10 May: Feast of Saint Damien of Molokai. Joseph de Veuser, who took the religious name Damien, was born into a large Belgian farming family in 1840. During his youth he felt called to become a Catholic missionary. He joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. His superiors planned to send Damien’s brother, a member of the same congregation, to Hawaii. But he became sick, and Damien arranged to take his place. Brother Damien arrived in Honolulu in 1864 and was ordained a priest the same year. Nine years later, Father Damien responded to his bishop’s call for priests to serve on the leper colony of Molokai. The island was a wasteland, where quarantined lepers faced hopeless conditions and extreme deprivation. Father Damien volunteered to go. Upon arrival, he found the colony in disarray. Anarchy reigned; patients were not cared for; every kind of immorality was on display. There was no law or order. Fr. Damien provided leadership. Where other missionaries had kept lepers at arms’ length, Fr. Damien instead immersed himself in their life and showed God’s love. He had them come together to build houses, schools and eventually the parish church, St. Philomena. The church still stands today. The sick were cared for and the dead buried. Order and routine made the colony livable. Fr. Damien personally provided much of the care the people needed. Fr. Damien’s work helped to raise the lepers up from their physical sufferings, while also making them aware of their worth as beloved children of God. Although he could not take away suffering, he could change its meaning as a redemptive path toward eternal life. Fr. Damien was supposed to be replaced by another volunteer. However, he grew attached to the people and his work. He asked permission to permanently stay at the colony to serve. His request was granted. Fr. Damien drew strength from Eucharistic adoration and the celebration of the Mass, but longed for another priest so that he could receive the sacrament of confession. In December 1884, Fr. Damien lost all feeling in his feet. It was an early, but unmistakable sign that he had contracted leprosy. He continued his work, despite the illness slowing taking over his body. He often spent time in the presence of the Eucharist: “It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength we need in our isolation,” he wrote. The disease eventually robbed him of his eyesight, speech and mobility. In the end, priests of his congregation arrived to administer last sacraments to the dying priest. Father Damien died during Holy Week, on April 15, 1889, after spending sixteen years working on the colony. He was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. He is the patron saint of people with leprosy.
(His feast day is an unusual date selection. It is customary for a saint’s feast to be the date that he enters into eternal life. However, April 15 often falls during Lent when the church does not celebrate optional memorials. Thus, May 10 was picked: it marks the day on which Damien performed a particular act of supreme charity and selflessness that would ultimately lead to his canonization. May 10 was the date in 1873 that he first stepped onto the island of Molokai.)
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
(sources: Catholicnewsagency.com, CatholicCulture.org, Hawaiiancatholicherald.com)
3 May: Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles. For centuries, the Church had feasts to honor only four apostles: Sts. Peter and Paul, St. John, St. Andrew. The Church memorialized the remaining apostles on June 29. Then, in the sixth century, the bodies of Sts. Philip and James were brought together to Rome and laid to rest in the Basilica of the Holy Apostles. Because of this, the Church instituted a shared feast day for these two apostles.
St. James the Less, a brother of the Apostle Jude, was of Cana of Galilee. He was referred to as “the Less” to distinguish him from the other apostle James (the brother of John). This nickname likely refers to his younger age, not that he was any less important. This James was called “the brother of the Lord,” because his mother was related to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus appeared to James before any other apostle after the resurrection (1 Cor 15:7). James is the author of the Epistle of St. James. He became bishop of the Church in Jerusalem and played a central role in the Church’s first council (Acts 15). He confirmed that Gentiles do not need circumcision to follow Christ. In 62 A.D., Jewish leaders accused James of breaking the Law. He was pressured to deny the Divinity of Christ. The Breviary contains a moving description of his death: “When he was ninety-six years old and had governed the Church for thirty years in a most holy manner, the Jews sought to stone him, then took him to the pinnacle of the temple and cast him off headlong. As he lay there half dead, with legs broken by the fall, he lifted his hands toward heaven and prayed to God for the salvation of his enemies, saying: Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do! While the apostle was still praying, a fuller struck his head a mortal blow.”
As for St. Philip, he was one of the first apostles called by Christ. The day after the Lord called the apostles Peter and Andrew, He found Philip in Galilee. Philip was one of the first apostles to come to faith directly through Christ (Jn 1:43-45). Philip believed in Christ as soon as he encountered Him, after hearing only a few words. Philip also speaks during the Last Supper in the Gospel of John after Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” To which Philip replies, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” Jesus answered, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:6-9). In the end, Philip followed in the footsteps of James and many other apostles by being martyred for his faith. After preaching with Bartholomew in Greece, he was scourged, imprisoned, and crucified upside down in 62 A.D. Though Philip and James served as apostles of Christ in different ways, in the end, they both valiantly gave their lives for Christ.
