What Do You Know About These Great September Saints?
The Communion of Saints is just as much of a part of the Body of Christ as we are, for our union with Christ doesn’t end with death. We rarely get to see the angels and saints, but our bond in Christ makes spiritual relationships possible. What a blessing to those of us still on earth! From every nation and walk of life, this cloud of witnesses (Heb 12:1) is there to intercede for us (cf. Rev 5:8) and be signs of hope. Here are the beautiful stories of some September saints.
Martyrs of September — September 2
This feast celebrates 190 martyrs killed during the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. In 1790, the French Legislative Assembly required that all citizens—including religious and clergy—swear an oath to the Civil Constitution. The action aimed to give the government religious authority in addition to civil authority. Persecution against those that didn’t take the oath (“non-jurors”) varied over the next two years. The situation in Paris deteriorated by August 1792, however, and King Louis XVI fled with his family. Into the vacuum stepped the Legislative Assembly. They had a tenuous hold on their power and lived in constant fear of a foreign invasion or uprising of King Louis’ supporters. The fear of a royalist uprising led to the massacre of any suspected royalist supporters, including: 191 priests, religious, and lay men and women, killed over the course of two days.
We should appreciate the courage and final perseverance of the martyrs, and look deeper than the mere historical facts. Let the grizzly scene take shape for a moment: a scaffold in the center of a crazed mob; dead bodies piled up; the stain of blood on the ground; the prisoners watching their numbers thinned by each drop of the guillotine. Each martyr had to see those things and still hold fast to their faith. That is heroic virtue! Such is the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome the worst that the world can throw at us.
St. Gregory the Great — September 3
St. Gregory the Great lived from 540-604, and was a key figure in a turbulent time. He was an intelligent and gifted man; after finishing his studies, he was appointed prefect of Rome at the age of thirty. Not long after, he felt the tug of religious life; around 574, he abandoned his former life and put on a life of asceticism. He turned his house on the Caelian Hill into a monastery, as well as his estates in Sicily. Gregory lived in his converted house for three years, calling that time the happiest years of his life.
Outside the walls of his monastery, Rome experienced varying crises—from invaders to floods to pestilence. Pope Pelagius II saw all of Gregory’s administrative gifts untapped; he ordained Gregory to the diaconate. Gregory served as a legate to Constantinople, the pope’s secretary, and attempted to undertake a mission to the Angles. Apart from his time in Constantinople, Gregory relished living as a monk. That ended with the death of Pope Pelagius II in 590; Gregory was elected immediately as his successor. His life as a monk disappeared, and no amount of protesting (even to the emperor) could convince the Roman clergy to elect someone else.
During his fourteen year pontificate, he composed the Regula Pastoralis on the pastoral care of souls. He served as the spiritual head of the Church, but also ended up being the de facto administrator of Rome. He organized almsgiving throughout the city and saved the city from being sacked by the Lombards on two occasions.
St. Gregory embodied one of the most detested virtues of the modern age: obedience. He never really got to do what he wanted: pursue a life of asceticism. Yet he obeyed the will of God, serving the Church to the best of his ability. Contrast that to our secular culture—doing whatever we want is the entire goal of life! St. Gregory points us toward the selfless, not the selfish.
St. Phoebe — September 3
St. Phoebe served the Church in the apostolic age; outside of St. Paul’s mention of her at the end of his letter to the Romans, very little is known about her. She was a deaconess, held in such high esteem by St. Paul that she delivered his epistle to the Christians in Rome. Phoebe came from Cenchreae, a village just outside of Corinth.
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.” (Rom 16:1-2)
The topic of deaconesses has come up in the news; in May, Pope Francis has set up a commission to study the role of deaconesses in the early Church. While the Church has consistently held that ordained ministry is reserved to men, all of the baptized are called to service/ministry.
St. Phoebe isn’t the patroness of anything in particular, but she should be the patroness of parish volunteers. She supported St. Paul, just like altar societies support their pastors. She aided the Corinthian church, just as catechists, DREs, pastoral assistants, and parish secretaries help their parishes. The only thing we know about St. Phoebe’s life was her service to the Church; where would our parishes be without their own Phoebes?
