3 March: Feast of Saint Katharine Drexel

3 March: Feast of Saint Katharine Drexel, the second American-born saint to be canonized. She was born Catherine Marie Drexel in 1858 to a wealthy Philadelphia banker. Her mother passed away five weeks after her birth. Her father remarried and had another daughter. Devout Catholics, they instilled in their children the idea that wealth was meant to be shared. They regularly gave food, clothing and rent assistance to the poor. Catherine’s life changed when her beloved stepmother died after suffering from cancer. Two years later, her father also died. Catherine’s father left the largest fortune recorded in Philadelphia at that time. His daughters were left with a large trust fund. The rest was donated to charity. In 1885, Catherine and her sisters traveled to the Western states, visiting Indian reservations. Seeing dire poverty, Catherine used her money to build schools, supply food and clothing, and provide salaries for teachers on these reservations. In 1887 she established her first boarding school for Indians in Santa Fe. That same year, the Drexel sisters were given a private audience with Pope Leo XIII. They asked him for missionaries to help the Indians. The Pope suggested that Catherine herself become a missionary. Catherine decided she would give herself and her inheritance to God through service to both Native and African Americans. She wrote, “The feast of St. Joseph brought me the grace to give the remainder of my life to the Indians and the Colored.” In 1891, she made her vows as a religious. Taking the name Mother Katharine, she established the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored. Founding and staffing schools for both Native and African Americans throughout the country was their priority. In 1894, she purchased 1,600 acres in Virginia and built a boarding school for black girls. Nearby was St. Emma’s school for black boys built by her sister, Louise. Soon after, a school for Pueblo children was established in New Mexico. In 1915, Mother Katharine purchased a vacant campus in New Orleans and reopened it as Xavier College (now Xavier University). Xavier was the first and only Catholic college for African-Americans and trained teachers to educate black children. Mother Katharine lived the rest of her life with extreme frugality, wearing a single pair of shoes for ten years and using her pencils down to the erasers. From age of 33 until her death, she dedicated her life and personal fortune of $20 million to her work. Katharine had a severe heart attack at 77 that forced her to retire. She spent the rest of her life in quiet and intense prayer. She died on March 3, 1955 at the age of 96. At the time of her death, 501 members of her order were teaching in 63 schools and had missions in 21 states. Katharine is remembered for her love of the Eucharist and her desire for unity of all peoples. She believed all should have access to a quality education. St. Katharine was beatified in 1988 and canonized on October 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II. St. Katharine Drexel is the patron saint of racial justice and philanthropists.

Ideas for celebrating in your home:

  • St. Katharine dedicated her life to helping the Native and African American poor. Her feast is a good time to try a Native American recipe. How about Hopi Corn Stew with cornbread? Or Buffalo Baked Ziti? Or, try making Three Sisters Soup (Native tribes relied on the “three sisters” of corn, squash, beans to survive harsh winters).
  • St. Katharine had a great love for the Eucharist, the center and source of her activity. Make a family visit to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament today.
  • St. Katharine grew up in a wealthy home that always shared with others. In her memory, could you give of your time, talent, or material goods to help those in need? Contact St. Vincent de Paul, Triune Mercy Center­, or other such charitable organization to ask how your family can help.
  • Learn more about St. Katharine Drexel and the order she founded, Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, at katharinedrexel.org.
  • Take a virtual tour of the shrine of St. Katharine Drexel on FORMED: click here for link.

(sources: catholic.org; katharinedrexel.org; catholicculture.org)

22 February: Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

22 February: Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. Why do Catholics celebrate the feast of a chair?? Today, we are not celebrating a piece of furniture. The Chair of Peter is a physical symbol that communicates a spiritual reality. This Feast has been celebrated since the early Church and has multifold meaning. First, it refers to the actual chair (called the cathedra petri in Latin) that Saint Peter sat on as the first pope. Officials in the Roman Empire would sit on chairs when engaged in official work. This tradition was replicated in the Church. Catholic Bishops, for example, have a special cathedra they sit in for liturgy in their cathedral church.

The physical “chair of Peter” is encased in a sculpture designed by Bernini located in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. In the apse of the Basilica, a great bronze throne encloses the wooden chair from the ninth century, long thought to be Peter’s own chair. On the chair itself, Bernini depicts three key scenes from Peter’s life: the giving of the keys (symbolizing the authority to lead the Church), the washing of feet (symbolizing how Peter’s office is one of service), and Jesus’ instruction to Peter to “Feed my sheep” (pointing to his role as teacher and guide). Below the chair are statues of four doctors of the Church (Saints Athanasius, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Augustine). Above the throne is an oval window with the image of the Holy Spirit as a dove. The symbolism of this great work of art is clear: the Holy Spirit guides the Church through Saint Peter and his successors, who authoritatively teach the Word of God transmitted in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

