Often when we celebrate the memorials of saints it is a person who lived centuries ago and/or in Europe or Asia. This week we break this pattern with three consecutive days venerating North American saints who lived in the last 200 years.
Yesterday, January 4th, was the Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (She died January 4, 1821). The majority of well-known saints tend to be people who spent their entire lives as clergy and religious. While Elizabeth Ann Seton founded the Sisters of Charity, she had been married (widowed) with children. She was born in the United States in 1774 (the first American born saint to be canonized) to a wealthy Episcopal family. Her husband died young from an illness leaving her to raise their children. Thus, she knows well some of the struggles that families can face. It was in the midst of her struggles that she converted to Catholicism and would found the Sisters of Charity and Catholic schools in America.
Today, January 5th, we celebrate the Memorial of St. John Neumann, Archbishop of Philadelphia (He died January 5, 1860). He is the first American bishop to be canonized. He was born in Bohemia (in what today is part of the Czech republic) in 1811. He pursued studies in the seminary there but they had so many priests there then that the bishop decided not to ordain any more. Feeling a strong call to the priesthood, John Neumann came to America and was ordained in 1836 for the Archdiocese of New York. He later joined the Redemptorists and served in Western New York. He became the Archbishop of Philadelphia. In a time when Catholics faced persecution in the United States, he worked hard to spread the faith and established many new parishes and schools. Perhaps today we can seek his intercession for the reevangelization of our country that is losing its faith.
Tomorrow, January 6th, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Andre Bessette (he died January 6, 1937). He did not have an easy life before entering religious life with the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Born in Canada in 1845, he was orphaned at the age of 12 when his parents died. He faced ongoing health challenges that led to the Holy Cross initially rejecting his application. He had little formal education. He worked as a farmer, baker, and blacksmith. When he did finally join the order at the age of 25, he was not able to complete formal studies. So, he was appointed as doorkeeper and sacristan.
St. Andre Bessette had a great devotion to St. Joseph. As doorkeeper, he became known for his devotion and would raise the funds to build an oratory dedicated to St. Joseph. Many people would come seeking his prayers. Yes, he was a religious brother but he was a simple man, showing it is possible for all to be devout and faithful.
Three days, three North American saints. We ask for their intercession to help us follow their example of faith.