8 Saints Whose Feasts Fall During Holy Week
The saints of 2019’s Holy Week are tremendous and worth knowing
If you have a Catholic calendar on your wall, take it and look at Holy Week, which this year is April 14-21. Notice anything? Rather, notice anything missing?
If you noticed the absence of saints’ feast days, you would be correct. The Church likes to focus our attention on the central importance of these seven days in our spiritual lives. After all, we see saints’ memorials every month, whereas the commemoration of Our Savior’s Passion, death, and resurrection only comes once a year.
Nonetheless, the saints of this Holy Week are tremendous and worth knowing because of the encouraging example they give our own earthly pilgrimage.
April 14 (Palm Sunday)
Bl. Lucien Botovasoa was born in 1908 on what was then the French colony of Madagascar. After making his First Communion in 1922, he completed his studies in 1928 and became a teacher. Then in 1930, he married Suzanna Soazana, six years his junior. The couple had five children, the first being born a month before their one year anniversary.
Following marriage, Lucien wanted to grow in holiness. He began researching lay Third Orders, finally settling on the Secular Franciscans. Nothing like this existed on Madagascar. Thus he had to start the effort from scratch. The Secular Franciscans are still active on the island.
In 1947, the people on Madagascar rose up against French colonial rule. Anyone or anything connected to France was attacked. That included Catholicism and its practitioners, and Lucien was a prominent practitioner. Arrested by the local chief, rebel soldiers marched him to a nearby river. There he was shot on April 14 and dumped in the river. Several of his executioners were former students.
April 15 (Monday)
Bl. César de Bus was much like St. Augustine. That is, he was a man with a past who, once he dedicated his life to Christ, accomplished extraordinary things.
Upon reaching adulthood, he joined the French king’s army and fought in the religious wars against the Huguenots (i.e., French Calvinists). Following his demobilization, he became a poet, playwright and painter. However, he had loved military life, so when he heard of continued fighting, he desired to become a sailor and join a battle then going on at La Rochelle. Illness prevented his doing so, though, and so he moved to Paris to seek his fame and fortune.
Here he became dissolute and spent all his money. This prodigal son moved back home, and when his brother, a canon (minor cleric) at the city’s cathedral, died, de Bus procured the position, but only because it provided a good income and connections.
One night, on his way to a masked ball, he passed a small shrine to Our Lady and at that moment, he saw “there was no way he could live a life offending God and then expect to be accepted in the end. There, on the road, he had a complete conversion.”
He returned to school and received holy orders at age 38 in 1582. By 1592, he had discerned through his work teaching the poor their catechism a call to found an order of priests to travel and preach sound, orthodox doctrine. He died Easter Sunday, April 15, 1607.
April 16 (Tuesday)
Today is also the feast of Ss. Bernadette of Lourdes and Benedict Joseph Labre. However, less well-known is a recent martyr, Bl. Gaspër Suma, a victim of the communists in his native Albania. Ordained in 1921, he served as a priest for 26 years before his arrest by the authorities during a general persecution. (“They will hate you because of Me,” promised Our Lord.) Sentenced to three years in prison, he was thrown into a windowless cell with 28 other priests and religious that was just 16x7. Before his arrest, the 6’2” Franciscan was healthy and robust. When his body was removed after his death from cancer on Easter Thursday, 1950, Gaspër “was so emaciated that he was unrecognizable.”
April 17 (Wednesday)
St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first American Indian to be raised to the altars, has become world famous. The orphaned daughter of an Indian chief and his Christian wife, Kateri did not know much about her mother’s faith until some priests were assigned to her New York Iroquoian village following a peace treaty. She accepted the faith and moved north to Canada, where there was a village of Indian Christians. Often misunderstood for her pious practices, especially for her refusal to marry so as to keep a vow of chastity, her piety and holiness eventually won people over. She died Easter Wednesday, April 17, 1680.
