St. Roch, Patron of Plague and Pestilence, Pray for Us

When the city of Constance was beset by the plague in 1414, prayers and processions asked St. Roch to bring healing.

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), “Saint Rochus Distributing Alms”
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872), “Saint Rochus Distributing Alms” (photo: Public Domain)

When the world is on edge, when the coronavirus has brought our nation and the world to a standstill, to whom can you turn? You've probably heard this week about St. Corona, patron of epidemics — but have you met St. Roch?

St. Roch (also known as “Rocco” in Italy and “Roque” in Spain) was born in Montpellier, in southern France, near the end of the 13th century. According to reports from that time, Roch bore a vivid red birthmark on his chest, shaped like a cross. His father was governor of Montpellier; but both parents died by the time Roch was 20, leaving him to fend for himself in Europe during the time of the Black Death, the plague which killed an estimated 25% to 60% of the European population.

Roch was disinterested in preserving the wealth his father had accumulated, and he distributed his inheritance among the poor. Rather than assuming the governorship of Montpellier, he gave that role to his uncle; and then, with few personal belongings, he set out for Italy. Along the way, he encountered cities stricken by the plague. He stopped in the Italian village of Aquapendente, where he ministered to the plague-stricken citizens, healing them with the sign of the cross. He moved on to Cesena, and then to Rome, Mantua, Modena and Parma; and in each city, people were cured of the dreaded plague as he prayed for them. Finally, Roch himself was stricken with the plague; and like a “self-isolating” citizen in today's COVID-19 crisis, he sought a place of quiet in a wood, where he could be alone in prayer.

Roch eventually recovered from the plague, and he returned to his French homeland. He was attired like a humble pilgrim; and his uncle didn't recognize him but instead believed him to be a spy. Roch was thrown into prison, where he died after five years. After his death, the cross on his chest revealed his true identity, and he was given a public funeral. Numerous miracles of healing have been attributed to the holy man.

When the city of Constance was beset by the plague in 1414, during the Council of Constance, the Council Fathers called for prayers and processions asking St. Roch to bring healing. Immediately, the plague ceased.

In the ensuing years, the faithful have called upon St. Roch in times of pestilence and plague. He is also the patron of invalids. He is buried in the Church of San Rocco in Venice, Italy, and his feast day is celebrated on Aug. 16.


*   *   *   *   *   *   *

A Prayer to St. Roch

Dear Mendicant Pilgrim,

You once took care of sufferers from the plague and were always ready to help others by kind service and fervent prayers. You yourself had no home and you died in a dungeon. No wonder countless invalids have confidently invoked your help. Please grant a cure to [name of the sufferer], and help us all become spiritually healthy.