St. Therese of the Child Jesus

Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-97) — Discalced Carmelite mystic, Doctor of the Church, popularly called “the Little Flower.”

She was born on January 2, 1873, at Alençon, France, baptized Marie Françoise Martin. She was the youngest of nine children born to Louis Martin and his wife, Zelie Guerin. Her mother died when she was five, and the family moved to Lisieux, where Thérèse was raised by an aunt and two older sisters.

When two of her sisters became Carmelite cloistered nuns, Thérèse asked to be accepted as well. She was denied admission at first but was then allowed to enter Carmel, making her profession in 1890 and given the religious name of Thérèse of the Child Jesus.

She served for a time as mistress of novices but was afflicted with tuberculosis, which eventually took her life. By order of her superior, Mother Agnes (who was her sister Pauline), Thérèse began to write of her mystical experiences. The result of her effort was The Story of a Soul, one of the most widely read modern autobiographies.
Thérèse died on September 30 at Lisieux, and the announcement of her death began an immediate, worldwide interest in her. She became known as “the Saint of the Little Way.”

Thérèse was canonized in 1925 by Pope Pius XI (r. 1922-1939) and was declared patroness of foreign missions with St. Francis Xavier in 1927, and in 1944 was declared protectoress of France with St. Joan of Arc by Pope Pius XII (r. 1939-1958). She was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1997.

Feast day: October 1. 

St. Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi — One of the most beloved and popular saints in the world, Il Poverello (the “Little Poor Man”), and founder of the Franciscan Order. Born in Assisi, Italy, the son of Peter Bernadone, a wealthy silk merchant, Francis spent his early years as a pleasure-seeking, popular leader of Assisi youth. This changed dramatically in 1202 when Francis joined in a campaign against a rival city, Perugia. Captured in battle, he spent a desolate period in prison. After his release, he found life quite unappealing, his unease only increasing after enduring a lengthy illness. There followed what was called his conversion. He took to prayer and worked among the poor. One day, however, he encountered a leper and turned away, repulsed by the man’s grotesque appearance. Stopping himself, Francis gave the man some money and then kissed him. While on a pilgrimage to Rome, he gave his clothes away to some beggars and spent a day begging for alms before St. Peter’s.

When Francis returned home to Assisi, he prayed at the church of San Damiano and heard a command from the crucifix, telling him: “Repair my house, which is virtually ruined.” To pay for the repairs in the church, he sold bales of his father’s cloth, along with the horse dragging them. Peter beat Francis and locked him in his room. Francis was released by his mother, and, when his father went to the bishop to demand the money back, Francis stripped off his clothes, saying that they too belonged to his father. Henceforth he dressed in a coarse woolen cloak tied at the waist to commemorate the cloak given to him by the bishop to cover his nakedness.

He spent the next period rebuilding with his own hands the church of San Damiano. In 1208, while he worshiped at Mass in the nearby town of Portiuncula, he heard the Gospel passage from Matthew (10:7-19, in which Christ sends forth his Apostles to preach) and decided to set out himself. Preaching throughout the area, he soon acquired considerable notoriety and was called Il Poverello. Others joined him, some of the earliest and most notable being the merchant Bernard, the canon Pietro, and the famous Brother Giles (St. Giles of Assisi). For them and the others who gathered about him, Francis composed a simple rule of life, called the regula primitiva. This rule he took to Rome in 1210 where he won approval for it from Pope Innocent III (r. 1198-1216), whose initial reluctance was melted supposedly by a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the walls of St. John Lateran. So was begun the Franciscan Order. Its members practiced rigorous asceticism and extreme poverty, relying upon alms for their sustenance as they wandered across Italy to preach. Under St. Clare of Assisi, a second order of Franciscans was launched in 1212; almost a decade later, around 1221, the Third Order was established for laypeople, both men and women. By 1219, when a general chapter was held, there were five thousand Franciscans at the meeting.

Francis went to Egypt soon after to preach to the Muslims. He met with Sultan Malik al-Kamil at Damietta, Egypt. The sultan, recognizing Francis as a truly holy man, did not allow anyone to harm him. Francis returned to Europe to find the order deeply troubled by irregularities and various crises caused by the rapid growth in membership in Italy, Spain, Germany, even Hungary. He reluctantly accepted the fact that a revision in the order’s rule might be needed, undertaking the creation of the revised rule with the help of Peter Cathanii and, after Peter’s death in 1221, Elias of Cortona. Pope Honorius III (r. 1216-1227) approved the new rule on November 29, 1223. From that time, Francis left the affairs of the order to others, withdrawing from the world.

