Tag Archives: saints

The blood of the poor

One way to keep poor is not to accept money
which is the result of defrauding the poor.
Dorothy Day, May, 1952

Saint Ignatius of Laconi, Sardinia, was a Capuchin brother who died on May 11, 1781, noted most of all for his begging. While begging he not only gave people a chance to share but he also brought about reconciliation between peoples and converted sinners.

A notorious merchant in town, Franchino, was enraged that Brother Ignatius never stopped at his door to beg alms, because the merchant had built his fortune by defrauding the poor.

Franchino complained to the guardian of the Capuchins who ordered Brother Ignatius to stop and beg from the merchant. Brother Ignatius agreed but said, “Very well. If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

What happened next is extraordinary – but true to the reality of the situation.

As Dorothy Day wrote:

“But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing through the sack. They trickled down on Franchino’s doorstep and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet.  “What is this?” gasped the Guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”

The quote from Dorothy Day is found in Robert Ellsberg’s By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day, pages 108-109.

The fast of Mother Drexel

“If we live the Gospel, we will be people of justice
and our lives will bring good news to the poor.”
Saint Katherine Drexel

Katherine Drexel came from money, but also from a house in Philadelphia where prayer and open doors for the poor were part of her growing up.

She saw a need for responding to blacks and Native Americans (who were called “Colored and Indians” in her day) and asked the pope to send priests for them. Pope Leo XIII told her to be a missionary. And she did.

She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work with blacks and Native Americans, founding schools and even Xavier University in New Orleans.

Though she and her sisters inherited millions, she never used the money for her congregation but assisted others in responding to needs of the marginalized.

Though it might seem that her approach was mostly what some would term “charity,” it is important to realize that Mother Drexel also spoke out against segregation before the civil rights movement. Her sisters were threatened for their commitment to blacks.

She is one of those who live out today’s reading from Isaiah 58:

This, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.

May we too be people who respond to those in need as missionaries of the love, justice, and mercy of God.

Persistence in the face of intransigence

Today is the feast of Saint Scholastica, sister (possibly twin sister) of Saint Benedict, the father of western monasticism. She is often consider the mother of Benedictines.

There is a beautiful story told by St. Gregory the Great in his Books of Dialogues, about her persistence.

Each year Benedict and Scholastica met for a day of prayer and discussion in a house near Benedict’s monastery. As a woman she was not permitted in the male monastery.

She had a premonition that she would soon die and so she asked her brother to stay the night and speak of the things of heaven. He said no; he had to return to the monastery, because of the Rule. She bowed her head and prayed. A huge storm came on and prevented Benedict from leaving.


Benedict castigated her. But she calmly noted:

I asked you and you would not listen to me. So I asked my God and he listened.

St. Gregory notes that

“It ought not surprise us that the woman won out. John tells us that ‘God is Love.‘ It was inevitable that she who loved more would accomplish more.”

This story reminded me of something I read recently:

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

So let us too persist in prayer – in the face of intransigence.

A call for missionaries

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Matthew 9: 37-38

Today is the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of Roma: Gesu: arm of St. Francis Xaviewthe patrons of missionaries, who died at 46 years of age, after eleven years as a missionary to Asia. He was a tireless worker and baptized thousands.

In one of his letters he complained about the lack of workers in mission, specifically addressing those studying at the universities in Europe.

I often imagine myself dashing about the schools of Europe, especially at Paris, and crying out like a madman to those who have more learning than love: “What multitudes of souls are being excluded from heaven and cast down into hell through your fault!” If only these men would be as much concerned about rendering an account to God of the teaching they could be doing and the talents they could be using as they are with their learning!

This is even more extraordinary because he had been a young professor at the university when he heard the call of St. Ignatius to follow Christ is a special way.

Today I am at the Central American gathering of associates of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. We are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and from the US, gathered until Monday morning to share or love of God in the tradition of Francis and Clare, together with the Franciscan Sisters who are in mission in Honduras.


These sisters and associates are people who take seriously the call to mission – even if it is only in their own towns and families.

For me, this is a time to renew my commitment to mission and those who are accompanying us – in spirit and in the flesh.




“Brother” Jacoba and Saint Francis

“Bring me the delicious almond cookies
that you prepared for me when I was ill in Rome.”
Saint Francis to “Brother” Jacoba, as he lay dying


There is one story about Saint Francis that deserves more attention – his beloved Roman friend, Giacoma Frangipane de Settesoli, also known as Lady or Brother Jacoba.

Francis seems to have met this wealthy woman who provided him with a place to stay while in Rome. She provided some land that the friars used as a hospice lepers. She later helped the Franciscans obtain the property that his now the church of San Francesco a Ripa Grande.

