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Stewardship Saint

Saint Roque Gonzalez de Santa Cruz was born on November 17, 1576 in the city of Asunción, now the capital of Paraguay, South America. The son of wealthy Spanish colonists, he was well-educated and a devout Catholic. He was ordained a priest at age 22.

In 1609, attracted to the evangelizing activities of the Jesuits, Father Roque entered the order and began his own evangelizing ministry as a missionary in a vast region of South America where today the countries of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay intersect. He would spend the next two decades searching for indigenous peoples, gaining their trust and showing them how to improve their lives by settling them into organized communities protected from slave traders. He then converted them to Christianity. The written records of his extraordinary accomplishments as a missionary and explorer still exist.

At a time when Spanish conquistadors were brutalizing and enslaving natives, Father Roque helped them become self-sufficient and free. In 1613 he established his first native settlement, and spearheaded the Jesuit-movement to establish what came to be called “reductions,” independent Indian village communities that were off limits to slave traders.

The economy of these villages made the Indians self-supporting by combining communal agriculture with private property holding. And the villages had their own political structure that gave the natives a measure of freedom. Father Roque was an innovator who created the model for these unique communities.

Father Roque’s creative evangelizing ministry not only made Christianity attractive to the natives of the region, it even got the attention of such European intellectuals as Voltaire who, singularly impressed with Father Roque’s ministry, wrote:

The Paraguayan missions reached the highest degree of civilization to which it is possible to lead a young people. In those missions, law was respected, morals were pure, a happy brotherliness bound men together, the useful arts and even some of the more graceful sciences flourished, and there was abundance everywhere.

Not everyone embraced his model of evangelizing though. In 1628, Father Roque, joined by two other Jesuits who would later become saints themselves, Saint Juan del Castillo, SJ and Saint Alonso Rodríguez, SJ, established a mission that roused the hostility of a local chieftain. In November 1628, Father Roque and his Jesuit companions were tortured and killed.

“All the Christians among my countrymen loved the Father and grieved for his death because he was the father of all our Indian communities along the Paraná River” so testified Chief Guarecupi after Father Roque’s assassination. The chief’s testimony revealed a deep affection by the indigenous people for Father Roque and their awareness of the great personal sacrifices he had made over two decades to improve their lives and bring them to Christ.

Father Roque was canonized by Saint John Paul II in 1988. His feast day is November 17.

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Alphonsus Rodriguez was a Spanish Jesuit lay brother whose assignment for 45 years was being a doorkeeper at one of its colleges. One observer noted that Alphonsus carried out this simple task with such loving hospitality that the act of opening the college door became a “sacramental gesture.”

 

Born in Segovia, Spain in 1533, Alphonsus was the child of a prosperous wool merchant. His father died when he was 14 and he left school to help his mother run the family business. He inherited the business when he was only 23 years old and at the age of 26 he married María Suarez, with whom he had three children. By the time he was 31, though, he found himself a widower who had not only lost his wife, but his mother and two of his children as well.

 

Alphonsus sold his business and began living a life of prayer and simplicity. When his third child died, his thoughts turned to living in a religious community. He wanted to become a Jesuit but was rejected for his lack of formal education. In 1571 he applied a second time and was accepted as a lay brother. At age 40 he was sent to the recently established college on Spain’s Mediterranean island of Majorca and was assigned the humble position of porter, a doorkeeper.

 

His daily responsibilities for the next 45 years included receiving visitors who came to the college, searching for the college staff or students who were wanted in the parlor, delivering messages, running errands and distributing alms to the needy. He would, however, transform this humble station into a ministry of hospitality and spiritual guidance.

 

Alphonsus exercised a marvelous influence not only on the members of the college community, but upon a great number of people who came to him for advice. His reputation for holiness grew and people began going to him for spiritual direction. Saint Peter Claver, while a student at the college, was one of them. It was Alphonsus who inspired Claver to become a missionary in the New World.

 

Alphonsus once wrote that each time the bell at the front door rang he looked at the door and envisioned that it was God who was standing outside seeking admittance. He died on October 31, 1617 and in 1633 local officials declared him patron saint of Majorca. In 1888 he was canonized a saint and the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins memorialized him in a sonnet. His feast day is October 31.

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Stewardship Saint

Every capital campaign requires initial donors, those major gifts in the quiet phase that ensure a strong foundational for the campaign’s future. Large gifts can stretch people’s pocketbooks, but can we imagine entirely emptying them? That’s the story of St. Katherine Drexel.

 

The daughter of a prominent investment banker in Philadelphia in1858, Katherine experienced all the trappings of high society. Still, her family was Catholic and she received a strong, faith-based upbringing. They traveled frequently, exposing young Katherine to the needs on the American frontier. After her father’s death, Katherine inherited a large sum of money.

 

Still, Katherine’s heart was not in becoming another socialite with the East Coast elite. She began parsing out her inheritance to charity work among the Native Americans. During a pilgrimage to Rome, she begged Pope Leo XIII to appeal for missionaries to the people she’d come to love. His response changed the course of Katherine’s life: “Why don’t you become a missionary?”

 

Four years later, Katherine had founded a religious order specifically to serve the Native American and African American population in the United States. Her order opened 145 missions and over 70 schools across the United States. During Katherine’s life, the cost of opening these schools was largely financed by her personal fortune of nearly $20 million – roughly $500 million today.

