The Saints of Holy Week

During Holy Week, we tend to forget the saints who may be on the calendar. Here a some you know well, along with a few you might be meeting for the first time.

"Communion of the Saints" in a Baptistry in Padua (José Luiz | Wikipedia)

During Holy Week, we tend to forget the saints who may be on the calendar. This is especially true months such as March, which has very few memorials on the universal calendar to begin with.

Time spent looking through the ranks of saints whose feasts fall on those days, however, reveals not only several inspiring stories, but a fruitful accompaniment as we make our way toward Easter.

To begin with is one of the Church’s greatest solemnities, the Feast of the Annunciation, on March 25th. This is the day when Christians around the world commemorate the Blessed Virgin’s Mary’s visitation by the archangel Gabriel. At that time, Gabriel hailed her as “full of grace,” and announced to her the good news that she would bear the long-awaited Messiah. Our Lady’s fiat, her “yes” – given when she replied, “Be it done unto me according to your word” – is one of history’s most important moments.

This Holy Week we also commemorate two priests and one woman religious martyred by the Nazis, Blesseds Emilian Kovch (March 25), Maria Restituta Kafka (March 30), and Giuseppe Girotti (April 1).

Kovch was a Ukrainian rite priest, husband, and father of six (like their Orthodox counterparts, Byzantine Catholic priests can be married).

In 1922, his bishop made him pastor in the village of Peremyshliany, the vast majority of whose 5,000 residents were Jewish. There he stayed for 20 years until the Nazis invaded in their attempt to defeat the entire Soviet Union.

Upon learning what the Nazis were doing to Jews, Father Kovch began baptizing his fellow villagers (at their request) so that the Germans would not take these new “Christians.” The Gestapo had seen others in Germany and Poland use this trick, so they told him to stop. He continued nonetheless, issuing roughly 600 in all. Thus in December 1942, they arrested him, and sent him the next August to Majdanek, Poland, where the following March, they executed him.

Of Czech extraction, Sister Restituta began the war as one of Austria’s and the world’s foremost surgical nurses. A somewhat gruff and earthy woman, she was also fearless. When Germany annexed Austria just prior to the start of World War II, the Nazis took control of her formerly Catholic hospital. When they built a new wing, they dictated no crucifixes be put on the walls of the new rooms. Sister ignored the dictate.

She might have survived the war except someone found an anti-Hitler leaflet in her typewriter. Sentenced to death by guillotine, she went bravely to her death in 1943.

Father Girotti was a Dominican and teacher in his order’s Turin seminary. After the fall of Mussolini and the takeover of Italy by the Nazis, he came up with several ingenious ways of saving the Jews. However the Gestapo caught him and sent him to Dachau, where he perished.

Another great martyr whom we celebrate this week is St. Margaret Clitherow (March 25). Margaret lived during the reign of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I. The daughter of the Sheriff of York and wife of a prominent businessman, she converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1574. Authorities arrested her several times for not attending services, hiding priests, and practicing Catholicism. Indeed, her third child William was born in jail.

Jailed yet again in 1586, the Court sentenced her to death. On March 25, which was Good Friday that year, the executioners stripped her naked, placed a fist-sized sharp stone under back, a door over her body, and then progressively heavier stones over her until her back broke. She was pregnant with her fourth child. Her daughter became a religious, her two sons priests.

March 25 is also the feast of another great saint. If you or anyone you know were taught by the Filippini Sisters, then you have St. Lucia Filippini to thank. Lucia’s archbishop gave her the mission to train schoolmistresses and open schools for girls. Her efforts proved so successful, Pope Clement XI invited her to Rome in 1707 to found one of her institutes. She died of breast cancer in the town of Montefiascone, famous for its wines. Now her efforts to preach the gospel to all nations through the formation of young students reaches around the world.

One woman who preached the Good News through care for the poor – even though she was herself destitute – is Bl. Jeanne Marie de Maille (March 28). A French noblewoman, she married Baron Robert II de Sillé, a man she chose for his great virtue. They lived chastely for 16 years, when Robert died of battle wounds. His family put her out onto the streets after his death. She prayed in the churches of Tours by day and huddled with dogs for warmth by night. Even amidst this poverty, she strove to help others who were even worse off. Finally given a room in a church, her reputation for sanctity brought her a steady stream of visitors. She died in 1414.

While the next saint was a well-known – and holy – politician in life, his reputation for sanctity did not truly take off until well after his death in 1472.

