Saints who were Religious Brothers
Throughout the Church's history, the Holy Spirit has inspired examples of Christian holiness to emerge among religious brothers. By their witness and work, these men serve as role models for the brotherhood vocation. Here are just a few examples of saints who were brothers. Feel free to suggest more in the comments!
Honored under two titles: “Joseph the Worker” (May 1) and “Joseph, Husband of Mary” (March 19). Earthly spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and foster and adoptive father of Jesus, Sacred Scripture says little of him. In fact, it does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness.
St. Joseph has always been the primary role model for the Brother vocation. He epitomizes the balance between the active and the contemplative life, and he is the exemplar of selfless service and nurturance.
ST. DIDACUS OF ALCALA
1400-1463 (Feast: November 7). Didacus, a Spanish Observant Franciscan friar, was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588 and is considered the Patron of Franciscan Brothers. He was sent as a missionary to the Canary Islands in 1442, and was named superior of Fortaventura. He converted many Muslims by his preaching and example and especially by his care for the sick. He was sent to Rome in 1450 where he worked himself to exhaustion to help his brother friars during an epidemic. He was reported to have miraculously cured many of the sick. He then returned to Spain and spent the rest of his life in contemplation at Alcala.
c.480-547 (Feast: July 11). Considered the father of Western Monasticism, Benedict was born in Nursia, Italy of Roman nobility and was the twin of St. Scholastica. He studied in Rome, but fled the corruption of the city and lived as a hermit. His virtuous life caused him to be welcomed as the leader of a group of hermits. He eventually built an abbey at Monte Cassino where he wrote his Rule. Benedict’s Rule having as its hallmarks, “prayer and work,” is practical, balanced and compassionate. Benedictines take vows of stability and conversion of manners and were very supportive of St. Francis and his movement.
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI
1182-1226 (Feast: October 4). Francis was the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. He was gallant and chivalrous throughout his life, but he regretted his mispent youth and experienced a deep conversion after a long illness as a prisoner-of-war. Francis began living simply and caring for the sick, especially lepers. Many of his early companions joined him in a life of penance and service. In 1209 his community was approved as the “Friars Minor.” Although he was never ordained, it was the long-standing custom in the Middle Ages that a brother-superior of a religious community could read the Gospel, preach, and wear a deacon’s dalmatic while assisting at the Sacred Liturgy.
BL. FRA ANGELICO
1387-1455. (Feast: March 18). Born in Mugello, near Florence, he entered the Dominicans with his younger brother in 1407 and took the name Fra Giovanni (Brother John). He was taught to illuminate missals and manuscripts. Giovanni immediately exhibited a natural talent. Soon, many religious houses and noble patrons were offering him commissions. His dedication to religious art earned him the title Angelico. He was beatified on October 3, 1982 by Pope John Paul II and named patron of artists in 1984.
ST. NICHOLAS OF FLÜE
1417-1487 (Feast: March 22). He was the oldest son of pious, well-to-do peasants and from his earliest youth was fond of prayer and mortification. At age 21, he entered the army and took part in several significant national battles. He later married and had ten children. Though averse to worldly dignities, Nicolas was elected councilor and judge of his Canton. After about twenty-five years of marriage, with the consent of his wife, he decided to live as a hermit. He became known as “Brother Klaus,” and lived a rigorous and penitential lifestyle. Nicholas was favored with numerous visions and the gift of prophecy. Distinguished persons from nearly every country of Europe came to him for counsel in matters of the utmost importance. In 1480 Br. Klaus was called upon to settle a dispute that was about to lead to civil war. Nicholas was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII and is the patron saint of Switzerland.
