Franciscan Sisters February Favorite: Song of Bernadette by Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen

On the Franciscan calendar all feasts of our Blessed Virgin Mary are ours to celebrate. As we near the day set aside to remember the significance of Our Lady of Lourdes, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight the beautiful Song of Bernadette, one of our favorite hymns created with the collaborative energies of Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen.

This hymn of exquisite melody and meaningful lyrics is truly our February favorite. Bernadette, a young maiden who truly believes in the beautiful lady who comes to her so that many souls are healed through her son Jesus, is humbly portrayed.

Jennifer, singer, songwriter and recording artist reflects:
I was given the name Bernadette at birth. But my siblings preferred the name “Jennifer” so my name was changed one week later. In 1979, on tour in the south of France with Leonard Cohen, I began writing a series of letters between the “Bernadette” I almost was, and “Jennifer”–two energies within me. One innocent, and the other who had fallen for the world.
The letters were just an experiment: “Dear Bernadette, I’m so lost right now.” “Hello dear Jennifer, don’t worry, I’m here, and it’s gonna be okay.”
I showed Leonard my letters to which he replied, “There’s a song in here…just start at the beginning…”There was a child named Bernadette, I heard the story long ago…and then keep going….”
So the song arose in a bus nearby Lourdes. I was admiring Bernadette’s countryside from the bus window, thinking about the great Saint who held her ground so well, and was not swayed from what she knew to be true.
But the song is also about me longing to return to a place that was more pure, honest and true. I still long for this, and I think others do too.
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Franciscan Calendar: Blessed Giles of Lorenzana

During the month of January, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight on the Franciscan Calendar Blessed Giles of Lorenzana. Born in a faith-filled family in Italy, Blessed Giles of Lorenzana received the name of Bernardine at the time of his baptism. He eventually became a lay brother at the convent of the Friars Minor. He was happily given the name Giles after one of the first companions of St Francis of Assisi.

If you ever hear bells pealing, without a person actually pulling the ropes (and the bells are not automatic), this happened when Blessed Giles died in 1518. He was known to be a very holy friar, living in a hermitage close to the main convent. His body was later said to also be incorrupt though buried in very damp ground. Learn more.

Knowing blessed Giles modeled his life after one of the first members of the Franciscan Order, these words by the first Brother Giles when speaking of the words and deeds of St. Francis seem appropriate today as well: “Our religion is like a fisherman who casts his nets into the water catching a great number of fish. Seeing the number of fish, he puts the big ones in his baskets, leaving the small ones in the water.” We pray, through the intercession of Blessed Giles of Lorenzana, for an abundance of young women to join us in serving God’s people and living the Gospel life.

Franciscan Calendar: Blessed John Duns Scotus

Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight Duns Scotus on the November Franciscan Calendar. Scotus’s philosophical mind had considerable influence on these two points of Catholic thought.

Immaculate Conception

Scotus, the Doctor Subtilis (Subtle Doctor), devised the following argument: Mary was in need of redemption like all of us, but through the merits of Jesus’ death on the cross, given in advance, she was conceived without the stain of original sin. God could have brought it about in different ways. However he did it, it would be accredited to Mary.
Scotus’s defense appears in Pope Pius IX’s 1854 declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. It read: “at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” The Subtle Doctor’s position was welcomed as “a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles.”

Feast of Christ the King

Nearing the feast of Christ the King at the end of the month, Scotus’ doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ became the primary reasoning for the feast of Christ the King. This feast was begun in 1925. Father Gemelli writes: “Duns Scotus conceived the universe in the form of a gigantic pyramid, built up of every kind of genera and species, rising upward by degrees, the lower stages united in their most noble part to the higher. . .’ Jesus Christ is the culminating logical point of creation.'” Thus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would have assumed a human nature even if Adam had not sinned. Because Adam sinned Christ came as Redeemer of the human race, but He is at the same time King of creation.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint Peter of Alcantara

During this season of Wisconsin’s bold colorful leaves, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity shine a light of holiness on St. Peter of Alcantara on the Franciscan Calendar. He was a contemporary of well-known 16th-century Spanish saints, including Ignatius of Loyola and John of the Cross. He humbly served as confessor to Saint Teresa of Avila. Church reform was a major issue in Peter’s day, and he directed most of his energies toward that end. (His death came one year before the Council of Trent concluded.)

Born into a noble family—his father was the governor of Alcantara in Spain—Peter studied law at Salamanca University, and at 16 he joined the so-called Observant Franciscans, also known as the discalced friars. While he practiced many penances, he also demonstrated abilities which were soon recognized. He was elected provincial at the age of 39, and he was a very successful preacher. Still, he was not above washing dishes and cutting wood for the friars. He did not seek attention; indeed, he preferred solitude.