He built a small crèche on Christmas of that year, establishing the custom of adorning churches with the Nativity scene. On September 14, 1224, while praying in the hermitage on Mount Alvernia in the Apennines, Francis received the stigmata. He died two years later, at Assisi, on October 3. He was canonized in 1228.

Although never ordained, believing himself unworthy of the priesthood, Francis of Assisi had an astounding impact on the religious life in the Church. His life was characterized by joyous worship, reverence for nature, and concern for the sick and poor. He is depicted in liturgical art in his habit, with the stigmata, and sometimes with a winged crucifix. He is also depicted giving sermons to animals or birds.

Feast day: October 4.  

Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (January 1).

Presentation of Our Lord (February 2).

Our Lady of Lourdes (February 11, optional).

Annunciation of the Lord (March 25).

Visitation (May 31).

Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16, optional).

Dedication of the basilica in honor of St. Mary Major (August 5, optional).

Assumption (August 15).

Queenship of Mary (August 22).

Birth of Mary (September 8).

Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15).

Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7).

Presentation of Mary (November 21, optional).

Immaculate Conception (December 8).

Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12, optional).

Immaculate Heart of Mary (Saturday after the Second Sunday after Pentecost, optional).

St. Teresa of Avila

Teresa of Ávila (1515-82) — Discalced Carmelite mystic, foundress, and Doctor of the Church. She was born at Ávila, in Castile, Spain, on March 28, 1515, and was baptized Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada. She was the daughter of Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda and his second wife, Beatrice Davila y Ahumada. Teresa was educated by Augustinian nuns until 1532 when she returned home because of ill health. Four years later she entered the Carmelite convent in Ávila, an establishment that was somewhat lax about poverty and enclosure. She was professed in 1536 but had to return to her family for two years because of renewed illness.

In 1555, however, she underwent a conversion while praying before a statue of the scourged Christ. Thereafter she progressed as a mystic, being visited by “intellectual visions [of Christ] and locutions,” meaning images that were impressed or communicated upon her mind rather than her senses. At first she received very poor counsel from her spiritual advisers, but gradually sound advice and guidance were given to her by St. Peter of Alcántara, St. Francis Borgia, and especially one of the most remarkable Dominicans, Dominic Báñez.

In 1558, Teresa was convinced of the need to bring reform to the Carmelite Order and return it to its original austerity. She proposed to adopt a religious life of prayer, penance, and work, securing permission from Pope Pius IV (r. 1559-1565) to open a convent for Carmelite reform. The foundation of St. Joseph’s Convent in Ávila in 1563 was not well-received because of the severity of opposition from local secular and religious leaders, who disapproved of her innovations and the fact that the house was not to be endowed but would exist entirely through charitable donations. In 1567, Teresa sought permission from the prior general of the Carmelite Order, John Baptist Rossi, to found more convents. Granted permission, she continued her labors, founded sixteen other convents, and earned the nickname “the roving nun,” because of her travels.Teresa met St. John of the Cross, another Carmelite seeking reform, at Medino del Campo, the site of her second convent. She founded a monastery for men at Duruelo in 1568, turning over the task of future reformed monasteries to St. John of the Cross. Opposition developed among the Calced Carmelites, the members of the original order, and a council at Piacenza in 1575 greatly restricted her activities. The struggle continued until 1580 when Pope Gregory XIII (r. 1572-1585), at the request of King Philip II of Spain (r. 1556-1598), recognized the Discalced Reformed Carmelites as a separate province of the order.

Teresa’s spiritual maturity was evident at the time and was recognized as her books and letters became known. Now regarded as classics of spiritual literature, they include her Autobiography (1565), The Way of Perfection (1573), and the Interior Castle (1577). Teresa was revered as one of the great mystics, having remarkable common sense and humor, and combining a life of mystical contemplation with dazzling activity. She fell ill at Alba de Tormes and died there on October 4, 1582 (October 14 by the Gregorian calendar, which went into effect the next day and advanced the calendar ten days).

In 1572, her spiritual development led to her “spiritual marriage,” considered the highest level of mystical attainment. She was also the recipient of the extraordinary piercing of her heart; the fact of this occurrence was proven after her death, when her heart was found to have been pierced. Her writings on her experiences are full of deep insights and Thomistic influence, but they remain intensely personal; she did not adhere to any school of mysticism, and she never intended to be the founder of a new one. She was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV (r. 1621-1623) and was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970 by Pope Paul VI (r. 1963-1978).