St. Teresa of Calcutta — September 5
Mother Teresa was a rare figure recognized for holiness by faithful and secular alike. She was born in Albania in 1910, and joined the Sisters of Loreto in 1930. Her first assignment was teaching high school in Calcutta, from 1931 to 1948. During those seventeen years, the poverty she saw outside the convent walls struck her until she was compelled to act. In 1948, she received permission to minister directly to those whom no one cared for. Two years later, she received papal approval to start the Missionaries of Charity. What began very small has blossomed into thousands of nuns in 123 countries, as well as an order of contemplative brothers and priests.
She received many honors, including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. Her focus was remarkably single-minded, no matter the attention she received. “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
Her lived charity perfectly illustrates what St. Paul told the Galatians: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love” (Gal 5:6). Faith needs to be lived through charity lest it be empty (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-3, James 2:26) and conversely, great works of charity presuppose faith (Rom 3:28). Mother Teresa’s faith became even more impressive upon the posthumous publishing of Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her private correspondence described a soul who experienced years of spiritual desolation and very little consolation. It’s hard to picture someone so holy experiencing such struggles, but I find it even harder to picture someone persevering through years of such struggles. The work she did among the poorest of the poor was not easy, glamorous, or pleasant. How many of us have a hard enough time getting up for work in the morning, without having to wade through spiritual darkness?
St. John of Nicomedia — September 7
St. John was an early Church martyr under the Diocletian persecution. A single anecdote is known about him. Emperor Diocletian issued an edict calling for Christian persecution, and it was posted in the town forum. Upon learning this, St. John ripped down the copies of the edict and tore them to pieces. For his zeal, soldiers arrested, tortured, and burned him alive.
Like Jesus in the Temple, he was consumed with zeal for the Lord. He is a great example for us in standing up to unjust persecution.
St. Peter Claver — September 9
St. Peter was a Spanish Jesuit, most famous for his ministry to African slaves. After beginning his Jesuit formation in Spain, he left for Colombia in 1610. His first assignment as a priest was to minister in Cartagena: one of the two ports in South America where African slaves were sold. About 10,000 slaves arrived each year, presenting a huge ministerial need.
When a ship came in, he would enter the hold of the ship to care for each captive in some way. Peter employed his skills as a teacher and doctor, brought them food, and baptized more than 300,000 slaves. He advocated for humane treatment of the captives, which didn’t earn him friends among the merchants or ship captains. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only resistance to his ministry among the slaves. Some Catholics in Cartagena looked down on his ministry and on Africans in general. Peter served until sickness prevented him from ministering, and he passed away in 1654.
St. Peter modeled Christ’s self-emptying love. He spent his life ignoring popular perception of African slaves, spending himself in ministry, and fighting what seemed like an impossible battle. Slavery wouldn’t end in Colombia until 1851, and he still fought the good fight! (cf. 1 Tim 6:12) Whenever we have a battle that looks impossible to win, St. Peter is a good intercessor and ally.
St. Autbert — September 10
He was an 8th century bishop and mystic. St. Autbert founded the monastery at Mont Saint Michel, off the central coast of France. St. Michael the Archangel is reported to have requested the chapel himself. Future generations added onto Mont Saint Michel, and the site was confiscated during the French Revolution. It wasn’t until 1966 that the world heritage site welcomed back monks for the first time in a century and a half.
St. Autbert is a sign of hope for all of us who might be slow in following the will of God. And for the stubborn among us! According to the story, St. Michael stuck his finger in Autbert’s head when the bishop didn’t initially pay attention to the vision.
St. Theodora of Alexandria — September 11
St. Theodora’s feast is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, though not in the Roman Catholic Church. Her story is one of mistakes, penance, and incredible humility. As a young, beautiful, married woman, a rich man attempted to seduce her—without success. Undeterred, the rich man hired a woman to convince Theodora that unseen sins are secret. It worked, and Theodora fell into adultery.
The weight of her sin soon hit with full force, and she sought a monastic life to atone for her sin. Theodora entered a monastery dressed as a man and begged to be admitted. She lived eight years as a monk; not a soul knew she was actually a woman. On a routine trip to buy provisions, Theodora was falsely accused of fathering a child. This resulted in her banishment from the monastery; she was readmitted a few years before her death. Theodora raised the child until she passed. Both her adopted son and her husband became monks at the same monastery. Only at her death was her secret revealed to the monastic community.
St. Theodora can hopefully console anyone whose resolve against sin has been weakened by bad advice. It’s a reminder that sin ruptures our relationship with God. Even more so, her story is a reminder that forgiveness is possible for the contrite heart, regardless of the sin. How often have we dwelt on the guilt of a sin, and avoided asking for healing and mercy?
