Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ.-- Saint Augustine of Hippo from “The City of God”
Emilian Kovch, was born in The Ukraine on August 20, 1894, in Kosmach near Kosiv. His, was a family that had produced several priests. His father, was Father Gregory Kowcz, a Greek Catholic parish priest. Blessed Emilian completed school in Lviv, and then from 1905 to 1911, he studied theology in Rome. In 1911 he married Maria-Anna Dobrzynska, and the next year he was ordained a priest.
There was a war between Poland and the Ukraine, which was a multi-sided war that saw seven different nations take the battlefield. In this war, Father Emilian served as a military chaplain from 1919-1921. He had said at the time, “I know that the soldier on the front line feels better when he sees the doctor and the priest also there . . You know, lads, that I am consecrated, and a bullet doesn't take a consecrated man easily.” He was captured, held prisoner briefly, and then released and appointed parish priest at Peremyslany, a small town 30 miles from Lviv.
His activity then was devoted to parish life. He cared for the spiritual, material and physical needs of his parishioners. He organized Eucharistic congresses, bought shoes and books for poor children, supported local cooperative movements and the Ukrainian independence movement. This brought him attention from the local Polish administration, who searched his house over 40 times. He was fined and imprisoned in a monastery. He and his wife had six children of their own, and many times gave shelter to orphans as well.
Father Emilian's support of independence for Ukraine did not mean that he had animosity towards the Polish people. After the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, and Stalin's invasion of the west Ukraine and eastern Poland, he severely scolded some of his parishioners for looting Polish homes, and he prevented further thefts. He said to them, “I thought that I had taught you to be good parishioners..now I am ashamed of you before God.”
Father Emilian organized help for Polish widows and orphans. In the first two years of Soviet occupation, the secret police murdered or deported over 300,000 persons from west Ukraine. In 1941 mass arrests were carried out in Peremyslany, including Father Emilian and two of his daughter's. Miraculously, they escaped just as the Nazi invaders reached their town, but, as Father Emilian Kowcz celebrated his first Mass back in his parish, the news arrived that all of the other prisoners had been killed by the retreating communists.
Many of the Ukrainian people hoped that Hitler would liberate them from the Bolshevik oppressors, and grant them some measure of independence, but, those hopes were short lived. Father Emilian urged the young people to not become involved in criminal deeds and to resist the urging of anti-semitism by the Nazi's and their newly formed police force under Nazi control.
Father Emilian never ceased to condemn publicly the deeds of the Nazi Fascist regime, which treated the Slavs as sub-human and began deporting them to German factories and labor camps.
The treatment of the Jews became a very serious matter. A detachment of the SS drove some Jews into a local Synagogue, and began throwing firebombs inside with the intention of burning them alive. Somehow made aware by some Jews of what was taking place, Father Emilian, along with some of his parishioners, rushed to the Synagogue, and blocked the doors preventing the Nazi's from throwing more firebombs inside. Fluent in German, Father Emilian shouted at the Nazi's to go away, and by another miracle, they did. Father Emilian and the parishioners then went into the already burning building, and saved as many as possible.
The Jews were the majority of the population of Peremyslany, and any attempt to save Jewish lives en masse from the Nazi's was impossible. Some of the Jewish population came to Father Emilian asking for baptism, in the hope that would save them from Nazi extermination, and he catechised and baptised them, at first individually. As the Nazi persecution became more intense, a group representing 1,000 Jews came to Father Emilian asking for baptism. Father Emilian then consulted Archbishop Andrei Sheptytsky (who was sheltering over 1,000 Jews himself) as to what action to take. As time was getting short, on his return, Father Emilian then administered a short catechesis and mass baptism.
This was entirely against Nazi law, but, Father Emilian ignored their warnings, and further, after the closing of the ghetto, he applied to the Nazi's for permission to enter the ghetto to baptise any who desired it. The records indicate that the newly baptised Jews formed their own Christian community even within the ghetto. Father Emilian even wrote a letter to Adolph Hitler denouncing the Nazi crimes!
The Nazi's could not allow such activity to go unpunished, and so in December 1942, Father Emilian Kowcz was arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated by the Gestapo. During interrogation, Father Emilian admitted to baptising Jews, and refused to sign a document saying he would not do so in the future, even if it was contrary to Nazi law. The record of this interrogation still exists and says in part:
Officer: "Did you know that it is prohibited to baptize Jews?"
Fr. Kovch: "I didn't know anything."
Officer: "Do you now know it?"
Fr. Kovch: "Yes."
Officer: "Will you continue to do it?"
Fr. Kovch: "Of course."
Unable to get compliance from Father Emilian, the Gestapo sent him to Majdanek concentration camp in Lublin. There, Blessed Father Emilian Kowcz brought comfort to his fellow prisoners, no matter what their race, no matter what their faith. He saw his situation as a mission and a Gift from God, as well as a responsibility to be fulfilled. He would celebrate the Liturgy in a corner of the barracks. When his daughters and other family members attempted to secure his release he wrote these words to them:
“I thank God for His goodness to me. Apart from heaven, this is the one place where I wish to remain. Here we are all equal: Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Russians, Latvians and Estonians. Of all these here I am the only priest. I cannot even imagine how it would be here without me. Here I see God, who is the same for us all, regardless of our religious distinctions. Perhaps our churches are different, but the same great and Almighty God rules over us all. When I celebrate the Divine Liturgy, they all join in prayer. . .
They die in different ways, and I help them to cross over this little bridge into eternity. Is this not a blessing? Isn't this the greatest crown which God could have placed upon my head? It is indeed. I thank God a thousand times a day for sending me here. I do not ask him for anything else. Do not worry, and do not lose faith at what I share. Instead, rejoice with me.
Pray for those who created this concentration camp and this system. They are the only ones who need prayers . . May God have mercy upon them.”