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
- Read the Epistle of St. James
- Make “Apostle Cookies” (instructions here)
- Bread is a symbol associated with St. Philip and he is often pictured with two loaves, recalling Philip’s remark when Jesus fed the multitude: “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5). It would be a fitting feast day activity to bake homemade bread.
- For dinner, make “Middle Eastern rice with black beans and chickpeas” (recipe here). Or, make an Israeli feast in honor of the apostles’ Jewish heritage (hummus, olives, veggies, pita, falafel, etc)
- Because St. Philip is the patron saint of pastry chefs and St. James the patron of hatmakers, it might be fun wear hats at dinner tonight. A fitting dessert would be a pastry treat; click here for some delicious puff pastry recipes.
(sources: The Church’s Year of Grace by Parsch; CatholicCulture.org; M. Massery at marian.org)
29 April: Feast of Saint Catherine of Siena. Catherine was born in Siena, Italy in 1347. She was the 25th child in a large family, although half her siblings did not survive childhood. Catherine was intensely religious; she began to experience God mystically and took a vow of virginity before she turned seven. Frequent visions of Christ, Mary, angels and saints inspired her holy, austere lifestyle. At age 16, one of Catherine’s sisters died. Her parents proposed that the widowed husband marry Catherine as a replacement, but Catherine vehemently opposed this. She fasted and cut her hair very short to mar her appearance. Her parents tried to force the marriage but Catherine’s extreme fasting, prayer, and religious conviction made them relent. Catherine joined the Third Order of St. Dominic, which allowed her to live at home as a religious. She lived quietly isolated. She received the stigmata, had divine visions, and could levitate while praying. When she was 21, Catherine experienced a “mystical marriage to Christ” and was given an invisible ring made of Jesus’s skin. In a vision, she was told to re-enter public life to help the poor and sick. She went to work in hospitals and homes. She once visited a condemned prisoner and was credited with saving his soul, which she saw being taken up to heaven as he died. Her reputation attracted a circle of followers. Before long, she had scribes to help her correspondence with many influential Church and secular leaders, including kings, queens, and the pope. The leaders asked for her advice. She travelled Europe seeking reconciliation between warring parties. She urged Pope Gregory XI to return to Rome and lobbied on behalf of the legitimacy of Pope Urban VI during the Great Schism of 1378. Catherine also looked after victims of the Black Plague, caring for the worst patients and burying the dead. She established a monastery for women. Her rich prayer life included frequent visions and ecstasies, recorded as a dialogue between a soul and God, in her Dialogue of Divine Providence. Her 400-some written letters are considered a great work of theology and literature. Her extreme fasting may have contributed to her death at the age of 33. She was canonized by Pope Pius II in 1461. In 1970, she was given the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI (a Doctor of the Church is a saint recognized as having been of particular importance regarding their contribution to theology or doctrine).
“Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” – St Catherine of Siena
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
- Watch on FORMED: “Who is St. Catherine of Siena?” (with Dr. Tim Gray); or a children’s version here.
- Many meaningful quotes are attributed to St. Catherine (see here). As a reflection, choose one to copy and decorate (perhaps with a symbol of St. Catherine: a heart, cross, ring, stigmata, or lily).
- Write an encouraging letter: although St. Catherine was neither wealthy nor well-educated, she wrote influential letters. Think of someone who needs advice or encouragement and write them a letter.
- Pray for and write to a nurse or firefighter: St. Catherine is the patron of nurses and firefighters. Maybe also drop off a treat at your local fire department or nurse’s station.
- Bake bread for the poor: St. Catherine baked bread daily for the poor. Follow her lead and make some bread to share with the poor. Or, bake some bread to give to someone who is poor in spirit and might just need a lift. Here is a recipe for St. Catherine “peace bread” in honor of her work for world peace.
- For a feast day dinner, an Italian meal is perfect since St. Catherine was from Italy. Try making Pasta Santa Caterina with garlic bread, salad with Italian dressing, and a Tiramisu or Pineapple Upside Down cake for dessert (the pineapple rings symbolizing how Catherine was espoused to Christ by an invisible nuptial ring). Click here for more menu ideas.