St. Vincent de Paul — September 27
Many know the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, but the society itself wasn’t founded by St. Vincent. It mirrors his ministry, though; throughout his life, he sought the salvation of all he encountered as well as seeking to alleviate poverty. His name is synonymous with service to the poor, but Vincent didn’t always live a life of heroic virtue. Initially, his priestly vocation featured more worldly concern than service. The change in his life wasn’t a dramatic conversion but rather a gradual turning of his heart toward Christ.
As a priest in Paris, he found out about a family in need and undertook a small collection for them. That soon evolved into a large ministry that none of the other religious orders in Paris could undertake. Vincent’s spiritual director was blunt: God was calling him to start an order of priests for this purpose. He appropriately called the nascent order the Congregation of the Mission. He needed priests to continue the work of the congregation, and proved to be an innovator in seminary education. The recent Council of Trent mandated that seminaries be established, but left many of the details to local bishops. Vincent added retreats and conferences to priestly formation. Plus, his division of philosophical studies and theological studies remains a feature of priestly formation to this day.
About the same time that Vincent established his order of priests, he was working with a noble woman (St. Louise de Marillac) to organize a group of women to assist in the charitable work of the Congregation. This group of women ultimately became the Daughters of Charity, also ministering to the poor.
St. Vincent worked to his last breath in 1660. He’s a wonderful model to any Catholic who feels inadequate and lukewarm. God always meets us where we’re at, but He doesn’t want us to stay where we’re at. Vincent is one of the myriad of examples of the transformative power of grace. He didn’t feel exactly suited to the job of founding an order, but he kept working, serving, and trusting in grace. Centuries later, Vincentians and Daughters of Charity have likely helped thousands upon thousands of souls around the world.
The Archangels — September 29
Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are the only three angels to have their names revealed in Sacred Scripture. They are reminders to us of God’s activity in the course of human events; they are a sign of His presence among us. And, they
According to tradition (though not the Magisterial Tradition), God revealed to all the angels His plan for the Incarnation. Lucifer found the idea repugnant; he rebelled, claiming “I will be like unto God!” Rev 12:7-9 tells briefly the story of the battle between St. Michael and Lucifer. St. Michael’s name comes from the Hebrew meaning of his battle cry: “Who is like unto God?”. After casting Lucifer into hell, St. Michael became the prince of angels. St. Michael has made other cameos throughout salvation history. In the Old Testament, some believe him to be the “Price Michael” mentioned in the book of Daniel and the Angel of the Lord in the book of Exodus. He is also considered by many to be the Angel of Peace that appeared at Fatima in 1916. Pope Leo XIII’s terrible vision of the horrors of the 20th century prompted him to compose the prayer for St. Michael’s intercession.
St. Gabriel has the distinct honor in being the messenger most closely associated with the Incarnation. He appeared to Zechariah (Luke 1:11-23) and then to Our Lady (Luke 1:26-38) to inform them of two wonderful births: that of John the Baptist and Jesus. One of my favorite images of St. Gabriel is at the Rheims Cathedral in France. It’s very rare to see anything other than a straight face on a medieval statue, but one of the statues at the main door features St. Gabriel with a smile on his face. Undoubtedly, the statue is an image of the Annunciation.
St. Raphael brought the healing power of God to Tobias and Sarah, in the Book of Tobit. Sarah needed relief from a demon that had afflicted her, killing each of her seven husbands on their wedding night. Tobias approached his engagement to Sara with understandable trepidation, but Raphael promised the deliverance of God. Further, Raphael counseled the young couple to keep God at the center of their marriage. The Book of Tobit is a quick read, and very worth the time!
All three archangels have different ministries and different ways of God showing His love for humanity. Young married couples have a perfect intercessor in St. Raphael. Anyone battling sin has a champion in St. Michael that has vanquished Satan.
St. Jerome — September 30
This late 4th century saint is most famous for his scholarly work with the Scriptures. Not only did he translate the Bible into Latin (called the Vulgate), but he wrote numerous commentaries on Sacred Scripture, theological works, letters, and historical writings. All before computers and internet! One of his principal apologetic letters was Against Helvidius, defending the perpetual virginity of Mary. The arguments raised by Helvidius sound awfully similar to arguments raised by non-Catholic Christians in the present day.
St. Jerome is a good example of intellectual pursuits leading to a deeper relationship with Christ. Our intellects are a gift from God, and meant to lead us to Him. And let us always remember St. Jerome’s best advice: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”