Chlothar's steward. Pepin became Mayor of the Palace, and Pepin's daughter, St. Begga, married Arnulf's son, Ansegisel. Toward the end of his life, Arnulf retired to a hermitage. According to legend, he had begun to have qualms about some of the things he had done while trying to survive the feuding Merovingian court, and threw his ring into a river, asking God to return it to him if absolution was granted. Many years later an honest fisherman came to him with the ring, which had been found in the belly of a fish, and Arnulf took it as a sign that it was time to retire and devote his life to better things. He died some time in the 640s. Arnulf's oldest son, St. Chlodulf (Cloud, Clou) would eventually succeed his father as bishop of Metz. His younger son, Ansegisel, became Mayor of the Palace; before St. Begga would retire to the convent of her sister, St. Gertrude of Nivelles, she and Ansegisel would have a son, Pepin of Herstal, whose son would be Charles Martel, whose son would be Pepin the Short, whose son would be Charlemagne.
Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez
Born in 1917 in El Salvador, Romero had an early interest in the priesthood. After becoming a priest, he was eventually assigned to the diocese of San Miguel, where he proceeded to have what was in many ways quite an ordinary priestly career, obtaining a reputation for being quite conservative. He made his way up the hierarchical ladder and was eventually appointed Archbishop of San Salvador, against the complaints of more progressive priests. Shortly afterward, one of Romero's friends, Fr. Rutilio Grande Garcia, was assassinated by Salvadoran security forces in retaliation for a homily he had preached criticizing the government. Romero responded by taking a more active stand, both for the vulnerable and against government corruption. He started a radio program to broadcast the human rights abuses, and especially the anticlerical human rights abuses, of the regime; but throughout his career, he always insisted that social change required interior reform of one's own heart. It eventually came to a head in March 1980, when, during a Mass, having just finished his homily and stepped to the altar, a gunman came to the door of the church and shot him in the heart. He was beatified in 2015 and canonized in 2018. His feast is March 24.
Frumentius of Tyre
Born to a Syro-Phoenician family in Tyre, Frumentius and his brother Edesius (or Aedeius) were still young boys when they accompanied their uncle on a trip and were kidnapped and enslaved. They were eventually brought to the court of the King of Aksum (probably in the reign of King Ella Amida), and after the king's death became tutors to the new king, Ezana, who was still a boy. They used their influence to help Christians throughout the country. Edesius eventually returned to Tyre, but Frumentius only went as far as Alexandria in order to meet the Alexandrian Patriarch, St. Athanasius the Great, requesting the patriarch to send him a bishop and some priests as missionaries. Athanasius had a better idea: he consecrated Frumentius as a bishop, and sent him back as the missionary. King Ezana converted to Christianity, and the Church in Aksum thrived. In the Arian controversy, the Emperor Constantius II tried to pressure King Ezana to replace Frumentius with an Arian bishop, but Ezana refused. Frumentius died around 380, still the head of the Church in Aksum. As the Illuminator of Ethiopia, St. Frumentius is one of the most important saints in the calendars of northeastern Africa, and his feast is celebrated in the Catholic Church on October 27.
Jeanne Jugan was born in 1792 in Cancale, Brittany. During the anti-Catholic persecutions of the French Revolution, her mother, Marie Jugan, secretly made sure she was catechized. Jeanne did various odd jobs until she joined the Congregation of Joseph and Mary, where she spent a number of years as a nurse and as a live-in attendant. But in 1839, she started assisting poor women with disabilities or with age-related difficulties, and this started to develop into a community as more women lent a helping hand. She wrote a simple rule of life for them, and thus was founded, almost incidentally, the Little Sisters of the Poor. It was quite difficult at first -- at times she had to beg in the street to make ends meet -- but the community grew until it was quite thriving. At that point, however, a jealous priest removed Jeanne from her position as the head of the order; she was no longer allowed to have any say at all in the working of the order. But for more than a quarter of a century she continued to assist the other sisters -- although by the time of her death in 1879 most of her fellow sisters didn't even know that she was the one who had founded the order. It was only after the priest who had removed her was investigated for independent reasons that the truth became widely known. St. Jeanne was beatified in 1982 and canonized in 2009; her feast is August 30.
