St. Clare of Assisi was born in Assisi on July 16, 1194, as Chiara Offreduccio, the beautiful eldest daughter of Favorino Sciffi, Count of Sasso-Rosso and his wife Ortolana. Tradition says her father was a wealthy representative of an ancient Roman family and her mother was a very devout woman belonging to the noble family of Fiumi.
As a young girl, Clare dedicated herself to prayer. At 18-years-old, she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach during a Lenten service in the church of San Giorgio and asked him to help her live according to the Gospel. On Palm Sunday in 1212, Clare left her father’s home and went to the chapel of the Porziuncula to meet with Francis. While there, Clare’s hair was cut off and she was given a plain robe and veil in exchange for her rich gown.
Clare joined the convent of the Benedictine nuns of San Paulo, near Bastia, under Francis’ orders. When her father found her and attempted to force her back into his home, she refused and professed that she would have no other husband than Jesus Christ. In order to give her the greater solitude she desired, Francis sent Clare to Sant’ Angelo in Panzo, another Benedictine nun’s monastery.
In 1182, Pietro Bernardone returned from a trip to France to find out his wife had given birth to a son. Far from being excited or apologetic because he’d been gone, Pietro was furious because she’d had his new son baptized Giovanni after John the Baptist. The last thing Pietro wanted in his son was a man of God — he wanted a man of business, a cloth merchant like he was, and he especially wanted a son who would reflect his infatuation with France. So he renamed his son Francesco — which is the equivalent of calling him Frenchman.
Francis enjoyed a very rich easy life growing up because of his father’s wealth and the permissiveness of the times. From the beginning everyone — and I mean everyone — loved Francis. He was constantly happy, charming, and a born leader. If he was picky, people excused him. If he was ill, people took care of him. If he was so much of a dreamer he did poorly in school, no one minded. In many ways he was too easy to like for his own good. No one tried to control him or teach him.
Francis’ conversion did not happen overnight. God had waited for him for twenty-five years and now it was Francis’ turn to wait. Francis started to spend more time in prayer. He went off to a cave and wept for his sins. Sometimes God’s grace overwhelmed him with joy.
One day while riding through the countryside, Francis, the man who loved beauty, who was so picky about food, who hated deformity, came face to face with a leper. Repelled by the appearance and the smell of the leper, Francis nevertheless jumped down from his horse and kissed the hand of the leper. When his kiss of peace was returned, Francis was filled with joy. As he rode off, he turned around for a last wave, and saw that the leper had disappeared. He always looked upon it as a test from God…that he had passed.
His search for conversion led him to the ancient church at San Damiano. While he was praying there, he heard Christ on the crucifix speak to him, “Francis, repair my church.” Francis assumed this meant church with a small c — the crumbling building he was in. Acting again in his impetuous way, he took fabric from his father’s shop and sold it to get money to repair the church. His father saw this as an act of theft — and put together with Francis’ cowardice, waste of money, and his growing disinterest in money made Francis seem more like a madman than his son. Pietro dragged Francis before the bishop and in front of the whole town demanded that Francis return the money and renounce all rights as his heir.
The bishop was very kind to Francis; he told him to return the money and said God would provide. That was all Francis needed to hear. He not only gave back the money but stripped off all his clothes — the clothes his father had given him — until he was wearing only a hair shirt. In front of the crowd that had gathered he said, “Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'” Wearing nothing but castoff rags, he went off into the freezing woods — singing. And when robbers beat him later and took his clothes, he climbed out of the ditch and went off singing again. From then on Francis had nothing…and everything.
Francis went back to what he considered God’s call. He begged for stones and rebuilt the San Damiano church with his own hands, not realizing that it was the Church with a capital C that God wanted repaired. Soon Francis started to preach. (He was never a priest, though he was later ordained a deacon under his protest.) Francis was not a reformer; he preached about returning to God and obedience to the Church.
