Kevin Di Camillo writes regularly for The National Catholic Register and is a Lecturer in English Literature at Niagara University. His latest book is Now Chiefly Poetical, and with Rev. Lawrence Boadt he edited John Paul II in the Holy Land: In His Own Words. His work has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian-Americana, and he was awarded the Foley Poetry Prize from America Magazine. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he regularly attends Yale University’s School of Management Publishing Course.
In 1993 I, as a graduate student, joined the Saint Peregrine Cancer Prayer Society at Notre Dame. Led by the late Mr. Herb Juliano, we would pray for anyone afflicted with that dread disease. Specifically, we’d offer the daily Holy Rosary at the university’s grotto — which is a scale replica of the famous Grotto at Lourdes, where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette — and, on Fridays, the Stations of the Cross around St. Joseph’s Lake. Our motto was simply, “The answer to cancer is prayer.” Amen.
Mr. Juliano had a deep and endearing devotion to Saint Peregrine, making pilgrimages first to the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows in Chicago, which had a Saint Peregrine Shrine, and, later, to Forli, Italy where the “Patron Saint of Cancer” lived, died and was buried.
It seemed, during my years of graduate study, that cancer was taking my family on all sides — my maternal grandmother, Agnes, died of pancreatic cancer in January 1995, and my great aunt Edie was taken away by that same disease almost exactly a year prior. Other great aunts — Angelica and Theresa — continued to battle breast cancer (in one of the great victories, Angelica is still alive today, aged 96!) and requests came in so often from all over the country that Mr. Juliano started a monthly newsletter listing all those for whom we prayed.
It is always easy to be a bit philosophical and detached when one is praying for another who is sick while you yourself are alive and well. Perhaps this is how we keep calm in the midst of a familial disaster. Or at least so it seemed to me — until I was diagnosed with testicular cancer on March 20, 2003 at the age of 33.
I’m not one to suffer in silence and since I had a solid group of pray-ers behind me, I implored them to pray for me earnestly and often, especially through the intercession of Saint Peregrine.
Mass cards, cards for healing, prayer cards all came in abundance (for which I was, and am, ever grateful) but there was one in particular that caught my eye and I’ve kept ever since. It was of “Saint Michael of the Saints — Patron of Cancer patients”.
This was news to me. I’d thought that St. Peregrine was the patron of cancer patients — hadn’t I myself been a member of his prayer Society at Notre Dame just a few years prior? Who, then, was this “Saint Michael-of-the-Saints,” and how did he become associated with those who suffer from cancer?
Michael Argemir was born on Sept. 29, 1591, in Vic, a small city in Spain. At a very young age he joined the discalced (literally “barefoot”) Order of the Most Holy Trinity and of the Captives — more simply known as the Trinitarian Order — where he served as superior before dying at the all-too-young age of 33. However, during his lifetime he had developed a strong devotion to Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist, was renowned for his self-mortification and mystical prayer life, and succeeded in reviving the more austere branch of the Trinitarians.
But it wasn’t until after St. Michael had gone to his eternal reward in 1625 that he was found to be a powerful intercessor for those with cancer. A woman named Frances Sanz prayed through St. Michael for 11 days and was healed of her malignant mouth — a miracle which was taken into account by Blessed Pope Pius XI when, in 1862, formal canonization was finalized for this somewhat obscure Spanish mystic of a rather small, ancient order (they number about 550 members currently). His feast day is April 10.
I find it difficult to believe — indeed, impossible — that saints don’t like to share, so I’m sure that St. Peregrine, who is surely the better known of the two “Patron Saints of Cancer” minds that St. Michael-of-the-Saints is attributed this sobriquet as well. Which leaves us with the question: who, then, was St. Peregrine?
St. Peregrine (1260-1345) was a native of Forli, Italy. His well-to-do family was actually of an anti-papal party, but St. Philip Benizi, the great promoter of the Servite Order, convinced Peregrine Laziosi to join the Order of the Friars of the Servants of Mary (their official title) at Siena. He returned to his native Forli, where he became famous for his preaching, austerities, mortifications, sanctity and a confessor.
One of the (strange) mortifications St. Peregrine imposed upon himself was to always stand when it was not necessary to sit — something he did for nearly three decades. As anyone who has suffered from arthritis or bursitis will tell you, standing for long periods of time can become quite painful, and, in the case of St. Peregrine, it became very bad for his health in general and his leg in particular. In fact, by the age of sixty, his right leg had deteriorated so completely that medical advice was sought, and it was decided to amputate the right leg.
St. Peregrine spent the night before the operation in prayer before the crucifix and, in a vision, Jesus seemed to reach down from the cross and touch Peregrine’s cancerous leg. In the morning, when the doctor came to operate, the leg had been miraculously (and completely) cured.
This miracle only caused greater respect and renowned for the Servite saint-to-be, and he lived another quarter of a century, dying at the age of 85. However, he was not formally canonized until more than four centuries had past. One of the glories of the Servite Order (whose membership today is in the thousands), his feast day is May 1.
Thus, when praying for those who suffer from the scourge of cancer, be certain to invoke both Saints Peregrine and Saint Michael of the Saints!