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Blessed James Oldo (Giacomo Oldo):
Good Steward of his neighbors during a Pandemic

Giacomo Oldo was born in 1364 to a prosperous family in Lodi, Italy near Milan. His father died while he was young, leaving him a legacy that made him a wealthy man. Giacomo was married at a young age to Caterina Bocconi, and they had three children. The young couple enjoyed a life of extravagance and luxury.

In the late 14th century, when the Black Death pandemic of 1347 re-emerged in northern Italy, Giacomo, like many other wealthy citizens of Lombardy, took Caterina, his mother and three children and secluded them in one of their country houses to escape the disease. Despite their precautions, however, two of his daughters died from the plague.

Giacomo’s grief was deep, but it was not until he attended the funeral of a close friend who died from the pandemic that he experienced a profound radical conversion to Jesus Christ. He became a Secular Franciscan and began using one of his houses as a hospital where he took care of the sick and provided for the poor in his region of Lombardy. Caterina was initially opposed to his work, as was his mother. But after seeing his devotion and tireless efforts on behalf of the sick, they eventually joined him in caring for the afflicted. Caterina became a Secular Franciscan herself.

In 1397 Caterina passed away, and soon thereafter, Giacomo was ordained a priest by the bishop of Lodi. His house was transformed into a chapel where small groups of people, many of them fellow Secular Franciscans, came for prayer and support. He became a celebrated preacher, and was known to have inspired many to enter consecrated religious life.

Giacomo died in 1404 at the age of 40 after contracting a disease from one of his patients. He was buried at the church of Saint Julian, the construction of which he and Caterina had financed. In the 18th century, his body was finally interred at the cathedral in Lodi. Giacomo was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1933.

 

 

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Saint Patrick, the “apostle to Ireland,” is one of the world’s most famous and celebrated saints. His missionary zeal arguably matched that of Saint Paul, whose missionary activities, though oftentimes a severe struggle, remained in the territories governed by Roman law. Saint Patrick, however, was the first recorded Christian missionary to evangelize beyond the bounds of Roman rule and into the darkness of what was then considered the end of the earth.

“Patricius” was born in Roman Britain around 385. His father was a public official and church deacon. He was kidnapped by Irish slave traders while in his mid-teens and forced into slavery; herding sheep on remote Irish hillsides under harsh conditions. Spending most of his time in solitude, he grew to trust in God and embrace a life of prayer. After six years, he made a dangerous and harrowing escape over land and sea that finally resulted in a return to his parents. They found him, at age 22, a serious visionary who sought holiness and friendship with Christ.

 

Patrick entered the priesthood, and in time, was sent to evangelize the Irish. He was appointed the bishop of Ireland in 435 and established his see at Armagh in the north.

 

The Irish were known to be wild, unrestrained and corrupt. But Patrick’s success in making converts to Christianity was nothing less than astonishing, even to him. He traveled to most parts of Ireland, winning the hearts of the Celtic people by his deep faith, humility, simplicity and pastoral care. He took great measures to incorporate pagan rituals into his teachings on Christianity. Since the ancient Celts honored their gods with fire, Patrick used bonfires to celebrate Easter; and he placed the sun, a powerful Celtic symbol, around the Christian cross to create the now familiar Celtic cross.

 

Patrick’s profound witness to the Gospel eventually brought an end to human sacrifices, trafficking of women, and slavery in general. He is the first person in recorded history to publicly oppose slavery; a protest that would not be taken up again for another millennium.

 

His writings reveal a keen understanding of stewardship as well. He wrote that whatever good he had been able to accomplish on behalf of the Lord, in his “meager, unlearned, and sinful state … has been a gift from God.”

 

Over the centuries, Irish immigrants would spread their devotion to Saint Patrick as they established the Catholic faith around the world. He is thought to have died on March 17, 461, the date which became his feast day.

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Born in western Sudan in 1869, our February stewardship saint recalled having a loving family and happy childhood. At age seven, however, she was abducted by Arab slave traders; the trauma and sheer anguish of which caused her to forget her own name. A slaver sarcastically named her Bakhita, Arabic for lucky. For the next eight years, Bakhita would be sold and resold in African slave markets. She experienced the cruelties, humiliations and sufferings of slavery, including severe emotional abuse, beatings and indescribable mutilations.

In 1883, at age14, Bakhita was sold to an Italian consul, who treated her with much kindness. She was gifted to an Italian couple in 1885 who took her to their villa outside Venice where she would become nanny to their infant daughter.

