During 2014, the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon reflected on the lives of these men and women and their paths to sainthood.
Brother Andre Bessette – Born in Quebec in 1845 (the eighth child of 10 children), Alfred Bessette was an orphan by the time he was 12. While battling sickness for most of his life, he devoted his life to prayer and comforting the sick and afflicted. When he died in 1937, more than a million people are estimated to have made a pilgrimage to pay their respects.
Blessed Angela Salawa – Angela Salawa was born in 1881 in Sieprawa, Poland, near Kraków. Undernourished as a child, she grew up weak and sickly. The 11th child of Bartlomiej and Ewa Salawa, Angela spent nearly 20 years in domestic service. During World War I, she helped prisoners of war without regard to their religion or nationality. She died in 1922 in extreme poverty. Her life is striking because of its simplicity and love.
St. Benedict the African – His parents were slaves – brought from Africa to Italy. Freed at 18, Benedict did farm work before joining a group of hermits in Palermo. That group was ordered by the Pope to join the First Order of St. Francis (Franciscans). Benedict became their leader. He was canonized in 1807.
St. Francis Solano – Born in Spain, Francis Solano was educated by Jesuits but felt drawn to the lives of the Franciscan friars. He entered the Friars Minor in 1570. His care for the sick drew great admiration. He hoped to be sent to missions in Africa but was sent instead to South America, where he served for nearly 20 years, continuing his ministry in Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. He died in Lima, Peru in 1610 and was canonized in 1726.
Blessed Frédéric Ozanam – “Charity and justice go together.” That was the message from Pope John Paul II during his homily at the beatification Mass for Frédéric Ozanam at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1997. Frédéric Ozanam was one of 14 children, though only three survived to reach adulthood. Honoring his father’s wishes, he studied law at the University of the Sorbonne. Moved to take action to demonstrate his faith, he and a friend visited Paris tenements to help those in need. Soon, a group dedicated to helping others formed around Frédéric under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul. Through the St. Vincent de Paul Society, his work continues to the present day.
St. Gaspar del Bufalo was the founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, so closely connected to the history of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Community. Born in Rome in 1786, Gaspar showed concern for the poor and sick from an early age – perhaps because his family had so little. His father was a servant in the family of a prince. As a young man, Gaspar spent summer vacations visiting hospitals and bringing meals to the hungry. He was ordained in 1808. After four years in exile and prison during Napoleon’s reign, Gaspar returned to Rome and began his mission as apostle of the Precious Blood. Despite being in ill health, he cared for victims of a cholera epidemic in Rome. He died in 1837.
Saints Jacinta and Francisco Marto – Francisco and Jacinta Marto are the youngest non-martyrs to be beatified in the history of the Catholic Church. With their cousin, Lúcia Santos, the brother and sister tended to their families’ sheep in the fields of Fatima, Portugal. There, they witnessed the apparitions of Mary, now commonly known as Our Lady of Fatima. Today, the small Portuguese town of Fatima is a renowned place of pilgrimage, home to one of the world’s most famous Shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In October 1918, Francisco and Jacinta became seriously ill with the Spanish flu. Francisco was 11 when he died. Jacinta was just 10. On May 13, 2000 – the the 83rd anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima – Pope John Paul II beatified Francisco and Jacinta, a reminder that even young children can become saints.
St. Jeanne Jugan – “A beacon to guide our societies” toward a renewed love for those in old age. That’s how Pope Benedict described St. Jeanne Jugan in his homily for her canonization in October 2009. Born in France in 1792, Jeanne Jugan grew up during the turmoil of the French Revolution. She worked as a shepherdess then as a domestic servant and eventually as a nurse. By 1850, more than 100 women had joined her in the congregation that became known as the Little Sisters of the Poor. Cast aside by an ambitious priest, Jeanne was replaced as Superior and sent out begging on behalf of the poor then cast into the shadows in retirement. By the time of her death in 1879, the order had 2,400 members serving internationally though few knew of the woman who had founded it.
St. John XXIII – Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was the third child – and firstborn son – of a farming family who lived in a tiny village northern Italy. He was ordained in 1904 and went on to study canon law. His life experience was rich and diverse. He was a stretcher bearer for the Italian Army during World War I then served as a papal diplomat in Bulgaria, Turkey and France. During the Second World War, as an archbishop, he served as head of the Vatican’s diplomatic mission to Turkey and as a Vatican diplomat in Greece. While there, he helped saved the lives of many Jews fleeing the Holocaust, providing them with transit visas and other vital paperwork which allowed them to leave Europe. In his last will and testament, Pope John XXIII wrote: “Born poor, but of humble and respected folk, I am particularly happy to die poor. I thank God for this grace of poverty to which I vowed fidelity in my youth…which has strengthened me in my resolve never to ask for anything – positions, money or favors – never either for myself of for my relations and friends.” In 2014, Pope John XXIII was canonized as St. John XXIII.
St. Joseph the Worker – To keep Jesus from being removed from ordinary human life, the Catholic Church emphasizes that Jesus was a carpenter, trained by Joseph in both the satisfactions and the hard work of that vocation. Pope Pius XII said, “The spirit flows to you and to all men from the heart of the God-man, Savior of the world, but certainly, no worker was ever more completely and profoundly penetrated by it than the foster father of Jesus, who lived with Him in closest intimacy and community of family life and work. Thus, if you wish to be close to Christ, we again today repeat, ‘Go to Joseph.’”
Our Lady of Guadalupe – In 1531, a “Lady from Heaven” appeared to Saint Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City. She identified herself as the mother of Jesus and instructed him to have the bishop build a church on the site. Today, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is visited by 10 million people annually. It is the most popular Marian shrine in the world and the second most visited Catholic church in the world, after St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
St. Margaret of Scotland – She was a woman who led a life of privilege in a royal court but hoped to become a nun. Instead, Margaret married King Malcolm of Scotland. Her education and faith made her a beloved queen who was devoted to prayer and fasting – and to supporting the common good through works of mercy for the poor, orphans and the elderly. Her husband and oldest son died during a war between Scotland and England. Soon after receiving the news of their deaths, Queen Margaret died on November 16, 1093. She was canonized in 1249.