SAINT SYLVESTER I (c.250-335), pope – Patron saint of the cities Feroleto Antico and Poggio Catino, Italy
Today, the Church honors Saint Sylvester, bishop of Rome and 32nd successor to Saint Peter.
Sylvester was born in Rome around the middle of the third century, circa 250 A.D. He must have come from a family of some means, because it is said that when he reached the age to dispose of his fortune, he took pleasure in giving hospitality to Christians passing through the city. It is further said that he would take them with him, wash their feet, serve them at table, and, in the name of Christ, he rendered to them all the care which the virtue of charity inspired within his person.
Sylvester’s great charity and courageous acts became known to Pope Miltiades, who elevated him to the diaconate. He was a young priest when persecution of the Christians grew worse under the Roman emperor, Diocletian.
Idols were erected at the street corners, in the market-places and over the public fountains, so that it was scarcely possible for any Christian to travel without being put to the test of offering idol sacrifice; and, if refused, he or she was offered the alternative of either apostasy or death.
During this time of great trail and tribulation for Christians, Sylvester strengthened those who were to be martyred, and God preserved his life from many dangers. It was indeed Sylvester who was destined to succeed Pope Miltiades, who had once recognized his virtues a few years earlier.
Pope Sylvester’s long pontificate of twenty-one years, from 314 until his death in 335, became famous for several reasons; one in particular is the Council of Nicea in 325 called by the Emperor Constantine, which condemned the heresy of Arianism. Due to his advanced age, Pope Sylvester was not able to attend, but sent official delegates as his representatives.
And there are some historians who believe that Pope Sylvester may have even baptized the emperor. Even though there are others who refute this belief and place the emperor’s Baptism two years after Sylvester’s death, there is ample evidence to suggest that the emperor completely accepted of all the Church’s liturgical celebrations under the reign of Pope Sylvester.
He is also renowned for finishing the construction of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran and beginning the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, along with several other churches over the tombs of martyrs. It is also reported that, during his pontificate, the first martyrology listing Roman martyrs was initially drafted.
Pope Sylvester died of natural causes on December 31 in the year 335, and was buried in the church he had built over the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla.
We commemorate his feastday on December 31.
(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 Pope Saint Sylvester I)
“Lord, help and sustain Your people by the prayers of Pope Sylvester. Guide us always in this present life and bring us to the joy that never ends.
“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.”