ST. JOHN OF GOD
1495-1550 (Feast: March 8). Born in Montemor-o-Novo, Portugal, by age eight, for unknown reasons, John left home. John spent most of his youth as a rootless wanderer, working as a shepherd, soldier, bookseller and laborer and traveled through the countries of Europe and North Africa. While in Granada (Spain) at age forty, he experienced a conversion. John's motivation was his great love of God and Our Blessed Lady. His love encompassed everyone, the sick, orphans, widows, prisoners and the poor. John created an equal partnership between benefactors and those in need, each helping one another. He created a family of co-workers that comprised the nobility, the middle-class, the poor, volunteers and his paid staff, all with the one purpose of serving God by serving those in need. People began calling him “John of God.” An Order of Brothers formed after his death calling themselves the “Hospitallers of St. John of God.”
ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST
(Feast: June 24 [birth]; August 29 [death]). Cousin of Jesus Christ. Son of Zachary, a priest of the order of Abia whose job in the temple was to burn incense; and of Elizabeth, a descendent of Aaron. As Zachary was ministering in the Temple, an angel brought him news that Elizabeth would bear a child filled with the Holy Spirit from the moment of his birth. Zachary doubted and was struck dumb until John's birth.
Prophet. Began his ministry around age 27, wearing a leather belt and a tunic of camel hair, living off locusts and wild honey, and preaching a message of repentance to the people of Jerusalem. He converted many, and prepared the way for the coming of Jesus. Baptized Christ, after which he stepped away and told his disciples to follow Jesus.
Imprisoned by King Herod. He died a victim of the vengeance of a jealous woman; he was beheaded, and his head brought to her on a platter. Saint Jerome says Herodias kept the head for a long time after, occassionally stabbing the tongue with his dagger.
ST. FELIX OF CANTALICE
1515-1587 (Feast: May 18). Born of pious peasants, Felix labored as a shepherd most of his youth. He spent his free time in prayer. He was accepted by the Capuchin Franciscans and given the duty of questor (beggar) for the community. Felix’s charity knew no bounds and his reputation for holiness spread quickly. He could not even read, yet theologians consulted him on matters of spirituality and scripture. He composed simple chants and had the children of Rome gather in groups to sing them as a way to teach them their catechism. The chants became so well-known and popular that Felix was invited into people’s homes to offer instruction in the faith. Felix was canonized in 1625 by Pope Urban VII.
ST. PASCHAL BAYLON
1540-1592 (Feast: May 17). A son of pious peasants of Aragon (Spain) he labored as a shepherd during his youth. He entered the Franciscans of the Alcantarine reform (sometimes known as the “Reformed Conventuals”). He served as cook and porter. His charity to the poor and afflicted was only equaled by his unfailing courtesy, humility and counsel to rich and poor alike. He defended the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist against certain Protestant teachings, and for this he became the “Patron of Eucharistic Congresses.” Paschal was canonized by Pope Alexander VIII in 1690.
ST. MARTIN DE PORRES
1579-1639 (Feast: November 3). Born in Lima, Peru, he was the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a black slave. He grew up in poverty but learned the art of healing from a surgeon-barber. By age 11 he became a servant in a Dominican priory. He was placed in charge of begging and raised so much money from the rich people of Lima for the needs of the poor that he was not only placed in charge of the infirmary but he was also admitted into the Order. Martin soon established an orphanage and children’s hospital, and even set up an animal shelter for stray cats and dogs. He had great devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Pope John XXIII canonized Martin in 1962.
1605-1691. Nicholas Herman was born in Lorraine province, France. He came from a humble background and was an unlearned man. He converted in 1629, and after being a soldier and a footman for some time; he entered the Discalced Carmelites in Paris in 1649 and was given the name, Brother Lawrence. He worked most of the time as a helper in the kitchen and became known for his simple, practical faith. His life was one of constant recollection, which he practiced in all circumstances and at all times. During Lawrence’s lifetime, his influence became quite widespread throughout France as we see from his letters. In these writings, we discover a very inspiring way of prayer consisting in a simple and constant “Practice of the Presence of God.”
