Saints commemorated this week include a wide variety: clergy and laity, royalty and well-to-do, 1st century through 20th century. Who are they, and what can they collectively teach us?
Question #1 is easy: Clare, founder of the Poor Clares (the “2nd Franciscan Order); Jane de Chantal, co-founder of the Visitation Sisters; Pontian and Hippolytus, rivals to claim being Bishop of Rome; Maximilian Kolbe, killed at Auschwitz; the Blessed Mother (the Assumption); Stephen, King and Patron of Hungary. This list really re-defines “diversity”! Now—for question #2.
Clare di Favarone di Offrediccio was a wealthy young woman who became enamored of the preaching and witness of Francis of Assisi. Ultimately, after he accepted her and tonsured her, she and some companions (including relatives) were placed in San Damiano to live a life of contemplative prayer and poverty. She outlived Francis by more than 25 years. Popes came to seek her advice. Hers is a witness of utter renunciation for the sake of Christ.
Jane (Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot) was married to the Baron de Chantal and had six children. After her husband was killed, she came under the influence of St Francis de Sales, and finally founded the Sisters of the Visitation—originally intended to be a community of women living an active life of outreach. This ended when the Vatican determined that women’s religious orders could only live a cloistered life.
Hippolytus disputed an election for Bishop of Rome, and he opposed the Pope for years. The reconciliation occurred subsequently, and this important theologian shared the fate of exile and hard labor (and therefore martyrdom) with the next “legitimate” successor of Peter, Pontian. They died in Sardinia.
The fact of Maximilian Kolbe’s presence in a concentration camp shows that the Nazis did not hate only Jews, even though Catholics in Poland (sadly) had their own strains of anti-Semitism. He volunteered to die in place of a man who had a wife and children.
The last pair is the Queen of Heaven and the King of Hungary—about which I think I need only speak about Stephen! He was for the Magyar people a latter-day “Constantine” (living in the 10th century), longing to unite his people under the one banner of Christ. Like Charlemagne 200 years earlier, he was also crowned king on Christmas Day. Thanks to the vagaries of national identity and fluidity of national borders, he is honored as the patron of the cathedral (“Dom”) in Vienna (which was once all part of the “Austro-Hungarian Empire”).
This is quite a collection of folks for those who want to choose their own “heroes.” They were not perfect; they were rich and poor, married and clergy, martyrs and confessors who witnessed to the love of Christ with their lives. Like the lyric of the opening number from A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, here there is “something for everyone.”