BY A.J. VALENTINI
Many of us carry through life at least one name other than that from our paternal ancestry or, in the case of many women (although this is changing) from a spouse.
Often, our “first names” are called our “Christian names,” as they have been handed to us with the attributes of a certain saint or holy person in mind. Yes, it’s true that some of us carry the names of immediate relatives, but many of those names, too, can be traced to a Christian origin.
In many Christian countries people celebrate their “name days” (in Italian “onomastico”). Each day of the Christian calendar is dedicated to a holy person’s memory. In our country people still universally celebrate St. Valentine on Feb. 14 and St. Patrick on March 17. Italian Americans celebrate St. Joseph’s Day March 19 as well.
If we take a look at any month of the year, we can find one or several holy persons whose memory is celebrated on each particular day.
Let’s take a look at some days in May, which in totality is dedicated to the devotion of the Blessed Virgin but whose individual days celebrate the memory of a myriad of saints and holy people.
- May 3: St. James, called James the Less to distinguish him from the other apostle James, brother of John, also was a close relative to Jesus. He wrote the first Catholic Epistle and was the first bishop of Jerusalem. St. Paul called James a “pillar of the Church” and consulted him on the Gospel. He is patron of hat makers.
- May 4: St. Robert Lawrence is one of 40 martyrs of England and Wales who suffered after Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome. He refused to sign an oath of supremacy and was tortured and executed.
- May 5: St. Angelo was born of Jewish parents who converted to Catholicism. He was a Carmelite who went to Sicily as a missionary. In Palermo alone he was able to baptize more than 200 Jews. Though his message was welcomed by many Sicilians, he was killed by a band of known ruffians. Dying, he prayed for the Sicilian people and his assassins.
- May 10: St. John of Avila studied law in Salamanca and later left the university to become a hermit. After going to Alcala he was ordained and became famous for his fiery oratory against the evil of his times. Briefly imprisoned by the Inquisition, his popularity grew. He was the spiritual adviser to St. Teresa, St. Francis Borgia, St. John of the Cross and St. Peter of Alcantra. He is patron of Spain.
- May 14: St. Maria Dominic Mazzarello was the co-foundress of the Daughters of Mary Auxiliatix and collaborator of St. John Bosco. When Bosco received approval of Pope Pius IX, she became the first superior general of the Salesian Sisters. By 1900 she had helped found 800 foundations.
- May 18: St. Eric was the king of Sweden. He codified the laws of his land and fought the pagan Finns. He convinced English Bishop Henry of Uppsala to evangelize the Finns. Eric was killed by Swedish nobles under the influence of the king of Denmark. Though never officially canonized, he is considered the patron of Sweden.
- May 22: As a little girl, St. Rita wanted to enter a convent but was forced into an arranged marriage at 12 years old. Her husband was abusive and part of a violent feud between rival families that went on for years. Rita was able to tame her husband somewhat, but he was killed by a rival. After his death and that of two sons, she again tried to enter a convent but was turned away because of the history of her deceased husband. Eventually, after a plague killed some of the most violent perpetrators of the feud, she was able to partake in religious life. As a member of the order she performed her duties admirably and received a spontaneous wound on her head like that inflicted by Christ’s crown of thorns. Bedridden from tuberculosis, she requested a rose from her old family garden, and though it was January, one was found there. After her death, her body never deteriorated and was placed in a shrine in Cascia. She is considered the patroness of impossible cases, difficult marriages and parenthood.
- May 23: St. Julia was born in Africa to noble parents. When her people were conquered she was sold as a slave to a pagan merchant. While traveling with her master to France, they were hosted in a non-Christian land. The governor of that place wanted Julia to partake in a pagan festival. She refused. The governor offered to buy her, but her master valued her more than all the possessions of that man. While the master was sleeping, the governor had Julia brought before him and tried to force her to participate in his rituals. Because she once again refused him, she was struck on the face, had her hair torn out of her head and hung on a cross until she died.
- May 24: St. Jessica’s name is a derivative of Joanna. She was the wife of the steward of King Herod Antipas. She was one of the women who helped Jesus and the apostles. She also was one of the three women who discovered the vacant tomb of Jesus on Easter morning.
- May 30: The patroness of France, St. Joan of Arc also is the patroness of soldiers. As a child she believed she heard the voices of St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret. At the time, her country was in conflict with England. With obstinate determination, she convinced the French army, and later her king, of her purpose to help drive the foreigners out of France. Clothed in borrowed armor and with a borrowed horse, and despite the doubts of the military and crown, she helped in driving the English from Orleans (thus her title the “Maid of Orleans). With this victory she turned the conflict from a political invasion to one of religious import. After several more battles, Joan was captured and tried in a trumped-up trial. Her most famous exchange with her accusers astounded the court. They asked her if she knew she was in God’s grace. If she answered yes, she would be tried for heresy, as no person could be sure to be in the state of grace. If she answered no, she would be confessing her guilt. She famously answered, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” She was denied protections as a woman and eventually found to be a heretic and witch. She was burned at the stake in 1431.