Blessed Gennaro Maria Sarnelli

Gennaro Sarnelli was born in Naples, Italy, on September 12, 1702. Son of the Baron of Ciorani, he had a solid cultural and spiritual formation. Dedicating himself to the study of jurisprudence, he gained a doctorate in civil and canon law at age 20. Caring for the sick in the Hospital for the Incurables, he felt the call to the priesthood. During this time he also came to know Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, who was his first biographer.

Ordained a priest in 1732, he dedicated himself especially to the catechesis of young boys and to the rehabilitation of girls at risk of becoming prostitutes. In June of the following year, he entered the Redemptorists. He dedicated himself to the preaching of the Word of God to those who were most destitute of spiritual help.

For reasons of health, in 1736, he returned to Naples, where, while continuing the missionary activity of the Redemptorists Congregation, he resumed his previous pastoral and charitable activities, especially among the sick, the old, those in prison and the young boys forced to work as dock-laborers. He also initiated a fervent movement against the spread of prostitution.

A prodigious writer, he published more than 30 books on a wide range of subjects, including socio-juridical studies, moral issues, mysticism, pedagogy, pastoral practice, Mariology, and ascetical theology.

In 1741, he organized and took part in the great mission among the spiritually abandoned areas in the outskirts of Naples. Spent by his burning zeal, he died in Naples June 30, 1744, at the age of 42. John Paul II beatified him on May 12, 1996.

Our Lady of Perpetual Help

The image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is an icon, painted on wood, and seems to have originated around the thirteenth century.  Traditionally, the image is also known as “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.”  The icon (about 54 x 41.5 centimeters) depicts our Blessed Mother Mary, under the title “Mother of God,” holding the Child Jesus.  The Archangels Michael and Gabriel, hovering in the upper corners, hold the instruments of the Passion– St. Michael (in the left corner) holds the spear, the wine-soaked sponge, and the crown of thorns, and St. Gabriel (in the right corner) holds the cross and the nails.  The intent of the artist was to portray the Child Jesus contemplating the vision of His future Passion.  The anguish He feels is shown by the loss of one of His sandals.  Nevertheless, the icon also conveys the triumph of Christ over sin and death, symbolized by the golden background (a sign of the glory of the resurrection) and the manner in which the angels hold the instruments, i.e. like trophies gathered up from Calvary on Easter morning.

In a very beautiful way, the Child Jesus grasps the hand of the Blessed Mother.  He seeks comfort from His mother, as He sees the instruments of His passion.  The position of Mary’s hands– both holding the Child Jesus (who seems like a small adult) and presenting Him to us– convey the reality of our Lord’s incarnation, that He is true God who became also true man.  In iconography, Mary here is represented as the Hodighitria, the one who guides us to the Redeemer.  She also is our Help, who intercedes on our behalf with her Son.  The star painted on Mary’s veil, centered on her forehead, highlights her role in the plan of salvation as both the Mother of God and our Mother.

According to popular tradition, a merchant acquired the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help from the island of Crete and had it shipped to Rome towards the end of the fifteenth century.  During the voyage, a terrible storm arose, threatening the lives of all on ship.  The passengers and crew prayed to our Blessed Mother, and were saved.

Once in Rome, the merchant, dying, ordered that the image should be displayed for public veneration.  His friend, who retained the image, received further instructions: in a dream to his little daughter, the Blessed Mother appeared and expressed the desire for the image to be venerated in a Church between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran in Rome.  The image, consequently, was housed at the Church of St. Matthew, and became known as “The Madonna of Saint Matthew.”  Pilgrims flocked to the church for the next three hundred years, and great graces were bestowed upon the faithful.

After Napoleon’s troops destroyed the Church of St. Matthew in 1812, the image was transferred to the Church of St. Mary in Posterula, and remained there for nearly forty years.  There, the image was neglected and forgotten.