Needing to leave the country on business for a several weeks in late 1888, the couple entrusted their daughter and Bakhita to the care of a Venetian convent of the Canossian Daughters of Charity. But when time came for the pair to be collected, Bakhita refused to leave. To protect her, the religious superior complained to local authorities.

An Italian court ruled that because Sudan had outlawed slavery even before Bakhita’s birth and because in any case Italian law did not recognize slavery, Bakhita had never legally been a slave, could not be considered property, and having reached majority age, could make her own decisions. Bakhita chose to remain with the religious community.

In 1890, Bakhita received the sacraments of Christian initiation, and embraced the name Josephine. She was eventually admitted into the Canossian community and in 1902, Sister Josephine was assigned to the convent in Schio, a town in the Italian Alps.

For the rest of her life, Sister Josephine happily served the community in Schio as sacristan, cook, and portress, the community member appointed to interact with the public and provide hospitality to guests. Besides her humble and faithful stewardship of daily prayer and service, Sister Josephine helped prepare other members for missionary work in Africa. Her gentleness, calming voice, and ever-present smile caught others’ attention. She was encouraged by her community to tell her story, and in 1931, its publication made her well known throughout Italy.

Her life in Schio continued uninterrupted through two world wars. When air-raid sirens sent others scurrying for cover during World War II, Sister Josephine, unfazed, would continue her cooking or sweeping. Many believed their town escaped serious damage because of her saintliness and felt protected by her mere presence.

Sister Josephine died on February 8, 1947. Since then, many have sought her prayerful intercession, especially those who experience any form of slavery, and those who need to find peace, forgiveness and reconciliation in their lives. She was canonized a saint in 2000 by Saint John Paul II. Her feast day is February 8.

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Saint John the Almsgiver earned the title “almsgiver” because of his passion for social justice and his stewardship of the poor and oppressed. Born at Amathus, Cyprus, around 560, the son of the governor of Cyprus, he was wealthy and of noble lineage. His wife and children died before John reached the age of 50.

A devout Christian, John sought to live a life of simplicity and in the spirit of poverty despite his wealth. He used his riches and position to help the poor. Despite being a layman, the Church at Alexandria petitioned to have John appointed bishop. He was consecrated Patriarch of Alexandria in 610.

He pledged himself to practice “charity without limits” and placed several thousand needy persons under his personal, pastoral care. He always referred to the poor as his “lords and masters,” because of what he called “their mighty influence at the Court of the Most High.”

He divided the church treasury’s gold among hospitals and monasteries, and worked to establish an economic redistribution system whereby poor people received adequate money and means to support themselves. Refugees from neighboring territories were welcomed with open arms.

John was a reformer who established new hospitals and increased the number of churches in Alexandria from seven to seventy.

As bishop, John developed a reputation for kindness. Twice weekly, he made himself available to anyone, rich or destitute, who wished to speak with him. People lined up and waited patiently for their turn.

When asked about his passionate concern for the poor, it is said that John often recounted a youthful dream. In it, a beautiful young woman told him that she was “charity.” She told him: “I am the oldest daughter of the King. If you are devoted to me, I will lead you to Jesus. No one is as influential with him as I am. Remember, it was for me that he became a baby to redeem the world.” John used this story to persuade the rich to be generous.

When the Persians sacked Jerusalem in 614, John sent food and money to support the Christian refugees. Eventually, the Persians took over Alexandria, and John himself was forced to flee to his native Cyprus. John died peacefully on November 11, 619. His feast day is January 23.

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John of Kanty, also known as John Cantius, was born to a wealthy family in Kanti, near Auschwitz, Poland, in 1390. He was educated at the University of Krakow and was ordained a priest soon after completing his studies.

John was appointed a lecturer at the university and was known to be an effective teacher and preacher. He was assigned to a parish for a time, but after a few years was recalled to university life to hold a chair in theology.

John was held in such high esteem that his academic gown was used to invest each new candidate at the conferring of doctoral degrees. He was known to be a good steward of the students entrusted to him and saw to their religious instruction. He taught them to oppose false statements and opinions with courtesy and persuasiveness.

He was renowned not only for his teaching but also for his good humor, humility, simple way of life and generosity to the poor. He subsisted only on what was strictly necessary to sustain his life, giving food and clothing regularly to the poor. When he was urged to take better care of his health he replied by pointing out that the early desert fathers were notably long-lived.

His fame was not all confined to academic circles. He was a welcome guest at the homes of the nobility, although once his simple cassock caused the servants to refuse him admission.

He made a number of pilgrimages, all by walking; four to Rome and one to Turkish-held Jerusalem where he desired to suffer martyrdom at the hands of the Turks.

