St. Isidore of Seville

(560-636) Bishop and Doctor of the Church, the brother of Sts. Leander, Fulgentius, and Florentina. Born in Seville, Spain, he succeeded St. Leander as bishop of that see about 600.

One of the most learned men of his age, he presided over councils in Seville in 619 and in Toledo in 633. At the Fourth Council of Toledo (635) he called for toleration of Jews, uniformity in the liturgy, and close cooperation between Church and State. He also converted the Arian Visigoths in his area. Isidore founded seminaries and schools and promoted the study of art, medicine, and law. He compiled the Book of Etymologies, wrote treatises on theology, astronomy, and geography, and his History of the Goths is considered a major source of knowledge about the Goths.

Isidore also completed the Mozarabic liturgy started by St. Leander. He is considered the last of the ancient Christian philosophers. Given posthumous honors by the Eighth Council of Toledo (653), he was canonized by Pope Clement VIII (r. 1592-1605) in 1598 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1722 by Pope Innocent XIII (r. 1721-1724). In liturgical art, he is depicted as a bishop, holding a pen. Swarms of bees or hives are sometimes shown with him.

Feast day: April 4

St. Stanislaus

(1030-1078) Patron saint of Poland and bishop of Cracow. Known also as Stanislaw, he was born in Szczepanow, Poland, to a noble family and studied at Gniezno and probably in Paris.

Named bishop of Cracow in 1072, he soon became a controversial figure owing to his bitter struggle with King Boleslav II of Poland (r. 1058-1079). The exact details of the events of the struggle are uncertain and have long been the source of debate among Polish historians. Apparently, Stanislaus rebuked the king for his immorality and cruelty and subsequently joined the opposition party among the nobles who resisted Boleslav’s policies.

It is not clear whether Stanislaus entered into the plot of Bohemian-German nobles to overthrow Boleslav, but in 1078 the bishop was arrested and condemned for treason. According to tradition, Boleslav’s knights refused to execute the prelate, forcing the king to stab Stanislaus himself on April 11. He died in the chapel of St. Michael in Cracow.

Pope Innocent IV (r. 1243-1254) canonized him in 1253. Boleslav’s murder of the bishop did nothing to quell the rebellion. He was soon overthrown, excommunicated by Pope St. Gregory VII (r. 1073-1085), and exiled. He died without returning to the throne. Stanislaus has long been highly venerated in Poland and is a patron saint of the country.

Feast day: April 11

St. Mark

(d.c. 75) Evangelist and author of the Second Gospel. Mark was the son of Mary of Jerusalem and a cousin of St. Barnabas. A Levite, he was possibly a minister in the local synagogue when he met Jesus. He is believed to have been the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested (Mk 14:51-52).

Mark accompanied Sts. Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (in modern Turkey) in 44 and then to Cyprus. He was a companion of St. Paul on his first missionary journey but returned to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). He disagreed with St. Paul but was with him in Rome during St. Paul’s first imprisonment (Col 4:10). An early tradition states that Mark was the first bishop of Alexandria, Egypt, and he is possibly the "John Mark" of Acts 12:25.

Mark’s Gospel was written probably between the years 60 and 70, based on the teaching of St. Peter. He was also called "the Interpreter of Peter" by his contemporaries. It is believed that Mark provided Sts. Matthew and Luke with the basic sources of their Gospels.

He died as a martyr in Alexandria, Egypt, and in the ninth century his relics were translated to Venice, Italy. There they were enshrined in a beautiful cathedral dedicated to his honor. He is the patron of Venice. His main symbol is a winged lion.

Feast day: April 25

St. Catherine of Siena

(d. 1380) Doctor of the Church, Dominican mystic, and papal adviser.

Catherine was born on March 25, 1347, in Siena, Italy, the youngest of twenty-five children of the Benincasa family. She received her first mystical experience at age six. Her parents, successful wool dyers, raised her strictly and planned her marriage, but Catherine refused such a future, starting her prayers and penances at an early age.

She became a Dominican tertiary at sixteen, experiencing visions and periods of spiritual dryness. In the local hospital, Catherine cared for cancer victims and lepers. Her supernatural gifts brought about resentment from her Dominican sisters, and charges were leveled against her. At a meeting of the Dominicans in Florence, she was cleared and provided with a spiritual director, Blessed Raymond of Capua.

Returning to Siena, Catherine cared for plague victims and condemned prisoners. Her holiness attracted many followers and led to her being called upon as peacemaker and counselor. She supported Pope Gregory XI (r. 1370-1378) in his crusade against the Turks and visited Pisa in 1375.

While in Pisa, Catherine received the stigmata, which remained invisible until she died. Catherine also promoted peace between the pope and the city of Florence. Meeting Gregory XI in Avignon, France, she successfully counseled the Holy Father to restore the papacy to Rome in 1376. Upon returning to Siena, Catherine devoted herself to recording her mystical experiences. Her Dialogue was published as a result.

When Pope Gregory died in 1378, the subsequent conclave elected Pope Urban VI (r. 1378-1389). When, however, a group of dissident cardinals rejected Urban’s election and chose instead an antipope, Robert of Geneva, as Clement VII, they launched the Great Schism. The schism troubled the Church well into the next century. Catherine was called to Rome, where she counseled Urban VI and tried to summon support for him throughout the Church. She suffered a paralytic stroke on April 21, and died on April 29.

Catherine of Siena was canonized in 1461. In 1939, she was made patroness of Italy, and in 1970, was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978). She has been the patroness of Rome since 1866, and patroness of the dying. She is invoked against headaches and the plague. Her mortal remains are in Rome, and her relics are enshrined in Siena and Venice. She was named co-patroness of Europe, with St. Brigid of Sweden and St. Edith Stein, on October 1, 1999, by Pope John Paul II.

Feast day: April 29

For further reading, check out The Saints Devotional Bible.