Slowly companions came to Francis, people who wanted to follow his life of sleeping in the open, begging for garbage to eat…and loving God. With companions, Francis knew he now had to have some kind of direction to this life so he opened the Bible in three places. He read the command to the rich young man to sell all his good and give to the poor, the order to the apostles to take nothing on their journey, and the demand to take up the cross daily. “Here is our rule,” Francis said — as simple, and as seemingly impossible, as that. He was going to do what no one thought possible any more — live by the Gospel. Francis took these commands so literally that he made one brother run after the thief who stole his hood and offer him his robe!
John was the son of Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, and Salome. John and his brother St. James were among the first disciples called by Jesus. In The Gospel According to Mark he is always mentioned after James and was no doubt the younger brother. His mother was among those women who ministered to the circle of disciples. James and John were called Boanerges, or “sons of thunder,” by Jesus, perhaps because of some character trait such as the zeal exemplified in Mark 9:38 and Luke 9:54, when John and James wanted to call down fire from heaven to punish the Samaritan towns that did not accept Jesus.
John went on to right one of the four books of the bible as well as well as the three epistles of John and the book of Revelation. He is referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ as he shared a very close relationship with Jesus. He is also likely to be the youngest of Jesus 12 disciples.
When Jesus died on the cross John was the only disciple present. Jesus shortly before dying said to John and Mary (Our Lady), “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”
Luke, the writer of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, has been identified with St. Paul’s “Luke, the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). We know few other facts about Luke’s life from Scripture and from early Church historians.
It is believed that Luke was born a Greek and a Gentile. In Colossians 10-14 speaks of those friends who are with him. He first mentions all those “of the circumcision” — in other words, Jews — and he does not include Luke in this group. Luke’s gospel shows special sensitivity to evangelizing Gentiles. It is only in his gospel that we hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, that we hear Jesus praising the faith of Gentiles such as the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (Lk.4:25-27), and that we hear the story of the one grateful leper who is a Samaritan (Lk.17:11-19). According to the early Church historian Eusebius Luke was born at Antioch in Syria.
In our day, it would be easy to assume that someone who was a doctor was rich, but scholars have argued that Luke might have been born a slave. It was not uncommon for families to educate slaves in medicine so that they would have a resident family physician. Not only do we have Paul’s word, but Eusebius, Saint Jerome, Saint Irenaeus and Caius, a second-century writer, all refer to Luke as a physician.
Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin was born on January 2, 1873, and baptized two days later on January 4th. “All my life, God surrounded me with love. My first memories are imprinted with the most tender smiles and caresses…Those were the sunny years of my childhood.” Thus Therese, twenty-one years later, described her home life in Alencon, France.
In October, 1881, Louis enrolled his youngest daughter (Therese) as a day boarder at Lisieux’s Benedictine Abbey school of Notre-Dame du Pre. Therese hated the place and stated “the five years (1881 – 1886) I spent there were the saddest of my life.” She worked hard, and loved catechism, history and science, but had trouble with spelling and mathematics. Her keenness aroused the envy of many fellow pupils, and Therese paid dearly for her academic successes.
Marie Martin, the oldest daughter of the family, joined her sister Pauline at the Lisieux Carmel in 1886. Leonie Martin entered the Visitation Convent at Caen the following year. Therese then sought permission from her father to join Marie and Pauline at the Lisieux Convent. Three of his girls had already entered religious life, but Louis, characteristically generous, not only granted Therese’s request, but worked zealously to help her realize it.
Therese was not yet fifteen when she approached the Carmelite authorities again for permission to enter. Again she was refused. The priest-director advised her to return when she was twenty-one. “Of course,” he added, “you can always see the bishop. I am only his delegate.” The priest did not realize what kind of girl he was dealing with.
To his dying day, Bishop Hugonin of Bayeux never forgot her. She came to his office with her father one rainy day and put her surprising request before him. “You are not yet fifteen and you wish this?” the bishop questioned. “I wished it since the dawn of reason,” young Therese declared.
Louis’ support of her request amazed the bishop. His Excellency had never seen this type of support before. “A father as eager to give his child to God,” he remarked, “as this child was eager to offer herself to him.”