Father Emilian's health began to deteriorate and after Christmas 1943, he became seriously ill from stomach problems he couldn't hide. He was sent to the camp “hospital” where it was well known by his fellow prisoners that healing treatment was extremely rare, and that the Nazi “doctors” helped speed death along by injection or starvation. Father Emilian was last seen by his fellow prisoners in the spring, but, afterwards, they did not know what became of him. It was not until 1972 that his daughters managed to obtain his death certificate, where the records indicate that he died of infection and inflammation to his right leg that blocked circulation. Some records also indicate that he was gassed and burned in the ovens of the Majdanek concentration camp. Father Emilian Kowcz died on March 25, 1944.
On the night before his death, he wrote the following to his family:
“I understand that you are trying to get me released. But I beg you not to do this. Yesterday they killed fifty people. If I am not here, who will help them to get through these sufferings? They would go on their way to eternity with all their sins and in the depths of unbelief, which would take them to hell. But now they go to death with their heads held aloft, leaving all their sins behind them. And so they pass over to the eternal city.”
Blessed Father Emilian Kovch through his example of faith and courage, showed all what Love of Christ, Faith in Christ, and Hope in Christ is, and how that love, faith, and hope is to all people, no matter who they are, or what their station in life.
On September 9, 1999, Blessed Emilian Kovch was recognized as a Righteous Ukrainian by the Jewish Council of Ukraine.
Jane Frances Fremyot was born to a noble family in the year 1572. Unfortunately for the infant Jane her mother died very young and so it was left to her father, Benigne to raise her alongside her other siblings. Though, Jane's mother died so tragically her Father raised all his children with a devout love for their Faith, and so he instructed his children diligently with sound Church Teachings from a very young age.
Jane lived a typical life for a lady of her peerage and soon caught the eye of many notable young men of the region, but a marriage for Jane was arranged by her father to the very suitable Baron Christopher de Chantal in 1592.
Being that her husband worked at the royal court this left Jane to raise their children and to also care for their estate, which she did with great common sense. But Jane did not spend her time in managing her home or socialising she also encouraged all her servants to attend daily Mass alongside her and also undertook to help the poor in her region. She also instructed her cook to serve anyone who came to her door looking for food and that none must be turned away for as she said, "Who was she to turn away God's creatures?"
But tragedy intervened when Jane's husband Christopher was killed during a shooting accident, which left Jane alone to bring up her children and care for their estate on her own. The sorrow of losing her husband was a defining moment for Jane as lost in her grief she would walk for miles and would also go riding to try and escape her sense of deep grief. There seemed nothing anyone could do to help her during this difficult time as Jane mourned her beloved husband.
So God instead took direct action in the life of this faithful woman when He allowed her to receive a vision and in this vision she saw a Priest and then Jane heard these words, "This is the man beloved of God and among men into whose hands you are to commit your conscience." Jane was at first perplexed at such a statement and a little in awe that something like this could happen to one as humble as herself.
But upon hearing these words Jane decided to take a vow of chastity for the remainder of her life. And as she searched for new meaning in her life and a new direction Jane also read books on the spiritual life to help guide her in the direction upon which God wished for her to take.
Jane would also find herself not free from personal trouble as her grieving Father in Law demanded that she and her children come to live with him as he threatened to disinherit her and her children if Jane disobeyed him! For the death of his beloved son had left her father in law feeling embittered and angry at just about everyone! Jane did not wish to harm her children’s inheritance so she did as her father in law had bid and left to live in his home at his estate in Monthelon. But life was not the same for Jane and she could not recapture the domestic bliss she had once enjoyed with her beloved husband. Things were not made easier by having to endure the envy of the housekeeper and the enmity of her father in law, but through all this Jane looked towards God and grew strong in her Faith.
But Jane was steely in matters of Faith and so continued to go to daily Mass and practice the corporal works of mercy to the needy. She also taught her children and also the members of staff who had children the Faith, which had given her such strength to endure the unendurable. And her compassion for the poor and sick also reached out to the lepers who she allowed to attend Mass though at a distance, for Jane recognise that all were in need of God's assistance most especially the despised in society.
This love that Jane had for the poor was inherent in her very being, she did not give to the poor from feelings of sentimentality but because she recognised Jesus in the suffering. Even though Jane had been raised in fine conditions and had a retinue to maids and cooks to look after her, still Jane’s heart was with the poor to help them in a practical sense.
But it would be in 1604 that Jane's life would change forever never to be the same, as she was encouraged by her father in law to hear a Priest deliver the Lenten sermons in the Dijon region. The sermons were given by the Bishop of Annecy, namely Bishop Francis de Sales. For when the young Bishop stepped out it was here that Jane recognised the Priest she had seen in her vision, she was awestruck! And it was here that a life long spiritual friendship would be forged between two souls who were in love with God. Bishop Francis then became Jane de Chantal’s spiritual director, what a privilege and an honour as both of these great Saints lived to fulfil God's Will in their lives. As Francis de Sales wrote to Jane about their friendship, "I think that God gave me to you; every hour makes me more sure of it; that is all I can say. Commend me to your guardian angel." And so began this Holy friendship between two God fearing souls.
It was also during this time that Jane felt a strong call to live a Religious life and she shared this ideal with Francis who commended her on her vocation but also cautioned to be patient as her children still needed her attention at home. But the calling that Jane felt never left her so she prayed to God so that she would always do His Will and not her own and also under guidance from Bishop Francis, Jane waited patiently.
So it was in 1607 that Jane told her family of her decision to enter the Religious life, while her family objected strongly Jane under the guidance of her friend and spiritual director Bishop Francis held firm, though it was difficult for her to endure. But Francis also explained to Jane's family that the Order she would join would not be cloistered but would work amongst the poor and sick. But it was in 1610 that Jane along with several other women began to live the spirituality of her and Bishop Francis Order of the Visitation of Our Lady, which would become known as the Salesians in time.
The friendship that was founded between Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal lasted for the rest of his life and Jane was deeply saddened at the death of her saintly friend, more sorrow was to follow with the death of her daughter and grandchild as well as her brother. During these difficulties Jane met with another holy man of God by the name of Vincent de Paul, they too forged a lasting friendship, as Jane continued to live out the spirituality of the Salesians.