Peter’s penitential side was evident when it came to food and clothing. It is said that he slept only 90 minutes each night. (A great saint to pray to during mid-terms!) While others talked about Church reform, Peter’s reform began with himself.

In 1554, Peter received permission to form a group of Franciscans who followed the Rule of St. Francis with even greater rigor. These friars were known as Alcantarines. Some of the Spanish friars who came to North and South America in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries were members of this group. At the end of the 19th century, the Alcantarines were joined with other Observant friars to form the Order of Friars Minor. St. Peter of Alcantara, pray for us today!

Franciscan Calendar: Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis

During the month of September Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight the Feast of the Stigmata of St. Francis celebrated by all the brothers and sisters of the three orders on September 17. On this day we remember a transforming moment in our  holy Father Francis’ life that happened two years before his death. He was studying in his hermitage at Mount LaVerna and saw a vision. Thomas of Celano, an early friar who wrote The Life of Saint Francis hoping to encourage others toward an intimate union with God, writes about this spiritual occurrence:

…he saw in the vision of God a man, having six wings like a Seraph, standing over him, arms extended and feet joined, affixed to a cross. Two of his wings were raised up, two were stretched out over his head as if for flight, and two covered his whole body. When the blessed servant of the most High saw these things, he was filled with great awe, but could not decide what this vision meant for him…Signs of the nails began to appear on his hands and feet, just as he had seen them a little while earlier on the crucified man hovering over him.

His hands and feet seemed to be pierced through the middle by the nails, with the heads of the nails appearing on the inner part of his hands and on the upper part of his feet, and their points protruding on opposite sides. Those marks on the inside were round, but rather oblong on the outside; and small pieces of flesh were visible like the points of nails, bent over and flattened, extending beyond the flesh around them. On his feet, the marks of nails were stamped in the same way and raised above the surrounding flesh. His right side was marked with an oblong scar as if pierced with a lance and this often dripped blood, so that his tunic and undergarments were frequently stained with his holy blood.”

Only a few including Brothers Elias and Rufino saw the sacred wound in St. Francis’ side. The Poverello was careful to conceal it from even those close to him. He did not want to exploit this gift of grace from God, but rather wished to suffer as Jesus did quietly.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint Roch

Our Franciscan Calendar for August highlights Saint Roch who was born an only child and whose family governed the town of Montpellier, France. A patron saint of dog lovers, bachelors, contagious diseases and those in need of healing for knees, to name a few of his often called upon areas of intercession, he was a man marked from birth with a red cross on his breast that inspired him and his devout family to grow in faith.

Why specifically is Saint Roch on the Franciscan Calendar?

At age 20, Roch’s both parents died. He was inspired to join the Third Order of St. Francis after selling all his inheritance and giving it to the poor, thus transferring ownership of the property to his uncle. This change of life indeed mirrored the Poverello. Like St. Francis who made many a pilgrimage to Rome, Roch next walked to the tombs of the Apostles.

As he arrived at Acquapendente in northern Italy about the year 1315, he found that an epidemic had broken out. Roch was quick to go to the hospital of St John and individual homes offering to help those in need. Many ill were cured at the mere Sign of the Cross which the saint made over them.

The epidemic followed him as he continued on his way. Besides visiting the holy places in Rome, Roch continued this ministry in other towns of Italy until he arrived in Piacenza. Here he became ill. Not welcome in the hospitals he once served, he found refuge in a hut outside the town. God provided food and healing through his creatures, a raven, a dog, and the dog’s owner. He recovered, returning to his home.

On arrival, his own uncle thought him a spy and did not recognize him in his current condition. Roch was imprisoned until his death. Only at this time did his family identify him and celebrate his holiness.
St. Roch, pray for us.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint Veronica Giuliani

For the July Franciscan Calendar, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight the life of saintly Veronica Giuliani. Her feast day is July 9.

Saint Veronica Guiliani

Saint Veronica Giuliani was born in a faith-filled, devout family in Mercatello, Italy. Sadly, her mother died when she was 4 years old. Her father, although truly believing she should marry, did finally permit her to follow her call to be a contemplative nun.

At age 17, she entered the convent of  the Capuchin nuns at Citta di Castello in Umbria. The primitive rule of St. Clare was observed.

She spent 17 years in various roles of service in her community. Her living of the vows was heart-felt and obedient. One of these ministries was to guide the novices. She was very sensitive in her selection of books on prayer for these new members.

One Good Friday her life was changed with receiving the stigmata. Later a crown of thorns was impressed upon her head. The Passion of Christ always a focus of her prayer became a vivid part of her daily living. At this time Rome appointed a commission to test her experiences and holiness. The test proved that God was indeed leading her to conversion and greater love for him through her many sufferings. She indeed was another Veronica sharing in Christ’s passion.