On New Year’s day, 1888, the prioress of the Lisieux Carmel advised Therese she would be received into the monastery, but that she had to be patient and wait a little bit longer. On April 9, 1888, an emotional and tearful, but determined Therese Martin said good-bye to her home and her family. She was going to live “for ever and ever” in the desert with Jesus and twenty-four enclosed companions: she was fifteen years and three months old.
Therese spent the last nine years of her life at the Lisieux Carmel. Her fellow Sisters recognized her as a good nun, nothing more. She was conscientious and capable. Sister Therese worked in the sacristy, cleaned the dining room, painted pictures, composed short pious plays for the Sisters, wrote poems, and lived the intense community prayer life of the cloister. Superiors appointed her to instruct the novices of the community. Externally, there was nothing remarkable about this Carmelite nun.
The harsh winter of 1890-1891 and a severe influenza epidemic killed three of the sisters, as well as Mother Geneviere, the Lisieux Carmel’s founder and “Saint”. Therese was spared, and her true energy and strength began to show themselves. Therese was delighted when her sister, Agnes of Jesus (Pauline) was elected prioress in succession to Mother Marie de Gonzague in February of 1893.
Pauline asked Therese to write verses and theatrical entertainment for liturgical and community festivals. Included were two plays about Saint Joan of Arc, “her beloved sister”, which she performed herself with great feeling and conviction. When Celine joined Therese at Lisieux Carmel in September of 1894, she brought her camera. Through this, they were able to enliven their recreation periods, and leave Therese’s picture to posterity.
Although she suffered from depression, scruples—a causeless feeling of guilt—and, at the end, religious doubts, she kept the rule to perfection and maintained a smiling, pleasant, and unselfish manner. Before her death (at the age of 24) from tuberculosis, she acknowledged that, because of her difficult nature, not one day had ever passed without a struggle. Her burial site at Lisieux became a place of pilgrimage, and a basilica bearing her name was built there (1929–54).
The story of Thérèse’s spiritual development was related in a collection of her epistolary essays, written by order of the prioresses and published in 1898 under the title Histoire d’une âme (“Story of a Soul”). Her popularity is largely a result of this work, which conveys her loving pursuit of holiness in ordinary life. St. Thérèse defined her doctrine of the Little Way as “the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender.” She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and was the youngest person to be designated a doctor of the church.
St Werburgh was noted for her beauty and qualities of character that brought her a number of offers of marriage. But she refused them all, saying Jesus was her spouse, and is honoured in the Church as virgin as well as a saint.
She was the daughter of Wulfhere, King of Mercia, and St Ermenilda, which also made her a grand-daughter of St Sexburga and great-niece of St Etheldreda.
One legend tells of her struggle against the attempts of Werbod, a nobleman of her father’s court, to gain her hand in marriage. The king liked Werbod and would have allowed him to wed his daughter if she had consented freely. St Werburgh’s mother, as well as her two brothers, Wulfhad and Ruffin, were not quite so keen on the match and the two princes sought out St Chad, the Bishop of Lichfield, in his woodland hermitage to ask his advice. Werbod, knowing their opposition to his designs, showed the pagan king the two princes returning from their visit to St Chad and incited him through slanders to put them to death. Werbod died himself soon afterwards and the king, stung by remorse over the murders of his sons, repented and submitted himself to the guidance of his queen and St Chad.
St Werburgh was no longer afraid to tell her father of her vocation to be a nun and he not only granted her request but also conducted her in state to Ely, Cambridgeshire, where she was met at the gate of the abbey by St Etheldreda and her community.
When the king died in 675 he was succeeded by his brother, Ethelred, who persuaded his niece to return to the Midlands to supervise the female religious houses of his kingdom. She founded several monasteries in Mercia.
St Werburgh died in Kesteven, Lincolnshire, between 700 and 707 and buried at Hanbury, Staffordshire, but by the 10th century her relics had been moved to Chester to keep them safe from Viking incursions and they were venerated there throughout the Middle Ages, with her shrine in the cathedral a place of pilgrimage until the Reformation.
St Werburgh’s feast is observed in the Diocese of Shrewsbury and the Archdiocese of Birmingham.