Saints: March 2007 Archives

The Novena to Saint Joseph

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There are Catholics, belonging to a certain theological "caste", who sniff condescendingly at novenas and other expressions of popular devotion. They forget, perhaps, the words of Our Lord in the Gospel: "I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones" (Mt 11:25).

Pope Benedict XVI addressed the place of popular devotions with the clergy of Rome on February 22nd:

Popular piety is one of our strengths because it consists of prayers deeply rooted in people's hearts. These prayers even move the hearts of people who are somewhat cut off from the life of the Church and who have no special understanding of faith. All that is required is to "illuminate" these actions and "purify" this tradition so that it may become part of the life of the Church today.

Several years ago my father gave me a wonderful old prayer book that has been handed down from generation to generation in the family. The Treasury of the Sacred Heart Abridged from the Larger Work, With Epistles and Gospels for All Sundays and Festivals of the Year was published by Charles Eason, Middle Abbey Street, Dublin in 1860. It contains, among other precious texts, a popular Novena to Saint Joseph, which Novena begins today.


The section On Novenas is preceded by a very wise pastoral introduction. Again, this was published in 1860! Here is the text of the introduction:

"By a Novena, is meant a devotion of nine days in honour of some mystery of our Redemption, to obtain a particular request: or in honour of the Blessed Virgin, or any of the Saints; to beg their intercession in obtaining a favour from God.

It may be made of any prayer according to each person's devotion, and is certainly a holy practice, which has often been found successful in obtaining favours from God. Those who perform it with the conditions necessary for prayer; in particular with a lively hope of having their request granted, and perfect resignation, should it be refused, may be assured that Christ, who has said ask and you shall receive, will grant them some grace or blessing as the fruit of their prayer, though, in his infinite wisdom and mercy, he may refuse the particular favour which they implore.

'If," says Saint Augustine, 'he seems deaf to their cries, it is only to grant their main desire, by doing what is more expedient to them.' God alone knows what is good for us: how often is the refusal of our requests a far greater favour than would be the grant of them!'"

The Novena to Saint Joseph begins today. Addressing Saint Joseph, my 147 year old Irish prayer book says: "Thou art the most hidden, though the greatest saint." "Go to Joseph," then. You will not be disappointed.


The Monastery of Tor De' Specchi of the Benedictine Oblates of Saint Francesca Romana is open to the public but one day a year on March 9th, the feast of this most Roman of saints. Together with Sister Barbara Matazzaro, Paul Zalonski, and I made our pilgrimage there this morning. The sun was shining brightly and the day was glorious.


The inner cloister was bathed in light. The lemon trees looked like something out of a medieval illuminated manuscript.


We made our way through the monastery, stopping to admire the famous frescoes that depict the life of Saint Francesca Romana. In the chapel with its magnificent choir stalls, Holy Mass was being celebrated.


This is one of twenty–seven frescoes depicting the life, miracles and visions of Saint Francesca Romana. This image depicts a miracle performed by Saint Francesca. A man named Gianni called for her help when surgeons decided to amputate one of his legs due to a serious infection. She applied ointment to the leg and it suddenly healed. In the left section of the composition, Santa Francesca gestures toward Gianni who lies in bed with his leg exposed; his bandages are below the bed. At the right of the composition, Gianni kneels to the Saint outside the doors of her convent.

The Ointment of Saint Francesca Romana is still made at the monastery; it is blessed as a sacramental for spiritual and physical healing. We were each able to obtain a little container of the blessed ointment and a small bottle of Acqua di Santa Francesca Romana as well.

Novena to Saint Patrick

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Maria Elena Vidal reminds us that the Novena to Saint Patrick begins today, and provides us with a beautiful prayer. The Church in Ireland is in crisis, and the last two generations of Americans of Irish descent are, in alarming numbers, abandoning the practice of the faith of their forefathers.

Read John P. McCarthy's excellent review of "The End of Irish Catholicism?" by D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. And pray the Novena.

Io vado in paradiso

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My friend Terry will, I am sure, have a splendid entry on Saint Dominic Savio! The two of us, together with Father Gregory O. and Father Martin F., probably read the same biography of the saint as boys. I must have been in fourth grade when, thanks to Sister Mary Clara's school library, I discovered The Life of Saint Dominic Savio by Saint John Bosco: "the life of a saint by a saint." I read the book over and over again. Like many small boys in Catholic schools, I wanted to be like Saint Dominic Savio. . . but I wasn't!