Jane under the direction of Vincent de Paul lived as a Religious with other lay women of her time, but in time the Visitation Order would become more contemplative while still providing for poor women and the education of the poverty stricken.
The Order began by Saint Francis de Sales and Saint Jane de Chantal is still thriving to this day.
Jane de Chantal died in 1641.
Saint Jane de Chantal was Canonized in 1767 by Pope Clement XIII.
"Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him. That is all the doing you have to worry about."
"We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God's presence, full of faith that he is more in us than we are in ourselves."
"There is no danger if our prayer is without words or reflection because the good success of prayer depended neither on words nor on study. It depends upon the simple raising of our minds to God, and the more simple and stripped of feeling it is, the surer it is."
"We must never dwell on our sins during prayer. Regarding our offences, a simple humbling of our soul before God, without a thought of this offence or that, is enough...such thoughts act as distractions."
Of the Conversion of Saint Paul and of the name of conversion.
Conversion is said of convertor, I am turned, or is as much as together turned from sins and evils. He is not converted that shriveth him to the priest of one sin and hideth another. It is said conversion, for Saint Paul this day was converted to the faith leaving his vices. Why he is said Paul, it shall be said afterward.
Of the Conversion of Saint Paul.
The conversion of Saint Paul was made the same year that Christ suffered his passion, and Saint Stephen was stoned also, not in the year natural, but appearing. For our Lord suffered death the eighth calends of April, and Saint Stephen suffered death the same year, the third day of August and was stoned. And Saint Paul was converted the eighth calends of February. And three reasons been assigned wherefore the conversion of Saint Paul is hallowed more than of other saints.
First for the ensample, because that no sinner, whatsomever he be, should despair of pardon when he seeth him that was in so great sin to be in so great joy. Secondly for the joy, for like as the church had great sorrow in this persecution, so had she great joy in his conversion. Thirdly, for the miracle that our Lord showed when of one so cruel a persecutor was made so true a preacher. The conversion of him was marvellous by reason of him that made him, and of him that ordained him, and of the patient that suffered it. By reason of him that made him to be converted, that was Jesu Christ, which showed there his marvellous puissance in that he said: It is hard for thee to strive against the alle or pricks; and in that he changed him so suddenly, for anon as he was changed he said: Lord what wilt thou that I do? Upon this word saith Saint Austin: The lambs slain of the wolves have made of a wolf a lamb, for he was ready for to obey, that tofore was wood for to persecute. Secondly, he showed his marvellous wisdom. His marvellous wisdom was in that he took from him the swelling of pride in offering to him the inward things of humility and not the height of majesty. For he said I am Jesus of Nazareth, and he called not himself God ne the son of God, but he said to him, take thine infirmities of humanity and cast away the squames of pride. Thirdly, he showed his pitiful debonairty and mercy, which is signified in that that he that was in deed and in will to persecute, he converted, how be it he had evil will, as he that desired all the menaces and threatenings, and had evil purpose; as he that went to the prince of priests; as he that had a joy in his evil works that he led the christian men bound to Jerusalem. And therefore his journey and voyage was right evil, and yet nevertheless by the mercy of God was he converted. Secondly the conversion was marvellous of him that ordained it, that is of the light that he ordained in his conversion. And it is said that this light was dispositive, sudden, and celestial, and this light of heaven advironed him suddenly. Paul had in him these vices. The first was hardiness, which is noted when it is said that he went to the prince of the priests, and as the gloss saith, not called, but by his own will and envy that enticed him. The second was pride, and that is signified by that he desired and sighed the menaces and threatenings. The third was the intent carnal, and the understanding that he had in the law, whereof the gloss saith upon that word: I am Jesus, etc. I God of heaven speak, the which thou supposest to be dead by the consent of the Jews. And this light divine was sudden, it was great, and out of measure, for to throw down him that was high and proud, into the ditch or pit of humanity; it was celestial, because it turned and changed his fleshly understanding into celestial, or it may be said that this ordinance or disposition was in three things; that is to wit in the voice crying, in the light shining, and in the virtue of puissance. Thirdly, it was marvellous by the virtue of the suffering of the patient, that is of Paul in whom the conversion was made. For these three things were made in him withoutforth marvellously, that it is to wit, that he was beaten to the earth, he was blind and fasted three days, and was smitten down to the ground for to be raised. And Saint Austin saith that he was smitten down for to be blind, for to be changed, and for to be sent; he was sent to suffer death for truth. And yet saith Saint Austin, he that was out of the faith was hurt for to be made believe, the persecutor was hurt for to be made a preacher, the son of perdition was hurt for to be made the vessel of election, and was made blind for to be illumined, and this was as touching his dark understanding.
Then in the three days that he abode thus blind, he was learned and informed in the gospel, for he learned it never of man ne by man, as he himself witnesseth, but by the revelation of Jesu Christ. And Saint Austin saith thus: I say that Saint Paul was the very champion of Jesu Christ, taught of him, redressed of him, crucified with him, and glorious in him. He was made lean in his flesh that his flesh should be disposed to the effect of good operation, and from forthon his body was established and disposed to all good. He could well suffer hunger and abundance, and was informed and instructed in all things, and all adversities he gladly suffered. Chrysostom saith: He overcame tormentors, tyrants, and people full of woodness, like as flies; and the death, the torments and all the pains that might be done to him, he counted them but as the play of children. All them he embraced with a good will, and he was ennobled in himself to be bound in a strong chain more than to be crowned with a crown, and received more gladly strokes and wounds than other gifts. And it is read that in him were three things against the three that were in our foremost father Adam, for Adam erected and addressed him against God our Lord. and in Saint Paul was contrary for he was thrown down to the earth. In Adam was the opening of his eyes, and Paul was on the contrary made blind, and Adam ate of the fruit defended, and Saint Paul contrary was abstinent of convenable meat.
