The last and worst persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was carried out by Diocletian in the 300’s. Thousands died for their faith. Saint Irenaeus was the bishop in what is present-day Yugoslavia. Irenaeus was born around the year 125. He knew Polycarp who had studied with the apostles. His writings began the foundations of Christian theology.
Irenaeus served as a priest under the first bishop of Lyon. He was not martyred during the persecution in Lyons. He wrote five books which explain how the heresy of the gnostics was different than the faith. Gnostics believe the world was made by an imperfect spirit.
In 304 he was brought before the governor of his province. He was told to sacrifice to the Roman gods or die. He was given the unusual sentence of being drowned in the city’s river. Saint Irenaeus complained it would be too easy of a death. He said he would like to suffer more for his faith. This angered the governor, who had Irenaeus beheaded and then his body was thrown in the river.
Aloysius Gonzaga was the oldest in his family, born March 9, 1568. He was born at his family’s castle in Northern Italy. As the oldest son, he would have inherited his father’s title as Marquis. His father assumed Aloysius would grow up to become a soldier. That was what was expected as the oldest son. He started his military training when he was four. He also learned languages and arts. When he was 8, he and his brother were sent to serve in the court and study more. While he was there, he became ill. While he was ill, he read about the saints and spent time in prayer. He may have taken his first vow when he was 9.
He returned home where he met Cardinal Charles Borromeo. Aloysius received his first communion from the Cardinal when he was 12. Aloysius felt he wanted to become a missionary. He began teaching classes, visiting friars and began living a simple life. By March of 1582, Aloysius wanted to join a religious order. His mother agreed, but his father was furious. In July 1584, Aloysius still wanted to become a priest. His family worked hard to convince him to change his mind. They couldn’t change his mind, so they tried to talk him into being a diocesan priest. If he were a priest in a religious order, he would give up his inheritance. His family failed. Aloysius wanted to become a missionary.
In November 1585, Aloysius gave up all rights of his inheritance. He was accepted into the Society of Jesus. The Society of Jesus is known as the Jesuits. He was asked to be more social with the other members. He was still in ill health. Two years later he took vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. In late 1590, he has a vision of the Archangel Gabriel. Gabriel told him he would die within the year.
In 1591, a plague broke out in Rome. The Jesuits opened a hospital. Aloysius began working with the poor and sick. So many Jesuits became ill, the superiors forbid them from continuing. Aloysius continued and asked permission to return. He was eventually allowed to continue. Aloysius became ill. He spoke to his priest, Robert Bellarmine several times. Aloysius had a vision. Gabriel said he would die on the octave of the feast of Corpus Christi. On June 21, 1591, he grew weak and died. He was 23 years old. On December 31, 1729, Pope Benedict XIII declared him a saint along with Stanislaus Kostka. He is the patron saint of youth. His feast day is June 21.
Saint Anthony of Padua was born near Lisbon, Portugal, August 15, 1195. He was christened with the name Fernando Martins of Bulhoes. His parents were wealthy, lesser nobility. So he was educated at the local Catholic school. When he was 15, he joined the Augustinians. In 1212, he was transferred to an Abbey further away from his home. While there, he studied theology and Latin.
He was ordained a priest around this time. A small group of Franciscan arrived near his abbey. They settled into a hermitage and lived based on the teachings of Saint Anthony of Egypt. He was drawn to their lifestyle. After the first Franciscans were martyred for their faith, he petitioned to join the Franciscan order. When he joined the order he changed his name to Anthony. He started to travel to Morocco but turned back when he became ill. The ship he was on was blown off course and landed in Sicily, Italy.
From Sicily, he traveled to Tuscany and was assigned to a convent. He was sent to a cell in a nearby cave. He spent his time in prayer and study. In 1222, at an ordination, there was a misunderstanding over who would be preaching. The Franciscans expected a Dominican would preach. The Dominicans expected a Franciscan would. The head of the convent asked Anthony. The abbot asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit put into his mouth. Anthony objected but was overruled. Everyone was impressed. He was sent to Francis of Assisi. Francis distrusted the study of theology. He was thought it might cause the friars to abandon poverty. Anthony understood Francis’s vision. In 1224, Francis trusted Anthony to teach his friars. Anthony was a great preacher. Once when he tried to preach and people wouldn’t listen, he preached to fish. He wasn’t teaching the fish, but for God’s glory.