Next, this feast day is about the spiritual authority bestowed upon Saint Peter by Jesus. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Pope Benedict XVI summarized the spiritual dimension of the Chair of Peter: “So what was the ‘Chair’ of St Peter? Chosen by Christ as the ‘rock’ on which to build the Church, he began his ministry in Jerusalem… The Church’s first ‘seat’ was the Upper Room, and it is likely that a special place was reserved for Simon Peter in that room where Mary, Mother of Jesus, also prayed with the disciples… Then Peter went to Rome, the center of the Empire… So it is that the See of Rome, which had received the greatest of honors, also has the honor that Christ entrusted to Peter of being at the service of all the particular Churches for the edification and unity of the entire People of God… The See of Rome, after St Peter’s travels, thus came to be recognized as the See of the Successor of Peter, and its Bishop’s ‘cathedra’ represented the mission entrusted to him by Christ to tend his entire flock… Celebrating the ‘Chair’ of Peter, therefore, means attributing a strong spiritual significance to it and recognizing it as a privileged sign of the love of God, the eternal Good Shepherd, who wanted to gather his whole Church and lead her on the path of salvation.”

In the fourth century, St. Jerome wrote to Pope Damascus I: “I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but Your Blessedness, that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built.”

Ideas for celebrating in your home:

  • Pray the Litany of St. Peter: link here.
  • Watch “Peter: Keeper of the Keys” on FORMED (link here)
  • A symbol for Saint Peter is keys (the keys to the kingdom!). A fun activity would be to make keys out of craft supplies, cookie dough, pancake batter, or bread dough.
  • For an edible craft, challenge children to design a “chair” for St. Peter out of pantry supplies (cookies, crackers, nut butters, pretzels, etc). Ideas here and here.
  • For dinner, set the table with the liturgical color of white. Make Baked Rockfish in honor of Peter “the rock” (or any type of fish, since Peter was a fisherman!). Serve it alongside a “Golden Chair of St. Peter fruit salad

(sources: ncregister.com; simplycatholic.com; www.vaticannews.va; Franciscanmedia.org; edwardsri.com)

Ideas for Observing the Season of Lent in the Domestic Church

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 17th

  • Pray, go to mass, confession, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as often as you can.
  • Try to set a daily goal to sacrifice in three areas:
    • Diet: sacrifice a treat or food/drink item
    • Physical: do something physically difficult every day of Lent (push-ups; daily walk; run a mile, etc)
    • Spiritual: commit to spend daily time with God in prayer and Scripture
  • Home décor: your home can reflect the penitential Lenten season (use burlap; cactus instead of flowers; simple candles and religious items on tables or mantles; etc). Incorporate the liturgical color of purple (perhaps with a purple cloth on the table or purple candles).
  • Movie sacrifice suggestion: instead of watching a favorite show, watch a Catholic saint story or other religious film (free with your parishioner FORMEDaccount). Or, use that time to read about the Catholic Faith or lives of the saints.
  • Save money to give to the poor: brainstorm ideas for how you can do this together as a family. Perhaps eat at home instead of going out for a meal and give the extra $$ to charity. Is there some other little luxury that can be sacrificed and the proceeds donated to charity?
  • Pray the “Stations of the Cross” on Fridays. If you can’t go to the one at church, it is simple to pray them at home. Click here to print out the prayers (and pictures that children can color).
  • Sign up for “Holy Heroes” free Lenten adventure online (kids ages 5-12): HolyHeroes.com
  • Make a salt dough “crown of thorns” to place on your table: link here. For each Lenten sacrifice made, pull a toothpick out of the crown. The goal is to remove all the “thorns” by Easter. (Additionally, you could paint it gold and decorate with colorful jewels or flowers where the “thorns” once were and use as an Easter centerpiece.)
  • Another idea is to make an edible “crown of thorns” for Ash Wednesday or Good Friday: simply braid bread dough into a crown and bake. Push pretzel sticks (as ‘thorns’) into the ‘crown’ as soon as it comes out of the oven. (See idea here at this link)
  • Similar to the crown of thorns activity, you could also do a “bean jar.” On the kitchen table is placed a bowl filled with dried beans and a jar. When a family member makes a sacrifice, they put a bean in the jar. Then, on Easter morning, children wake up to find that the beans that have accumulated in the jar during Lent have been changed into colorful and yummy jelly beans! Click here for more on this idea.

LENT: a time to grow closer to God.  To take up new practices that lead us toward him and to leave behind practices that distract us from him.