In those days: Saul as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus, to the synagogues, that if he found any men and women of this way, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me? Who said: Who art Thou, Lord? And He said: I am Jesus Whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus. And he was there three days without sight, and he did neither eat nor drink. Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision: Ananias. And he said: Behold I am here, Lord. And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the street that is called Strait, and seek in the house of Judas, one named Saul of Tarsus. For behold he prayeth. (And he saw a man named Ananias, coming in and putting his hands upon him, that he might receive his sight.) But Ananias answered: Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to Thy saints in Jerusalem. And here he hath authority from the chief priests, to bind all that invoke Thy name. And the Lord said to him: Go thy way, for this man is to Me a vessel of election, to carry My name before the gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name's sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house, and laying his hands upon him, he said: Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus hath sent me, He that appeared to thee in the way as thou camest, that thou mayst receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it were scales, and he received his sight and rising up he was baptized. And when he had taken meat he was strengthened. And he was with the disciples that were at Damascus for some days. And immediately he preached Jesus in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. And all that heard him were astonished, and said: Is not this he who persecuted in Jerusalem those that called upon this name; and came hither for that intent, that he might carry them bound to the chief priests? But Saul increased much more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt at Damascus, affirming that this is the Christ.
James Alberione may not be universally well known, yet many of us read great books on the Faith which we have purchased from the Pauline bookshops. Father James had such a great love for our Catholic Faith that he wished to share it with as many people as possible, but first let us start from the beginning.
James Alberione was born into a family of poor farmers in the year 1884 in Italy, his parents, Michael and Teresa were deeply devout and raised their children to also live their Faith. With little James though this was not such a hard thing to instill for James from an early age longed to become a Priest and said so when questioned!
Though little James came from hardy peasant stock this did not stop him from going to school as both his parents placed great emphasis on learning and gaining a good education. Both Michael and Teresa taught their children a love of knowledge with an equal amount of love for God, for to gain knowledge without putting it to good use would be inexcusable!
The Alberione family eventually moved to Cherasco, parish of San Martino in the diocese of Alba, where James came to the notice of Father Montersino, who encouraged James to follow his calling from God. And under the gentle guidance of this Priest, James truly shone as he learnt the fundamentals and also the deeper theology of the Catholic Faith. And at the young age of only 16 years, James entered the Seminary, where he met another Priest, Canon Francesco Chiesa, who became to him not only a mentor but a friend, guide and instructor to the intricacies of the Catholic Church.
But it was a night spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament that would lead James to become more than an ordinary Priest as he felt God call to him to pursue an avenue of evangelisation to the young people of the new Century! Upon completing his studies James Alberione was Ordained a Priest in 1907, he spent a brief spell in Narzole as an assistant Pastor but it was here that he also began to reflect on women’s role within the Church structure, this thought would stay with him for many years.
During these years of guiding young seminarians as their spiritual director and also of teaching Catechesis to the young people, it began to dawn on Fr. James that a new Era called for a better way of communicating the Faith to all people around the world. It was at this time also that he authored two books one in particular touched his heart and dealt with women and how their gifts could benefit the Church.
And it was during this time that Father James felt called to orchestrate a new Order to be undertaken by Consecrated souls in order to spread the Gospel to the four corners of the earth, a noble thought indeed! This Order would at first be termed the Pious Society of St. Paul, which would be better known as the 'Pauline Family' of Brothers and Sisters, when Father James began and incorporated the 'Daughters of St Paul', with the help of a young woman Teresa Merlo who had also embraced his ideal of spreading the Gospel message.
For both Father James and Teresa realised that they were living in an era where the technology of communication was ever growing and expanding into new formats, they both wished to seize the day for Gods Glory. But this dream nearly faltered when Father James Alberione became seriously ill and little hope was held for a recovery. But upon recovering he credited his healing to St. Paul, for he while he was sick he had seen in a dream these words, "Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here I want to enlighten. Be sorry for sin." Father James took this as his living Motto and for his Order of the Pauline Family.
This also led him to enlarge his family to include the prayerful apostolate of 'the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master', which was a group of Sisters who would dedicate their lives to prayer and Eucharistic Adoration. He chose Sr. Scholastica Rivata to join him in this prayerful addition to the Pauline family, for both of these holy souls realised that prayer was essential for the lifeblood of their Order.
During this time Father James and his merry band of Pauline Brothers and Sisters began many enterprises, they started a serious of periodicals which explained the Faith and also printed editions of the Holy Bible which they sent to all parts of the world. A small magazine was also begun for Parish Priests called 'The Pastoral Life' to encourage Priests in their Vocation and Pastoral duties. Once again in 1931 he instituted another magazine called 'Christian Home' for families to read and learn at home, and to inculcate a love of the Faith within the family unit.
This was just the beginning of Father James Alberiones dream of reaching people even in the most inhospitable conditions and to reach out to those in countries who were impoverished and needed the guiding light of the Church to give them hope in a harsh landscape.
This great man of vision seemed to have no hindrances placed before him as he continued his mission to reach into as many families as possible via the media even unto continuing through the war years, which allowed him some time to reflect on the way ahead for his Pauline Family. His dedication to the cause of spreading the Good News both near and far, never wavered as he began new Orders and kept a pastoral albeit loving eye on his already growing Pauline Family of Media and Publishing endeavours.
No one could have envisioned this young boy who had exclaimed to his teacher when asked ' I will be a Priest', would come to influence so many people in vastly different lands of all walk and all colours as he spread the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and the love of our Catholic Church and its Teachings.
There are now thousands of Pauline bookshops around the globe, helping to instruct the Faithful and those wishing to learn the Faith. All of which came from his vision and passion that has blazed a trail for future enterprises as many look at the life of this remarkable Saint and learn to emulate his philosophy of perseverance and giving all Glory to God.
Father James Alberione died in 1971.
Blessed James Alberione was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II.
Elizabeth Hesselblad was born in the year 1870, into what would become a very large family of thirteen siblings, even though not all the children survived into adulthood. Still her parents struggled to maintain such a large family and both parents were diligent in the upbringing of their children.