Joseph Zhang Dapeng
Born in China in 1754 to a Buddhist family, Zhang Dapeng led a quiet life, eventually moving to Guiyang as part of his work in the silk business. There, however, he came into contact with Christians and was baptized at the age of 46. He became a lay catechist and began preaching the gospel. The times, however, were troubled; a tax protest by the quasi-religious movement, the White Lotus Society, became an active rebellion, which was put down harshly by the Qing government. To reduce the chances of it happening again, the government began to crack down hard on people who were even rumored to be part of a marginal sect, and the activities of Zhang Dapeng were known enough that he was an easy target. They arrested his son; his son died shortly afterward and he fled to Sichuan. He was, however, eventually captured, and was executed by strangling on March 12, 1815, at the age of 61. He was beatified by St. Pius X and canonized in 2000 by St. John Paul II. His feast is with the Holy Chinese Martyrs on July 9.
Maroun and Abraham of Harran
Maroun (Maron) was a Syrian priest in the late fourth century; he may have studied at Antioch with John Chrysostom, but we know that he decided eventually to become a hermit in the Taurus Mountains, near the city of Cyrrhus. There he transformed an abandoned pagan temple into a church and began a regimen of open-air asceticism, living without a roof over his head, which was not a minor feat in the winter months. He preached to all travelers who happened to pass nearby, and an increasing number of people began to join him. One of the first of those who did was a man from Carrhae (modern Harran), by the name of Abraham. Apparently under the influence of Maroun, Abraham tried the ascetic life in the desert of Chalcis, but had found it untenable and returned to being a fruit-seller. While he was in this occupation in a village in Lebanon, he helped to pay the taxes of a village. They asked him to stay with them as a teacher, and he did, on condition that they would build a church. He became a priest for them for a few years, then returned to the ascetic life; others flocked around him. He was eventually made bishop of Carrhae. He was summoned at one point to Constantinople to consult with the Emperor, but died shortly after he reached the city. Because of his missionary work, St. Abraham has become known as the Apostle to Lebanon. The groundwork laid by Maroun, Abraham, and their students, would become the Maronite ascetic movement, and eventually the Maronite Catholic Church. St. Maroun's feast day is February 9 and St. Abraham's is February 14.
Grandson of Thorfinn the Mighty, Magnus followed his grandfather and father as the Earl of Orkney. He was a peaceful and very religious man, which made his life and career quite difficult because he ruled Vikings, who saw both as a sign of weakness, and he repeatedly had to fend off both family members and other Norse powers. At one point he was taken hostage by King Magnus of Norway, and at another time he was forced to flee to Scotland. Eventually under the evenhanded King Eystein I of Norway he was restored to power, and shared the earldom with his cousin Haakon. (The earldom of Orkney was often shared.) He and Haakon seemed to rule amicably, mostly staying out of each other's way, but fights started breaking out between the partisans of each. To end the matter, the two Earls agreed to meet at Easter on the Isle of Egilsay, where each was to bring only two ships. Magnus came with his two ships; Haakon brought eight. Haakon's forces overwhelmed Magnus's, and Magnus was forced to take refuge in the church. He was dragged out and offered Haakon to go into exile or even prison, but he was condemned to death. This may have been generally agreed on by Haakon's men, but when it came to actually being the person to kill Magnus, Haakon had difficulty getting anyone to volunteer, and his standard-bearer refused to do it even when commanded. So Haakon summoned his cook, Lifof, and had him cut off Magnus's head as Magnus prayed for the soul of his executioners. His death occurred on April 16 after Easter, and thus is usually thought to have occurred in 1117. The story of Magnus the Martyr was recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga.
Callixtus I, Hippolytus, Urban I, Pontian, Anterus, Fabian
Pope St. Callixtus lived his early life as a slave, and while he was still a youth, he was put in charge by his master, Carpophorus, of a fund that was collecting donations from Christians in order to distribute them to orphans and widows. He lost the money, and fearing the punishment, fled; he almost escaped, but was finally cornered and taken back to Carpophorus. The people who had donated the fund advocated on his behalf that he be given a second-chance to make back part of what he had lost, but he botched this too when he was arrested for starting a fistfight in a synagogue where he was trying to collect money from a Jew who owed him a debt. Because he was a Christian, he was sentenced to the mines of Sardinia, where he spent quite some time; he was eventually released, but was in such bad health, his fellow Christians had to take care of him, and it is said that Pope St. Victor I, as part of his charities, gave him a small pension to do so. Eventually he was ordained as a deacon by Pope St. Zephyrinus, and was given the task of managing the Christian cemetery on the Appian way, which would eventually become known as the Catacombs of Callixtus. (According to Tertullian, Callixtus got his position in part by bribes, but this may well have just been malicious gossip; Tertullian had incentive to dig up dirt on Callixtus.) After the death of Zephyrinus, he was elected Bishop of Rome, and as Pope quickly became very controversial. He became notorious for leniency, not requiring the usual penitential period for schismatics returning to the fold, and insisting that he had the authority to absolve even the sins of adultery and murder. He also gave special dispensations that under certain conditions recognized concubinage as valid marriage. This resulted in an intense reaction, and the man who came to the forefront of the anti-Callixtan party was one of the Roman Church's most brilliant men, Hippolytus of Rome.