8 February: Feast of Saint Bakhita

8 February: Feast of Saint Bakhita. Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in Sudan. She was one of the Daju people; her uncle was a tribal chief. At age 7 or 8, Josephine was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. She was forced to walk barefoot over 600 miles to a slave market. For the next 12 years she would be bought, sold and beaten. She spent so much time in captivity that she forgot her name. The slavers called her “Bakhita” which is Arabic for “fortunate”. Her first owner beat her so severely she was incapacitated for a month (because of accidentally breaking a vase). She was sold to a Turkish general whose wife and mother-in-law beat her daily. As soon as one wound would heal, they would inflict another. The wife ordered her to be scarred. They drew patterns on Bakhita’s skin with flour, then cut into her flesh with a blade. Bakhita’s wounds were rubbed with salt to make the 114 scars permanent. In 1883, Bakhita was sold to the Italian Vice Consul; he was a kind master and took her to Italy. She was then given to another family as a nanny. When traveling, the family placed her in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. While Bakhita was with the sisters, she learned about God. She was deeply moved and discerned a call to follow Christ. When her mistress returned, Josephine refused to leave the Sisters. The Mother Superior went to Italian authorities on Josephine’s behalf. The case went to court, and the court found that slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before her birth, so she could not be lawfully made slave. Josephine was declared free and stayed with the Sisters. She received the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and confirmation in 1890. The Archbishop who administered the sacraments was Giusseppe Sarto, who later became Pope Pius X. Josephine took her final vows with the Canossian Order in 1896. She worked as cook and doorkeeper at the convent. She was known for her gentle voice, smile, and forgiveness. She said: “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me, or even those who tortured me, I would kneel down and kiss their hands. Because, if those things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian.” In her later years, Bakhita suffered illness and was forced to use a wheelchair. She always remained cheerful. If anyone asked how she was, she would reply, “As the master desires.” On February 8, 1947, Josephine spoke her last words, “Our Lady, Our Lady!” In 1978, Pope John Paul II declared her venerable; he beautified her in 1992; and canonized her in 2000. Saint Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and of victims of slavery and human trafficking.

Ideas for celebrating in your home:

  • The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace designated February 8 as an annual day of prayer against human trafficking. Pray for an end to this evil!
  • For dinner, make an African-inspired meal: African peanut chicken, roasted cinnamon squash, and Sudani rice. Click here for recipes. For dessert, baked flan is a tasty traditional treat. Try this recipe, or simply use a box mix. Enjoy a cup of cinnamon infused tea.
  • A traditional Sudanese meal would be eaten on pillows around a low table (like a coffee table!). The main course is usually eaten with flat bread. No utensils are offered as the entree should be sopped up with the bread.
  • An fun snack idea is orange slices for sun, moon-shaped apple slices, and star cheese cutouts in reference to this quote: “Seeing the sun, the moon and the stars, the beauties of nature, I asked myself, ‘Who is the owner of all these beautiful things?’ and I felt a great desire to see him, to know him and to pay him homage.” – St. Josephine Bakhita
  • Use your parishioner FORMED subscription to watch the movie “Bakhita: From Slave to Saint” Link here.  (Note: caution when watching with children; it does show Bakhita’s abuse)
  • Read a book on the life of this amazing saint: Bakhita, From Slave to Saint by Robert Zanini. Saint Bakhita of Sudan by Susan Wallace is a good version for kids.

(sources: catholic.org; usccb.org; catholiccuisine.blogspot.com)

3 February: Feast of Saint Blaise

3 February: Feast of Saint Blaise. Saint Blaise was an early-fourth-century physician from Armenia. He was also the bishop of Sebastea. Most stories of his life were written 400 years after his martyrdom in the Acts of St. Blaise. Blaise was known to be a good bishop, working hard to encourage the spiritual and physical health of his people. He fulfilled his duties from a humble hermitage in a cave. He was known for many miraculous cures. Stories say that Blaise even healed injured wild animals who would show up at his cave seeking help. In the year 316, the governor arrested Blaise for being a Christian. While being escorted to prison, a distraught woman ran up to Blaise. She was carrying her young son who was choking on a fishbone. She laid the boy at the bishop’s feet. The boy was immediately healed. Another tale tells of a woman whose pig had been carried off by a wolf. The woman begged Blaise to help her. He promised that her request would be granted. Shortly afterwards, the wolf appeared at the woman’s door depositing the uninjured pig at her feet. Despite the miracles, the governor insisted that Blaise renounce his faith and sacrifice to pagan idols. The first time Blaise refused, he was beaten. The next time he was put on a stone table used for combing out wool and his flesh was flayed with the prickly metal combs that are used to remove tiny stones from wool. Finally, Blaise was beheaded. Saint Blaise is one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers (popular saints of the Middle Ages). Saint Blaise’s intercession is now invoked against choking and other ailments of the throat. He is the patron saint of throat illnesses, animals, wool combers, and wool trading.