Elizabeth's parents, Auguste and Karin Hesselblad, though caring for their large brood, struggled to make ends meet as they tried running a grocery shop before embarking on opening a bookshop, which barely helped them make ends meet.
Being that Sweden's major religion was Lutheran, so Auguste and Karin raised their children, with a deep Faith in God and a love for the Word of God, as they attended Lutheran services every week almost without fail. It was this faith in God that helped the family persevere through many adversities including the loss of three children at a young age.
Elizabeth would have noted her parent’s strictness and vigilance concerning God and their faith and also the work ethic which both parents tried instill in all their children. But these were also the days before penicillin was discovered so Elizabeth was open to many infections and deadly illnesses, and it was at age 7 that she became very ill with diphtheria and scarlet fever. And though the young Elizabeth recovered from these deadly bouts her health remained fragile all her life as she suffered with stomach ulcers and hemorrhages.
This battle for her health probably also helped to make Elizabeth a little more introspective than her brothers and sisters and also made her realise that life was an adventure and to treasure each moment.
And it was this sense of adventure that led Elizabeth to seek out employment in America in order to help provide for her family but also to gain some monetary security for herself. So it was that in 1888 Elizabeth arrived in New York, to a very different land than that of Sweden. She would have noticed the vibrancy and freshness of this new land and also its diversity as different people migrated to the land of the free.
But Elizabeth was sturdy and stoic by nature, but also with a compassionate heart she sought to work amongst the sick and injured, and so she studied nursing as a way of expressing her love of God and to earn some much needed money.
It was through nursing that Elizabeth's spiritual journey would begin as she came into contact with many Irish and Italian working class people who sought out medical attention. The Faith in God that these patients showed and their great love of the Catholic Church shone through these poor but devout people. This would engage Elizabeth in her own personal struggle to understand just what Catholicism meant and how to encompass it in her own life.
And it was at moments when in need of a break that Elizabeth would wander into Catholic Churches to restore her spirit and energy, it was also here that Elizabeth experienced God in a meaningful way. But it was the Corpus Christi procession when upon seeing the Blessed Sacrament, Elizabeth heard an interior voice speak in the depths of her soul with these words, 'I am the One you seek.'
This confused Elizabeth for though the Lutherans had a great love of God and Scripture she had never heard of experiences such as this, for God had touched this young woman's heart and sought her for Himself. And the more Elizabeth learnt the more she became convinced that God was calling her to enter the Catholic Church. One of the things that truly touched a chord in Elizabeth’s heart was the love many Catholics had for the Blessed Mother, this too would help move Elizabeth to leave her Lutheran roots and convert to the One True Church.
So it was that in 1902, Elizabeth was given a conditional baptism into the Catholic fold and it was also in 1902 that Elizabeth returned to Europe on a pilgrimage to Rome whereupon she received the Sacrament of Confirmation. It was also during this time that Elizabeth felt a calling to enter the Religious life and most especially to embrace the spirit of St. Bridget of Sweden.
But Elizabeth needed to take her first steps in the spiritual life which she did so under the guidance of Mother Hedwig who though she had concerns about the health of this devout woman, still encouraged her to seek God in prayer and the service of others. It was here at the Carmelite community of Saint Bridget that Elizabeth became more convinced to follow in the footsteps of her beloved hero St. Bridget.
And so in 1906 her wish to enter the Religious life was granted and Pope Pius X approved her taking the Habit of the Order of the Most Holy Saviour of Saint Bridget.
The love Elizabeth had for this great Saint was so intense that nothing could prevent her from trying her utmost to revive this great and noble Religious Order. And though she faced many disappointments in her attempts still her heart was replenished when in 1911 she was joined by three English women.
Through many hardships and disappointments Elizabeth never lost sight of her mission and in 1931 she received the Vatican's approval to live and work at the house of Saint Bridget in Rome, where she was made Mother Superior. And through her hard work this Order would reach out to many countries including India.
Elizabeth also during the years of the second world war, helped those who were being persecuted under Nazi tyranny, as she helped clothe and feed the hungry and terrified refugees, this was done at the risk of her own life and her Sisters.
During all this activity though Mother Elizabeth continued to pray for a reconciliation of the many diverse religious denominations, in the hope that others too would return to the Catholic fold and experience the joy in which she had.
She was to maintain this hope of religious reconciliation for the rest of her life.
Elizabeth Hesselblad died in 1957.
Blessed Mary Elizabeth Hesselblad was beatified in the year 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
"The Lord has called us from different nations, but we must be united with one heart and one soul. In the divine Heart of Jesus we will always meet one another and there we seek our strength to face the difficulties of life. May we be strengthened to practice the beautiful virtues of charity, humility and patience. Then our religious life will be the antechamber to Heaven."
"Our religious houses must be formed after the example of Nazareth: prayer, work, sacrifice. The human heart can aspire to nothing greater."
"Dear Lord, I do not ask to see the path. In darkness, in anguish and in fear, I will hang on tightly to your hand and I will close my eyes, so that you know how much trust I place in you, Spouse of my soul."
At a time of great peril in Tudor England, where being a Catholic could be a death sentence, one woman's courage stands above the crowds.
For though Margaret Clitherow was not born a Catholic, upon marrying her husband John, she converted to Catholicism three years later. The surprising aspect is that her husband, though born a Catholic, recanted his own Faith, and instead embraced the State Religion of England.
Being that the Church of England was still in its infancy, this led Elizabeth I to take decisive action against anything that would challenge her position as head of the Church. This insecurity would show itself in the persecution of Catholics under the reigns of both King Henry the VIII and Elizabeth I!
But Margaret Clitherow was not any ordinary person and upon her acceptance into the Catholic Church, she embraced all its teachings and also practiced the corporal works of mercy. And though her husband did not join her in reverting back to his Catholic roots, he also did not impede Margaret’s transition to the Catholic fold. John Clitherow also did not stand in the way of their children also embracing the Catholic Church.