St. Hippolytus was no stranger to controversy; he had been sharply critical of various statements of Trinitarian doctrine that had been made by St. Zephyrinus. The reaction against St. Callixtus became so intense that a group of dissidents tried to elect Hippolytus, who was a priest, as Bishop of Rome, thus making him an anti-pope. He continued his opposition beyond Callixtus's death (the cause of which is unknown, but he is one of the popes for which we have the earliest direct evidence that he was regarded as a martyr), as Callixtus was succeeded by Pope St. Urban I. Urban's tenure as pope was relatively peaceful except for continual back-and-forth between the two opposing parties of Roman Christians. After Urban's death came Pope St. Pontian, and St. Hippolytus and St. Pontian continued to be at loggerheads. However, when the Emperor Maximinus began cracking down harder on Christians, both Hippolytus and Pontian were arrested and sent to the mines of Sardinia, where they both were martyred. Fortunately, Pontian had had early indications that his arrest was imminent, and so he had resigned the papacy (the very first papal renunciation). Pontian's successor was Pope St. Anterus, about whom very little was known except that he, like Callixtus was a freed slave; but Anterus was followed by Pope St. Fabian. It was actually a surprise that Fabian was elected; he was a noble-born deacon from well outside of Rome who was visiting for the papal election. As the electors were discussing in the presence of the congregation who should be the next pope, a dove happened to land on Fabian's head, and the whole congregation took it as a sign that he should be the next pope. By this point, the government persecutions were dying down, and as Fabian was a good negotiator, he was able to negotiate the return of the bodies of both Pontian and Hippolytus. He had both buried with honors (although Hippolytus was buried with the honors due to a priest, not a bishop), and allowed both to be venerated as martyrs. When government persecutions heated up again under Emperor Decian, Fabian was one of its earliest victims, dying in prison in the year 250.
The feast of Pope St. Callixtus is October 14. That of Pope St. Urban I is May 25. Pope St. Pontian is celebrated on August 13, while Pope St. Anterus is commemorated on January 3. Pope St. Fabian is remembered on January 20. And St. Hippolytus of Rome, the only saint in the calendar to have been a schismatic anti-pope, is commemorated with St. Pontian, the enemy with whom he was martyred, on August 13. According to later legend, St. Hippolytus and St. Pontian reconciled in the mines, but this may well have been a hypothesis to explain why an antipope was being commemorated to begin with -- we don't have any independent way of knowing how accurate the legend is. But ever since St. Fabian's irenic ending of the old disputes, Pope St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus have been commemorated together.
Jean de Brébeuf
Jean was born in Normandy in 1593, and joined the Jesuits in 1617. He became a teacher, but contracted tuberculosis in 1620, which almost put an end to his work for the Jesuits. However, unlike most tuberculosis patients of the day, he survived. In 1625, he was sent to New France, that is, Quebec, as part of the mission to the Huron. While he became fluent in the language and culture, he made very slow progress. He would eventually turn the mission over to another and devote himself to teaching the Wyandot, which is the Huron language. His translation of Ledesma's catechism became the first printed work in Wyandot, but the most famous Wyandot work attributed to him is "The Huron Carol", the first Christmas carol of the New World. In 1649, the Iriquois attacked the Huron and the Huron mission. The priests, including Brébeuf, were captured, tortured, and killed, in Brébeuf's case by having a red-hot iron thrust down his throat. He was beatified in 1925, canonized in 1930 and became a patron saint of Canada in 1940. His feast day is September 26 or October 19, depending on the calendar.
2017 All Saints Post
John Ogilvie, Leo IV, Andrew Stratelates and the 2593 Martyrs, Theodore the Studite, The Martyrs of Gorkum, Margaret Ward and John Roche, Mesrop Mashtots, José María Robles Hurtado, Genevieve of Paris, Pedro Calungsod, Isaac of Nineveh, George Preca, Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa, Anthony of Padua
2016 All Saints Post
Theodore of Tarsus, Nilus the Younger, Anne Line, Mark Ji Tianxiang, Maria Elisabetta Hesselbad, Sergius of Radonezh, Anna Pak Agi, Jeanne de Valois, Vigilius of Trent, Claudian, Magorian, Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander, Euphrasia Eluvathingal, José Sanchez del Rio, Andrew Kaggwa, Roberto Bellarmino
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