Throughout October, the Church celebrates a host of saints with memorials and feast days, remembering the faithfulness of the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. From zealous missionaries like Isaac Jogues and Anthony Mary Claret, to practitioners of poverty like Francis of Assisi, learn about five of the saints the Church celebrates in the month of October and how they serve as examples to us today.
October 4 – St. Francis of Assisi
St. Francis is one of the Catholic Church’s most beloved saints. Known for his selfless ministry to the poor, the founding of the Franciscan order, and his care for animals and the natural world, Francis is a shining example of devotion, charity, and kindness.
Francis was born into wealth and lived an affluent lifestyle until a meeting with a leper stirred his heart. Overwhelmed with pity, he gave the man his coat and kissed him. Soon afterward, when praying in a broken-down chapel, Francis heard a voice say: “Francis, repair my church.” In response, he began repairs on the building, but soon realized the command was much more extensive. He sold all he had and began ministering to the poor.
Though many mocked him for his new lifestyle, some devout Christians saw the virtue of it and joined him, leading to the founding of the Order of the Friars Minor. Their practices included a life of poverty, care for nature and animals, love for the poor, and drawing nearer to Christ through suffering. The order was officially recognized by the pope in 1210.
October 12 – St. John XXIII
St. John XIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to a family of farmers in 1881. He was fortunate enough to have an excellent education, earning his doctorate of theology in 1904. After completing his education, he became secretary to the bishop of Bergamo, then moved on to serve as a chaplain and a spiritual director, and was appointed to reorganize the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome.
He later became the titular archbishop of Areopolis and Apostolic visitor to Bulgaria. Because of his interest in the wellbeing of the Eastern Church, he became the Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece, where he helped locate prisoners of war and aid refugees in the wake of WWII. In 1953, he was made cardinal-patriarch of Venice, after which he hoped to retire. But God had bigger plans for him. He was elected pope in 1958, and throughout his papacy his emphasis on Christian unity, peace, and spiritual care earned him the nickname “The Good Pope.”
One of his first initiatives as pope was to enlarge the college of Cardinals from 70 to 87, adding its first members from Japan, Africa, and the Philippines. But his most significant act was calling the Second Vatican Council (often called “Vatican II”) on October 11, 1962, with the purpose of “updating” the Church in response to the rapidly changing world of the 20th century. The council reformed the Liturgy, renewed theology of the Church and involvement of the laity, along with several other initiatives. The council encapsulated Pope John XXIII’s goal of unifying and caring for the church amidst a changing world. He died less than a year afterward on June 2, 1963, and was canonized by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014.
October 18 – St. Luke the Evangelist
Little is known about the life of St. Luke the Evangelist, but as the author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, he reveals to us intimate details of both the life of Christ and the early church. His Gospel account is unique in its rich and detailed storytelling. Most famous, perhaps, is his account of the nativity. But his Gospel is also the lone source of several of the other famous stories in the life of Christ: the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the story of Zacchaeus, the short and penitent tax collector, and the account of two disciples meeting the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus.
Luke’s vivid Gospel narrative paints the details of Christ’s ministry with brilliant precision, giving readers a real sense of what Christ’s life was like. Not only that, the Acts of the Apostles is the definitive account of the early church. From it we have the accounts of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, St. Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison, the missionary journeys of St. Paul, and a host of others. Though little is known about his life, St. Luke’s contribution to the church is sweeping, both in his intimate stories that bring Christ’s life into focus, and his accounts of the apostles that give us a glimpse of Christ’s vision for the church.
October 19 – St. Isaac Jogues
Born in 1607 and ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1636, St. Isaac Jogues was one of the earliest missionaries to the Native Americans in New France (now Eastern Canada and the Midwest United States) and was one of the first North American martyrs recognized by the Church. After a few years of ministry that were relatively uneventful, Isaac and his companions were captured by Iroquois in 1641. They whipped and tormented Isaac and his fellow missionaries for a full year, during which Isaac watched the brutal death of his companions. But torture and death were not enough to stop Isaac from evangelizing to the Iroquois during his captivity, and he even baptized several of them before escaping on a Dutch ship.
Even after his harrowing time as a captive, Isaac could not stop thinking about the Iroquois’s need for the Gospel. Only three months after his escape, knowing that to return likely meant to die, he went back. He and his fellow missionary, Jean de Lalande, were killed en route to the Iroquois by a group of Mohawks in 1646. Before his return, Isaac said: “My heart tells me that, if I am the one to be sent on this mission, I shall go but I shall not return. But I would be happy if our Lord wished to complete the sacrifice where he began it.”
October 24 – St. Anthony Mary Claret
St. Anthony Mary Claret, founder of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was a man of many talents. Born in Spain in 1807, he was a weaver, a printer, and an intellectual, becoming fluent in Latin before his love for spiritual things drove him to pursue the priesthood. After his ordination in 1835, he felt called to become a missionary and joined the Jesuit order in Rome. But declining health drove him back home to Spain, where he found that God still had work for him. He began evangelizing to those around him and throughout Catalonia, founding the Apostolic Training Institute of the Immaculate Conception, now known as the Claretians, in 1849.
In 1850 he was appointed the Archbishop of Cuba, a challenging and occasionally dangerous position. Once, after Anthony’s teaching helped a young woman to live a moral life, her beau tried to kill Anthony and left him seriously wounded. After seven years as archbishop, Anthony returned to Spain to become the personal confessor to Queen Isabella II. During this time he wrote, gave speeches, and published several books and religious pamphlets. When the Spanish revolution forced Queen Isabella into exile in 1868, he went with her, but he never returned. He died at a Cistercian monastery in France in 1870.
St. Anthony Mary Claret’s life serves as an example of servitude, scholarship, and evangelism. Love for the whole of the Trinity inspired his devotion and mission. As Pope John Paul II said of him: “Love for the Father prompted St. Anthony Mary Claret to follow and imitate Jesus Christ always in prayer, work and suffering, and to open himself to the action of the Holy Spirit, who inspired his mission of evangelizing the poor.”
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Remarks Given in St. Peter’s Square on March 23, 2011, Benedict XVI. Accessed via the Vatican.
Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour Book. Washington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.
“Saints Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf, and Companions,” Franciscan Media
The Way of Saints, Dr. Tom Cowan