My cousin Barbara S. teaches in a Salesian school in San Francisco. I am sure that she will be celebrating Saint Dominic Savio with her students. I don't know that Barbara reads this blog, but her sister Mary does!

In the end, what most impressed me and has stayed with me lo, all these years was Dominic Savio's ardent love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and for the Most Holy Eucharist.
On March 9, 1857, fifteen year old Domenico, stricken with cholera, died in the arms of his parents. To his mother, he said, "Mamma, non piangere, io vado in Paradiso — Mamma, don't cry, I am going to Paradise”.

O God, wellspring of all good,
who, in Saint Dominic Savio, hast given adolescents
an admirable example of charity and of purity
grant that we also, may grow up as Thy sons in joy and in love
even unto the full stature of Thy Christ.
Who is God, living and reigning with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
forever and ever.

By what doth a young man correct his way?
by observing thy words.
With my whole heart have I sought after thee:
let me not stray from thy commandments.
Thy words have I hidden in my heart,
that I may not sin against thee.

(Psalm 118:9–11)

Cistercian Martyrs of England

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I was deeply moved when the martyrology for today, March 8th, was read in Chapter. Hearing the names of these English Cistercian martyrs read out here in Rome was a truly Catholic Moment.

From the Romano–Cistercian Martyrology:

In England, in the sixteenth century, the passion of a number of Cistercian monks cruelly put to death for different pretexts by order of King Henry VIII.

In the months of March and May 1537, died for the Catholic faith:

— the Lord Abbot of Kirkstead, Dom John Harrison and his brethren Dom Richard Wade, Dom William Small, and Dom Henry Jenkinson;

— the Lord Abbot of Whalley, Dom John Paslew and his brethren, Dom William Haydock and Dom Richard Eastgate.

Also died: the Lord Abbot of Fountains and a monk of Louth Park.

In the following year 1538, were martyred:

— the Lord Abbot of Woburn, Dom Robert Hobbes and the monks Dom Rudolph Barnes and Dom Laurence Blunham.

Recognized as authentic confessors of the faith:

Dom Thomas Mudd, monk of Jervaulx, who died on September 7, 1583;
Dom John Almond, who died on April 18, 1585,
and Dom Gilbert Browne, the last Abbot of Sweet Heart (Dulce Cor), who died on March 14, 1612.

Please Join Me in Prayer

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I received two urgent requests for intercessory prayer today:
From Massachusetts, Father Jim O'Driscoll asks for prayer for his sister–in–law Emily suffering from cancer. Her doctor told her today that she has three weeks to live.

From Connecticut, Sister Mary Grace Walsh, A.S.C.J. asks for prayer for Dottie Person, a mother of two young daughters at Sacred Heart Private School in the Bronx, N.Y. Dottie is very ill at this time.

Also, from Australia, Father Paul Francis, C.P. writing on Laus Crucis asks for prayer for Passionist Father Kieran Creagh, founder of the Leratong Hospice in South Africa, who is in intensive care in hospital. Father Kieran received multiple gunshot wounds from a gang of youths on Wednesday night. One bullet is still in his lung. Otherwise he is stable but in pain. He is lucid and, according to doctors, “his condition is on the highest end of the scale it could possibly be on given the circumstances.”

I am continuing also to pray for A., a lovely young woman who has been suffering from poor health for the past several years.

Here in the Basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme we have the tomb of the little Servant of God Antonietta Meo, fondly known as Nennolina. Nennolina was born on December 15, 1930. She was a lively and joyful child, quick to join in games at school. One day she fell while playing in the schoolyard and injured her knee on a stone. The pain did not go away: the doctors diagnosis was osteosarcoma. Her leg was amputated. A long way of the cross ensued. Hospitalized, she suffered atrocious pain. Nennolina died on July 3, 1937. She was not seven years old.

Nennolina left behind a diary and more than one hundred letterine (little letters) addressed to Jesus, to the Madonna, and to God the Father. Nennolina's letters reveal an extraordinary mystical union with Jesus Crucified. Her tomb, at the entrance to the Chapel of the Sacred Relics of the Cross and Passion in our Basilica, has become a place of pilgrimage. If canonized, Nennolina will be the youngest saint, not a martyr, in the history of the Church.

I am going to make a daily visit to Nennolina's tomb to entrust to her intercession the intentions recommended to me. I remember being told when I was in First Grade that God always listens to the prayers of little children. I still believe that.

The following prayer may be used in asking for Nennolina's intercession. You may want to join me in making a spiritual pilgrimage to her tomb each day.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory