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Lesser-Known Saints & Martyrs

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Think you've heard of them all....

Think again!
There are so many obscure and lesser-known saints and martyrs that we thought we would present a few of them to you here from time to time. Read, learn, and enjoy!


Mary Magdalen Postel
(also known as Julia Frances Catherine Postel)

Julia Frances Catherine Postel was educated at the Benedictine convent at Valognes. At age 18, she opened a girls' school at Barfleur in France. When the French Revolution broke out, the revolutionaries closed the school and she became a leader in the underground Church. Under the stairs of her home, she created a secret chapel where priests could say Mass for those who refused to recognize the 'constitutional' clergy imposed by the state. During that time she was (like other women elsewhere under abnormal conditions) given charge of the reserved Eucharist and allowed to minister it to the sick.

Only when the pope made a concordat with Napoleon in 1801 could Julie take up teaching again as her life's work. Then, at the age of 51, she decided to set up a group of religious women to teach the young, inspire them to love God, and help the poor in their misery.

In 1807, Julie and three other teachers took religious vows before Abbé Cabart, who had encouraged her in her work. Julie also took a new name, Mary Magdalen Postel. Sister Mary Magdalen reopened her school at Cherbourg, which became the foundation of the Sisters of the Christian Schools of Mercy. She was named superior of the community.

Within three years 200 girls were being educated. For some time Sister Mary Magdalen Postel and her nine fellow teachers lived in great poverty in a barn next to their schoolroom. These earlier years were discouraging but Sister Mary Magdalen refused to give up. The community was forced to move several times before it settled at Tamersville in 1815.

Whatever work they could find--as farm-laborers, seamstresses, etc.--was eagerly seized so that they could carry on with their teaching. But their tenacity triumphed. In 1830, they moved into an abandoned, derelict abbey at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte near Coutances. The congregation was formally recognized seven years later.

Mary Magdalen died at the age of 90, having seen the ruined abbey rebuilt and her community spreading the Christian Gospel ever farther afield. She is venerated for her holiness and miracles.

Born at Barfleur, Normandy, France, November 28, 1756; died at Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte, July 16, 1846; canonized 1925; feast day formerly on July 16.


Peter Louis Mary Chanel, Priest

Peter Chanel was a model pupil, model vicar, model parish priest, and model missionary. He began life as a shepherd to his father's sheep. The Abbé Trompier of the parish of Cras, however, recognized the intelligence and devoutness of the young boy and obtained permission to have Peter attend the small school he had started. Peter performed well and went on to the seminary.

After his ordination in 1827, he was given the parish of Crozet, which had earned a bad reputation. Over three years, his attendance to the sick gained the confidence of the parishioners and brought about a spiritual revival.

In 1831, wishing to become a missionary, the peasant's son was one of the first to join the missionary Society of Mary which was formed at Lyons, France, in 1822, but taught another five years in the seminary of Belley. In 1836, the Marists received papal approval, and Peter was sent with a small band of missionaries to New Hebrides in the Pacific. With a lay-brother and an English layman, Thomas Boog, Peter went to the Islands of Futuna, under French sovereignty near Fiji, where cannibalism had only recently been forbidden by the local ruler, Niuliki.

The missionaries gained the confidence of the people by attending the sick, learning the language, and beginning to teach. The chieftain Niuliki became jealous of their influence, however, and was further angered when his own son said he wished to be baptized. Three years after his arrival, when his companions were away, Peter was attacked by a band of warriors who killed him with a club and cut up his body with their hatchets.

His martyrdom served his cause, however, for within a few months the island was Christianized. When called upon to justify his conversion, one of Chanel's catechumens had said of him, "He loves us. He does what he teaches. He forgives his enemies. His teaching is good."

Because he was the first martyr of the South Seas, Peter Chanel is the patron of Oceania.

Born at Cluet, near Belley, France, in 1803; died on Futuna, Oceania, in April 28, 1841; canonized in 1954.


