Every year on the first of November, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints, the great commemoration of all the holy men and women whom God has raised up throughout the two thousand year history of the Church. On November 7th, we Dominicans and those who share our charism celebrates the Feast of All Saints of the Order of Preachers (the Dominican Order). These saints of our Church and our Order are many and varied, representing virtually every time and place and walk of life. We celebrate the saints because they testify to God’s goodness, because they are our brothers and sisters – the Church triumphant – who never cease to pray for us – the Church militant – and because they give us examples of how to live holy lives in our own time and place and circumstances. For this reason, the Church gives us certain saints as patrons of the particular places where we live and worship, the various circumstances in which we might find ourselves, and the diverse activities in which we are engaged. For example, St. Joseph is the patron of the universal Church and the Blessed Virgin Mary is the patroness of the Americas and of the United States. St. Patrick is the patron of Ireland and of New York City. St. Jude is the patron of hopeless causes and St. Anthony of Padua is the patron saint for the recovery of lost items. There are also patron saints of health care, both in the Church at large and in the Order of Preacher in particular. Let us briefly consider the lives and patronage of some of these saints.
Saint Raphael the Archangel is one of the three angels mentioned by name in Scripture. In the Book of Tobit, Raphael cured Tobit of his blindness and so is invoked as a patron of healers and of those who suffer blindness.
Saint Luke the Evangelist is the author of the third gospel and was a companion of Saint Paul, who calls him “the beloved physician” (Col 4:14). St. Luke is therefore honored as a patron of doctors.
Saint Agatha is a martyr from third century Sicily who consecrated her life to God. Young and beautiful, she refused the advances and attempted exploitation of local authorities. During her torture, her breasts were cut off and she rebuked her torturer for forgetting his mother and the breasts that nursed him. She is patroness of nurses and those with breast cancer.
Saints Cosmas and Damian are twin brothers who were trained as physicians in third-century Syria. They accepted no money for their services and are credited with a miraculous healing of a man with an ulcered leg. They are patron saints of doctors and surgeons.
Saint Peregrine lived in present-day Italy at the turn of the 14th century. After a conversion in youth, he lived a life of severe penance and eventually suffered from a cancer in his right leg. The night before his leg was to be amputated, he prayed before the crucifix and received a miracle of healing. He is a patron saint of those who suffer from cancer.
Saint John of God lived a dissolute youth in early 16th century Spain. He was converted by received a vision of the child Jesus and began caring for the sick, poor, and homeless and founded the Order of Charity and the Order of Hospitallers. He is a patron saint or nurses and of hospitals.
Saint Camillus of Lellis was a military officer in the 16th century who was injured and subsequently hospitalized in Rome. He recovered, became the administrator of the hospital, and founded the Congregation of the Servants of the Sick. He is a patron of hospitals and hospital workers.
Saint Rene Goupil studied medicine in 17th century France and assisted Saint Isaac Jogues as a medic in his missions to the Hurons in North America. Saint Rene died a martyr, tomahawked by the Iroquois, and is a patron of anesthesiologists.
Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini was born and raised in 19th century Italy where she founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to care for poor children in schools and hospitals. Pope Leo XIII then sent her to the United States where she founded dozens of schools, hospitals and orphanages. She is a patron of orphans and of hospital administrators.
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla was born in Italy in the 20th century. She studied and practiced medicine, specializing in pediatrics. She was married and gave birth to three surviving children before she died giving birth to her fourth, having refused any measures that might have saved her own life at the cost of her child’s. St. Gianna is a patron of physicians and of unborn children.
Saint Albert the Great, O.P. was a renowned Dominican scholar, priest and bishop who joined the Order just a few years after the death of Saint Dominic and became one of its greatest saints and a doctor of the universal Church. Saint Albert is best known for being the teacher of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who became an even more renowned and influential theologian and doctor of the Church. However, Saint Albert, though surpassed by his student as a theologian, engaged in a broader range of studies. In addition to studying philosophy and theology and being a pioneer in the Christian study and interpretation of Aristotle, Saint Albert wrote copious volumes on such subjects as law, astronomy, zoology, mineralogy and alchemy. In his study of the natural sciences, Saint Albert relied not only on what others had written before him, but on his own experiments as well. Because of this, Saint Albert is revered as a patron saint of scientists. Furthermore, due to his investigations and experimentations in the areas of mineralogy and alchemy, Saint Albert is honored as a patron of medical technicians. Medical researchers and technicians can look to Saint Albert the Great and seek his intercession as a model in the pursuit of that knowledge which tends to the advancement of medicine and the improvement of human health even as it redounds to the glory of God.
Blessed James Salomone, O.P. was a younger contemporary of Saint Albert the Great. He was born in Venice in 1231. At the age of 17, he became a Dominican and thereafter was ordained a priest, served as prior of several communities and developed a reputation for great holiness. Blessed James devoted himself to the care of the afflicted and had a great ministry of healing. He is credited with several miraculous healings, most notably the cure of a young girl who was afflicted with a cancerous leg. Blessed James also suffered from cancer himself, developing a malignant tumor in his chest late in his life. He suffered quietly while continuing his healing ministry. When he died in 1314, the cancer disappeared leaving a fragrant aroma. Blessed James is known as the “apostle to the afflicted” and is a patron of cancer patients. His statue is in the vestibule in the Church of St. Catherine of Siena in New York City right above the table devoted to Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York.
Saint Catherine of Siena, O.P. is the great patroness of our the priory and church where I live and out of which Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry operates. She is also patroness of those who care for the sick. Saint Catherine is famous for many reasons: her intense life of prayer and sacrifice, her writings that earned her the title of Doctor of the Church, and her role in bringing about the pope’s return from Avignon to Rome. Another notable feature of Saint Catherine’s life, however, was her heroic care for the sick. Saint Catherine was a Dominican tertiary; she wore the habit of the order but she lived her religious life in the world and not in a monastery. After spending years solitude and prayer in her family home, Saint Catherine volunteered to nurse the sick in the hospitals of Siena, attending to the most severely afflicted. When an outbreak of plague ravished the city, Saint Catherine was continually among the plague-stricken, nursing them, encouraging them, preparing them for death and burying them with her own hands. Because of her heroic work on behalf of the sick, Saint Catherine of Siena is a special patroness to all who care for the sick. The Church invites everyone who works in health care to turn to St. Catherine for intercession and to look to her as their great example of how to care for the sick with generosity, tenderness, encouragement and deep faith.
Saint Martin de Porres, O.P. was born in Lima, Peru in 1597, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and freed slave. He grew up in poverty and was apprenticed to a barber for two years, a profession that, at that time, included basic medical care. St. Martin entered a nearby Dominican priory first as a volunteer worker and later as a professed lay brother. As a Dominican, he lived a life of intense prayer and penance and performed a variety of household tasks, including the care of the poor and sick who came to the priory seeking alms. For them St. Martin continued the healing work he had learned in his youth and even worked many miraculous cures. For the last 25 years of his life, St. Martin was assigned to work in the priory’s infirmary, where he took charge of the care of sick and dying friars. When an epidemic struck Lima, St. Martin ministered to the sick in the city, tending to their needs and finding them shelter. St. Martin is a patron of barbers and of public health. He is a model of humble service to the sick and of a practice of health care that is motivated by ardent charity.