The Saints of Lent

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. Image: Tracy L. Christianson, Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. Image: Tracy L. Christianson,

Lent is an intense season of conversion, repentance and penance. But, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, “The Christian who seeks to purify himself of his sin and to become holy with the help of God’s grace is not alone.” (CCC 1474) We are united with the holy women and men who have gone before us, and in the “wonderful exchange” of the communion of saints, “the holiness of one profits others.” (CCC 1475)

As you journey through Lent, consider inviting along these saints whose feasts we celebrate this month, taking inspiration from their lives and asking for their intercession.

St. Katharine Drexel
Tracy L. Christianson,
St. Katharine Drexel – March 3

A socialite heiress who joyfully gave everything away

Born into a life of great comfort as the daughter of a wealthy banker in Philadelphia, Katharine Drexel (1858–1955) devoted her life to service, and to giving away her massive inheritance.

As a young woman, she realized that true happiness could not be found in money or the things of the world. “All, all, all (there is no exception) is passing away and will pass away,” she wrote.

“The question alone important, the solution of which depends upon how I have spent my life, is the state of my soul at the moment of death. Infinite misery or infinite happiness!”

In 1887, she asked Pope Leo XIII to send missionaries to the Native Americans. He replied, “Why not become a missionary yourself, my child?”

So she founded a new religious community, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, and established 145 missions, 12 schools for Native Americans and 50 schools for African-Americans. She died, at 97, with nothing left to give.

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity
Tracy L. Christianson,
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity – March 7

Young mothers who faced a grisly death for Christ

Perpetua and Felicity were catechumens in Carthage when they were arrested in the year 203 for the crime of being Christians. Perpetua was a 22-year-old mother of an infant son; her friend Felicity was a pregnant slave. They were baptized in captivity.

At their trial, the judge urged Perpetua to offer a sacrifice to the emperor and save herself for the sake of her father and her baby, but she would not deny Christ. She and her companions were condemned, “and joyfully we returned to our prison,” she wrote in her famous diary.

Two days before they were to die, Felicity gave birth. “You suffer so much now — what will you do when you are tossed to the beasts?” someone asked. She answered, “Another will be inside me who will suffer for me, just as I shall be suffering for him.”

In the arena, Perpetua and Felicity were attacked by a fierce cow, then had their throats slit. Before they died, Perpetua exhorted her companions, “Stand fast in the faith, and love one another, all of you, and be not offended at my sufferings.”

St. Frances of Rome
Tracy L. Christianson,
St. Frances of Rome – March 9

A frustrated bride who found ways to serve the poor

Growing up, Frances (1384–1440) longed to become a nun, but her pious parents refused; instead, they arranged her marriage, at 13, to a wealthy nobleman. He was a loving and devoted husband for 40 years, but Frances was initially frustrated. When her sister-in-law found her weeping, Frances explained her desire for a life devoted to God. The two became lifelong allies, and together they began caring for the most desperately poor and sick people in Rome.

Frances was diligent about balancing her prayer and ministry with her responsibilities to her family. She was known to say, “Sometimes a wife must leave God at the altar to find him in her household management.” She lived ascetically, surviving on dry bread and sometimes vegetables, and spending whole nights in prayer.

In 1424, she formed a group of women, known as the Oblates of Mary, committed to serving God and the poor. After seven years, she invited the women to live in community; after her husband died, in 1436, she spent the last years of her life living with them as their superior.

St. Patrick
Tracy L. Christianson,
St. Patrick – March 17

The young slave who converted the land of his captivity

As a teenager in Britain, Patrick (389–461) was kidnapped by pirates and brought as a slave to Ireland, where he was forced to work as a shepherd. Alone in the wilderness, young Patrick turned to God in earnest for the first time in his life.

“More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God,” he wrote in his Confession. “Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same.”

After six years of slavery, he made a daring escape and eventually returned to his family, who pleaded with him never to leave them again. But one night in a dream he heard the Irish people crying, “We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us.”

In 432, he returned to Ireland as a bishop, and he spent the rest of his life there preaching the Gospel and baptizing converts.

St. Joseph
Tracy L. Christianson,
St. Joseph – March 19

The silent man who devoted his life to Jesus and Mary

We know only a few details about the earthly father of the Son of God. He seems to have been a quiet man — the Gospels do not record a single word spoken by Joseph.

He was certainly not a wealthy man — at Jesus’ presentation in the temple, his parents offered the sacrifice of the poor, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:24)

He was a humble working man — when the people of Nazareth took offense at Jesus’ teaching, they scoffed, “Is he not the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55)

Most importantly, Joseph was “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19) who trusted God at all times and devoted himself to caring for the Holy Family.

As patron of the universal church, he also watches over us. St. Teresa of Ávila said, “I have never known anyone to be truly devoted to St. Joseph who did not noticeably advance in virtue, for he gives very real help to souls who commend themselves to him.”

Sources: Butler’s Lives of the Saints edited by Herbert J. Thurston, S.J., and Donald Attwater; Butler’s Saint for the Day by Paul Burns; Confession of St. Patrick translated by Pádraig McCarthy;; Voices of the Saints by Bert Ghezzi
Kevin Birnbaum

Kevin Birnbaum is the editor/associate publisher of Northwest Catholic and a member of Seattle’s Blessed Sacrament Parish. Contact him at [email protected].

Kevin Birnbaum es el editor de la revista Noroeste Católico/Northwest Catholic y miembro de la Parroquia del Sagrado Sacramento en Seattle. Pueden contactarle en: [email protected].