23 April: Feast of Saint George. George was born the son of a Roman officer and a Greek native of Lydda. Both were Christians from noble families and George was raised to follow their faith. When George was old enough, he joined Diocletian’s army. By his late 20’s, George became a Tribunus and served as an imperial guard for the Emperor at Nicomedia. In 303 A.D., Diocletian, who hated Christians, announced that every Christian would be arrested and every soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods. George refused to abide by the order and told Diocletian, who was angry but valued his friendship with George’s father. When George publicly announced his beliefs before his peers, Diocletian was forced to take action. In an effort to save George, Diocletian tried to convert him to believe in the Roman gods. He even bribed him with land, money, and slaves in exchange for offering a sacrifice to the gods. Diocletian kept this up, making several other offers but George refused them all. Finally, after exhausting all other options, Diocletian ordered George’s execution. In preparation for his death, George gave his money to the poor. Then, he was forced to endure several torture sessions. In one of these sessions, he was lacerated on a wheel of swords and required resuscitation three times. Despite all of the intense suffering, George did not waver in his Faith or turn away from God. On April 23, 303 A.D., George was beheaded. Saint George is honored as a brave martyr for his Faith. Interestingly, Saint George is known and revered by both Muslims and Christians. Saint George is the patron saint of England and Catalonia and his cross can be found throughout England. He is also the patron saint of soldiers and Boy Scouts. In older works, Saint George is depicted wearing armor and holding a lance or fighting a dragon, representing Christ’s enemies.
Now, what about the famous story of Saint George and the Dragon? Legends and stories abound that tell of George fighting dragons. They are believed to be more fable than fact. The Western version of these tales tells of a “dragon” (or crocodile?!) that made its nest at a spring that provided water for a village. The people of that town were unable to collect water due to the danger. They attempted unsuccessfully to remove the dragon from its nest. The beast would temporarily leave when they offered it a sheep or other such temptation. This worked until all the town’s sheep were eaten. The desperate people then decided that offering the beast a maiden was necessary. The townspeople chose the victim by drawing straws. One day, the princess’ straw was drawn. The monarch begged for her to be spared but the people would not have it. She was offered to the dragon, but before she could be devoured, Saint George appeared. He faced the dangerous beast, protected himself with the Sign of the Cross, and slayed the dragon. George then gave a rousing sermon and the townspeople abandoned their paganism and were converted to Christianity. Given a large reward by the king, George distributed it to the poor, then rode away. It is said that Saint George killed the dragon near the sea in Beirut. Thus, Saint George Bay was named in his honor.
Ideas for celebrating this feast at home:
- Let your kids dress up in soldier or knight costumes (use pretend swords/shields/stuffed animals/etc) and create their own play about Saint George slaying the dragon!
- Free coloring picture of St. George available at this link.
- Make a sock puppet dragon (instructions here).
- Since he’s the patron of England, enjoy some favorite English foods today in honor of Saint George (think: tea and biscuits; fish and chips; shepherd’s pie; bangers and mash)
- Or, enjoy roasted lamb for dinner as a fun nod to the story of George saving the townspeople and their sheep. Another fun idea is to incorporate skewers, toothpicks, or mini cocktail swords in your feast day meal to remember the slaying of the dragon.
- Finally, make a dragon cake for dessert! Ideas here.
11 April: Divine Mercy Sunday. In the 1930’s Christ appeared to Sister Faustina Kowalska, a Sister of Mercy in Poland. Our Lord asked her to paint an image from the vision she saw. The image was of Jesus with a red and blue ray coming out of his heart (symbolizing water and blood). Christ told Faustina, “I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it.” St. Faustina was told to sign the Image “Jesus, I trust in you!” In 1934, a painting of the image was completed. In 2000, Saint Pope John Paul II proclaimed the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Along with the image, Jesus also gave Saint Faustina a prayer called The Divine Mercy Chaplet. The Chaplet is prayed using the rosary. Those who pray the chaplet receive abundant graces and promises of mercy from Our Lord. Sister Faustina was canonized a saint on April 30, 2000. To celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home: pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Attend confession the week of Divine Mercy (read about the special graces received with it here.) Find Divine Mercy craft ideas here. Enjoy Divine Mercy “Sundaes” with ice cream and toppings (see idea here). Eat a polish meal (kielbasa, pierogies, etc.) in honor of St. Faustina and St. JPII (who was a great advocate of this devotion).
12 April: Feast of Saint Zeno. This little-known saint was born in the fourth century in Africa. He founded the first church in the city of Verona, Italy. Zeno was a bishop there for ten years. He baptized many, won converts back from Arianism, lived a life of poverty, trained priests, and set up a convent. Tradition says he fished in the Adige River. Saint Zeno is the patron of fishermen and is invoked to help infants speak and walk. To celebrate Saint Zeno at home: definitely enjoy a fish dinner! Treat your children to “Swedish fish” candy for dessert and tell them about this saint who loved to fish and fought to share the Gospel in a pagan world. Because Zeno spent much of his life in Italy, you could also enjoy an Italian dinner. Another fun way to celebrate the life of Saint Zeno would be to go on a family fishing expedition.
