January 1

Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God

Catholics are obliged to celebrate Mass today in honor of the motherhood of Mary.


January 2

St. Zdislava Berka (1220-1252)

Zdislava ran away from home at the age of seven to become a hermit in the woods, but was caught. Later, she was forced to marry a count. She had four children, attended Mass regularly, and while her husband was away at war, she opened up their fortified castle to refugees. The count didn’t always like her generosity; when he chased a sick man out of his bed, Zdlislava sold the bed and put a crucifix in its place. The count never complained again!


January 3

Most Holy Name of Jesus

Devotion to the holy name of Jesus has grown throughout the centuries. God told us never to take the name of the Lord in vain, and St. Paul told us that we should respect Jesus’ name above every other name. The Cistercians, Franciscans, Jesuits and Dominicans, in particular, took this seriously. They preached and taught about Jesus’ holy name, and in 1721, we began celebrating the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus to remind us of how important it is.


January 4

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821)

Saint Elizabeth said: “Cheerfulness prepares a glorious mind for all the noblest acts.” Elizabeth  grew up in high society in New York City, but when her wealthy husband died, she completely changed her life. She joined the Catholic Church, which led to her rejection by friends and family. After taking care of her children, she began a new religious order that started the first Catholic schools in the U.S. Her story is a reminder that the lives of Christians—even (and especially) the saints—are not any easier than anyone else’s: After her conversion, “Elizabeth’s close relatives chose to forget that they had ever known her and would not lend her money or help her pay her bills,” the Catholic Community of St. Elzabeth Ann Seton in Plano, Texas, tells us. “Elizabeth was now a destitute widow with no means to care for her children. It was almost impossible to make ends meet. The bills were piling up. Elizabeth had to work night and day to make a simple living for her children. She started a school, but that soon closed when students would not come to class simply because their teacher was a Catholic. Elizabeth was seriously thinking about moving her family to Canada, where she hoped life would be easier. Fortunately, Elizabeth did not have to make that move. A priest in Baltimore, Maryland learned of Elizabeth’s plight and invited her to begin a girls’ school in that city.” Pretty amazing that she could remain cheerful in the face of such adversity! By the way, Elizabeth had three reasons for becoming Catholic: 1. Jesus’ real, physical presence in the Eucharist. 2. Devotion to Mary. 3. The Catholic Church’s direct, historical connection to Jesus and the apostles.


January 5

St. John Neumann (1811-1860)

The Bohemian who came to the United States in 1836 to minister to immigrant Catholics. He eventually became the bishop of Philadelphia and began a network of Catholic schools. He said: “Everyone who breathes has a mission, has a work. God sees every one of us; He creates every soul, . . . for a purpose. He deigns to need every one of us. As Christ has His work, we too have ours; as He rejoiced to do His work, we must rejoice in ours also.”


January 6

St. André Bessette August 9, 1845 – January 6, 1937)

The doorman at Notre Dame College in Montreal. There, he welcomed people, listened to their problems, and prayed for them. He became so well known for curing people of sickness that thousands of pilgrims flocked to his door


January 7

Saint Raymond of Peñafort (1175 – January 6, 1275)

Raymond was born into a rich family and was very well educated. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome after he became a Dominican priest to work for the Church. Raymond had the job of collecting and organizing 80 years worth of Church Law so that it could be referenced easily. He wrote a good deal, and convinced St. Thomas Aquinas to write a book, too. He was the head of the Dominican Order for a while, and also did a good deal of work with Spanish Moors who are Muslims who reside in Spain. He lived to be 100 years old.


January 8

St. Angela of Foligno (1248 – January 4, 1309)

She went on a pilgrimage to Assisi after losing her husband and three sons in the plague. Overwhelmed by the love of God, she gave away all her wealth and vowed to live by the rule of St. Francis. She wrote down her mystical visions of God’s love. A sampling: “In an excess of wonder, I cried out, ‘The world is pregnant with God!’ . . . I understood how small is the whole of creation . . . but the power of God fills it all to overflowing.”


January 9

St. Adrian of Canterbury (d. 710)

The scholar who made the monastery of Sts. Peter and Paul in Canterbury one of the foremost centers of learning of its time.


January 10

Saint Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – 395)

Gregory was born in what we today call Turkey, and was raised by his brother and sister. He did very well at school, and was convinced to study for the Church. It was a good call, because he was a wonderful husband, priest (priests could get married at that time) and bishop who fought the Arian heresy (the same one that Saint Nicholas, aka, Santa Claus was fighting). He’s known for being a terrific teacher of the faith and spirituality.


January 11

Blessed William Carter (d. 1584)

The London printer who continued printing Catholic publications even after the faith was banned, ultimately paying with his life.


January 12

St. Marguerite Bourgeoys (April 17, 1620 – January 12, 1700)

Who arrived on the Canadian frontier in 1653 intending to teach the children of the settlers, only to find there weren’t any yet. She survived Indian raids, a fire, and disease, eventually starting the first ever school in Montreal—in a stable. Other women joined her, and they formed their own religious order. Besides teaching, they helped orphan girls from France find suitable husbandsIls ont été les premiers marieur Canadiens!


January 13

St. Hilary (315-368)

The bishop of Poitiers, France, who defended the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy.


January 14

Blessed Peter Donders (1807-1887)

Who struggled for years to be ordained a priest. Once he was, he left Holland for the Dutch colonies, where he first worked to improve the conditions of African slaves. Later, he ministered in a leper colony, where he stayed for the rest of his life. “He laboured with success among the African blacks in the plantations, and by 1850 had instructed and baptized 1,200,” Wikipedia says. “His letters express his indignation at the harsh treatment of the African peoples forced to work on the plantations. He extended his work to the Indians of Saramacca. In 1855 he took up his residence in Batavia, where for nearly 32 years he ministered to 600 lepers, tending to them personally until he was able to persuade the authorities to provide adequate nursing services. He left them only to visit the Africans and Indians.”