By divine providence, the forgotten image was rediscovered.  In 1866, Blessed Pope Pius IX entrusted the image to the Redemptorists, who had just built the Church of St. Alphonsus, down the street from St. Mary Major.  As a boy, the Holy Father had prayed before the image in the Church of St. Matthew.  He ordered the public display and veneration of the image, and fixed the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help as the Sunday before the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  In 1867, when the image was being carried in a solemn procession through the streets, a young child was cured, the first of many recorded miracles attributed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

To this day, the Church of St. Alphonsus displays the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and welcome pilgrims for prayer.  May each of us never hesitate to invoke the prayers and intercession of Our Blessed Mother in time of need.

St.Josemaria Escriva

Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was born in Barbastro, Spain, on January 9, 1902, the second of six children of Jose and Dolores Escriva. Growing up in a devout family and attending Catholic schools, he learned the basic truths of the faith and practices such as frequent confession and communion, the rosary, and almsgiving. The death of three younger sisters, and his father’s bankruptcy after business reverses, taught him the meaning of suffering and brought maturity to his outgoing and cheerful temperament. In 1915, the family moved to Logrono, where his father had found new employment.

Beginning in 1918, Josemaria sensed that God was asking something of him, although he didn’t know exactly what it was. He decided to become a priest, in order to be available for whatever God wanted of him. He began studying for the priesthood, first in Logrono and later in Saragossa. At his father’s suggestion and with the permission of his superiors at the seminary he also began to study civil law. He was ordained a priest and began his pastoral ministry in 1925.

In 1927, Fr. Josemaria moved to Madrid to study for a graduate degree in law. He was accompanied by his mother, sister, and brother, as his father had died in 1924 and he was now head of the family. They were not well-off, and he had to tutor law students to support them. At the same time he carried out a demanding pastoral work, especially among the poor and sick in Madrid, and with young children. He also undertook an apostolate with manual workers, professional people and university students who, by coming into contact with the poor and sick to whom Fr. Josemaria was ministering, learned the practical meaning of charity and their Christian responsibility to help out in the betterment of society.

On October 2, 1928, while making a retreat in Madrid, God showed him his specific mission: he was to found Opus Dei, an institution within the Catholic Church dedicated to helping people in all walks of life to follow Christ, to seek holiness in their daily life and grow in love for God and their fellow men and women. From that moment on, he dedicated all his strength to fulfilling this mission, certain that God had raised up Opus Dei to serve the Church. In 1930, responding to a new illumination from God, he started Opus Dei’s apostolic work with women, making clear that they had the same responsibility as men to serve society and the Church.

The first edition of The Way, his most widely read work, was published in 1934 under the title Spiritual Considerations. Expanded and revised, it has gone through many editions since then; more than four million copies in many different languages are now in print. His other spiritual writings include Holy Rosary; The Way of the Cross; two collections of homilies, Christ Is Passing By and Friends of God; and Furrow and The Forge, which like The Way are made up of short points for prayer and reflection.

The development of Opus Dei began among the young people with whom Fr. Josemaria had already been in contact before 1928. Its growth, however, was seriously impeded by the religious persecution inflicted on the Catholic Church during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The founder himself suffered severe hardships under this persecution but, unlike many other priests, he came out of the war alive. After the war, he traveled throughout the country giving retreats to hundreds of priests at the request of their bishops. Meanwhile Opus Dei spread from Madrid to several other Spanish cities, and as soon as World War II ended in 1945, began starting in other countries. This growth was not without pain; though the Work always had the approval of the local bishops, its then-unfamiliar message of sanctity in the world met with some misunderstandings and suspicions-which the founder bore with great patience and charity.

While celebrating Mass in 1943, Fr. Josemaria received a new foundational grace to establish the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross, which made it possible for some of Opus Dei’s lay faithful to be ordained as priests. The full incorporation of both lay faithful and priests in Opus Dei, which makes a seamless cooperation in the apostolic work possible, is an essential feature of the foundational charism of Opus Dei, affirmed by the Church in granting Opus Dei the canonical status of a personal Prelature. In addition, the Priestly Society conducts activities, in full harmony with the bishops of the local churches, for the spiritual development of diocesan priests and seminarians. Diocesan priests can also be part of the Priestly Society, while at the same time remaining clergy of their own dioceses.