According to a story, Anthony had a book of psalms. This book had notes he used for teaching. This was before the invention of the printing press. Books were very valuable. Someone took the book. Anthony prayed it would be found or returned. The book was returned to Anthony.
In 1231, Anthony became ill with ergotism. Ergotism, is also known as Saint Anthony’s fire. It is a poisoning which comes from a fungus in rye grain. He died on June 13, 1231. He was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX, in 1232. He was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in January 1946. He is the patron saint for recovering lost things, lost people and the poor.
Saint Boniface was a leader in taking the faith from Anglo-Saxon England to France, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and western Germany in the 700’s. He helped shape Christianity in Western Europe.
Boniface’s birth name was Winfrid. It is believed he was born around 675, near Devon, England. Because he came from a wealthy family, while young, he attended a monastery school. He received more training at the Benedictine monastery. He taught at the abbey school until at age 30 he became a priest.
In 716, the abbot of his monastery died. It was expected that he would become the abbot. Instead, he decided to take a missionary trip to what is now the Netherlands. He was in his 40’s and gave up a safe life, to become a missionary in sometimes dangerous foreign lands. He spent a year where Willibrord, had been working since the 690’s. When a war broke out there, Willibrord returned to the abbey he had begun and Boniface returned home in defeat.
The next year Boniface returned to the European continent. He went straight to Rome. He asked Pope Gregory II for a mission and church support. The pope gave him the name Boniface. He is named after a martyr Boniface of Tarsus. He also appointed Boniface as a missionary to Germany. He became a bishop without a diocese because the Church there had no organization yet. He would never go to England again.
One story says Boniface chopped down a tree the German pagans worshiped to Thor. As he started to chop, a sudden burst of wind, a miracle, blew the ancient tree down. The tree split into four parts which fell to the ground in the shape of a cross. The pagan god didn’t strike Boniface down. The people became Christians. He used the wood from the tree to build a chapel named for Saint Peter.
He was good at starting new churches. He was asked to continue to help reform the Church. He sent many letters to the Pope in Rome. It helped him reform the Church in Germany. It helped form a strong bond between Rome and Europe.
When Boniface was 73, he was going back to the Netherlands on a new mission. He and his companions were attacked by enemy bandits. His companions wanted to fight back. Boniface told them to trust God. All were martyred.
Justin opened a school of philosophy in Rome. He studied the works of Aristotle, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Stoics. Then Justin discovered Christ. He didn’t think loving Christ should make him give up his scholarship.
Justin was born around the year 100. His parents were wealthy pagans. He was from Palestine. Justin received a great education. He learned poetry, history, and philosophy, especially Plato.
One day he was walking alone trying to picture what God was really like. He met a man who told him if he wanted to learn more about God, he should read the Hebrew prophets, who had lived before any of the philosophers. Those prophets prophecies had been fulfilled in their age in the person of Jesus Christ.
Justin became a Christian around the year 130. He spend the rest of his life teaching and writing about Christian faith. At this time most Christians were ok being misrepresented to protect the sacred mysteries from being profaned. Most people knew very little about the beliefs of Christianity. Justin believed more people would embrace Christianity if they only knew what Christians believed. He openly talked about the faith. He even wrote about what took place at Christian’s secret meetings. Justin never became a priest. He was a philosopher talking with people. He had debates with pagans, heretics, and Jews. In Rome, he began a school and with a cynic named Crescens. Justin made Crescens look ignorant.
Crescens then helped turn Justin over to the authorities. Justin had already sent letters to the Emperor and Roman Senate condemning them for persecuting Christians. He was brought to the local authorities in 165. He boldly confessed his faith and was scourged and beheaded.
Justin is considered both a martyr and a Father of the Church. Saint Justin was the first to defend the faith against non-Christians and enemies of the Church.