St. Paschal, who was born in Spain, spent his early life as a shepherd. Though he had no formal education, he taught himself to read and write, and he enjoyed the long days and nights with his flock, which afforded hours of uninterrupted prayer. At the age of twenty-one, he applied for admission to a friary of reformed Franciscans of St. Peter of Alcántara, a community known for its strict poverty and austerity. Paschal adapted happily to this environment, assigned mostly to menial tasks and joining his brothers in care for the poor and sick.
What distinguished Paschal was his extraordinary devotion to the Eucharist. He would spend hours each night or early morning on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. Often he volunteered to serve at one Mass after another. Even while he lived he was known as “the saint of the Eucharist.” And later, long after his death, he would be named the patron of all Eucharistic congresses and confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament.
On one occasion, Paschal was sent on a mission to France carrying letters for the minister general of the Observant Franciscans. It was a dangerous undertaking to cross Huguenot territory in his Franciscan garb, and several times he was stoned and severely injured. Nevertheless, he returned safely to resume his simple life.
He died on May 17, 1592, at the age of fifty-two. He was canonized in 1690.
Benedict Sinigardi was born to a wealthy and noble family in Arezzo. In 1211, he heard St. Francis preach in his town, and his heart was immediately won. Abandoning his life of luxury, he was welcomed into the Order of Friars Minor, receiving his habit from St. Francis himself. At twenty-seven, he was appointed provincial of the Marche region. Afterward, he was sent on a missionary journey that took him to Greece, Romania, and Turkey. He built the first Franciscan monastery in Constantinople and then went on to the Holy Land, where he served as provincial for sixteen years. In his old age, he returned to Arezzo, where he died in 1282.
There are no surviving writings by Blessed Benedict, but he is credited with estab- lishing the Angelus Prayer, a commemoration of the Incarnation, which became one of the most popular devotions in Christendom. Deriving its name from the first words, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,” the prayer consists of the recital of three verses from Scripture with an accompanying response, interspersed by a Hail Mary. It was traditionally recited three times a day, and in many towns in Europe it is still signaled by the ringing of church bells at noon.
St. Margaret was raised in a poor family in Tuscany. Following the death of her mother when Margaret was just eleven, a new stepmother turned her out of the house. Eventually, with few apparent options, she eloped with a young nobleman, who kept her as his mistress. Though she bore him a son, he would not marry her. When he was eventually murdered, Margaret took this as a sign of God’s judgment on her life.
Penniless, she returned to her father’s house, but he would not take her in. Now homeless as well as destitute, she made her way to Cortona, where she had heard of the compassion of the Franciscan friars. She introduced herself by walking through town with a rope around her neck, a sign of her penitence. The friars quickly urged her to quit this spectacle and also curbed her proclivity for extremes of asceticism. Eventually she was accepted as a Franciscan tertiary. With other women she formed a nursing community, caring for the sick and the poor. Nevertheless, stories of her former life continued to generate gossip. She observed, “I see more Pharisees among Christians than surrounded Pilate.”
Over time, as reports spread of her holiness and her purported miracles, as well as her private colloquies with Christ, Margaret attracted more positive attention. The Franciscans urged her to embark on a public crusade to call sinners to conversion. Penitents from all over Italy, and as far away as France and Spain, made their way to Cortona to hear her spiritual discourses.
She died on February 22, 1297. She was canonized in 1728.
Jacoba of Settesoli was a young widow living in Rome. From the moment she first learned about Francis of Assisi, she longed to meet him. That opportunity arose when Francis and his companions traveled to Rome to seek the pope’s approval for their new order. After hearing the saint preach, Jacoba approached and asked how she might also follow in his path. Because she still had children to raise, Francis advised her not to give up her home. “A perfect life can be lived anywhere,” he said. “Poverty is everywhere. Charity is everywhere.”
As Francis was nearing death, he sent Jacoba a message, urging her to come quickly and to bring a shroud for his body and wax candles for his burial.
Following this counsel, Jacoba joined the Third Order of St. Francis, turned over administration of her property to her sons, and devoted herself to prayer and charitable works. She nevertheless remained close to Francis. He gave her a pet lamb, which used to follow her about. As Francis was nearing death, he sent Jacoba a message, urging her to come quickly and to bring a shroud for his body and wax candles for his burial.
She hastened to Assisi, doing as he had asked. She also brought with her a batch of his favorite almond cookies. At first there was consternation among the brothers about allowing a woman into the friary, but Francis interceded and welcomed her as “Brother Jacoba.” Thus, she was admitted and so she remained beside him until his death. Afterward he was buried in her shroud.
Jacoba remained in Assisi until her own death on February 8, 1273. She was buried near the tomb of St. Francis.
Known as “the St. Jerome of China”, Fr. Gabriele was born Dec. 26, 1907 in a village in the province of Catania, Sicily, and entered the Order as a youth of 16. While he was studying theology at St. Anthony’s College in Rome, an academic conference was held there on the work of Giovanni of Montecorvino, a Franciscan who journeyed to China in the late 13th century.
Inspired by Giovanni’s attempts to communicate Christianity to the Chinese people, Gabriel sailed to Hunan Province shortly after his ordination in 1930, and as soon as he gained knowledge of the language, began translating the Bible into Chinese. This was a task that would consume the next 40 years of his life: facing many obstacles, he persevered, establishing the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Beijing in 1945. Forced to move to Hong Kong in 1948, he and his friar collaborators completed the translation of the Bible into Chinese with full commentary in 1968. He died in Hong Kong on Jan. 26, 1976.
Although known primarily as a biblical scholar, Fr. Gabriele was well-read in other areas of theology, becoming an expert on the thought of John Duns Scotus and a friend of the Jesuit Fr. Teilhard de Chardin. He also carved out time to help the poor, victims of war, and the sick, especially a leper colony in Macau, where he often spent his holidays. Perhaps Blessed Gabriele might be venerated as the patron of workaholics. He was fond of saying: “The most enviable fate for a Franciscan who does not obtain the grace of martyrdom is to die while he is working. . . . Everyone thinks I’m sick! I can still work — so let’s go on!”