She was a great friend of Francis and arrived at the Porziuncula as Francis was dying. As Augusting Thompson writes in Francis of Assisi: a new biography:

“No outside visitors were permitted to see Francis, with one exception, a woman whose importance to him is known only from the stories told about the days immediately before his death. She was Jacoba de’ Settesoli, a matron of means from a prominent Roman family. Perhaps this woman belonged to the circle of pious Roman women that included the recluse Sister Pressede, of whom Francis was also very fond. Jacoba had provided Francis with lodging during his visits to Rome, and he remembered her with great fondness. She was probably the only woman with whom Francis ever developed a close friendship, one so close that he even called her a “brother” and excepted her from the rules excluding women from the cloister. He asked the brothers to send her a message, informing her of his impending death. He asked that she prepare him a gray shroud for burial, modeled on the burial robe used for monks of the Cistercian Order. In a moment of nostalgia, Francis also asked her to send him some of the confection of almonds and honey that the Romans called mostacciolo that she used to make for him during his visits.
“In fact, word of Francis’s decline had already reached Jacoba. Before his message could even be sent, she arrived at the friary. Asked what to do about the arrival of a woman, Francis, as in the past, told them that the rule of cloister did not apply to her, especially since she had traveled so far to see him. As it turned out, she had already bought gray cloth for the shroud, incense and wax for the funeral rites, and all the ingredients needed to make the mostacciolo. The brothers took her offerings to make the shroud and funeral candles. She prepared the confection, but Francis was now so sick that he could hardly eat any of it.”

Francis, ascetic though he was, did not hesitate to be close friends with a rich Roman woman, nor was he loathe to ask her to bring a special almond treat that she had prepared for him when he was sick in Rome. This was the man who would spread ashes on his food so that he would not enjoy it too much!

frate-jacopaFrancis, welcoming sister death, also welcomed “Brother” Jacoba and recognized the right of a righteousness woman to be present in the cloister where he was dying.

Brother Jacoba is an example of a woman who lived in the world but as a member of the Order of Penance (the lay Franciscans) did not hesitate to serve the poor and God’s people.

She is buried in the crypt of the Basilica of Saint Francis in Assisi, close to the tomb of the saint who inspired her and who loved her almond treats.


The photo of Giotto’s Death of St. Francis in the church of Santa Croce in Florence was taken in February 2013.

The image of Frate Jacopa is from the website of the church of San Francesco a Ripa Grande

Father of the poor

Vanity of Vanities
All is Vanity.
Ecclesiastes 1:2

Saint Thomas of Villanova, whose feast is celebrated today, had all the reasons in the world to boast – a good family, a good education, a professorship in philosophy at twenty-six, prior and provincial of the Augustinians, archbishop. But I think he would more likely glory in being called “father of the poor” and “the almsgiver.”

When he was named archbishop of Valencia in 1544, he walked to his new archdiocese on foot, in his well-worn Augustinian habit with an old hat. The canons of the cathedral raised money to buy furniture for his dwelling, but he donated it to a local hospital. All that he accepted was a new hat.

He proceeded to reform his diocese, but he was most known for his generosity to the poor. Hundreds were fed every day. When someone complained that there were “unworthy poor,” taking advantage of his largesse, he noted that this is a concern for the police; he was called “to assist and relieve those who come to my door.”

He was, like many bishop saints, concerned for the poor – not only fed them but caring for foundling and poor brides. As he approached death he gave all his goods to the poor. He donated his bed to the prison but borrowed it until his death on September 8, 1555.

All is vanity – unless it is given to God and the poor.


Statue on the grounds of Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania 


The dogs of God

Today the church celebrates the founded of the Dominicans (canes Domini – the dogs of God), St. Dominic of Guzman.

What is striking about his life of faith is how he saw the need of a serious intellectual life combined with a life of poverty and identification with the poor.

As a young man he sold his books in the face of a famine: “I will not study on dead skins while living skins are dying of hunger.”

When he accompanied his bishop in southern France, among the ascetic and world-denying Albigensians, he noted that the Cistercians had little effect on them since they traveled and preached surrounded by power and wealth. He also rejected use of violence to try to convert the heretics: “Arm yourself with prayer rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes.”

As he lay dying, he left a simple testament to his friars: “Have charity, guard humility, and make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.”

Though I find myself spiritually more a follower of Francis of Assisi than of Dominic, I find the two of them complimentary, offering us varied ways to live out our following of Christ.

There is a legend that Dominic met Francis one day after having a dream of an ill-clad beggar. They embraced and a tradition has ensued that the Dominicans and Franciscans visit each other on the feast of their founders.


San Croce, Florence