Franciscan Sisters Station of the Cross with Veronica

After her death on July 9, 1727, St. Veronica’s body remained corrupt for many years until it was destroyed in a flood. Her bones are now housed in a fabricated body and her heart is kept in a separate reliquary. Because she saw to the need of having water pipes placed in her monastery, she is known as the patron of laundry workers. Her multiple visions of the Lord have also made her the patron of photographers.

St. Veronica, pray for us.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint John the Baptist

This June Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight Saint John the Baptist (not Saint Anthony of Padua) as our saint of the month. Fittingly, Gerard David (Netherlandish, Oudewater ca. 1455–1523 Bruges) has a painting that focuses on Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint John the Baptist.

Saint John points to the Lamb of God and Saint Francis receives the stigmata on Mount Alverna. The landscape in each scene is similar. The sky is blue and the grass is green! The painting encourages conversation on qualities these two favorite saints have in common. These are men of sacrifice!

One obvious conversation starter, they were both trend setters known for unique fashion choices. Neither one wore typical clothing. John liked his animal skins. Francis wore  the robes of the poor beggars. A robe for a belt was quite enough to hold him together. Photo: Saint Anthony of Padua Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Nature was home. John lived outside and was quite comfortable eating locusts and wild honey. The Poverello praised the sun, moon and stars and all God’s creatures. He called all of creation brother and sister. he spent a lot of time contemplating beauty in his many journeys from one place to another. Both their worlds revolved around the weather.

It was equally evident that  these two saints knew their mission, their purpose. Francis was to rebuild Christ’s Church. His passion was fired by a winged seraph. John was to point people to Christ, while blessing all to lead lives of repentence. Christ was their all. (Photo: Baptizing Christ, St. Rose of Lima Church, Cuba City, Wisconsin)

Each had a demanding role for their God and took it seriously. One could humbly see that he could not remove the sandals from the feet of his Lord. He was far from the expectant Savior. The other tried to be like Christ in all things. It took all their strength, their every moment to further the reign of God. Saint John the Baptist, pray for us. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint Paschal Baylon

During this month of May, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity focus fittingly on Franciscan Saint Paschal Baylon. His parents named him Paschal because he was born on the feast of Pentecost in the year 1540 at Torre Hermosa, Spain. As providence would have it, he also died on the feast of Pentecost.


As a child, he was attentive and obedient to his parents and had a zeal for doing good. While tending the cattle, and watching the sheep, he grew in strength and responsibility, characteristics any parents would want for their children. God called him to consecrated life as a lay brother among the Friars Minor at Monteforte.

Saint Paschal of Baylon was humble and cheerfully assumed the most burdensome duties. He was also very devoted to prayer. Paschal fostered special devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the Blessed Sacrament. The Eucharist proved a constant means to rekindle his zeal to love God and others. He died in 1592 at the age of fifty-two.

A few other interesting tidbits:

  • At the time of his death, the body of St Paschal Baylon was intentionally covered in lime in an attempt to rapidly destroy his remains. This was done so that there would be no offensive odor from the decomposing body when the crowds viewed his body. Miraculously, the lime had no effect. The grave was later exhumed and the body found preserved.
  • Pope Paul V beautified Paschal. Pope Alexander VIII canonized him in 1690. Later, in 1897 Pope Leo XIII announced Saint Paschal of Baylon the patron of all Eucharistic societies and congresses.

Franciscan Calendar: Saint Zita

For our April Franciscan Calendar Saint, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight Saint Zita. Interestingly, even though she is remembered as a humble care taker of others’ homes, Dante in his Divine Comedy: Inferno, 21, v 38, expected his audience to know something about her. A follower of Saint Francis of Assisi’s Gospel living, her presence at daily Mass, fed her goodness and others’ needs.
Saint Zita-Milano Duomo

As a peasant girl at age 12, Zita began work as a servant in nearby Lucca. She was a pleasant person, who worked hard and was thoughtful of the poor. After years of working, the faithful servant became the head housekeeper. It was at this time that miracles began to happen especially with her concern for the hungry. It was told that one day she was caught by another servant taking leftover bread from the Fatinelli family to feed the poor. This servant reported her actions. When faced with the situation, the head of the household pulled open Zita’s apron, and instead of bread, only flowers fell to the ground. Another time, Zita remained in church past the usual hour of her bread-making for the family. She hastened home, all the while accusing herself of neglecting her duty, and found the bread made and ready for the oven. She never doubted that one of the family or one of the other servants had kneaded it, and going to them, thanked them; but they were surprised. They had not thought to make the bread.

According to legend, when she died at age 60, the church bells spontaneously began to toll. A bright star was also to have appeared above her attic. In 1580, her body was exhumed and found to be incorruptible. Her body remains today on display in a silver casket in San Frediano Church where she had prayed while alive.

Quote: “A servant is not holy if she is not busy; lazy people…is fake holiness.”
St. Zita, lover of Christ and the poor, pray for us.