ST. ALBERT CHMIELOWSKI
1845-1916 (Feast: 17). Born to a wealthy aristocratic family, he initially studied agriculture in order to manage the family estate. Involved in politics from his youth, he lost a leg at age 17 when he was injured during an insurrection. In Cracow, he became a popular, well-known and well-liked artist. A gentle and compassionate soul, he felt called to help those in need. He became a Secular Franciscan, taking the name “Albert.” He abandoned painting, and began a life of working with and for the poorest of Cracow. In 1887 he founded the “Brothers of the Third Order of Saint Francis, Servants of the Poor” (aka Albertines). The Albertines organized food and shelter assistance for the poor and homeless. In 1949 Pope John Paul II wrote a play about the life of Brother Albert, which was made into a movie in 1997. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989.
ST. RICCARDO PAMPURI
1897-1930. (Feast: May 1). Born in northern Italy, Riccardo attended medical school and then served as a rural health officer assigned to a poor area near Milan. At age 30 he further dedicated himself to the care of the sick by entering the Hospitallers of St. John of God. The Superior first assigned him to the free dental clinic for the poor. Many flocked to him because of his kindness and gentleness, but he also offered money and food to his needy patients. Two years after entering the community he contracted tuberculosis and died at age thirty-three. The life of Riccardo Pampuri was so short that truly there was no time or opportunity to perform great undertakings. Nonetheless, his life was very meaningful because he held on to a principle that he formulated during his preparation for religious profession, “To do the least of things with great love.” Riccardo was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989.
ST. MIGUEL FEBRES CORDEO MUNOZ
1854-1910. (Feast: February 9). Born into a prominent family in Equador, he was enrolled in a school run by the Christian Brothers, and then entered that community at age thirteen. After formation, he was assigned to teach in Quito, where he remained for 32 years. A gentle, dedicated, and enthusiastic teacher, Miguel actually began writing his own textbooks by age 17. But he also wrote hymns, discourses on teaching methods, plays, inspirational works, and retreat manuals. He was chosen Novice Director for a few years and then afterward he was sent to Belgium to begin translating some texts that the community would use in other schools. He was transferred to Barcelona, Spain where he continued to work until his death from pneumonia. Miquel was canonized in 1984 by Pope John Paul II.
St. ANDRE BESSETTE
1845-1937 (Feast: January 6). Born in Montreal, Canada, the son of a woodcutter, he was the eighth of twelve children. The premature death of Andre’s parents left him orphaned at the age twelve. He was adopted by a farmer who worked him severely. Andre became a farmhand, blacksmith, cobbler, baker, and factory worker. At age 25 he was accepted into the Congregation of Holy Cross. He served as porter, sacristan, and laundry assistant. Brother Andre had great devotion St. Joseph and vowed that one day he would build an oratory dedicated to him. A small structure was begun in 1904, later a larger basilica was constructed. Andre gained the special grace of healing, but when so many began coming to him for cures, he attributed every miracle to St. Joseph. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1982 and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
BL. EDMUND IGNATIUS RICE
1762-1844, (Feast: May 5). A Roman Catholic missionary and educationalist, Edmund Rice was the founder of two orders of religious brothers: the Congregation of Christian Brothers and the Presentation Brothers. Rice was born in Ireland at a time when Catholics faced oppression under Penal Laws enforced by the British authorities. He forged a successful career in business and, after a tragic accident which killed his wife and left his daughter disabled, devoted his life to the education and service of the poor. Christian Brother schools around the world continue to follow the system of education and traditions established by Blessed Edmund. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1996.
ST. GERARD MAJELLA
1725-1755, (Feast: October 16). Son of a tailor who died when the boy was twelve, his family was left in poverty. Gerard tried to join the Capuchins, but his health prevented it. He was accepted as a Redemptorist lay brother serving his congregation as sacristan, gardener, porter, infirmarian, and tailor. When falsely accused by a pregnant woman of being the father of her child, he retreated to silence; she later recanted and cleared him, and thus began his association as patron of all aspects of pregnancy. His last will consisted of the following small note on the door of his cell: “Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills.” Gerard was canonized by Pope Pius X in 1904.
