St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
Privileged daughter, New York socialite, devoted wife, loving mother, convert, catechist, educator, foundress, and tireless servant of God. – Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton was the first native born American to be canonized by the Catholic Church.
She was born two years before the American Revolution, grew up in the society of upper class New York City, and married a wealthy importer, William Seton. Upon the failure of her husband’s business and his death from tuberculosis, she converted to Catholicism, alienating many of her Episcopalian friends and family. She established a religious community that became the first congregation of religious sisters to be founded in the United States, and its school was the first free Catholic school in America. This modest beginning marked the start of the Catholic parochial school system in the United States. The congregation was initially called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s; today, six separate religious congregations trace their roots to the beginnings of the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, MD. By 1830, the Sisters were running orphanages and schools as far west as Cincinnati and New Orleans and had established the first hospital west of the Mississippi in St. Louis.
She died of tuberculosis on January 4, 1821, at the age of 46, five years after losing her youngest daughter to the same disease.
Blessed María Dolores Rodríguez Sopeña
The fourth of seven children born to Tomas Rodríguez Sopeña, a lawyer, magistrate and administrator, and Nicolasa Ortega Salomon. Eye surgery at age eight left her with limited sight the rest of her life. A debutante at age 17, Maria did not care for the wordly life, and fearing that her parents would stop her, she secretly began working with the sick and poor. This was a time when a lady of her standing in society would never be found in the poor neighborhoods, never working with the poor herself. But Maria’s faith gave her endless confidence, and she was motivated by a desire to have “one family in Christ Jesus”
In 1868 when she was 20, Maria’s father was transferred to Puerto Rico where he eventually became a state attorney; the rest of the famly moved to Madrid, Spain. There Maria found a spiritual advisor and began catechizing women in prisons, hospitals and Sunday schools. The entire family moved to Puerto Rico in 1872 during a time of schism and religious disruption, and she found a Jesuit priest to be her spiritual director. Maria’s poor sight ended an attempt to join the Sisters of Charity, and when she tried to work on her own, the religious upheaval limited her to visiting only the sick in the safety of a military hospital. When the situation settled she founded the Centers of Instruction and the Association of the Sodality of the Virgin Mary who staffed the Centers. There they taught reading, writing and religion, and provided medical help where needed.
Maria’s mother died, her father retired, and the family returned to Madrid in 1877. Maria became the matriarch of the family, found a new spiritual advisor, and resumed her work with the poor and sick. Following the death of her father in 1883, she joined a Salesian convent. That lasted ten days; she realized that the cloistered, contemplative life was not for her.
In 1885 Maria opened a center where the poor could bring social problems to be resolved, and which was similar to a modern half-way house, helping prisoners return to society. The terrible conditions of the poor that she witness led to the formation of the organization Works of the Doctrines; due to anti-clerical attitudes in the 20th century, these became known as the Center for the Workers. In 1892 she founded the Association of the Apostolic Laymen (Sopeña Lay Movement), and in 1893 she received government approval to expand her work into eight poor and crowded Madrid neighborhoods.
In 1896 she began working throughout Spain, founding additional Works of the Doctrines. She made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1900, and received approval to form a religious institute to continue the work of the Works and Association. With eight companions and co-workers, she founded the Ladies of Catechistical Institute on 24 September 1901 in Toledo, Spain. She founded the Social and Cultural Work Sopeña (OSCUS) which received government approval in 1902, papal approval in 1907, and is today known as the Sopeña Catechetical Institute. Maria was chosen Superior General of community in 1910, and they expanded into the Americas in 1917. Her legacy continues today in the Sopeña Catechetical Institute, The Sopeña Lay Movement and the Sopeña Social and Cultural Work working in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.
St Hilary of Poitiers
Saint Hilary was born into a wealthy, pagan family, and educated in philosophy and rhetoric. He “read” himself into the faith thru the Gospels, and he converted to Christianity with his wife and daughter. There he found the confirmation of the one true God and our purpose of life, eternity. He was elected Bishop after his conversion, only soon to be exiled by the Arians. This gave him time to research and write on the Trinity and the nature of God, refuting the Arian Heresy.
Some consider Hilary as the first Latin Christian hymn writer, because Jerome said Hilary produced a book of hymns.
“God the Word became flesh, that through His Incarnation our flesh might attain to union with God the Word. And lest we should think that this incarnate Word was some other than the Word of God, or that His flesh was of a body different from ours, He dwelt among us that by His dwelling He might be known as the indwelling God.”St. Hilary of Poitiers
St. Anthony of the Desert
St. Anthony of the Desert (also known as St. Anthony the Abbot) was born around 251 AD. As a young man, Anthony was captivated by Jesus’s message, “Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor. ” Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, Anthony insured that his sister completed her education, then he sold his house, furniture, and the land he owned, gave the proceeds to the poor, and began a life of self-denial. At age 35 he moved to the desert to live alone.
Would-be students and admirers were drawn to him, and at age 54 he founded a monastery on the Nile. His example of modesty and courtesy led many to take up the monastic life, and to follow his unassuming ways. At 60, he hoped to be a martyr in the renewed Roman persecution of 311, fearlessly exposing himself to danger while giving moral and material support to those in prison. Famously, Anthony is said to have faced a series of supernatural temptations during his pilgrimage to the desert, enduring to his death at the age of 105.
“A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’“St. Anthony of the Desert
Almost nothing is known of this saint except that she was very young—12 or 13—when she was martyred in the last half of the third century. Agnes was said to be the foster-sister of another holy woman, Saint Emerentiana. Agnes was a beautiful girl whom many young men wanted to marry. Among those she refused, one reported her to the authorities for being a Christian. She was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods and lose her virginity. Legend has it that she was confined to a house of prostitution so that she would be forced to lose her virginity. When one of the frequenters of the house looked upon her lustfully, he lost his sight but had it restored by her prayer. Agnes was condemned, executed, and buried near Rome in a catacomb that eventually was named after her.
To this day, two spotless lambs are blessed at her church in Rome, Italy on her feast day, and then their wool is woven into the palliums (bands of white wool) which the pope confers on archbishops as symbol of their jurisdiction.
“Christ has made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him Whom the Angels serve.”St. Agnes of Rome
Conversion of St. Paul
Saul of Tarsus (also known by his Greek name “Paul”) was a religious zealot, charged by the Jewish high priest with a mission to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus, to bind them, and to bring them to Jerusalem for trial. His entire life was forged by his experience on his way to Damascus to make those arrests. He was stuck blind by a great light, from which emanated the accusation, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He became a faithful follower of Jesus and supporter of his church. He became the great Apostle to the Gentiles, making three missionary journeys which brought him to the great centers of Asia Minor and southern Europe, and made many converts. He authored many of the books of the New Testament; in one of his letters to the early Christian community in Galatia, he summed up his life aspiration as, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”