Three Great Saints

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

In seeking to imitate Christ, we often look to the saints as models. The liturgical calendar in this season gives us three outstanding examples of holiness in Saint Vincent de Paul (September 27), Saint Therese of Lisieux (October 1), and Saint Francis of Assisi (October 4).

St. Vincent de Paul was born of French peasants in 1580 and spent most of his life in France. Early in his priesthood while on a journey he was captured by pirates and held as a slave. He eventually escaped and returned to France where he began a ministry to galley slaves, the poor, the sick, and victims of war. He founded several hospitals, and established the Congregation of the Mission, the Vincentians, to carry-on his ever-expanding work. He was also committed to the formation of holy priests, conducting retreats and establishing seminaries. He died in 1660.

Though St. Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower” lived just 24 years, from 1873 – 1897, she is among the most popular of Catholic saints. She professed her vows as a Carmelite in 1890 taking the name Therese of the Child Jesus. Afflicted with tuberculosis, she accepted her illness with great courage, devoting her days wholly to prayer and meditation. Therese wrote her life’s story in “The Story of a Soul,” a spiritual classic. There she exclaimed, “At last I have found my calling. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love.” Devotees know that Saint Therese answers their prayers by sending them roses.

St. Francis of Assisi lived from 1182 to 1226, again a relatively brief life. But who doesn’t know the story of St. Francis? After spending his youth in extravagant and decadent living, a serious illness and a vision of Christ led Francis to a more austere and devout life. After his conversion, he began his mission of boldly preaching the Gospel, and the care of the sick and the poor, often going door-to-door himself begging. He established a group of disciples, the Franciscans, obeyed the command of Christ to rebuilt the crumbling church, literally and spiritually, undertook severe penance, and before his death received the stigmata, the painful wounds of Christ on his body.

Something to think about: These three holy saints, our spiritual heroes, embody virtues that are very relevant for our time.