April 18 (Holy Thursday)
Bl. Giacomo (James) Oldo of Lodi was born into a well-to-do family, who raised him to pursue and enjoy the finer things in life. He married a woman from a similar background, and they let few pleasures pass them by. One day at a friend’s burial, however, he imagined himself being lowered into the grave and began to wonder what would happen to his own soul.
His conversion, however, still needed an extra nudge. When a traveling replica of the Holy Sepulchre came to Lodi, he lay down on it to jokingly compare his height to that of Jesus. He had an instantaneous conversion.
He joined the Secular Franciscans and wore a Franciscan habit. It took some persuasion, but he convinced his wife and mother to likewise convert. When his wife died, he became a priest, and his mortifications were so austere, his bishop had to order him to eat three times per week.
In spite of the rigor of his penances he preached every day with very fruitful results, he frequently visited the sick in hospitals, and he gave abundant alms to the poor. He died in April 1404. Long considered a saint in Lodi, his cultus has never been confirmed.
April 19 (Good Friday)
Imagine how surprised Catholics today would be if Pope St. John Paul II became totally forgotten by future Catholics. Given how important he was and the impact he had, that seems impossible. Yet that is just what has happened with today’s saint, Pope St. Leo IX, one of history’s most consequential popes.
From a German family in what is now France, he owed his rise to a mixture of courage, intelligence and family connections. He may be the last person elevated from a small bishopric to the papacy. His impact was immense. He was the first “pilgrim Pope.” He fought for the discipline of clerical celibacy. He also opposed simony and lay investiture (the appointment of Church officials by secular authorities). Most importantly, perhaps, with his expansion of papal power, he played an unwitting part in the East-West schism that has lasted since 1054, the year of his death, until the present.
April 20 (Holy Saturday)
Possibly the most interesting figure in the Church’s canon of saints is Bl. Hildegun of Schönau. Born to a noble family, her father Harper took her on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1182, when she was 12. However, after landing at Tyre, Lebanon, Harper took ill and knew he would die. He entrusted her to the care of his manservant and, realizing the dangers that could meet the girl on her return journey, her father dressed her as a boy.
No sooner was Harper buried, however, when the servant absconded with the money given him for expenses and abandoned Hildegun. Still dressed as a boy, she took the name Joseph for the patron of families and children. Left to beg on the streets, a well-connected German pilgrim saw her and offered to return her home. For several reasons, though, this never happened.
By 1187, Hildegun also discerned a call to the religious life. Thus she entered the Cistercian monastery at Schönau — without mentioning that she was a young woman.
After a year’s novitiate, and three days before she was to take her monastic vows, she took ill, dying on April 20, 1188. Only while bathing her for burial did the monks discover her actual sex.
April 21 (Easter Sunday)
Were it not for it being Easter Sunday, we would commemorate the memorial of a truly remarkable Mexican priest and martyr, St. Román Adame Rosales. Ordained in 1920, Father Román was exceptionally vigorous. His parish was rural and covered much territory. Most of the time, he would conduct Mass at the nearest rancho because there was no nearby church. As a result, he was responsible for the building of several churches and many more chapels. He promoted devotion to Our Lady, Eucharistic adoration, and care for the sick and poor.
During the 1920s, the Mexican government began persecuting the Church and outlawed religious services. Rather than obey the government, Father Román clandestinely carried on his ministry.
However, following Mass on Easter Monday, 1927, a parishioner betrayed him. Taken to Yahualica, there the commander Colonel Jesús Quiñones tied him nearly naked to the pillars outside the local church, where Father was tortured and starved.
Finally, on April 21, federales marched him to a freshly dug grave. As they were about to fire upon him, one soldier, Antonio Carrillo, refused, and though Padre Román begged for the man’s life, he was shot immediately following Father’s execution.
The one thing almost all of these men and women share is a profound dedication to Christ. As we prepare to encounter him during Holy Week, let us prayerfully meditate on whether our own commitment to serve Jesus is worthy of their example.