Benedict Joseph Labre was born to a large family in a village in northern France. When he was twelve, his family sent him to live with an uncle, a parish priest. There he received some rudimentary education. When his uncle died, Benedict decided to devote his life to God. He was turned away from the Trappists and a series of other religious communities. Discouraged, he divined that his true vocation was to seek a cloister within the world. After becoming a Third Order Franciscan, he set off on a pilgrimage that lasted several years, wandering thousands of miles across Europe, all the while praying and visiting shrines.
Benedict dressed in rags and never bathed, a habit that discouraged human contact. He declined to beg but accepted alms. When no food was offered, he lived off what was discarded on the road. His appearance evoked as much contempt as pity. But those who were able to see beneath his appearance – including, eventually, his confessor – recognized the saint in their midst.
In time, Benedict settled in Rome, where he spent his nights in the ruins of the Colosseum and his days praying in the churches of the city. At the age of thirty-five, he collapsed and died on April 16, 1783. Almost immediately, children of the neighbourhood began calling through the streets, “The saint is dead, the saint is dead!” His reputation quickly spread. Biographies were published. One of these made its way to his village, where his astonished parents learned what had become of their long-lost son. He was canonized in 1883.