The traditional Catholic practice for this feast day is the blessing of throats. The priest uses two of the newly blessed candles from the Feast of Candlemas (Candlemas, which occurs 40 days after Christmas on February 2nd, celebrates the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. When holy Simeon saw the baby, he said: “For my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a LIGHT for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” From these words comes the traditional Catholic practice of the blessing of candles.). The two candles are tied together in the middle to form a cross. The priest holds the candles over the throat of each person and prays the blessing: Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from all ailments of the throat and from every other illness: in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. If you are not able to attend Mass and receive this blessing, it may be done at home by the head of the household. 

Ideas for celebrating in your home:

  • According to a Milanese tradition, eating panettone first thing on February 3 will safeguard the throat against illness. Here is a recipe for Panettone French Toast.
  • Fish should definitely be on tonight’s dinner menu in honor of Saint Blaise. If you’re feeling ambitious, try making a whole fish. Here is a recipe for fried whole tilapia fish.
  • Saint Blaise bread sticks: In Europe, there is a tradition of giving blessed bread to others on the feast of St. Blaise. Homemade or store-bough dough is shaped into breadsticks (that look like a bishop’s staff) called St. Blaise Sticks or Pan bendito. Serve these with your fish dinner. Idea here.
  • Make Saint Blaise cookies for dessert (this is a fun edible craft activity for kids!)
  • Be sure to light candles on your table today; preferably ones that were blessed on Candlemas!
  • Another way to remember Saint Blaise and his gift for healing: use this day to restock the medicine cabinet and pantry with health essentials/remedies like bone broth, elderberry syrup, Vitamin C, and homemade soup.
  • Have a bonfire tonight: in England, bonfires are lit as part of Blaise’s feast day celebration – probably inspired by the sound of the English word blaze.

(sources: catholic.org; saintsfeastfamily.com; catholicallyear.com; catholiccuisine.blogspot.com; catholicculture.org)

27 January: Saint Angela Merici

27 January: Saint Angela Merici. Born in 1474 in northern Italy, Angela Merici dedicated herself to God early in life. Her parents died when she was only ten years old. She and her elder sister went to live with an uncle. When her sister also tragically died, without being able to receive the last sacraments, Angela was inconsolable. She joined the Third Order of St. Frances and increased her prayers and mortifications for the repose of her sister’s soul. She asked God to reveal to her the condition of her deceased sister. It is said that by a vision she was shown that her sister was in the company of the saints in heaven. When Angela was twenty years old, her uncle died, and she returned to her paternal hometown. Convinced that the great need of her times was a better Christian instruction of young girls, she converted her home into a school where she daily gathered little girls and taught them the Faith. The school she had first established soon bore abundant fruit, and she was invited to the neighboring city, Brescia, to establish a similar school at that place. Angela gladly accepted. In 1524, while making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she became suddenly blind while on the island of Crete, but continued her journey to the Holy Places and was cured on her return while praying before a crucifix. One day, Angela had a vision that revealed she was to establish an association of virgins who were to devote their lives to the religious training of young girls. In November of 1535, Angela and 28 young women formed the Order of Ursulines in honor of St. Ursula in a small house near the Church of St. Afra in Brescia. Angela and her companions consecrated themselves to God by a vow of virginity. Angela drew up the rules in 1536, which provided for the Christian education of girls in order to restore the family and, through the family, the whole of Christian society. She was unanimously elected superior of the company in 1537. Before her death she dictated her spiritual testament and her counsels to her nuns; they insist on interest in the individual, gentleness, and persuasion over force. Angela died in 1540 at Brescia and was buried in the ancient church of Saint Afra (now Saint Angela’s sanctuary), where she still rests. Her body was discovered to be incorrupt in 1930. After Angela’s death, the Company of Saint Ursula spread rapidly. In 1580, Charles Borromeo, Bishop of Milan, encouraged the foundation of Ursuline houses in all the dioceses of Northern Italy. Charles also encouraged the Ursulines to live together in community rather than in their own homes. Ursuline communities were established in France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Canada and the United States. Today, thousands of Ursuline Sisters work to spread the Faith on six continents. The Ursuline order is the oldest religious order of women in the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the education of girls. Saint Angela Merici was beatified in 1768 by Pope Clement XIII and canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII.

St. Angela Merici is the patron saint of: loss of parents, bodily ills or sickness, disabled people and handicapped people.

Ideas for celebrating in your home:

  • Verona, Italy, where St. Angela was born, is known for its plentiful fresh fish. For St. Angela’s feast day dinner, here is a recipe for Salmon Primavera with Lemon Butter Sauce. Every feast day deserves a delicious dessert! Purchase or bake an Italian-inspired one for tonight (tiramisu, gelato, cannoli, panna cotta, mascarpone cheesecake, etc!)
  • Decorate with lilies, a symbol of purity, in honor of this virgin-saint. Lily craft idea here.
  • Enjoy some Caffe Verona or other good Italian coffee with biscotti for breakfast!
  • Pray the litany of St. Angela Merici: link here.