Amadeus IX of Savoy (March 30) was of the powerful and illustrious House of Savoy, whose duchy straddled the border of what is now France and Italy. Although his family was powerful because of the strategic position their realm held, he was largely sidelined as a duke. This was both because of his epilepsy and the fact that his wife was sister to France’s Louis XI, who wielded power during his long periods of incapacity due to his illness.

A civil war with his brother Philip further exhausted him, and he retired to Vercelli, Italy, leaving his duchy under the regency of his wife. There he lived the last three years of his life. Always pious, he lived an exceptionally austere life here as a Franciscan tertiary and performed many righteous and holy deeds, supporting the poor in ways that still impress today.

Two years after his death, the Dominicans hung a painting of him at their church in Turin. Soon miracles were reported by those who prayed before it for Amadeus’ intercession. The in 1619 the Duke of Savoy issued coins featuring the image of Amadeus, and St. Francis de Sales turned these into religious medals, which he distributed to great effect. In the next few decades his reputation for sanctity increased so that in 1661, Pope Alexander VII beatified him.

Bl. Amadeus took a lifetime’s Passion and three years on Calvary and turned them into an outpouring of love and hope for people with few if any other options than his charity. What are we doing with our troubles and travails in life?

In this Holy Week – as in every week of the year – we have so many wonderful examples of holiness from which to choose. Brothers and sisters, let us dive deep into the pools of these great saints’ lives to urge us on to the finish line and the great crown that is the eternal Easter we hope to enjoy in heaven.


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About Brian O'Neel 19 Articles
Brian O’Neel writes from Pennsylvania.

14 Comments

  1. I would prefer if you (the author) did not refer to Blesseds as “Saints” — example, “Our next saint…”, then it refers Blessed Amadeus. This is an error in terminology and it makes the article confusing.

    • I found that disorientating as well.
      It is not the first time in Catholic journalism that proper terms are glibly set aside. We really do need to speak and write with accuracy particularly when the faith itself is continually subject to personal interpretations and the perennial Magisterium is regarded as a game board.
      This concern is of paramount importance in regard to the saints, where the process of examination and declaration of heroic sanctity is presently reduced to parody of “American Idol.” The cult of the saints is not a walk of fame, but the emulation of heroic virtue. Celebrity is not prerequisite. The politically correct, personal favorites, and plush comforting toys need be held suspect.
      In the age where the term “icon” has been hijacked as an accolade for porn stars, we need be covetous of our lexicon.

      • Gentlemen, I’m sorry, but while I appreciate your vigilance in protecting the honor and status of those in the Church Triumphant, you are wrong.

        Properly speaking, a saint is anyone whom the Church has declared before the beatific vision of God.

        This is why we do not presume that Servants of God or Servants of God whom popes have declared Venerable are enjoying the blessings of heaven. This is why in official expressions of prayer for these individuals’ intercession, one will never see prayers aimed directly at them. Instead it is always, “God we ask you by the prayers of the Servant of God John Hardon/Vincent Capodanno/Cecilia Connelly/fill-in-the-blank to provide the grace we now ask of You.”

        Because they are in heaven, however, we don’t have to have this circumspection with saints. So you ask St. Anthony of Padua directly for his intercession when you can’t find something. You can probably think of your own examples.

        But look on any prayer card of a Beato or Beata, and what do you notice?

        It is that the prayer is offered directly to them. If they are not saints, “why”?

        Because properly speaking Blesseds *are* saints. The *beati* are before the *beatific* vision. There is no way they are still in purgatory or, heaven forfend, in hell. This is why they are blessed.

        The only difference between a saint and a blessed is the veneration accorded them.
        Historically speaking, veneration or the cult of blesseds was confined to a certain locale (e.g., a city, state, province, diocese, or nation).

        So when Pope St. John Paul II was Blessed Pope John Paul II, his veneration was technically limited to the country of Poland, the Diocese of Rome, and (don’t quote me on this last part) the United States.

        The same thing with Gianna Mola, Miguel Pro, or, for that matter, Amadeus IX of Savoy. The only time a beato will appear on the calendar is by papal fiat. So this is why John Paul II could insert Fr. Pro’s name on the calendar for November.

        It is also why popes can elevate the status of someone from blessed to saint without a requisite miracle, as our current Holy Father has done several times during his pontificate, most notably is predecessor St. John XXIII. Notice no pope can do this with a mere Servant of God or Venerable.

        Why? Because without a miracle authoritatively attributed to someone’s intercession, there is no definitive proof that someone is in heaven. Miracles are the proof the Church uses to demonstrate one has achieved the final prize to which St. Paul so eloquently urges us to achieve. Thus one needs to have at least obtained the status of “Blessed” before equivalent canonization can occur.

