Patron Saint of African Americans – Benedict the Moor

Benedict the Moor O.F.M. was born in 1526, to Cristoforo and Diana Manasseri, Africans who were taken as slaves in the early 16th century near Messina, Sicily. They were given Italian names and later converted to Christianity. Because of his appearance, Benedict was also called Æthiops or Niger, both referring to black skin color and not the modern-day countries.

Benedict’s parents were granted freedom for their son before his birth because of their “loyal service”. Like most peasants, Benedict did not attend any school and was illiterate. During his youth, he worked as a shepherd and gave what he earned to the poor. When he was 21 years old, he was publicly insulted for his color. His patient and dignified bearing at this time were noted by the leader of hermits on nearby Monte Pellegrino, who followed the Rule for hermit life written by Francis of Assisi. Benedict was quickly invited to join that community.  Soon after he,  gave up all his earthly possessions and joined them. He served as the cook for the community and at the age of twenty-eight succeeded Jerome Lanze as leader of the group.

In 1564 Pope Pius IV disbanded independent communities of hermits, ordering them to attach themselves to an established religious Order, in this case, the Order of Friars Minor. Once a friar of the Order, Benedict was assigned to Palermo to the Franciscan Friary of St. Mary of Jesus. He started at the friary as a cook, but, showing his advanced spiritual life, he was soon appointed as the Master of novices, and later as Guardian of the community, although he was a lay brother rather than a priest, and was illiterate.Benedict accepted the promotion and successfully helped the order adopt a stricter version of the Franciscan Rule of life. He was widely respected for his deep, intuitive understanding of theology and Scripture.  He has often sought for counseling. He also had a reputation as a healer of the sick. These characteristics continued to draw many visitors to him. As he enjoyed cooking, he returned to kitchen duty in his later years Benedict died at the age of 65, April 4, 1589, on the very day and hour which he had predicted. Benedict was beatified by Pope Benedict XIV in 1743 and canonized in 1807 by Pope Pius VII. Benedict is remembered for his patience and understanding when confronted with racial prejudice and taunts. He was declared a patron saint of African Americans, along with the Dominican lay brother, Martin de Porres. I