Margaret was indeed a woman of uncommon valour, who not only practiced her beliefs, but attempted with a zealous spirit to evangelise the Faith in Protestant England. But due to Margaret’s gentle, compassionate and loving nature many were drawn to her spirit and longed to also have this happiness within themselves. This woman found herself in the position of being loved and respected by people of both Faiths, a fact that those in authority found troublesome.
This courageous woman would also allow Mass to be said in her home at grave risk of her life, and those who attended Mass with her, for under Elizabeth I attending Mass had become a criminal offence. But nothing was going to stand in the way of Margaret’s passionate love of God and the Catholic Church, as she hid Priests in secret hiding places in her home.
And with the full support of her husband, Margaret also sent some of her children to France, so they could receive a Catholic education untainted by Protestant teachings.
Margaret was of a resolute nature, a trait shared by many Yorkshire people. And her stubbornness in spreading the Faith could not be stopped as Margaret longed for all the peoples of her country to return to the Faith of their forebears and once again embrace their Catholic roots.
And though Margaret had no fear of Queen Elizabeth I, the same could not be said of the Queen. Who, like her father before her had set upon a course of persecuting those who refused to leave the one true Faith, Catholicism.
But through all this strife Margaret kept her composure and loved all people as children of the one God. This was a singular trait in that though Margaret suffered persecution, still she offered the same courtesy to all she met irrespective of their Faith.
Through Margaret’s respect for others and her inherent dignity, she touched all the hearts of those she met. This love for her Faith and her longing to share it with others would lead her down the path of martyrdom, but Margaret persevered to the end with a fierceness that can only be admired by one and all.
And though Margaret's Faith strengthened her, as she kept a vibrant prayer life even amidst perilous danger, it was this that enabled her to hide Priests in order to participate in the Sacraments of the Church, this level of personal courage and conviction left deep imprints on her own children.
Her sons would become Priests and her daughter entered the Religious life. Margaret’s children are surely a testament to her as a person of immense fortitude and perseverance, as well as a loving wife and mother. And as in life, Margaret died with courage as she was tortured for her Faith and love of the one true Church.
Margaret Clitherow died in 1586.
Saint Margaret Clitherow was canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI.
"by God's grace all priests shall be more welcome to me than ever they were, and I will do what I can to set forward God's Catholic service."
Thomas Becket during his life time would be friends of Kings and commoners alike, but always at the centre of his heart, was his Faith.
Thomas was born into a prominent family who were able to send him to the better schools of the time, this would help Thomas in later life as his career grew.
Thomas by all accounts was a very personable young man, who was outgoing and enjoyed sport and good conversation, Being that he was very able at speaking and communicating his ideas, he decided quite young to serve the Church, he then studied for a period of time at Merton Abbey before moving on and studying in France.
But upon completing his studies he returned home to bad news in that both his parents had died during his absence, this grieved Thomas as he grappled with his loss and his future. It was at this difficult time that Thomas found employment as a clerk, this would be the beginning of great things for Thomas.
While working as a clerk Thomas gained a reputation for hard work and a sense of excellence in all he undertook. This led him to be noticed and offered a job working for the Archbishop of Canterbury; Theobald was impressed with Thomas grasp of complicated issues. And while working for Archbishop Theobald, Thomas then decided on a vocation and with the permission of the Archbishop Thomas began studying Canon Law in both Italy and France. Thomas found that study suited him and his more serious side, for though Thomas was known for his easy going nature, still there was also the more contemplative aspects to this man of vision and ambition.
Upon completing his studies Thomas returned to England and was made provost of Beverley and also canon at St. Paul’s cathedral. And it was in 1154 that Thomas was ordained a Deacon whereupon Archbishop Theobald upon hearing of Thomas valuable gifts soon decided to appoint him as archdeacon of Canterbury, a high honour indeed!
Thomas was to prove himself a great credit to the Archbishop for his ability to listen and to master the art of diplomacy, in that Thomas was not only well learned he also possessed the personality to make others feel important and more learned than himself. And it was through Thomas's intervention that Pope Eugenius III did not recognise Stephen's claim to the throne but instead Henry Anjou would become King Henry II.
The King had noted Thomas's intervention and was very favourable to this man who had great skills in the very difficult field of diplomacy. And through King Henry II, Thomas was appointed as chief minister. The King came to appreciate Thomas humour and also his keen intellect, as both became friends, and admirers of each others qualities.
This friendship would prove profitable to the English people as Thomas encouraged the King to make much needed reforms when it came to protecting the rights of the poor in a court of law. For Thomas had a keen sense of justice and wished all to receive the assistance needed to overcome misfortune.
But Thomas was no ascetic as he surrounded himself with the finer things in life, and lived in some splendour. He was also able to maintain a very resplendent and palatial home with numerous servants. But this attitude suited King Henry II as he turned more and more to Thomas for companionship and high living. But Thomas did not confine his largesse to himself but shared some of his wealth with the poor and others in need of his help.
The friendship between Thomas and the King was also based on mutual respect and also at times disagreements, as both Thomas and King Henry II were free to correct one another, and did so! But beyond Thomas carefree ways also lay a man of steel, who at times hid this strength of character, but when he felt the King had done wrong, then Thomas was not above cautioning even rebuking his Sovereign!
Things were to change though when Archbishop Theobald died and King Henry II wished to replace him with his friend Thomas, as to this request, Thomas himself was unsure as he did not wish to incur the full wrath of the King. For though Thomas admired the King he was also not blind to his faults but rather he was very much aware of them and that as Archbishop of Canterbury it would be the job of Thomas to stop the Kings excesses.
But the Kings request won the day and after promptings from Cardinal Henry of Pisa, Thomas agreed to become the Archbishop of Canterbury. But Thomas still held deep misgivings for through his close friendship with the King he also knew of the Kings darker side and ferocious temper. So it came to pass that in 1162 Thomas was elected Archbishop, and later he would receive the pallium of Pope Alexander III.
Thomas would take this role seriously and so his luxurious lifestyle became a thing of the past as he practiced penances and mortifications. Thomas spent the next few years visiting the infirm, teaching Scripture and promoting the Religious life. And as Thomas gained confidence in his job he also grew in his Faith as he looked more and more to God to guide him in all his decisions.