Feast day: October 15.

St. Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch (d.c. 107) — Bishop of Antioch and a notable martyr of the early Church. Probably born in Syria, Ignatius was perhaps a disciple of Sts. Peter and Paul, or possibly St. John. One tradition declares that he was the child mentioned in Matthew (18:1-6) who was placed by Christ among the Apostles. He was perhaps the second bishop of Antioch (according to Origen) or the third (according to Eusebius) and called Theophoros (“God-bearer”).

His principal claim to historical fame comes from his martyrdom. Arrested by Roman authorities, he was sent to Rome for execution and, in the company of several soldiers, set out on the road to the Eternal City. Along the way Ignatius composed epistles (or letters) to the Christian communities of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and a farewell letter to Bishop Polycarp. The Letters of Ignatius have long been greatly honored by the Church for their eloquent, detailed glimpses of the Church in Ignatius’ era, and Ignatius’ own spirituality. He died by being thrown to the wild beasts in the Roman Circus.

Feast day: October 17.

St. Luke

Luke (d. first century) — Evangelist and the patron of painters and physicians. He is the author of the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. A physician, Luke is traditionally believed to have been a Greek Gentile from Antioch (modern Turkey). That he was a medical practitioner is apparently confirmed by a passage in Colossians (4:14) in which Paul describes him as “the beloved physician.” A convert to the new faith, he accompanied St. Paul on his second missionary journey (c. 51), remained six years in Philippi, Greece, and went on the third missionary journey, the journey to Italy that included the famous shipwreck off the coast of Malta. He remained with Paul during Paul’s imprisonment. Paul wrote of Luke three times in the New Testament: in Colossians, 2 Timothy (4:11), and Philemon (24). It is also possible to deduce Luke’s presence with Paul on the missionary journeys from numerous passages in the Acts (16:10-17; 20:5–21:18; 27:1–28:16). When St. Paul was martyred in 66, Luke went back to Greece, where he is believed to have died at the age of eighty-four “full of the Holy Spirit.” Assorted Acta report that he was martyred, although scholars believe these to be legends and quite unreliable. He is believed to have visited the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Luke is the patron saint of doctors and also painters owing to the belief in medieval times that he painted a picture of the Virgin Mary. This work was long preserved in the Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, although it dates to a time far after apostolic times. Luke’s Gospel was written between 70 and 85, possibly in Greece, although Eusebius claims that it was written before the martyrdom of St. Paul. The point of view of the Gospel is that of a Gentile Christian for other Gentile (or non-Jewish) individuals. His Acts of the Apostles was written perhaps in Rome, either during the imprisonment of St. Paul or immediately after his death, or in the province of Achaea, in the area around Greece. The Acts details the Church from c. 35-c. 63, demonstrating in often superb prose the remarkable growth and the stirring witness of the faithful. In art, he is accompanied by a winged ox, the symbol of his Gospel. He is also depicted holding a painting of the Blessed Virgin.

Feast day: October 18.

Saints Jude and Simon

Jude (d. first century) — Also Jude Thaddeus, one of the Twelve Apostles. He is listed as a disciple of Christ in several books of the New Testament. In Luke (6:16) and Acts (1:13), he is known as Judas, son of James; in John (14:22) as “Judas (not Iscariot)”; and in Matthew (10:3) and Mark (3:18) as Thaddeus (or Thaddaeus). In John (14:22-23), he has a memorable exchange with Christ. According to custom, he is considered the brother of St. James the Less and the reputed author of the Epistle of St. Jude. Tradition and legend, most notably expressed in the Passion of Simon and Jude, declare that Jude went to Persia with Simon where they were martyred. Jude is one of the most popular saints in the Church and is venerated as the patron saint of lost causes. Feast day: October 28.

Simon the Zealot (d. first century) — Called also the Canaanite (Mt 10:4; Mk 3:18), he was one of the Apostles and was mentioned several times in the New Testament. Known as "the Zealot" (Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13) because of his hard adherence to Jewish law, Simon was one of the first disciples of Jesus. According to the tradition in the West, he preached in Egypt and Mesopotamia, going to Persia with St. Jude, where they were both martyred. Other traditions are found in the East, including the one that asserts that he died quite peacefully in Edessa. His symbols are the fish, a boat, a saw, or an oar. Feast day: October 28.

For further reading, check out The Saints Devotional Bible.