Today the Franciscans celebrate the feast of St. Benedict the Black, also known as St. Benedict the Moor. I first read about this sixteenth century saint sometime in the 1950s. His story fascinated me.
He was born the free son of North African slaves in Sicily. He spent a number of years as a member of a group of Franciscan hermits. The small order was suppressed by the pope and he entered the Franciscans and began as a cook for the community. Even though he was illiterate and a lay brother, he was given major responsibilities, even becoming guardian of the community where he lived. They recognized the gifts of this man who had been insulted for his color and whom many would look down on for his lack of education.
Not much more is known about him.
A lay brother, illiterate, son of slaves, and black – and a saint.
In the late fifties a Franciscan priest got me a statue of St. Benedict (which is stored somewhere in Ames). I should bring it back the next time I get there.
The civil rights movement was very much on my heart during those years and to have found St. Benedict the Black helped me to root my support in my faith.
St. Benedict still inspires me as a simple witness to the dignity of all people and challenges me to respect the people I work with and recognize their gifts.