Aware that God meant Opus Dei to be part of the mission of the universal Church, the founder moved to Rome in 1946 so as to be close to the Holy See. By 1950 the Work had received pontifical approvals affirming its main foundational features-spreading the message of holiness in daily life; service to the Pope, the universal church, and the particular churches; secularity and naturalness; fostering personal freedom and responsibility, and a pluralism consistent with Catholic moral, political, and social teachings.

Beginning in 1948, full membership in Opus Dei was open to married people. In 1950 the Holy See approved the idea of accepting non-Catholics and even non-Christians as cooperators-persons who assist Opus Dei in its projects and programs without being members. The next decade saw the launching of a wide range of undertakings: professional schools, agricultural training centers, universities, primary and secondary schools, hospitals and clinics, and other initiatives, open to people of all races, religions, and social backgrounds but of manifestly Christian inspiration.

During Vatican Council II (1962-1965), Monsignor Escriva worked closely with many of the council fathers, discussing key Council themes such as the universal call to holiness and the importance of laypersons in the mission of the Church. Deeply grateful for the Council’s teachings, he did everything possible to implement them in the formative activities offered by Opus Dei throughout the world.

Between 1970 and 1975 the founder undertook catechetical trips throughout Europe and Latin America, speaking with many people, at times in large gatherings, about love of God, the sacraments, Christian dedication, and the need to sanctify work and family life. By the time of the founder’s death, Opus Dei had spread to thirty nations on six continents. It now (2002) has more than 84,000 members in sixty countries.

Monsignor Escriva’s death in Rome came suddenly on June 26, 1975, when he was 73. Large numbers of bishops and ordinary faithful petitioned the Vatican to begin the process for his beatification and canonization. On May 17, 1992, Pope John Paul II declared him Blessed before a huge crowd in St. Peter’s Square. He is to be canonized-formally declared a saint-on October 6, 2002

Blessed Mary of Oignies

Mary of Oignies was born in the diocese of Liege in Belgium in 1167, of very wealthy parents.  While still very young, she rejected everything childish or vain — games, beautiful clothing, ornaments. Despite her desire to be a nun, she was obliged to marry a virtuous young lord. Her holy life caused admiration in her spouse and he decided to follow her examples.  Together they resolved to practice continence for life.   They distributed their wealth to the poor and consecrated themselves to works of piety. The devil tried every trick to make them relent in their holy resolution, but failed. They became blessed abundantly, as well as sarcasms and insults from the worldly.

Eventually unable to bear the frequent attention of devotees, Mary and her husband felt it God’s will that they should separate to live contemplative lives. Mary retired to a hermitage of Saint Nicholas in Oignies. There she prayed for the souls in Purgatory.  She gave spiritual advise to the disciples who gathered around her, among them James of Viry. She practiced asceticism worthy of the Desert Fathers, and was privileged to have mystical ecstasies and visions, mainly of Saint John and her guardian angel. Mary also continued to care for lepers.

Mary had the gift of tears.   She could not look at a crucifix without breaking into a torrent of tears or being ravished in ecstasy. When a priest told her to cease these exhibitions, she asked God to make him understand. (It is not possible for a creature to arrest tears which the Holy Spirit obliges to well up). And the priest, that same day while saying his Mass, began to shed so many tears that the altar cloths and his vestments were wet with them.

She saw the place destined for her in heaven.  Three days before she died, Mary began to sing in ecstatic strains in the Romance language concerning the Trinity, the Humanity of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints. She sang as if the sentences with their rhythm were written before her. She said, greatly rejoicing at it, that the Holy Spirit would soon visit His Church, and send laborers more abundantly than usual into the harvest.   She died on June 23rd, 1213, of natural causes.

The faithful who have addressed her were so impressed with the value of her intercession that her relics became the object of great respect. Buried at Oignies, her remains in 1609 were placed in a silver reliquary in its parish church of Our Lady; in 1817 they were transferred to the Church of Saint Nicolas at Nivelle, near her birthplace

St.Joseph Cafasso


Joseph was born in 1811 at Castelnuovo of pious parents. The sanctity and apostolic zeal in which he later excelled manifested themselves in him when he was still a child. The usual games of boyhood held no attraction for him. He preferred to occupy himself with God, counting it as a special pleasure if he could attend the holy sacrifice of the Mass and engage in other pious exercises.