16 April: Feast of Saint Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette was born in Lourdes, France in 1844. Her family lived in extreme poverty and Bernadette suffered from illnesses most of her life. At age fourteen, the Virgin Mary appeared to her near a cave at Massabielle. This was the first of eighteen apparitions. Mary identified herself as “The Immaculate Conception.” When Bernadette told of these visions, many didn’t believe and demanded she be put in an asylum. Bernadette remained firm and shared Mary’s message of the need for prayer and penance. The vision told her to “drink of the water of the spring, wash in it, and eat the herb that grew there”. Bernadette obeyed and the next day the grotto was transformed from a muddy mess to clear flowing water. Bernadette insisted that “the Lady” asked for a chapel to be built there. Today, close to 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year to pray and to drink the miraculous water. Countless miracles have come from the waters. When Bernadette was twenty-two, she chose to withdraw from the world to the convent of Saint-Gildard with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. She stayed there until her death in 1879. The name “Bernadette” means “brave as a bear.” To celebrate this feast: pray a family rosary together! Use this day to revive your family’s devotion to the Blessed Mother. Give gummy bears as a treat to remind your children to be “brave as a bear” like Bernadette in sharing their faith. Watch one of the St. Bernadette movies on FORMED. Eat croissants for breakfast and prepare a French-themed dinner: perhaps a charcuterie board with cheeses and breads. Or, French onion soup and a chocolate soufflé dessert. Or, keep it crazy simple and enjoy “French” fries in memory of this humble French girl who became such an important saint.
23 March: Saint Toribio, orTuribius Alfonso de Mogrovejo, was born in 1538 in Spain. His father was mayor of the city. At age twelve, he was sent to be educated in the humanities. He then studied law at the University of Salamanca. He was so brilliant a scholar that even though he was a layman, King Philip II appointed him chief judge of the Inquisitorial Court of Granada. As he prosecuted his duties so well, the king proposed him to the pope as the Archbishop of Lima. Gregory XIII named Toribio to this office in 1579, despite the fact that the shocked Toribio pleaded his incapacity for the office and argued that the canons prevented a layman from being appointed. Toribio eventually agreed and was consecrated a bishop. He then set out for the New World. After arriving in Lima in 1581, Toribio wasted no time in getting to work. His archdiocese was huge, encompassing about 400 miles. One of Toribio’s greatest accomplishments was overseeing the Third Provincial Council of Lima (1582-1583), one of the most important and far-ranging councils held in the Americas. Among other things, Toribio worked to implement the decrees of the Council of Trent in the Americas. He focused on the reformation of the clergy and the evangelization of the Indians. Toribio established the first seminary in the New World at Lima in 1590. Toribio also conducted pastoral visitations of his diocese, travelling across the entirety of the territory by foot. His visits took seventeen years to accomplish, covering 18,000 miles. Moving from parish to parish, he made an effort to know and instruct his flock, whether Spanish or Indian. For the salvation of souls, he made nocturnal journeys during torrential downpours of rain or on rugged paths covered in snow. Even on these long journeys, Toribio always said mass each morning and made a daily confession to his chaplain. In order to reach all of his flock, Toribio traversed steep and rugged mountains, sometimes by himself, to bring the Gospel to the natives in outlying areas. Oftentimes, he would dwell in the hut of the Incas for a few days with no food or bedding, preaching to the whole tribe, baptizing and confirming them. Toribio saw himself as a missionary and “Protector of the Indians.” St. Toribio also personally knew some of the great saints of South America. He gave the Sacrament of Confirmation to St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres and St. John Macias. He was also a good friend to St. Francis Solano, “the Wonderworker of the New World.” On one of his many journeys, Toribio was taken ill. He died on March 23, 1606, repeating the very words of Christ, “Into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” Toribio was beatified by Innocent XI in 1697 and canonized by Benedict XIII in 1726. Together with Rose of Lima, St. Toribio is the first known saint of the New World. He is the patron saint of indigenous/Native rights, Latin American bishops, and Peru.
Ideas for celebrating in your home:
· For a feast day dinner, try making a traditional Peruvian food recipe: Aji de Gallina (chicken in pepper sauce) – serve with rice or potatoes. For dessert, make Arroz con Leche (rice pudding).
· OR, order dinner from the Golden Llama, a local restaurant serving authentic Peruvian dishes.
· Read more about Saint Toribio: click here and here.
· Look up the stories of other Central or South American saints, such as Saint Rose of Lima, Saint Martin de Porres, and Saint Peter Claver.
- St. Toribio started the first seminary in the Americas and was named the first male saint of the New World. Offer a rosary today for an increase in vocations and for those studying for the priesthood.
- St. Toribio fought for social justice, championing the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. Make a contribution to your local food pantry, volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center, cut out pictures of children from third world countries and make a display in your home to encourage your children to make sacrifices or to contribute money to those less fortunate.
(sources: catholicculture.org; usccb.org; franciscanmedia.org)