Holy Week

March 29 Palm Sunday

St. Katharine Drexel

(1858-1955) Heiress and foundress who devoted her fortune to the care and education of Native Americans and African Americans. Born in Philadelphia, she was the second daughter of Francis Drexel and Hanna Jane Langstroth. Her mother died shortly after Katharine’s birth and her father was subsequently remarried, to Emma Bouvier, who was well-known for her charitable works. Her stepmother also made sure that Katharine and her sister were raised in the Catholic faith.

The sisters subsequently inherited a vast estate after the deaths of both Emma and Francis and decided to use the money to assist Native Americans and African Americans, who were still suffering from indifference, bigotry, and injustice throughout the United States. When visiting Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) on a trip to Rome, she asked the pontiff to send missionaries to America. The pope responded by challenging Katharine to become a missionary herself.

Katharine accepted the pope’s call and, after studying with the Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she was professed in 1891 in the religious order she had founded, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People.

Under Katharine’s leadership, the Sisters established St. Catherine’s School for Pueblo Indians (in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1894), followed by other schools and missions. In 1915, she and the order launched Xavier University in New Orleans, at the time the only such institution in the United States devoted to the education of African Americans.

In her lifetime, she opened, staffed, and supported sixty schools and missions, including institutions in the Southwest and West. She remained head of the order until 1937 and died, after a long illness, in 1955. Her cause was opened in 1964; Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1988 and canonized her on October 1, 2000.

Feast day: March 3

Ash Wednesday

Movable observance, six and one-half weeks before Easter. It was set as the first day of Lent by Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) with the extension of an earlier and shorter penitential season to a total period including 40 weekdays of fasting before Easter. It is a day of fast and abstinence. Ashes, symbolic of penance, are blessed and distributed among the faithful during the day. They are used to mark the forehead with the Sign of the Cross, with the reminder: "Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return," or: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

Ash Wednesday will be observed on February 18, 2015.

St. John of God

(d. 1550) Founder of the Order of Charity for the Service of the Sick, also called the Brothers Hospitallers, and patron of the sick and hospitals. A native of Portugal, John spent much of his early life as a soldier, suddenly repenting for his violent ways around the age of forty. Hoping to die a martyr in North Africa, he was disappointed and so wandered through Spain selling holy pictures. Finally, after hearing one of the profound lectures of St. John of Ávila, who became his spiritual adviser, John gave himself to the care of the sick and the poor. He rented a house in Granada (1537), and his work for the disadvantaged soon attracted others.

Called John of God by Bishop Sebastián Ramírez de Fuenleal of Tuy, Spain, he won approval for his order. His successor, Antonio Martino, drafted a rule for the members. Papal approval came from Pope St. Pius V (r. 1566-1572) in 1572 and the order had the financial support of King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598). It soon spread throughout parts of Europe and then the world.

The Brothers of the Hospitallers of St. John of God (O.H.) continue to work in hospital-related areas. John was canonized in 1690 by Pope Alexander VIII (r. 1689-1691) and declared by Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) in 1886 to be patron of hospitals and the sick; he is also considered a patron of booksellers and printers.

Feast day: March 8

St. Patrick

(385-461) Patron saint of Ireland and one of the most beloved of all saints. Sucatus Patricius was a Roman citizen, born in the Roman province of Britain near Bannavem Taburniae (an unknown location, perhaps in the region of the lower Severn, in North Wales), the son of Calpurnius, a deacon, and a grandson of Potitus, a priest (it was still not uncommon for deacons and priests to be married). Captured at the age of sixteen by Irish raiders, he was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. He tended flocks in County Antrim (although tradition places him "beside the Wood of Voclut, which is near the Western Sea," near Killala in County Mayo). During the six years he spent in servitude, Patrick underwent a profound religious transformation, and in the summer of 407 was commanded in a dream to escape. He journeyed some two hundred miles to board a ship transporting Irish hounds to the Continent.