At the age of six he was already called a saint. As a youth in the public schools and later as a student in Cheri seminary, he continued to be an object of respect because of the innocence of his life, his gravity, humility, observance of rules, and his fervor at prayer. He was frequently referred to as another Aloysius Gonzaga.

Not long after his ordination to the priesthood, Aloysius Guala, an exemplary priest, established a seminary in connection with the church of St Francis of Assisi at Turin, where young priests were instructed in their sacred calling, and especially fitted to defeat the various errors of Jansenism. Joseph was appointed a teacher at this institution and succeeded the founder after his death.

As head of the seminary, Joseph quickly completed the arduous task which Father Guala had begun but had not been able to finish. Saint Joseph Cafasso completely rooted out the pernicious doctrines of Jansenism and those of other reformers, reviving the teachings of St Francis de Sales and of St Alphonse Liguori, which clearly point out the way to Christian perfection. Joseph continued this mission as long as he was a priest with such constancy and fidelity that the task seemed to have been assigned to him by our heavenly Father Himself.

In his tireless zeal for the diving glory and the salvation of souls, Joseph combined example with words. He did all he could to promote devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, toward whom he manifested great love, and never ceased urging the faithful to approach the great banquet daily. Our Blessed Lady had been the object of his devotion ever since his boyhood days, and he now sought to inspire others to love her with filial devotion.

His solicitude extended also to the ministers of the altar, whom he encouraged in zeal and effort to gain souls for Christ. He was a member of the Third Order of St Francis, and used to recommend this institution as the ideal society, especially for priests who are cut off from worldly associations.

There was no spiritual or temporal need in which Saint Joseph Cafasso did not interest himself, no kind of calamity for which he did not offer a corresponding means of alleviation, no good work which he did not encourage or support. His heart went out to the orphans, the poor, the sick, and those detained in prison. He shirked no hardship, not even danger to life, in the accomplishment of his undertakings. By his counsel and help he persuaded his dearest pupil, Don Bosco, to found the society of St Francis de Sales, or the Salesians, whose work for Church and souls has been outstanding.

But the interest Blessed Joseph manifested in the various problems of suffering humanity was outdone by that which he evinced toward unfortunates who were condemned to death. His sacrifices for them were unlimited. He used every means at his disposal to find an easy approach to their hearts, and the great power of his love overcame their obstinacy. When at last he had restored them to the grace and friendship of God, he accompanied them to their execution, which he regarded not so much as temporal death as the entrance into eternal life.

After doing such great things for God and meriting the veneration of all who knew him, Joseph humbly begged God to erase his memory altogether after death. Worn with hardships, but enriched with merits at the early age of only forty-nine years, Saint Joseph Cafasso died the precious death of the just on June 23, 1860, fortified with the sacraments of the Church.

Because of his virtue and the miracles performed through his intercession, Pope Pius XI in the Holy Year of 1925, added his name to the list of the blessed, and in 1947 Pope Pius XII declared Saint Joseph Cafasso to be a saint.

Quotes of St.Joseph Cafasso

A single word from him – a look, a smile, his very presence – sufficed to dispel melancholy, drive away temptation and produce holy resolution in the soul.

– Saint John Bosco, writing about Saint Joseph

We are born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more.

– Saint Joseph Cafasso

Who is this man who in the world is called an ecclesiastic, a priest? Who is this personage whom some bless and others curse? Who is he whom the whole world talks about and criticizes, and who is the subject of discussion by all pens and all tongues? What is the significance of that name which resounds in every corner of the world? What is a priest? In order to define clearly what he is, I shall avail myself of the distinctions that Saint Bernard made concerning ecclesiastics and shall consider him in his nature, in his person, in his habits. Quid in natura, quis in persona, qualis in moribus! In his nature he is a man like others. In his person, his dignity is above that of all other men in the world. In his conduct and habits, he should be a man totally different from all others as he is by his dignity and office. These are the three points which I propose for your consideration.

