SAINT BERNARDINE of SIENA (1380-1444), priest and missionary – Patron saint of the cities of Siena and Aquila, Italy, and of those suffering from chest and respiratory problems.
Most of the saints in the history of the Church suffered personal opposition, even persecution. Saint Bernardine of Siena, by contrast, seems more like a human dynamo, who simply took on the needs of the world. And it is he whom the Church honors today.
Bernardine was born in Siena, Italy on September 8, 1380. At the age of six, he was orphaned and raised by two of his aunts. When he was twenty years of age, the plague was at its height in Europe, devastating those who were living in his hometown. Sometimes, as many as 20 people died in one day at the hospital. Bernardine offered to run the hospital and, with the help of other young men, nursed patients there for months.
He escaped the plague himself, but was so exhausted that a fever confined him to bed for several months. After regaining his health, he spent another year caring for one of his aunts; and, at her death, began to fast and pray to know God’s will for him in his life.
At the age of twenty-two, Bernardine entered the Friars Minor of the Franciscan Order, professed his vows one year later and was ordained to the priesthood when he was twenty-four. For almost 12 years, he lived in solitude and prayer, but his gifts ultimately caused him to be sent out to preach. He always traveled throughout Italy on foot, sometimes speaking for hours in one place, then doing the same in another town earning for himself the title “The Apostle of Italy.”
He was considered to be the greatest preacher of his time, calming strife-torn cities, attacking the paganism he found rampant, and attracting crowds in the tens of thousands. A biographer of his day stated that Friar Bernardine “cleansed all Italy from sins of every kind in which she abounded.” He was so successful in his preaching that people went to confession in droves “like ants”, and whole cities changed laws in accordance with what he preached. He attacked all kinds of corruption among those with power and wealth without any fear of reprisal.
Bernardine was especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus about whom He preached constantly, and, in honor of the Most Holy Name, he devised a symbol – IHS, the first three letters of the name of Jesus in Greek, in Gothic letters on the background of a blazing sun.
The devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action against him, but Friar Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy and intelligence were evidence of his faithfulness. The vindication of Bernardine’s teaching was achieved by the institution of the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Name, conceded to the Friars Minor in 1530 and extended to the Universal Church in 1722.
As vicar-general of a branch of the Franciscan Order, the Friars of the Strict Observance, Friar Bernardine strongly emphasized scholarship and further study of theology and canon law. When he started, there were 300 friars in the community; when he died there were 4,000!
He returned to preaching the last two years of his life. He became ill while traveling, and after having arrived in Aquila, Italy, Friar Bernardine died on May 20, 1444. He was canonized a saint in 1450 by Pope Nicholas V.
Saint Bernardine is accredited with being the foremost Italian missionary of the 15th century, the greatest preacher of his day, the “Apostle of the Holy Name”, and the restorer of the Order of Friars Minor. And he remains today one of the most popular of the Italian saints.
We commemorate his feastday on May 20.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Bernardine)
“Father, You gave Saint Bernardine a special love for the Holy Name of Jesus. By the help of his prayers, may we always be alive with the spirit of Your Love.
“We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”