 

While most of us won’t be called to give away every penny to our name, Katherine’s example of total surrender can inspire us no matter our walk of life. Rather than use her money for selfish pursuits, Katherine saw a need and sought to fill it with everything she had. Where is the need in your community? How are you seeking to meet it?

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Stewardship Saint

“When [Jesus] looked up he saw some wealthy people putting their offerings into the treasury and he noticed a poor widow putting in two small coins. He said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than the rest” (Luke 21:1-3).

 

Juan Diego was born a member of the native Chichimeca people in central Mexico. He was not a particularly wealthy or educated man. He experienced a deep conversion to Christianity later in life. His devotion to the Eucharist led him to walk long miles to Mass and to receive formation from the local Franciscan friars. One day’s walk stood on from the rest. On December 9th, 1531, a woman appeared to him on Tepeyac Hill. She appeared in the dress of the native people and spoke to Juan Diego in his native language, but she revealed herself to be the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

Juan Diego was entrusted with a mission both simple and profound – to ask the local bishop to construct a shrine. Upon his first request, the bishop was understandably skeptical. He instructed Juan Diego to ask Mary for a sign. Three days later, Juan Diego returned to Tepayac Hill. There, Mary appeared again and fragrant roses bloomed out of season. Juan Diego picked the roses and returned to the bishop.

 

Here was a simple gift from a simple man – a mantle full of roses. Yet as the roses tumbled from Juan Diego’s cloak, there on the fabric was the image now so familiar across the world – Our Lady of Guadalupe. Juan Diego never could have imagined the results of his simple gift. The “yes” of Juan Diego led to the construction of a shrine, inspired millions of conversions, and still transforms lives to this day.

 

We all have roses and small coins. If we can step out in faith and offer the little we have, who knows what great deeds God will do?

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Stewardship Saint

In this internet age, we have unique insight into the lives of modern day saints. St. Teresa of Kolkata is much beloved for her care for the poorest of the poor in the slums of India.

Born in Albania, St. Teresa began her religious life as a member of the Sisters of Loreto. After a placement in India teaching at a boarding school, she experienced what she referred to as a “call within a call.” Seeing the destitute on the margins of society, St. Teresa could no longer remain behind the walls of the school. She was compelled to take her ministry to the streets. In 1950 she received permission for the community that would become the Missionaries of Charity.

In St. John Paul II’s document on the Dignity and Vocation of Women, he writes “the moral and spiritual strength of a woman is joined to her awareness that God entrusts the human being to her in a special way” (30).

What is stewardship if not entrusting? God gives us our life, with all it’s gifts, strengths, and weaknesses. St. Teresa of Kolkata recognized that she was entrusted with her life, her one life, to offer as a gift to those in need. As the Missionaries of Charity grew, as donations came in and convents were built, St. Teresa recognized that not only was she entrusted with the means to serve, but she was entrusted with the person themselves. Every person she encountered – the dying, the disabled, the refugees, the orphan – she met as if meeting as Christ.

 

As we grow in a stewardship way of life, let us remember that we are not only entrusted with our finances and abilities, but we are entrusted with one another, brothers and sisters in the family of God.

 

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Stewardship Saint

Clare of Assisi was a close friend of Saint Francis of Assisi and the foundress of the Poor Clares. She was born in Assisi in 1194 and at age 18 was so moved by the Lenten sermons of Francis that she renounced all of her possessions and entered a convent, much to the dissatisfaction of her family and friends, who tried very hard to dissuade her and bring her home. She was formed in the religious life at Benedictine monasteries and then accepted Francis’ offer of a small house for herself and her companions adjacent to the church of San Damiano in Assisi. At age 21, she was appointed by Francis to lead the community, much against her will. She would lead the community for the next forty years and would never leave the San Damiano convent. The community would eventually include her mother and two sisters.

The way of life in the new community was marked by poverty and austerity, and sustained itself entirely from charitable contributions. The Poor Clares observed almost complete silence unless spoken to or in order to perform a work of charity. They went barefoot, slept on the ground and ate no meat. In later years, Clare urged her nuns to moderate their own austerities and offer Christ “reasonable service and sacrifice seasoned with the salt of prudence.” The greatest emphasis, of course, was on gospel poverty. They owned no property.

Clare served the sick and washed the feet of the begging nuns. She was devoted to a life of prayer and celebration of the Eucharist. She was first up in the morning to ring the choir bell and light the candles.

Clare sought to imitate Francis’ virtues and way of life so much so that she was sometimes called “another Francis.” She played a significant role in encouraging and aiding Francis, whom she saw as a spiritual father figure. She took care of him during his final illness.

From the time Francis died in 1226 until her own death 27 years later, Clare suffered various illnesses and was often bedridden. All the while, she lived a simple but dedicated religious life, performing such menial tasks as sewing altar linens for local parishes. Twice when the town of Assisi was under attack, Clare prayed before the Blessed Sacrament and the armies were said to have ended their siege and fled.

Clare’s nuns soon spread to other countries in Europe, including Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England. Today, they are also established in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. She passed away on August 11, 1253 and was canonized two years later. Her feast day is August 11.

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