The King at first accepted the change within his friend, but the tide would soon turn against Thomas as the King began to resent Thomas sincere Piety. This would lead to severe discord between the two as different issues were raised which brought forth an irretrievable break in their friendship.
This happened when King Henry II wished to prosecute a canon who was accused of murder, but the King wished to oppose the law of the land and instead of leaving the judgment and ruling to an ecclesiastical court, the King decided to try and take matters in his own Regal hands! This would bring the King and Thomas to a direct confrontation, as Thomas insisted that the canon had already been found not guilty of the crime. This incensed the King who felt that Thomas had opposed in a deliberate and flagrant way his own Sovereign power.
In a last ditch effort to salvage his friendship with the King Thomas as Archbishop of Canterbury crossed the channel to see the Pope, but this act would prove to be futile as the Kings rage grew by the hour and plans were already afoot to remove Thomas as Archbishop!
The King decided on a plan of humiliating Thomas by discrediting him and taking his properties from him, and though once again Thomas tried to placate the Kings fury it would prove futile, as every attempt was rejected.
But things could not go on like this and so the confrontation came to a head as the Earl of Leicester brought a message to Thomas that the King had demanded a look into his accounts so that the King himself would be sole judge of Thomas and not the Pope! Upon hearing this Thomas exclaimed, "Judgment?" "I was given the church of Canterbury free from temporal obligations. I am therefore not liable and will not plead with regard to them. Neither law nor reason allows children to judge and condemn their fathers. Wherefore I refuse the King's judgment and yours and everyone's. Under God, I will be judged by the Pope alone."
Thomas as Archbishop once again set out to see the Pope and upon explaining his position Thomas then resigned but the Pope upon consideration reinstated Thomas and sent him to a Cistercian Monastery. Upon arriving Thomas dressed in the habit of the monk's who lived there. But this was not the end as the King in his fury took out his vengeance on Thomas's relations and friends for there was no end to King Henry's II malice!
Though Thomas spent a few years in France, he was required to return to England but Thomas knew in his heart that his days were now numbered. And so Thomas once again touched the shorelines of Great Britain, and awaited his fate.
And it would be the Kings words uttered in the heat of the moment that sealed Thomas fate for once again this man of Faith stood firm against the Kings wishes to reinstate and absolve the Bishops who had supported the Kings stance against Thomas. Upon hearing of Thomas strong stand the King muttered to those near him, "What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."
It was then that a group of knights decided to murder Archbishop Thomas Becket and so they did while Thomas was celebrating Mass, these heathens hacked Thomas Becket to death by splitting his skull.
Thomas Becket found out with his life that to befriend a King was a risky business indeed, as one who came later also discovered this to be true.
Archbishop Thomas Becket died in 1170.
Saint Thomas Becket was canonized in 1173 by Pope Alexander III.
Little Kateri's life started out well enough in that she was the daughter of a Mohawk Chief and a Catholic Algonquin mother. And it would be at her mothers knees that little Kateri would listen to her soothing prayers to a man named Jesus and saw for herself the peace that lay within her mothers heart. And from both her father and mother little kateri learnt to love and respect nature as a provider and also a nurturer.
But Kateri's family life was cut short when an epidemic of small pox raged through her village near Auriesville New York in 1660. Kateri was lucky to have survived this disease and was left scarred and visually impaired through this dreaded illness. Little Kateri found herself orphaned at the early age of only four years old, she was soon adopted by an uncle who was also a Mohawk Chief.
Things worked out well enough for a while for the little Kateri as she blossomed under the care of her Uncle and Aunts and took part in village life as she helped tended the fields and other chores to help provide for their livelihood. But Kateri never lost the memory of her gentle mother and the soothing prayers her mother would whisper at night.
And many times Kateri would wander out into the forest to whisper her own thoughts to this land that she loved so well. Through her vision impairment, Kateri became more sensitive and intuitive to her surroundings and could sense things more clearly as her other sensed were honed to compensate for her loss of clear vision. This also allowed her gentle and sweet nature to shine for all to see as she also came close to a longing for the peace that she remembered in her mothers short life, and reflected on the stories of the Catholic Faith her mother shared with her at night when Kateri would prepare for sleep.
Kateri longed to know of this God who was gentle and mild and in mother nature she could sense the Presence of God all around her. She would hear the whisper of God's voice in the breeze and smell the beauty of His Presence in the wild flowers and earthy ground as she stepped on the fallen leaves. But it was in her inner heart that she could sense a stirring that owed nothing to the wind or scents that were wafting in the breeze, instead she sensed an inner calling of a Father to His child a longing to be closer to the Eternal Presence of the Almighty.
Though Kateri could sense all these things she kept these thoughts hidden in her heart of hearts for many years and continued to live with her adopted family and partake in the chores and share in the village life of those who supported themselves from the land of their birth.
But it was a visit from a Priest that would change Kateri's life, and though her uncle disapproved of these Missionaries he did allow Fr. de Lamberville to set up a mission in his area. When upon meeting the missionary Father de Lamberville, fond memories of her mothers faith came back and Kateri's heart searched for this love of God that had been hidden within for many years.
Upon consulting with her Uncle, Kateri was given permission to learn about the Catholic Faith and its beliefs, her uncle would come to regret this decision when at at age 20 Kateri was baptized into the Catholic Church. And it was here that the name Kateri was given her which means Catherine in English.
But the conversion of Kateri would cause major disruption and outright ridicule from her nearest relatives as they refused to acknowledge Kateri's baptism into the Catholic Faith. This led to outright condemnation and persecution when Kateri refused to work on Sundays, so due to this her Uncle and Aunts refused to give Kateri any food on that day. Things would get worse as Kateri found herself suffering the taunts of little one's and with threats of torture if she did not renounce her new Faith.
