Merry Christmas and Happy New year! I’m finally writing another post after writing my last one back in November of 2013. We have less than a week left of the Christmas season and have begun the New Year of 2014. In the past three days, we have celebrated three amazing Saints that had an amazing impact on the Catholic Church in the United States. On Saturday, January 4th, it was the feast day of the first American born canonized Saint – St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821). She founded the first American religious community for women, the Sisters of Charity. She opened the first American parish school, as well as establishing the first American Catholic orphanage. She did all of this by her death at 46 years of age, and really all within 15 years because she didn’t become a Catholic until she was 31 years old. She was raised Episcopalian, married her husband William when she was 19, and had 5 children with him. When he was dying from tuberculosis 10 years into their Marriage, Elizabeth became acquainted with Catholicism while visiting Italy. After her husband died, she became a Catholic and credited her conversion to the true Faith to three basic points: belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, devotion to the Blessed Mother, and the conviction that the Catholic Church can be traced back to Jesus and the Apostles.
On Sunday, January 5th, although the Church celebrated the Epiphany, it was also the Feast of St. John Neumann (1811-1860). He was born in Bohemia, studied in Prague, and then came to the United States (NY) at 25 years old to study for the priesthood. After being ordained a priest, he then joined the Redemptorist religious community at 29 years old. St. John did missionary work among the German populations in Maryland, Virginia and Ohio, before being consecrated as the Bishop of Philadelphia at 41 years old. As the Bishop, he did amazing work for the parochial system in Philly, as well as being a very gifted preacher, spiritual writer, and man of great holiness, dying at the young age of 49 years old. He became the first American bishop to be beatified (October 13,1963), then canonized 14 years later in 1977.
Today, January 4th, 2014, was the feast day of St. Alfred Bessette (1845-1937), commonly known as “Br. Andre”. He was the 8th of 12 children, born to a French Canadian couple near Montreal. After both parents died, Alfred was adopted at 12 years old. He was very sickly as a child, uneducated, and grew up learning many trades at which he didn’t fair too well (shoemaker, baker, blacksmith). He visited the United States and worked in mills in Rhode Island and Connecticut. He visited his aunt’s house on Front St. in Woonsocket, RI, as well as visiting the Church of the Precious Blood in the same town. This fact interests me very much because I’m a Pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Woonsocket. It is so amazing to think that a living Saint visited this very area where I now live. After first being rejected from joining the religious community of the Congregation of the Holy Cross at the age of 25 years old because of his poor health, Alfred was then accepted and took the name of Br. Andre. Doing the simple tasks of doorkeeper, sacristan, laundry worker and messenger at Notre Dame College in Montreal, Br. Andre lived a very humble, holy, and faithful life dedicated to the Lord. People would come to him for spiritual advice as well for physical healing. They received both at his hands, which Br. Andre attributed to the intercession of St. Joseph. Unlike St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Neumann who died at 46 and 49 years of age respectively, Br. Andre lived to 92 years old.
Three Saints who lived or spent time in the United States – may they intercede for our country that we may get back to our spiritual roots of “one nation under God”, and may they intercede for each one of us, that we also become Saints like them!