ST. JOHN MASSIAS
1585-1645, (Feast: September 18). Born to a pious and impoverished Spanish noble family, he was orphaned young and worked as a shepherd and on a South American cattle ranch around Cartegena. Feeling called by God to religious life, he entered the Dominican in Lima, Peru on January 23,1622. As a lay brother, John worked as porter or doorkeeper for his friary for over twenty years. Noted for visions, for his care for the poor of Lima, and for his endless praying of the Rosary, he offered all his prayers for the release of souls in Purgatory; tradition says that he freed over a million through his prayers. St. John was a friend of St. Martin de Porres. He was canonized in 1975 by Pope Paul VI.
ST. ISIDORE OF ST. JOSEPH
1881-1916, (Feast: October 6). The oldest of three children born to a pious farm family, he loved working the fields. He entered the Passionists in 1906 as a lay brother and make his vows on September 13, 1908. As a professed religious, he took the name Isidore of Saint Joseph and became known for an intense prayer life, simplicity, charity. He lost his right eye to cancer in 1911, and suffered through cancer during his few remaining years. Pope John Paul II canonized him in 1984.
ST. ALEXIS FALCONIERI
c. 1200-1310, (Feast: February 17). One of the Seven Founders of the Servants of Mary, Alexis was the son of Bernard Falconieri, a wealthy Florentine merchant and a Guelph. He joined the Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin in Florence around 1225. While the other members of the Confraternity were ordained, Alexis felt himself unworthy and remained a lay-brother. As such he worked to insure the material and financial requirements of the community and helped build the Servite church at Cafaggio. He was the only one of the seven founders still alive when the order was approved by Pope Benedict XI in 1304. Alexis was canonized in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII.
ST. ANTHONY OF THE DESERT
251-356, (Feast: January 17). Following the death of his parents when he was about 20, Anthony sold his house, furniture, and the land he and gave the proceeds to the poor. He joined the anchorites who lived nearby, moving into an empty sepulchre. At age 35 he moved alone to the desert, living 20 years in an abandoned fort. Anthony barricaded the place for solitude, but admirers broke in. He miraculously healed people, and agreed to be the spiritual counselor of others. His recommendation was to base life on the Gospel. Word spread, and so many disciples arrived that Anthony founded two monasteries on the Nile, one at Pispir, one at Arsinoe. Known as “Father of Cenobites” and “Father of Western Monasticism,” his example led many to take up the monastic life, and to follow his way.
ST. RENE GOUPIL
1606-1642, (Feast: October 19). Entered the Jesuit noviate in Paris, but his deafness prevented his joining the order. He studied medicine, and in 1639 offered to work as a medic for the Jesuit missionaries in America. Missionary to the Hurons, working as a donné, a layman who worked without pay. Worked in a hospital in Quebec, Canada in 1640. Assistant to St. Isaac Jogues on his missionary travels. Captured and tortured by Iroquois, enemies of the Huron, for making the sign of the cross over a child's head. While they were in captivity, Father Isaac received Rene into the Jesuits as a religious brother. First North American martyr. His death by tomahawk in the head led to his patronage of people who work with or receive anasthesia. Brother Rene was canonized Pope Pius XI on June 29, 1930.
ST. FRANCIS OF PAOLA
1416-1507, (Feature: April 2). Following a pilgrimage in his teens, young Francis became a hermit in a cave near Paola. Before he was 20 years old he began to attract followers. By the 1450’s the followers had become so numerous that he established a rule for them and sought Church approval. This was the founding of the Hermits of Saint Francis of Assisi, who were approved by the Holy See in 1474. In 1492 they were renamed the Franciscan Order of Minim Fiars, which means they count themselves the least of the family of God. A defender of the poor and oppressed, Francis also advised kings and assisted popes. He used his position to influence the course of national politics, helping restore peace between countries. Francis was canonized by Pope Julius II in 1512.