John of Kanty died on Christmas Eve, 1473, at the age of 83. He was canonized in 1767. His feast day is December 23. He is the patron saint of Poland and Lithuania. His remains were interred in the Church of St. Anne in Kraków, where his tomb became and remains a popular pilgrimage site.

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St. Frances Cabrini, better known as Mother Cabrini, was the first American citizen to be elevated to sainthood by the Catholic Church. Born in 1850, near Milan in northern Italy, she was the youngest of 13 children. As a young girl she was fascinated by the stories of missionaries and made up her mind to join a religious order. She tried twice to enter religious communities but was turned down both times because of poor health.

Having earned a teaching certificate, she became a school-teacher in a girls’ school, and eventually became headmistress of an orphanage where she drew a small community of women together to live a religious way of life.

Gaining the attention of the local bishop for their way of life and their care of poor children in schools and hospitals, Cabrini and six other women took religious vows and in 1880, their community, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, was officially approved.

Sister Frances Cabrini dreamt of being a missionary in China, but Pope Leo XIII had other plans for her. He asked her to travel to the United States and minister to the Italian immigrant community in New York. She made that journey in 1889 with the six members of her community.

Said to have possessed remarkable administrative abilities, Frances Cabrini was responsible for the establishment of nearly seventy orphanages, schools and hospitals, scattered over eight countries in Europe, North America and in parts of Latin America.

There is much that can be learned first-hand about Mother Cabrini because of the letters and diaries she left behind. A very prayerful person, she was able to accomplish in her work what others said could not be done. And even as she was maintaining schools and hospitals and in charge of hundreds of nuns, she was ever mindful to care for the poor, the homeless and immigrants who were without jobs.

Frances Cabrini’s legacy continues today through the Missionary Sisters, their lay collaborators and in the innumerable religious institutions that bear her name. Her charism continues to inspire thousands who serve the poor in schools, hospitals and other ministries around the world.

St. Frances Cabrini died in Chicago in 1917 at the age of 67 and was proclaimed a saint in 1946. She is the patron saint of immigrants and hospital administrators. Her feast day is celebrated on November 13.

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Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, or Theresa of Lisieux, is a model stewardship saint because of her simple and practical way of life. Better known as the “Little Flower,” Theresa was an extremely popular saint in the first half of the twentieth century. Born in France in 1873 to a very pious family, Marie Francoise Therese Martin became a Carmelite nun at Lisieux, France, at the age of fifteen. She dedicated her life to growing in holiness in a very simple and straightforward way. She meditated on the Sacred Scriptures as well as the writings of famous saints such as Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales and John of the Cross. She was faithful to the Carmelite Rule and the rhythm of daily life and worship in her religious community. Theresa believed that authentic holiness could be grasped by anyone. It was not just a pious ideal available only to clergy and religious.

In 1895 she suffered the initial stages of tuberculosis, the disease that eventually caused her death. And in the last two years of her life she remained at Lisieux and wrote a spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which became immensely popular and was translated into several languages after her death. She made a well-known promise to spend her life in heaven continuing to do good works on earth, “as long as there were souls to be saved.” She said she would let fall a “shower of roses” from heaven.

St. Theresa died in 1897 at the age of 24. She was canonized in 1925, an amazingly short length of time since her death. She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Saint John Paul II in 1997. Theresa of Lisieux is the patron saint of the missions, florists, aviators, and the countries France and Russia. Her feast day is October 1.

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During the 1997 World Youth Day celebrations in Paris, Saint John Paul II beatified Antoine Frederic Ozanam in Notre Dame Cathedral and proclaimed him to be a model for all Catholic laity. “No better model could be given to the youth of the world than this young man … ‘Show us your works!’”

Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam was a French Catholic scholar and defender of the Catholic faith at a time when it underwent severe challenges in early 19th century France. He also founded the Catholic association of laity dedicated to serving the poor, which came to be known as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Frederic was born in Milan, Italy, in 1813, the fifth of 14 children. Showing academic promise at an early age, his parents encouraged him to study. He was interested in law, languages and philosophy, and in 1831 went to the renowned Parisian university, the Sorbonne, to study law. It was here that he encountered hostility to Catholicism. He published a short work responding to this hostility that attracted the attention of French Catholic writers and politicians.

Frederic’s writings emphasized the important social contributions of the Church, but a conversation with another student disturbed him: “Frederic, I accept that the Church may have done things for people in the past but what are you doing now? Show us your works!” Those words stung the young Frederic so much that he decided to work with the poor. In 1833, with seven university companions, he laid the foundations of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul honoring the great saint who in another time had also ministered to the poor of the city of Paris. He was 20 years old.