January 15

St. Paul the Hermit (c. 233-345)

The 15-year-old who fled to the desert to escape persecution and ended up staying for 90 years.


January 16

St. Joseph Vaz (1651–1711)

The priest from India who rebuilt the Church in Dutch Ceylon despite the faith being banned.


January 17

St. Anthony of Egypt (251 – 356)

The young man who, at the age of 18, sought God in the solitude of the Egyptian desert; so many other men and women followed his example that he became known as “Father of All Monks.” His fame was spread by Athanasius of Alexandria, whose biography The Life od St. Anthony stayed on best-seller lists throughout the Christian world through the Middle Ages, influencing the spirituality of countless other Christians. Among his sayings: “Whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the witness of the holy Scriptures.”


January 18

St. Prisca (first century)

The woman who, with her husband Aquilla, saved Paul’s life, joined in his missionary work, and founded several churches.


January 19

Ven. Frederic Baraga (1797-1868)

First bishop of the Diocese of Marquette; he’s one of those obscure figures who probably should be better known. A Slovenian priest, he arrived in the United States on December 31, 1830. “For the next 37 years,” the Bishop Baraga Association tells us, “he traveled the length and breath of the Great Lakes area to minister to the Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. . . . During the summer months, Father Baraga traveled on foot and by canoe. During the winter months, he traveled on snowshoes thus giving him the titles of ‘Apostle of the Lakelands’ and ‘Snowshoe Priest.’ He wrote long and frequent accounts of his missionary activities including a three-volume diary. He also wrote seven Slovenian prayerbooks and authored 20 Native American books which includes his monumental Grammar and Dictionary of the Chippewa Language, still in use today.” His friendship with the Indians was not popular among European settlers, though.


January 20

St. Fabian (d. 250)

The layman who was elected pope after a dove landed on his head; he collected the stories of the martyrs, and was martyred himself.


January 21

St. Sebastian (c. 256 –  January 20, 287)

The young Roman who, according to legend, joined the Roman army so he could help persecuted Christians. He converted several army officers who freed their Christian prisoners, but when his faith was discovered, the emperor had him tied to a post and shot full of arrows, which is the way he is typically depicted in art, and apparently the basis of his patronage of athletes. He was left for dead, But surprise, surprise, he wasn’t dead yet, and when he recovered, he went to warn the (presumably shocked) emperor that he was sinning by persecuting Christians. The emperor had him beat to death on the spot.


January 22

St. Agnes (d. c. 258)

She was only twelve or thirteen years old when she was pressured to abandon her faith, but she refused, even after being tortured. She is one of the most popular early martyrs, and her name is sometimes mentioned during Mass. Listen for it this weekend!


Januray 23

Ven. Sotoko Kitahara (1929-1958)

She qualifies as one of those holy Catholics you’ve never heard of but wish you had. After her city (Tokyo) was leveled by firebombing and her country defeated in World War II, Sotoko experienced a spiritual crisis that eventually led her into the Church. She began serving the garbage-pickers in a nearby slum, and soon went to live with them, becoming known as “the Mary of Ants Town.” She said: “I experienced a desire to serve . . . which seemed a natural accompaniment to being a follower of Christ.”


January 24

St. Francis de Sales (August 21, 1567 – December 28, 1622)

As a young man, despaired that he was doomed to hell; through prayer, he learned to trust in the God of love. As a priest and bishop, Francis was a zealous evangelizer of those who had fallen away from the Church, winning their respect with his gentleness. He wrote many popular books on the spiritual life, and is a Doctor of the Church.


January 25

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

“…about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’”


January 26

Sts. Timothy and Titus (d. c. 95)

The close companions and helpers of the apostle Paul (you know, the guy whose conversion we celebrated on Wednesday). Paul’s letters to them shed light on what the early Church was like. Paul gave both men lots of advice about how to take care of the Church—along with occasional personal advice: “Stop drinking only water,” he told Timothy, “but have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses” (1 Timothy 5:23). Okaaay, “Dad.”


January 27

St. Angela Merici (1470-1540)

The founder of a group of women dedicated to the education of girls; the group eventually became the Order of the Ursulines.


January 28

St. Thomas Aquinas 1225 – March 7, 1274)

Nicknamed “the dumb ox” by his fellow students, not because he was stupid, but because he was very quiet and a large man. His teacher, St. Albert the Great, reportedly told those students, “We call this man the dumb ox, but someday his bellow will be heard throughout the whole world!” And how. Thomas still ranks #1 among theologians in polls of seminarians everywhere. But his greatest work, the Summa Theologica, went unfinished after he had a mystical experience that apparently placed it in perspective.

January 29

Servant of God Brother Juniper (d. 1258)

The humble and generous companion of St. Francis who played with children, gave away everything to the needy, and comforted St. Clare on her deathbed.


January 30

St. Balthild of Ascania (620-680)

The queen of Burgandy who founded monasteries and freed enslaved children.

January 31

St. John Bosco (1815-1888)

Inspired by a series of dreams that he believed to be expressions of God’s will, John Bosco dedicated his life to the betterment and education of street children, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. He developed teaching methods based on love rather than punishment, and opened a school for boys who had nowhere to go. He founded an order dedicated to this work, the Society of St. Francis de Sales, popularly known as the Salesians of Don Bosco. He later founded the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians to serve and help poor girls. John Bosco died in 1888 and was canonized in 1934.