Upon landing in Gaul (modern France), which was then under assault by the Germanic and Gothic hordes, Patrick came into the spiritual care of the monastic institutions of the region; one of his most notable teachers was St. Germanus of Auxerre. Patrick took to his training, making possible the fulfillment of his absolute longing for an Irish apostolate. As Patrick himself noted: "The voice of the Irish . . . cry out as with one mouth: ‘We ask thee, boy, come and walk amongst us once more.’ " In the Confession, Patrick declares his vocation to be a mandate of the divine and founded not upon human learning, and so his preparation for a return to Ireland was largely a spiritual one. He admitted freely his lack of learning, writing that "I blush and fear exceedingly to reveal my lack of education." Nevertheless, he mastered the essentials of the faith and grew very familiar with Scripture, although scholars have long questioned where exactly his education was conducted. Some agree that he spent time in Gaul, but others prefer Britain as the place of his learning. Regardless of his length and location of learning, Patrick proved a brilliant missionary.

Patrick was not the first missionary bishop appointed to bring Christianity to the Irish. Palladius was named to the post in 431 by Pope St. Celestine I (r. 422-432), but he either died or, as seems likely, he met with little success and went to Scotland some time after 431. In his place was appointed Patrick, who was consecrated a bishop and sent to the Irish mission.

For the next twenty-nine years, Patrick traveled across the five kingdoms of the island and won the conversion of virtually the whole of the Irish people. It is likely that in his later years he established Armagh as the primatial see of Ireland. He wrote before his death: "Hence, did it come to pass in Ireland that those who never had a knowledge of God . . . have now been made a people of the Lord, and are called Sons of God."

His two primary achievements were the promotion of a native clergy and the careful integration of the Christian faith with native Irish-Celtic culture. He used a simple, sincere, biblical style of preaching that won both hearts and minds. Unfortunately, details of his life and labors are fraught with questions owing to the large body of legends that sprang up about him and the general unreliability of the main source available, including the Life of St. Patrick by Muirchu, the Irish Annals, and the Breviarium Tirecham. Patrick himself was the author of Confessio (a moving testimony of his personal faith) and Letter to Coroticus, a troublesome chieftain.

Legends about St. Patrick abound, perhaps the most famous being that of his expulsion of snakes from Ireland. National holidays in his honor are held in numerous countries, including Ireland, the United States, and even Russia.

Feast day: March 17

St. Joseph

(d. first century) The spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster father of Jesus. He figures in the Infancy narrative of Matthew (1-2) and Luke (1:2) and is described as a "just man." Joseph was a descendant of the royal house of David. Betrothed to Mary, he learned that she was expecting a child, and he was visited by an angel who informed him that her pregnancy was "by the Holy Spirit." He took Mary to Bethlehem and was present at the Incarnation. Warned about the intent of King Herod the Great (r. 37-4 b.c.), Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt. They returned to Nazareth after Herod’s death, and Joseph devoted himself to raising Christ. The last mention of Joseph in Scripture is theseeking for Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem. It is believed that he died before the Passion of Christ.

Special veneration to Joseph began in the Eastern Church, where apocryphal writings provided a history of his life. The ninth-century Irish writer Feline of Oengus commemorates Joseph, but widespread veneration in the West dates to the fifteenth century. His feast was placed on the Roman calendar in 1479. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Teresa of Ávila helped to spread the devotion, and in 1870 Joseph was declared patron of the universal Church by Blessed Pope Pius IX (r. 1846-1878). In 1889, Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) ranked him next tothe Virgin Mary, and Pope Benedict XV (r. 1914-1922) named him the protector of workers. Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) declared him patron of social justice, and Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-1958) established the feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.

Joseph is depicted in liturgical art as an elderly man with a lily and is sometimes portrayed with the Christ Child or with the symbol of the carpenter’s trade.

Feast day: March 19

St. Turibius

(1538-1606) Bishop and defender of the rights of the native Indians in Peru. Born in Mayorga, Spain, he studied law and became a lawyer and then professor at Salamanca, receiving appointment — despite being a layman — as chief judge of the court of Inquisition at Granada under King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598).

The king subsequently appointed him in 1580 to the post of archbishop of Lima, Peru. After receiving ordination and then consecration, he arrived in Peru in 1581 and soon demonstrated a deep zeal to reform the archdiocese and a determination to do all in his power to aid the poor and defend the rights of the Indians, who were then suffering severely under Spanish occupation. He founded schools, churches, hospitals, and the first seminary (1591) in the New World. To assist his pastoral work among the Indians, he also mastered several Indian dialects. He was canonized in 1726.

Feast day: March 23

For further reading, check out The Saints Devotional Bible.