Nicholas Owen

Saint Nicholas was probably the most important person in the preservation of Catholicism in England during the period of the penal laws against the faith. He was a carpenter or builder, who saved the lives of countless Jesuit priests in England for two decades by constructing hiding places for them in mansions throughout the country. He became a Jesuit lay brother in 1580, was arrested in 1594 with Father John Gerard, and despite prolonged torture would not give the names of any of his Catholic colleagues; he was released on the payment of a ransom by a wealthy Catholic.

Brother Nicholas is believed to have been responsible for Father Gerard's dramatic escape from the Tower of London in 1597.

Nicholas was arrested a third time in 1606 with Father Henry Garnet, whom he had served 18 years, Father Edward Oldcorne, and Father Oldcorne's servant, Brother Ralph Ashley. He refused to give any information concerning the Gunpowder Plot. They were imprisoned in the Tower of London. Nicholas was subjected to such vicious torture, which literally tore his body to pieces, that he died of it.

Nicholas was also known as Little John and Little Michael and used the aliases of Andrews and Draper.

Born in Oxford, England; died in the Tower of London, 1606; beatified in 1929; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970 as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales; feast day formerly March 12.


Charles Lwanga and Companions
(also known as Ugandan Martyrs)

Twenty-two Catholic men, including seventeen young pages between the ages of 13 and 30, plus some Protestants, were martyred by King Mwanga of Uganda. Their heroic courage rivalled that of the early martyrs.

Catholic Christianity began to take root in Uganda after Cardinal Lavigerie's White Fathers established missions in central Africa in 1879. Progress was made under the rule of the not unfriendly local chieftain named Mtesa; however, his successor, Mwanga detested the faith that would accuse him of debauchery.

King Mwanga of Uganda took as chief steward a young Christian named Joseph Msaka Balikuddembe. Joseph detested the king's debauched ways, especially his attempts to corrupt other young men of Uganda, whom the steward tried to protect. Mwanga distrusted foreign visitors, fearing they might report his evil ways to the British government, which had given him his power.

In October 1885, Mwanga ordered his followers to kill an Anglican missionary, Bishop James Hannington. The Catholic steward Joseph protested at the murder of a fellow Christian. The following month, Mwanga had him beheaded. "A Christian who gives his life for God is not afraid to die," Joseph proclaimed. "Mwanga has condemned me without cause; but tell him I forgive him from my heart." To the king's astonishment, the Christians were not cowed by his sudden outrage.

Six months later Mwanga's savagery was even worse. He discovered that a 14-year-old page, Mwafu, had been receiving instruction in the Catholic faith. He called for Denis Sebuggwago, who had been teaching the page, and killed him by thrusting a butcher's cleaver or spear through his throat. That night Charles Lwanga, the new master of the pages, baptized five of them including Kizito, who he had repeatedly rescued from Mwanga's pederasty.

The next day the baptisms were discovered. Enraged, Mwanga assembled all the pages and ordered the Christians to separate themselves from the others. Fifteen, all under the age of 25, did so at once and were later joined by two others who were already under arrest and by two soldiers. They were asked if they wished to remain Christian and each replied, "Until death." The king then ordered every Protestant and Catholic living in the royal enclosure to be put to death.

Thirty-two Catholics and Protestants were led 37 miles away to a place called Namugongo to be burned to death in a literal holocaust. Three were killed on the way. One of these, a district judge named Matthias Kalemba, declared, "God will rescue me. But you will not see how he does it, because he will take my soul and leave you only my body." He was cut into pieces and left to die slowly by the roadside.

The rest of the martyrs were taken to Namugongo. They were imprisoned there for seven days while a huge pyre was prepared. At the appointed time on Ascension Day, they were forced to lie down on reed mats. Wrapped up in the mats and tightly bound, they were laid side by side. Fuel was poured on them, and they were set afire. As their executioners sang barbarously, the martyrs died confidently praying to their Savior.