Frederic earned a doctor of laws in 1836 and a doctorate in letters in 1839. He became a professor at the university and, in time, chair of foreign languages. His lectures at the Sorbonne were among the most popular as students flocked to hear this young, vibrant speaker.

In 1841 Frederic married, had one daughter, and is said to have embraced a youthful enthusiasm for his marriage and his parenting. Each month he would observe the anniversary of his wedding with a thoughtfully chosen gift, however small. Frederic brought that same domestic love and attention to the growing Society which spread throughout France and other countries within a relatively short time.

He gained a reputation as the leading historical and literary critic in the “new” Catholic movement in France, and his popular writings in the late 1840s won him a number of French writing awards. He was hailed as a brilliant promoter of the Catholic faith. Frederic died of tuberculosis at age 40 on September 8, 1853. Today the Society numbers nearly a million members in 142 countries. Frederic’s feast day is September 9.

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Saint Mary Magdalene is one of the most revered saints in the history of the Church and her discipleship emphasizes the complementary roles of women, Saint Peter and the other disciples as witnesses to the Risen Christ.

From the New Testament, one can conclude that Mary came from Magdala, a village on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. She was a friend of Jesus of Nazareth and a leading figure among those who were his disciples. She was one of the women who accompanied and financially supported Jesus and the twelve apostles which suggests that the women were respectable, well-to-do members of the community.

At the time Jesus was executed on Golgotha, when the men in his company had already run away and abandoned him, Mary Magdalene is specifically identified in the Gospels as one of the women who refused to leave him. She was present at the Crucifixion and burial.

What is by far the most important affirmation about Mary Magdalene, however, is that she is mentioned in all five of the Resurrection narratives of the Gospel tradition (Mark 16:1-8, Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 23:55-24:12, John 20:1-18, and Mark 16:9-20). In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, she is the primary witness to Christ’s Resurrection. All four Gospels explicitly name her as being present at the tomb and she was the first person to preach the “Good News” of that miracle. From other texts of the early Christian era, Mary Magdalene’s status as a disciple in the years after Jesus’ death is as prominent as the twelve apostles.

For many centuries Mary Magdalene was the symbol of Christian devotion, especially that of repentance. However, Christian traditions that came after the New Testament era erroneously equated Mary Magdalene with both the sinful woman in Luke 7 who anointed Jesus and with Mary of Bethany in John 11 and Luke 10 who also anointed Jesus. The tradition that Mary Magdalene was a repentant prostitute has been dismissed by modern biblical scholarship as almost certainly untrue.

Saint Mary Magdalene has been celebrated throughout Christian history in art and literature. There are many famous depictions of her in art such as Rembrandt’s Christ and St. Mary Magdalene at the Tomb and Titian’s Noli Me Tangere (Latin: “Do not touch me”). Her feast day is July 22.

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María Guadalupe García Zavala was born in 1878 in Zapopan, Jalisco, Mexico. As a child she made frequent visits to the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan, located next to her father’s religious goods shop. Her acquaintances said Maria treated everyone with equal respect and kindness.

At age 23, Maria was engaged to be married, but broke it off because of a growing sense that the Lord was calling her to life in religious community and of service to the sick and the poor. When she confided this change of heart to her spiritual director, he revealed his own desire to establish a religious community to work with those who were hospitalized. He invited María to join him.

The new congregation, which officially began in 1901, was known as the “Handmaids of St. Margaret Mary (Alacoque) and the Poor.” María worked as a nurse in the hospital. Compassion and care for the physical and spiritual well-being of the sick were the primary concerns. María worked tirelessly.

Sister María was soon named head of the quickly-growing community of sisters. She taught the community, mostly by her example, the importance of living the Gospel’s spirit of poverty. This included living a life of humility and exhibiting joy and a loving demeanor each day to each person they encountered.

At times, Mother María and others in the community would take to the streets begging in order to collect money for the hospital. The sisters also worked in parishes to assist the priests and to serve as catechists.

From 1911 until 1936, the Catholic Church in Mexico underwent severe persecution. Mother María put her own life at risk to help the clergy of Guadalajara, and even the archbishop, go into hiding in the community’s hospital. The humble and generous treatment she extended even to their persecutors when they needed food or medical care did not go unnoticed. It was not long before they, too, began defending the hospital run by the sisters.

During her lifetime, 11 foundations were established in Mexico. Today, the religious community has 22 foundations and is active in Mexico, Peru, Iceland, Greece and Italy.

Mother María died on June 24, 1963, at the age of 85. Her feast day is June 24.

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