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Secret Diary

Saints of the Month – July

It’s the first of the month once again (time flies). After a feast-heavy month in June, we have fewer big feasts (July 16th is, of course, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and July 22nd is another big one for Catholic Feminists with St Mary Magdalene) but still a number of interesting saints to get to know (including my patron saint for 2019).

St Junipero Serra and St Felix of Como – July 1st
The first was a Spanish Franciscan missionary to the Americas in the late 18th century. The second one, yet another person from Como who lived and died before the halfway point in the 1st millennium AD. He may not have to his name as much missionary zeal as St Junipero (who founded 21 missions in what is largely present-day California), but he has an original Romanesque basilica to his name opposite the Neapolitan patisserie where I was nearly born so that must count for something.

St Thomas the Apostle – July 3rd
Popularly known as Doubting Thomas, he is the patron saint of architects and tradition holds him as the apostle to the Indian subcontinent. He was a much more dedicated Apostle than his nickname would suggest.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati – July 4th
A young Dominican tertiary who was born in the family which owned the Italian newspaper La Stampa, which as a matter of fact was like the only national paper you could find at my grandparents’ house. He was involved in a number of groups for young Catholics which were invested not only in charitable endeavours but also in social reform, eventually founding his own paper based on the principles of Rerum Novarum. Despite being in the thick of a few violent situations with the growing fascist movement in the 20s, he died of an illness at the age of 24 and he was so popular that people were lining up the streets for his funeral procession.

St Maria Goretti – July 6th
One of the most misunderstood virgin saints, she died at the hand of her would-be rapist, who she refused out of concern for his soul (and not some idea of purity as it seems to be the commonly recounted story). Before dying of her wounds after a failed attempt at surgery (during which she promised to remember her doctor from Heaven upon his request) she, wait for it, forgave her rapist. During his 30 years in prison, he was unrepentant until one night he dreamt of her and was a changed man ever since that dream. Upon his release, he was reconciled with Maria’s mother and they attended the canonisation together (or so I was taught as a child). By that time, he had become a lay Capuchin.

St Benedict of Norcia – July 11th
The founder of the Benedictines, the first monastic order with a rule. He was born a rich man, gave it all up and lived a very austere life, on his own until a group of people (after another group of people tried to live according to his rule and finding it too strict tried to poison him) began what is now a 1500 years old order with many congregations. Even his sister (St Scholastica) settled near the monastery in Monte Cassino to live a religious life. I think I could write a lot about him and the Benedictine way of life, but there are still many saints to talk about so perhaps a topic for another time.

St Veronica – July 12th
The unnamed woman who wiped Jesus’ face on his way to Calvary in the Gospel account of St Matthew, according to sources beyond the Biblical canon. Not much is known of her, except that we have a relic that would confirm this episode even if just reported in one of the Gospels and not all four.

St Bonaventure – July 15th
Doctor of the Church known as the Seraphic Doctor, he took his doctor upon an exclamation of St Francis of Assisi, who was praying over him during a potentially fatal illness on the request of his mother and saw his future ahead of him. He was a friend of St Thomas Aquinas, becoming a doctor at the university at the same time and letting his friend go first, and also like St Thomas a friend of the saintly King, Louis IX of France. He was a thoroughly humble man who held the Franciscan Order together at a time of trouble.

St Alexis and the Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne – July 17th
My name’s day, if you are wondering. Alexis was an early Christian with Christian parents who, despite their generosity, chose for him a wealthy bride. He married her and left her (with her permission) on their wedding day and lived as a beggar in Syria, returning to Rome 17 years later to live as a beggar in incognito at his parents’ house. He only revealed his true identity, despite the cruelty of the servants, in a letter left at his death. He was very humble and did all he did to escape notoriety.

The Carmelite Nuns of Compiegne were martyrs of the French revolution, and an opera was written about them because their story is just so dramatic and inspiring (Dialogues des Carmelites by François Poulenc, look it up). They went to their death one by one singing the Salve Regina.

St Margaret of Antioch – July 20th
The patron saint of both pregnant women and dying people, so I’m still not sure why the Saints Generator gave her to me for 2019 (kidney disease too, that could be it). She was the daughter of a pagan priest who refused a man’s proposal and died for it. Also known as Marina, she was one of the 14 holy helpers (saints known for the power of their intercessions, especially for cases of illness…now that makes sense) and spoke to St Joan of Arc.

St Mary Magdalene – July 22nd
Traditionally held to be both the named Mary of Magdala and a nameless reformed prostitute in the Gospels, but the latter is unsubstantiated. She has a great part to play in Jesus’ ministry, not quite being His wife à la Da Vinci Code, but definitely as a close follower and the first disciple to see the Risen Lord. According to the gospel accounts, He cast 7 demons out of her and is, therefore, the patroness of repentant sinners as well as converts and apparently pharmacists?

St Bridget of Sweden – July 23rd
She founded an order for both women and men (as permanent chaplains) to be ordered by an abbess like the Apostles with Mary in the Upper Room. She is the patron saint of Sweden. Considered the patroness of failures on the ground that the many reforms (including some to the religious and political situation in Europe, a bit like St Catherine of Siena) she set out to do were never realised in her lifetime. I had no idea who she was until now but we’re already best saints friends.

Bl. Maria Pilar Martinez Garcia & Companions – July 24th
More Carmelite Martyrs! I begin to see a trend. Killed by communists in the Spanish Civil War, so there’s a parallel with their sisters mentioned above too.

Sts Joachim and Anne – July 26th
The parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and two of a small number of married couples to be honoured as saints together. Very little is actually known of them.

Bl. Andrew of Phu Yen – July 26th
I always make an effort to get out of my Italian Catholic Schoolgirl bubble, so I couldn’t not notice a Vietnamese name. Martyred at the age of 20 during the persecutions of Christians that followed from the Jesuit missions of the early 1600s.

St Ignatius of Loyola – July 31st
Born Inigo and raised with a fascination for the chanson des gestes and a famed duelist, he converted from a military man to a great missionary during a period of illness. Already known as Ignatius, he began his education and his preaching, had a few meetings with the Inquisition but always came out clean, and shared lodgings with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, eventually founding the Society of Jesus out of the same desire for mission. The rule of the order was strict, almost military, and yet it grew to 1000s of members before Ignatius died, and was yet to grow bigger and bigger in the centuries to come.

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