The persecution spread. A leader among the confessors was Matthias Murumba, who was killed with revolting cruelty. During the reign of Mwanga about 100 Christians of various denominations were martyred.

Andrew Kagwa (Kaggwa, d. 1886) was a native chief of Kigowa and the royal bandmaster of King Mwanga. He was baptized in 1881, converted his wife, and became active in missionary work. He had gathered a large body of catechumens around him. Condemned to death for the faith, he right arm was severed from his body before he was beheaded.

Charles Lwanga (d. 1886) was a servant of the king, who was baptized in November 1885 and martyred the following June. He succeeded Joseph Mkasa as master of the pages and continued his predecessor's censure of the king's homosexual practices and corruption of the young pages. This intensified King Mwanga's hatred of Catholics.

Denis (Dionysius) Sebuggwago (Sebuggwawo) (d. 1885) was a servant of the King. He killed with a butcher's cleaver by the king himself because he was taught teaching the catechism. He was the first victim of the persecution.

John Maria Muzeyi (d. 1886) practiced the corporal works of mercy until his martyrdom.

Joseph Mikasa (Mkasa, Musaka) Balikuddembe (d. 1885), was the Christian steward in charge of the pages, at the court of King Mwanga of Uganda. He was beheaded on November 15, when he denounced the king's notorious immoralities and his murder of Joseph Harrington, a Protestant missionary, and his group.

Kizito (d. 1886), 13-year old boy, who went to his death "laughing and chattering," was saved from the king's pedophilic tendencies by Charles Lwanga, who baptized the child.

Mbanga (Mbaga) Tuzinde (d. 1886) was a page to the king and the adopted son of the chief executioner. He had to resist the pleas of his family up until the moment of he was thrown on the pyre at Namuyongo. At the last moment his father killed him with a blow to the neck to prevent him from suffering the agony of burning.

Matthias Kalemba (d. 1886) was a Membo judge, who was tortured to death.

Matthias Murumba, an Islamic assistant judge who converted, first to Protestantism, then to the Catholic faith. He was baptized by Fr. Livinhac, then martyred on Kumpala Hill.

Pontain Ngondwe (d. 1886), a soldier in the Royal Guard (Attwater, Benedictines, Bentley, Delaney, Farmer, Faupel, Gill, Thoonen, Walsh, White).

Charles Lwanga is the patron saint of African Catholic Youth Action (White).

All died at Namugongo, Uganda, 1885-1887; beatified in 1920; canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1964; feast added to the Roman Calendar in 1969; declared the protomartyrs of Black Africa.


Blessed Rafqa Shabaq al-Rayes
(also known as Rafka, Rebecca, Pierina, or Boutrosiya)

Too often we forget that there are other rites within the Catholic Church beyond the Roman Rite. Blessed Rafqa (Rebecca) is God's gift to the universal Church from the Maronites, which hale from Lebanon. Raqfa, like the bride in the Song of Songs, listened to her Beloved's call: "Come from Lebanon, my promised bride, Come from Lebanon, come on your way. Look down from the heights of Amanus, From the crests of Senir and Hermon, The haunt of lions, The mountains of leopards. The scent of your garments Is like the scent of Lebanon. She is a garden enclosed, My sister, my promised bride; a garden enclosed A sealed fountain Fountain of the garden, Well of living water, Streams flowing down from Lebanon!" [vv. 4:1-15].

Pierina (Petronilla), the only child Mourad Saber Shabaq al-Rayes and his wife Rafqa Gemayel, was named after Saint Peter on whose feast she was born in the land of the Canaanites and Phoenicians. This blind seer, known as the "Little Flower of Lebanon," the "Purple Rose," and the "Silent, Humble Nun," related the story of her life to her mother superior months before her death.

