There have been many Saint Peregrines in the history of the Church, and many people know of Saint Peregrine Laziosi, who was miraculously cured of cancer. Today’s Saint Peregrine lived many centuries before that one.
Peregrine was apparently born in Rome and was sent to preach the Gospel to the pagans living in Auxerre, France, and to serve as their first bishop. He traveled throughout the countryside, as well as in the city, teaching about Jesus Christ. When the imperial governor ordered a new temple to be consecrated to the god Jupiter, Peregrine took the opportunity of its consecration to speak publicly about the Christian faith to the assembled people. The governor ordered him to be arrested, tortured, and then put to death when he refused to renounce his faith in Christ. This happened around the year 261.
Saint Peregrine, show me how to live and die for Christ.
If you enjoy this daily blog of lesser-known saints, see my book, which contains short biographies of saints for every day of the year.
James Duckett was a young apprentice to a printer in London, England, when he read a book that changed his life. The Firm Foundation of the Catholic Religion convinced him of the truth of the Catholic faith, and he refused to attend Protestant services anymore. He was sentenced to prison, but his former master intervened, got him released, but then sent him away to avoid the danger of being connected with James.
James was educated in the faith by an imprisoned priest, married a Catholic widow, and became a bookseller. But since he was a dealer in Catholic books in anti-Catholic England, he spent nine of the next twelve years in prison for his faith. A customer named Peter Bullock, who was in danger of death from the authorities for some other offense, decided to help his own prospects by turning in James as a Catholic. James was convicted solely on Bullock’s testimony and condemned to death. He told his wife to forgive Bullock, and—since Bullock was likewise convicted and sentenced to death—embraced the man before they died together.
Sooner or later, every adult has this experience. What
appeared to be a routine doctor’s visit turns out to be something
life-changing. Or a meeting with the boss ends with a layoff notice. Or a
conversation with a friend or family member goes horribly wrong. You walk away
in a daze, with the world turned upside down. It’s as if the guard rails on
life itself are no longer there, or as if the next step you take might be out
in midair, with nothing to catch you.
COVID-19 has done something very similar to all of us. Our
ordinary lives have been turned upside down, seemingly overnight. Fortunately,
as Catholics, we can say with the author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) that “there is
nothing new under the sun.” Whatever might seem new to us has already been
encountered by faithful believers who lived before us, and we can learn from them.
The most obvious historical corollary to our current
pandemic is the “Black Death”, the bubonic plague which devastated Europe in
the fourteenth century and periodically recurred in other centuries up until
the twentieth. Thirty to sixty percent of Europe died during the largest
outbreaks, and it took a few centuries for the world’s population to recover.
Those statistics sound frightening, but how did the Catholics of that time
handle this terrible event?
The people of that time didn’t have our modern medical
knowledge to combat this deadly disease, but they used what they had. Other
people turned to superstition, pagan practices, and mob violence. Some chose
the “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we may die,” (see Luke 12:19)
approach, which never solves anything, except as a general anesthetic. Some
But not the saints.
In all times and places, the saints of the Church can serve
us as guard rails when there seem to be none, guiding hands when we’re lost,
and intercessors for us with the God who has already counted every hair on our
heads and knows exactly how all this will play out in the end.
In our modern world, opponents of Catholicism commonly
characterize the Church as a male-dominated, insensitive hierarchy out of touch
with ordinary people. The Fourteen Holy Helpers are a perfect example of how
that characterization is perfectly wrong.
It wasn’t a bishop or a pope who came up with the idea of
the Fourteen Holy Helpers—fourteen particular saints to call upon for help from
the unknown and deadly disease—it was ordinary Catholics. That is, men and
women who were in fear for their lives turned to the lives of the saints to
seek help from God during a difficult time. The names and number of saints
wasn’t magic or the result of an apparition; it was the heartfelt prayers of
faithful Catholics who knew their saints as real people and who needed help
with specific problems.
Bubonic plague is not only a deadly disease; it’s a painful
one. Who would understand the aches and pains of the Black Death better than
these early Church martyrs who died in excruciating pain?
Saint Eustace was a second century convert to
the faith from paganism before dying a martyr by being burned alive in a bronze
Saint Denis was a third century bishop of Paris
whose success at converting pagans caused him to be arrested, tortured, and
Saint Blaise was a fourth century bishop and
martyr; his most famous miracle involved saving a boy from death who had a
fishbone stuck in his throat.
Saint Erasmus was fourth century bishop and
martyr who was tortured by having his intestines wound around a windlass.
Saint Vitus was a fourth century Christian with
a reputation for being a wonderworker who was executed by being boiled to death
Saint Margaret of Antioch was a virgin-martyr
who may also have been tortured by being thrown into boiling oil; the year of
her death is uncertain, but tradition says that when she survived the burning
oil, she was beheaded.
Saint Barbara was a third century woman who was
killed by her own father with a sword for daring to become a Christian.
Saint Catherine of Alexandria was a fourth
century virgin-martyr who was tortured on a toothed wheel before being killed.
It’s obvious that most of these saints were chosen because
of the pain they endured during martyrdom. What about the others?
Who would know courage in the face of sudden, unexpected
death better than a soldier? Then ask for help from Saint Acacius, a Roman
soldier who was martyred in the early fourth century. Or Saint George, a fourth
century martyr, probably from modern Palestine. Although we don’t have writings
from ancient times indicating that George was also a knight, medieval stories
of his life say that he was, so medieval Catholics would have considered him a
If you’re sick, why not ask Saint Pantaleon, a third century
physician who died a martyr for the faith, for his professional help? If you’re
afraid of a disease that can harm anyone, powerful or poor, why not ask Saint
Christopher? According to tradition, he was a third century martyr who wanted
to serve the greatest king in the world, even serving the devil himself until
he found out that Jesus was even stronger. If you’re afraid of the devil’s
power to cause sickness, why not ask Saint Cyriacus, a fourth century nobleman-turned-deacon
who performed exorcisms before he was martyred?
The only saint among the Fourteen Holy Helpers who was not
an early Church martyr is Saint Giles. He was an eighth century hermit who was
crippled by an injury, yet he became known as a wonderworker during his own
lifetime through his prayers. After his death, the monastery built in his name
became a famous shrine for the handicapped and poor.
Medieval Catholics knew that they were in a great battle
with a silent killer, a disease that not only robbed them of their loved ones
and their lives, but which created great fear, suffering, and hopelessness. They
responded by begging God for help, particularly through faithful saints who
could relate to their own current problems. They took courage from the example
of saints of great courage and recognized that the rich and the poor, the young
and the old, the healthy and the sick—all men and women—were in a bigger battle
than the one with a physical illness.
In the end, they recognized that their lives were in God’s
hands and that, whether life seemed certain or uncertain, the goal of very
Christian is to end up with Him and in the company of the saints.