St. Benedict was the son of African slaves, owned by a rich family in Sicily. Set free as a child, Benedict attracted attention, even as a youth, for his patience and charity. Once, as he was being taunted on account of his color, a passing Franciscan noticed him and invited him to join his community of hermits. Benedict did this. Eventually, in light of his evident holiness, he was chosen to serve as a superior of the community.
In time, this informal group was directed by the pope to affiliate with a regular order. They joined the Order of Friars Minor. Benedict was accepted as a lay brother and put to work as a cook. Once again, however, his special gifts drew wonder and respect. Though he was illiterate, he had an extraordinary knowledge of Scripture and theology, and his gift for reading souls put him in great demand as a spiritual director. Eventually his fame became a form of penance, as the sick flocked to him for healing, and pilgrims of every station sought his counsel.
Benedict died in 1589 at the age of sixty-three. He was canonized in 1807. Apart from widespread veneration in Latin America, St. Benedict was claimed as a patron saint of African Americans.