This persecution led Kateri to leave the village and her people whom she loved so dearly, but her love for God was greater. So came a mammoth journey as this vision impaired woman walked a staggering 200 miles through unmanageable land and rough terrain so she could reach the safety of the Mission of St. Francis Xavier near Montreal Canada. We must also remember that this courageous young woman wore only the basics in shoe covering could carry no supplies for her journey and all this through all manner of weather.
Because of the courage that Kateri had shown when she fled her village rather than give up her Faith, she was allowed to receive her First Holy Communion on Christmas day in 1677. This was a momentous day for Kateri as she felt the loving spirit of her mother close to her and that she had finally received her beloved Jesus in the Eucharist.
Kateri may have lacked the skills to read and write, still her spiritual life flourished as she embraced a life of prayer and very austere penances. But though Kateri had suffered much, she never lost her peace of heart and remained a serene and loving individual to all who met her. One of Kateri's favourite things to do was to fashion wooden crosses and lay them in the surrounding acres as she prayed the Stations of the Cross.
Prayer became an essential part of Kateri's life and even in the most bitter of winter weather many people would see Kateri kneeling in the snow in freezing conditions praying to God before a Cross she had fashioned out of wood. She also wore a Rosary around her neck in honour of the Blessed Mother whom she loved dearly and embraced as her own mother.
Many people would flock around so they could be in the presence of this wonderful girl, for her love of God shone in her face and in times of bleak austerity Kateri showed what loving God could achieve for the soul, who abandons themselves to Him. She would spend many hours praying before the Blessed Sacrament, her face glowing with an inner light as she very simply loved God and He loved her.
It was while she was at prayer that Kateri promised the Lord to live a life of chastity and devote her whole being to Him as she continued to practice severe mortifications and penances. But even though Kateri was cautioned against too much mortification still she continued this practice.
But due to these penances and the severe winters praying in freezing temperatures, all of this took its toll on Kateri's fragile health. But through the life of Kateri, she showed that God does not ask for great knowledge or lengthy debates on theology, what God asks for is Love and Kateri excelled at loving God and her neighbour.
Kateri Tekakwitha died in 1680.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha was beatified in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.
Japan in the middle ages were considered progressive in areas of trade and the arts, as it was Japan that claims it produced the first written novel by Murasaki Shikibu. Also due to Chinese influence the Japanese became proficient in weaving, metal work and tanning as well as building ships, as trade was essential for the survival of this Island nation.
This was also a country of contrast in that Buddhism gained ground alongside the austere beliefs of the samurai, which embraced a feudal lifestyle, of at times extreme asceticism. This worked well when combating the invasions by the Mongols under the leadership of Kublai Khan. But Christianity for the most part was still not incorporated into the Japanese culture, but this would change when Japan became open to foreign trade.
The Christian Faith came to Japan around the sixteenth century, led by the Jesuits most especially Saint Francis Xavier. It would be Francis Xavier who would bring the Word of God to this nation of feudal war Lords, and the people who lived by the Samurai legends. And it would be Francis Xavier who would lay the ground work of preaching the Catholic Faith from Kyushu to Kyoto.
For the first few years this mission of Francis Xavier worked well, as the leaders of these regions allowed certain liberties to the non assuming Jesuits. But a close eye was kept on the Priests in case of trouble, but the skills of Francis Xavier must have been great to ease any concerns which the leaders of these regions may have held.
And as Francis preached the Word of God and the Salvation found only through the Catholic Church, there were many who were baptized into the Catholic Faith, as the first Church would be built in 1576 in Kyoto. But whereas the European way of worshiping was acceptable by some it was seen by others a threat to their own sense of Japanese culture and traditions.
So even though things began well under the guidance of Francis Xavier they would soon disintegrate when the Franciscans also came to Mission in the island nation that is Japan. Many of the leaders known as Shoguns, such as Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Ieyasu Tokugawa began to feel threatened by the missionaries and also with Christianity itself.
One of the Japanese men who had converted to Catholicism became known as Paul Miki not only did this courageous man convert he also entered the Religious Order in hopes of becoming a Priest, where he had hoped to serve the rest of his days pronouncing the good news to his fellow man in service of the Church.
This man was unusual in that he was of noble birth, and his both his parents had converted to Christianity, it was his parents who encouraged the young Paul to study with the Jesuits, in order for him to become one of the first Catholic Priests. Paul was a gifted speaker and spread the joy of the Good News to all who would listen and many of his fellow countrymen did just that as some converted to Catholicism. But it seemed Paul was too eloquent to the Shoguns displeasure!
And so it was that Toyotomi Hideyoshi outlawed Christianity, which then began many years of persecutions for the Converted Catholics in the region including Paul Miki. And though Shogun Hideyoshi ordered a decree banning speaking about Christianity neither Paul nor the Jesuits followed it. This flouting of his orders enraged the power hungry Hideyoshi, which would have dire consequences for the Catholic converts.
And though they faced enormous risks the Priests with Paul included continued to preach the Gospel and to encourage their listeners to embrace the Catholic Faith, and though Paul was not yet a Priest many of his fellow Japanese listened to him. They did this with full knowledge that it could cost them their lives, but Paul and the Jesuit Priests had a higher calling and that was to serve God for the Salvation of souls unto death!
Both Shoguns Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Ieyas Tokugawa, would show outright ruthlessness when dealing with the Christian influence and in their persecution and torture of Christians and Priests, these two leaders showed no mercy to anyone!
And so it came to pass that Paul Miki with two friends would be tortured, as their ears were chopped off and other tortures were suffered by these heroic men as they were paraded through the streets to warn others of the folly of following the Jesuit and Franciscan Priests.
And though Paul Miki alongside both Priests and Christian converts would pay the ultimate price for their Faith, their heroism and courage have not been forgotten. These courageous souls gave their lives so that all men could be saved, and though the Church in Japan would be driven underground for many years, the memory of the heroic virtues of the first Christians in Japan is their lasting legacy!
Paul Miki and his companions died in 1597.
Saint Paul Miki and his fellow Martyrs were canonised in 1862 by Pope Pius IX.