– Saint Joseph Cafasso

St.John Fisher

St. John Fisher was born in Beverly, Yorkshire, in 1459, and educated at Cambridge, from which he received his Master of Arts degree in 1491. He occupied the vicarage of Northallerton, 1491-1494; then he became proctor of Cambridge University. In 1497, he was appointed confessor to Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and became closely associated in her endowments to Cambridge; he created scholarships, introduced Greek and Hebrew into the curriculum, and brought in the world-famous Erasmus as professor of Divinity and Greek.

In 1504, he became Bishop of Rochester and Chancellor of Cambridge, in which capacity he also tutored Prince Henry who was to become Henry VIII. St. John was dedicated to the welfare of his diocese and his university.

From 1527, this humble servant of God actively opposed the King’s divorce proceedings against Catherine, his wife in the sight of God, and steadfastly resisted the encroachment of Henry on the Church. Unlike the other Bishops of the realm, St. John refused to take the oath of succession which acknowledged the issue of Henry and Anne as the legitimate heir to the throne, and he was imprisoned in the tower in April 1534.

The next year he was made a Cardinal by Paul III and Henry retaliated by having him beheaded within a month. A half hour before his execution, this dedicated scholar and churchman opened his New Testament for the last time and his eyes fell on the following words from St. John’s Gospel: “Eternal life is this: to know You, the only true God, and Him Whom You have sent, Jesus Christ. I have given You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do. Do You now, Father, give me glory at Your side”. Closing the book, he observed: “There is enough learning in that to last me the rest of my life.”

His feast day is June 2.

St.Thomas More

Thomas More was born in London on February 7, 1478. His father, Sir John More, was a lawyer and judge who rose to prominence during the reign of Edward IV. His connections and wealth would help his son, Thomas, rise in station as a young man. Thomas’ mother was Agnes Graunger, the first wife of John More. John would have four wives during his life, but they each died, leaving John as a widower. Thomas had two brothers and three sisters, but three of his siblings died within a year of their birth. Such tragedies were common in England during this time.

It is likely that Thomas was positively influenced from a young age by his mother and siblings. He also attended St. Anthony’s School, which was said to be one of the best schools in London at that time. In 1490, he became a household page to John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England. Archbishop Morton was a Renaissance man and inspired Thomas to pursue his own education.

Thomas More entered Oxford in 1492, where he would learn Latin, Greek and prepare for his future studies. In 1494, he left Oxford to become a lawyer and he trained in London until 1502 when he was finally approved to begin practice.

Almost as soon as More became a lawyer, he found himself contemplating another path in life. For two years, between 1503 and 1504, More lived next to a Carthusian monastery and he found himself called to follow their lifestyle of simple piety. He often joined their spiritual exercises.

By 1504, More had decided to remain in the secular world, and stood for election to Parliament. But he did not forget the pious monks who inspired his practice of the faith.

Thomas More married his first wife, Jane Colt in 1505. They would have four children together before her death in 1511. Their marriage was reportedly happy and Thomas often tutored her in music and literature.

After Jane’s death in 1511, Thomas quickly remarried to Alice Harpur Middleton, who was a wealthy widow. Alice was not particularly attractive, and her temperament was less docile than Jane’s. The wedding took place less than a month after Jane’s passing and was poorly received by his friends.

It was rumored that Thomas married her because he wanted a stepmother for his four children, and she was a woman of wealth and means. It is believed the pair knew each other for some time prior to their marriage. They would have no children together. Thomas accepted Alice’s daughter from her previous marriage as his own.

Thomas was considered a doting father, and he often wrote letters to his children when he was away on work. He also insisted that his daughters receive the same education as his son. His daughters were well known for their academic accomplishments.

In 1504, More was elected to Parliament to represent the region of Great Yarmouth, and in 1510 rose to represent London. During his service to the people of London, he earned a reputation as being honest and effective. He became a Privy Counselor in 1514.

More also honed his skills as a theologian and a writer. Among his most famous works is “Utopia,” about a fictional, idealistic island society. The work is widely regarded as part satire, part social commentary, part suggestion. Utopia is considered one of the greatest works of the late Renaissance and was widely read during the Enlightenment period. It remains well by scholars read today.

