SAINT BERNARD of MENTHON (923-1008), priest and missionary – Patron saint of the Alps, mountain climbers and skiers
Today, the Church honors Saint Bernard of Menthon (also known as Saint Bernard of Montjoux), who evangelized for over forty years to the many people who lived in the Alps, and who is also known for establishing hospices for travelers and pilgrims to Rome. The large dogs, known as Saint Bernards, which are trained to search for lost victims in the mountains, are named after this saint.
Bernard was born in the year 923, in what is believed to be in the Château of Menthon near Annecy, in Savoy, which is the Alpine region of southeastern France. He was descended from a rich, noble family and received a sound education. Bernard declined to enter into an honorable marriage proposed by his father and decided, instead, to devote himself to the service of the Church.
Placing himself under the direction of the archdeacon of Aosta, a city located in the Italian Alps of northwestern Italy, and under whose guidance he rapidly progressed in his studies, Bernard was ordained a priest. And due to his learning and virtue, he was soon made the archdeacon in the year 966, having responsibility for governing the diocese under the bishop.
Seeing the ignorance and idolatry still prevailing among those who lived in the Alps, he resolved to devote himself to their spiritual education. For over forty years, he continued to preach the Gospel as a missionary to these people, and carried the light of faith even into many regions of Lombardy, effecting numerous conversions.
However, Father Bernard is better remembered for his contribution to the needs of travelers and pilgrims. Since the most ancient of times, there was a path across the Pennine Alps leading from the valley of Aosta to the Swiss canton (state) of Valais, over what is now called the pass of the Great St. Bernard. This pass is covered with perpetual snow from seven to eight feet deep, and drifts sometimes accumulate to the height of forty feet.
Though the pass was extremely dangerous, especially in the springtime on account of avalanches, it was still often used by French and German pilgrims on their way to Rome. For the convenience and protection of travelers, Father Bernard founded a monastery and hospice at the highest point of the pass – 8,000 feet above sea-level – around the year 972.
A few years later, he established another hospice on what is now called the Little St. Bernard – a mountain of the Graian Alps – 7,076 feet above sea-level. Both hospices were placed under the charge of Augustinian monks after pontifical approval had been obtained by Father Bernard during a visit to Rome. These hospices are still renowned for the generous hospitality extended to all travelers over the Great and Little St. Bernard, so named in honor of the founder of these charitable institutions.
At all seasons of the year, but especially during heavy snow-storms, the heroic monks accompanied by their well-trained dogs, go out in search of victims who may have succumbed to the severity of the weather. They offer food, clothing and shelter to the unfortunate travelers and take care of the dead. They depend on gifts and collections for sustenance. At present, the order consists of about forty members, the majority of whom live at the hospice while some have charge of neighboring parishes.
Father Bernard died in the year 1008, and was canonized a saint by Pope Innocent XI in 1681. Pope Pius XI confirmed Saint Bernard as patron saint of the Alps in 1923. His remains are interred in the cloister of Saint Lawrence in northern Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on May 28.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, acatholicview.blogspot.com, newadvent.org and bernard-of-menthon.co)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Commons for Pastors ~ missionary)
“God of Mercy, You gave us Saint Bernard to proclaim the riches of Christ. By the help of his prayers, may we grow in knowledge of You, be eager to do good, and learn to walk before You by living the truth of the Gospel.
“Grant 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.”