951-1027, (Feast: June 19). Italian nobility who spent a wild youth. Acting as second, he witnessed his father kill another man in a duel, and sought to atone for the crime by becoming a Benedictine monk at Classe, Italy. He served as abbot from 996 to 999. A wanderer, he established several hermitages and monasteries in central and northern Italy. Romuald tried to evangalize the Slavs, but met with little success. Founded the Camaldolese Benedictines and spent the last fourteen years of his life in seclusion at Mount Sitria, Bifolco, and Val di Castro. He was the spiritual teacher of Saint Wolfgang. Romuald was canonized by Pope Gregory XII in 1582.
ST. CHARLES OF SEZZE
1613-1617, (Feast: January 7). Born to a poor but pious rural family, he worked as a shepherd as a child. His family encouraged his vocation to the priesthood, but Charles was a terrible student, barely able to read or write, and had no hope of success in seminary. He became a Franciscan lay brother at age 22 at Naziano. Poor health prevented his going on foreign missions, and he served in assorted menial positions, such as cook, porter, and gardener at friaries near Rome. Brother Charles wrote several mystical works, and at the direction of his confessor, his autobiography, The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God. Had a strong devotion to the Eucharist and the Passion. A bearer of the stigmata, this simple layman was sought out for spiritual advice, and the dying Pope Clement IX called Charles to his bedside for a blessing. He was canonized by Pope John XII in 1959.
ST. BENEDICT JOSEPH LABRE
1748 –1783, (Feast: April XX). The oldest of 15 children in a prosperous middle class family in France, Benedict Joseph was educated by his uncle, a parish priest. Following his uncle’s death, he tried to join the Trappists, Carthusians, and Cistercians, but was rejected by them all. Spent years wandering Europe, especially Rome, in complete poverty, spending his days in perpetual adoration in the cathedrals. Given to religious ecstacies when contemplating the Crown of Thorns; reputed to float, soar, and bilocate when in these swoons. Benedict Joseph begged in the streets, and if he was given more than he needed for the day, he would give the remainder to some one he considered more in need than he was. Cured some of his fellow homeless, and reported to have multiplied bread for them. Noted counselor to people of all walks in Rome. He died in a hospice, exhausted from his life of austerity. Benedict Joseph was canonized in1883 by Pope Leo XIII.
ST. SERAPION OF ALGIERS
1179-1240, (Feast: November 12). Irish by birth, Serapion enlisted as a soldier army to go to Spain to help the Christian army of Alfonso VIII who was fighting Moslems. In Spain, he met St. Peter Nolasco and his brothers who dedicated themselves to the defense of the Faith, even offering up their own lives to free Christian captives from the power of the Moors. In 1222, Serapion requested and received the Mercedarian habit. During his life, he was an extraordinary holy and virtuous religious, a model in practicing abstinence, fervent in prayer and with a burning charity for the freedom of captives. As a Mercedarian friar, he carried out several redemptions. In the last one, Serapion was taken hostage and eventually martyred by being nailed on an X-shaped cross. The Holy See confirmed the veneration attributed to him as a martyr in 1728.
Bl. CHARLES DE FOUCAULD
1858-1916. Brother Charles of Jesus was born in Strasbourg, France. Orphaned at the age of six, he lost his faith as an adolescent. His taste for easy living was well known to all and yet he showed that he could be strong willed and constant in difficult situations. He undertook a risky exploration of Morocco (1883-1884). Seeing the way Muslims expressed their faith questioned him and he began repeating, “My God, if you exist, let me come to know you.” On his return to France, the powerful witness of a Christian family made him continue his search and Charles soon rediscovered God. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land revealed his vocation to him: to follow Jesus in his life at Nazareth. He spent seven years as a Trappist, first in France and then at Akbès in Syria. Later he began to lead a life of prayer and adoration, alone, near a convent of Poor Clares in Nazareth. Ordained a priest at 43, he continued to serve the poor and abandoned. Charles had always dreamed of sharing his vocation with others: after having written several rules for religious life, he came to the conclusion that all could lead this “life of Nazareth.” Today his spiritual family encompasses several associations of the faithful, religious communities and secular institutes for both lay people and priests.