Life in Lebanon was not easy even in the 19th century and was made more difficult for Pierina by the death of her mother when she was six years old. She worked as a house maid in Syria for four years (1843-1847) and a few years later(1853) entered the Marian Order of the Immaculate Conception as a postulant at the convent of Our Lady of Liberation in Bikfaya. Saint Maron's Day 1855 she was received as a novice and took the name Anissa (Agnes). Five years later she witnessed the massacre of Christians in Deir-el-Qamar. In 1871, her order was united with that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to form the Order of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Each nun was given the choice of entering the new order, another existing order, or being dispensed from her vows.

Throughout her life, Raqfa was gifted with extraordinary revelations by voices, dreams, and visions. In 1871, Sister Anissa went to Saint George's Church in Batroun to pray about the future of her vocation. That night she dreamed that Saint Antony the Hermit told her to become a nun in the Baladiya Order of the Maronites. At the age of 39 (July 12, 1871), she responded to the dream by entering the ascetic Baladiya Order at the cloistered convent of Saint Simon in El-Qarn, where she was known as Boutrosiya from Hemlaya. She made her perpetual vows and received the veil from Father Superior Ephrem Geagea al-Bsherrawi on August 25, 1873, and took the name Rafqa (Rebecca).

As a member of an ascetic order, in 1885, Rafqa asked our Lord to let her share in His suffering. From that night on her health began to deteriorate. Shortly she was blind and crippled and still she imposed greater penances upon herself, such as eating only the leftover scraps of food. She continued to share in the prayers of the community and its work by spinning wool and knitting of stockings. By 1907, Sister Rafqa was totally paralyzed and in constant pain, but by uniting her suffering with Christ's she was able to bear all with joy, without complaint.

Four days after her death, her superior, Sister Doumit experienced the first of many miracles wrought at the intercession of Blessed Rafqa.

Born in Hemlaya, Lebanon, June 29, 1832; died October 23, 1914; beatified November 17, 1985.


Saints Nicholas Pieck and his Companions: The Martyrs of Gorkum

In 1572 Calvinists killed nineteen priests and religious because of their religion in Gorkum, Holland. Eleven of those killed were Franciscans: SS. Nicholas Pieck, was the superior and Jerome Weerden was his assistant. Diocesan priests were SS. Leonard Vechel, Nicholas Janssen, and Godfrey Van Duynen. St. John Van Oosterwyk was an elderly Augustinian. Among the group was also St. John Van Hoornaer, a Dominican, who wanted to assist his Franciscan comrades; There were also two Norbertines, SS. Adrian Van Hilvarenbeek and James Lacops. This last named priest was very lax in his religious duties and when corrected he was very angry with his superiors. They were joined by St. Andrew Wouters, a diocesan priest who had left his ministry illegally and was living in disgrace.

In late June and early July, 1572, anti-Spanish Calvinists seized the town of Gorkum and the Franciscans and four other priests were treated without mercy and with great contempt. They were treated this way because of their faithfulness to Jesus Christ and partly because the Calvinists wanted the church vessels and money.

The Calvinist admiral, Baron de la Marck, had them dragged half naked and starving to the town of Briel, where they were paraded around the square much to the amusement of the people. That evening they were interrogated by the admiral and Calvinist ministers as to their religious beliefs. In order to purchase their freedom they were ordered to abandon their belief in the Eucharistic Presence. They absolutely refused to do this. Pleas for clemency came in from several quarters but they were told that as soon as these priests gave in to the demands of their captors and gave up their belief that Jesus was truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, they would be released. The brother of Father Nicholas Pieck pleaded with him to abandon his Faith, which he and his companions refused to do.

They were led to a deserted monastery where there was a shed with two beams. They were all hung while Father Nicholas spoke words of encouragement as he was flung off a ladder. St. Antony Van Willehad was ninety years old. Their bodies were thrown into two ditches where they remained until 1616 when they were dug up and brought to the Franciscan church in Brussels. They were canonized as the 19 Martyrs of Gorkum in 1867.

Their feast is celebrated on July 9th


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