Saint Of The Month
St. Bernardino of Siena (A.D. 1444)
St. Bernardino was born in the Tuscan town of Massa Marittima, in which his father, a member of the noble Sienese family of Albizeschi, occupied the post of governor. The little boy lost both his parents before he was seven and was entrusted to the care of a maternal aunt and her daughter who gave him a religious training and loved him as though he had been their own child. Upon reaching the age of eleven or twelve he was placed by his uncles at school in Siena, where he passed with great credit through the course of studies.
In 1400 Siena was visited by the plague. Twelve to twenty persons died daily in the famous hospital of Santa Maria della Scala, which found itself bereft of almost all who tended the sick. Bernardino offered to take charge of the establishment, with the help of some other young men whom he had fired with the determination to sacrifice their lives if necessary to aid the sufferers. For four months they worked tirelessly, day and night, under the direction of Bernardino, who, besides nursing the patients and preparing them for death, saw to everything and brought order as well as cleanliness into the hospital. Though several of his companions died, Bernardino escaped the contagion and returned home after the epidemic was over. He was, however, so exhausted by his labours that he fell an easy prey to a fever which laid him low for several months.
Upon his recovery he found that his immediate duty lay close at hand. An aunt named Bartolomea, to whom he was much attached, had become blind as well as bedridden, and to her he devoted himself as he had done to the plague-stricken in the hospital. When, fourteen months later, God called the invalid to Himself, it was in the arms of her nephew that she breathed her last. Free now from all earthly ties, Bernardino set himself by prayer and fasting to learn God's will as to his future. He was lead to enter the Franciscan Order.
During the next twelve years he preached occasionally, but his life was mainly spent in retirement. Gradually, he was being prepared by God for the twofold mission of apostle and reformer. He opened his apostolic career at Milan to which he went as a complete stranger towards the end of 1417, but soon his eloquence and zeal began to attract enormous congregations.
It is impossible to follow him on his missionary journeys, for in them he covered nearly the whole of Italy with the exception of the kingdom of Naples. He travelled always on foot, preached sometimes for three or four consecutive hours and often delivered several sermons on the same day.
In 1430, however, he was obliged to give up missionary work to become vicar general of the friars of the Strict Observance. He accomplished this task with so much wisdom and tact that many convents passed voluntarily and without friction from the Conventual to the Observant rule.
The saint longed to return to this apostolic labours which he regarded as his only vocation, and in 1442 he obtained permission from the pope to resign his office as vicar general. He then resumed his missionary journeys, which led him through the Romagna, Ferrara and Lombardy.
Though obviously dying, he still continued his apostolic work and set out for Naples, preaching as he went. He succeeded in reaching Aquila, but there his strength gave out and he died on the eve of the Ascension, May 20, 1444, in the monastery of Conventuals.
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