        In any event, the veneration accorded to a canonized saint is universal.

        That is the *only* difference: The veneration of one type of saint is limited to a particular locale, the veneration of the other is universal. Both types are in heaven. Both see God face to face. Both can officially take prayers in a direct fashion (if you personally want to pray directly to Fr. Capodanno, you can, but his beatification cause cannot issue prayer cards with direct requests for intercession).

        So whatever you would prefer, whatever confusion my being correct in my usage of the term “saint” may have caused, I have not lacked being covetous of our lexicon or any such thing. I have simply used proper terminology for the reasons outlined above.

        God bless you both this Holy Week.

  2. Interesting article, although I was bothered by the first sentence. It’s “the Saints WHO…” not THAT. We’re talking about human beings, not Buicks. A small thing, but incorrect nonetheless.

    • In what way are the saints in competition with the Lord’s sacrifice and Holy Week? I don’t understand the sentiment here.

      • “A’s” comment is symptomatic in a startling manner of the total collapse of not only basic catechesis but also of advanced theological education. The sole purpose of the Catholic theological academy is to advance the faith, to illuminate the understanding of Catholics of the perennial Magisterium of the Roman Catholic religion. That mandate was long ago jettisoned in the quest for personal relevancy in the secular academy for the analysis of the sociological phenomenon of “religion.”
        “A” is not the only baptized Roman Catholic who feels totally justified in working out of an either non-existent, inadequate or erroneous religious education – mostly characterized by a dumbed-down protestant ecumania.
        It is not “A’s” fault.
        The truths of the faith such as the reality of the Communion of Saints, the acquisition and the practice of the virtues are seen as secondary in the Church of the New Paradigm heralded by the Bergoglian pontificate, which is bent on providing the long leash to a “sensus fidelium” helf by those without faith and happily leashed to the slavery of concupiscence.
        A recent thread of comments at the National Catholic Register made perfectly clear the utter lack of reverence with which the Catholic faithful are saddled when it comes to the worship of the Most Blessed Sacrament and their inability to understand and take up the hyperdulia owed to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and the dulia owed the saints. They are mindless of the relationship of these realities to the central worship of the Most Blessed Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. That all of the truths of the faith stand in relationship to the central revelation of God in history – Jesus Christ
        It is the responsibility of the living Magisterium to be making these truths of the faith known, accessible, loved, reverenced and utilized. There is a real tragedy here in that this comment itself is contributed by a miserably ignorant layman and not a Cardinal Archbishop desperate to rally his clergy and his faithful to mindfulness. But given the current climate, one imagines that those apt to do so live in fear of drawing attention to themselves. It is, however, refreshing and encouraging to see laymen-journalists in the Catholic media holding the fort while so many cleric hide behind a fraudulent understanding of obedience. Thank you Mr. Olson and your colleagues at the CWR.
        We enter into a mournful Triduum in 2018.

        • Thank you, James. I attend a Byzantine Catholic parish, and this past Palm Sunday our priest gave a fabulous homily showing the beautiful connection between Our Lady’s fiat and the divine condescension of the Son. (You can read the homily here.) It’s a good example of how the mystery and panorama of the Faith can, in fact, be presented in a way that is accessible and immediate, without any pandering or silliness.

          • A, the saints are the greatest result of the Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection. Were it not for those events in Our Savior’s life, we wouldn’t remember these people at all. But because His love inspired theirs, because His example inflamed their hearts to set an example for us, then we recall them. They have achieved the crown we desire, the crown we desire so we can spend eternity in heaven with the Christ, beholding the Blessed Trinity. Why *not* recall the inspiration they provide us who follow in their paths?

            My friend, you were, frankly, somewhat ignorant about why this article was posted in the first place. Is it possible you were ignorant about other aspects of Catholicism, as well? And that maybe this Holy Week is an appropriate time to see if maybe you left the Church for pre-conceived notions that don’t really hold true? Pray about it. And please pray for me, as I will for you. Wishing you a Blessed Triduum and a joyful Easter.

          • You are fortunate, Mr. Olson. Thank you for sharing the link. It has been a good long time since I’ve received a homily with such depth. Perhaps only in a monastic setting.
            Again, my gratitude.

  3. Margaret Clitherow is one of my favourite saints. Unfortunately, few people outside of the U.K. know about her heroic life of self-sacrifice in defense of the priesthood and the holy sacrifice of the Mass. The saints in this article imitated the heroic life of Jesus, some gave the ultimate witness by shedding their blood. No doubt, their example of self- sacrifice was Jesus crucified. To reflect on their lives in light of the passion and death of Christ is most appropriate indeed .

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