From 1517 on, Henry VIII took a liking to Thomas More, and gave him posts of ever increasing responsibility. In 1521, he was knighted and made Under-Treasurer of the Exchequer.

The King’s trust in More grew with time and More was soon made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which gave him authority over the northern portion of England on behalf of Henry.

More became Lord Chancellor in 1529.

More was immediately effective, working with speed and precision that is admired today. He was likely one of Henry VIII’s most effective servants, and was fiercely loyal to the king.

During his tenure as Lord Chancellor, More prosecuted those accused of heresy and worked tirelessly to defend the Catholic faith in England. This was an arduous, but achievable task as long as he enjoyed Henry’s favor. However, in 1530, as Henry worked to obtain an annulment from his wife, Catherine, Moore refused to sign a letter to the Pope, requesting an annulment. This was More’s first time crossing Henry.

The relationship between More and Henry became strained again when seeking to isolate More, Henry purged many of the clergy who supported the Pope. It became clear to all that Henry was prepared to break away from the Church in Rome, something More knew he could not condone.

In 1532, More found himself unable to work for Henry VIII, whom he felt had lost his way as a Catholic. Faced with the prospect of being compelled to actively support Henry’s schism with the Church, More offered his resignation, citing failing health. Henry accepted it, although he was unhappy with what he viewed as flagging loyalty.

In 1533, More refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boylen, who was now the Queen of England. More instead wrote a letter of congratulations. The letter, as opposed to his direct presence offended Henry greatly. The king viewed More’s absence as an insult to his new queen and an undermining of his authority as head of the church and state.

Henry then had charges trumped up against More, but More’s own integrity protected him. In the first instance, he was accused of accepting bribes, but there was simply no evidence that could be obtained or manufactured. He was then accused of conspiracy against the king, because he allegedly consulted with a nun who prophesied against Henry and his wife, Anne. However, More was able to produce a letter in which he specifically instructed the nun, Elizabeth Barton, not to interfere with politics.

On April 13, 1534, More was ordered to take an oath, acknowledging the legitimicies of Anne’s position as queen, of Henry’s self-granted annulment from Catherine, and the superior position of the King as head of the church. More accepted Henry’s marriage to Anne, but refused to acknowledge Henry as head of the church, or his annulment from Catherine. This led to his arrest and imprisonment. He was locked away in the Tower of London.

He faced trial on July 1 and was convicted by a court that included Anne Boylen’s own father, brother and uncle, hardly an impartial jury. Still, More had one thing going for him. He could not break the law of which he was accused if he remained silent. However, he had no defense against treachery, and several dubious witnesses were able to contrive a story that he had spoken words that had the same effect as treason.

Despite a brilliant defense of himself and persuasive testimony, grounded in truth and fact, More was convicted in fifteen minutes. The court sentenced him to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, which was the traditional punishment for treason.

Henry was pleased with the outcome, although likely upset that one of his favorite advisers refused, even upon pain of death, to sanction his annulment and break from Rome. Henry was a Machiavellian king and while he may have regretted the loss of More, he was more intent upon retaining his authority.

As a final act of mercy, Henry commuted More’s punishment to mere decapitation.

More ascended the scaffold on July 6, 1535, joking to his executioners to help him up the scaffold, but that he would see himself down. He then made a final statement, proclaiming that he was “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

Following his death, it was revealed that More wore a hair shirt, a garment destined to be itchy, and worn to as a sign of atonement and repentance. It became obvious to all that he was a man of deep piety, asceticism, voluntary self discipline, and penitence.

More’s decapitated body was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, in an unmarked grave. His head was put on display, but his daughter Margaret possibly bribed someone to take it down. The skull may be in the vault of a church in Canterbury.

Thomas More has been widely remembered as a man of tremendous integrity, and he has since been described as a martyr and canonized a saint.

Pope Leo XIII beatified More in 1886, and he was canonized by Pope Pius XI on May 19, 1935.

He is the patron saint of adopted children lawyers, civil servants, politicians, and difficult marriages