Saints to Accompany Us in Illness and Disability

Each CUSA Group has a patron saint that it invokes every time a member of the group writes a letter.  These patrons were selected by the Administrator, the Group Leader and the members of the group themselves.  Over the years, CUSANS have looked especially to some of the men and women who have been recently canonized and recognized as Saints and Blesseds.  The very first group invoked the patronage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as its patron.  Mrs. Brunner, our foundress had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and placed the apostolate under the protection of our Blessed Mother.  Several other groups have followed suit and invoked our Lady under the various titles by which she is venerated in the Church.  This is especially true of Our Lady of Lourdes.  The Church celebrates a World Day of Prayer for the Sick on February 11 of each year.  The Holy Father usually offers all the sick of the world a letter which focuses our attention on the providential care that God offers all who bear the cross of chronic illness and/or disability.  We continue to pray to Our Blessed Mother and ask her to intercede for us with her Son, using especially the prayer commonly called "The Memorare."

REMEMBER, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored our help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to you do I come; before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me.  Amen.

St. Julianna of Nicomedia - Sickness and Bodily Illness

St. Juliana of Nicomedia (c. 270 A.D.) was the daughter of noble pagan parents, born in Nicomedia, a Greek city in ancient Turkey. While her father was hostile to Christians, Juliana secretly accepted baptism. Her father arranged her marriage to a pagan nobleman and Roman senator. When the time for her wedding came, Juliana refused her consent to be married unless her betrothed converted to the Christian faith. Her father retaliated by mercilessly abusing her, but Juliana would not give in. Her betrothed then denounced her as a Christian before the tribunal under the persecutions of Roman Emperor Diocletian. St. Juliana was unwavering in her faith, even after the devil himself appeared to tempt her during her sufferings. She was then publicly tortured by being burned, boiled in oil, and finally beheaded. Some accounts say she died together with St. Barbara. Many were converted to the Christian faith upon witnessing her fortitude in the face of her tortures. St. Juliana is the patron saint of sickness and bodily ills. Her feast day is February 16th.

St. Dymphna - Mental Illness, Neurological Disorders

According to tradition, Saint Dymphna was born in Ireland in the 7th century, the daughter of a King. After the death of the queen, the king’s mental health sharply deteriorated, and he subsequently murdered Saint Dymphna in his state of mental illness.

Not long after her martyrdom, Saint Dymphna’s relics were moved to a church where people experiencing mental illness began to flock for the intercession and healing from the sainted martyr who herself had been a victim of a person suffering from mental illness. She has become the patron saint of the nervous, emotionally troubled, mentally ill, and those who suffer neurological disorders - and, consequently, of psychologists, psychiatrists, and neurologists.

Blessed Margaret of Castello - Birth Defects

Blessed Margaret of Castello (1287–1320) is an Italian Roman Catholic Church patron of the poor, disabled, and the unwanted.  She was born blind, lame, deformed, hunchbacked and a dwarf, into a family of nobles in the castle of Metola, in southeast of Florence.  Soon after she was born a kindly maid took her in and gave her the name of Margaret meaning "Pearl".  After nearly being discovered, her parents Parisio and Emilia imprisoned her for 13 years so no one would see her, though she could attend Mass and receive the sacraments.  When she was 20 her parents took her to a shrine in Castello, where miracles were reportedly being wrought, to pray for a cure for her birth defects.  When no miracle happened, they abandoned her.  The poor of the city took her in as one of their own. She lived in prayer and charity, helping the poor and prisoners.  When she died at the age of 33, crowds at her funeral demanded she be buried inside the church. After a disabled girl was miraculously cured at the funeral, the priest allowed Margaret's burial inside.

In 1558, Margaret's remains were transferred because her coffin was rotten. Her clothes were also rotten, but her body was preserved. She was beatified on October 19, 1609 by Pope Paul V. Her canonization is pending.

St. Albert the Great - Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia

Albertus Magnus (1206-1280), a German Dominican Bishop, was canonized by Pius XI in 1931.  Speaking of him, Pius XI recognized him as a great writer whose works in addition to those on theology and philosophy, included writings on botany, mineralogy, astronomy, physics, chemistry, anthropology, cosmography, as well as many other subject.  His contemporaries used to say of him that he knew everything there was to know.  He wrote about and categorized 114 different species of birds and of various aquatic animals and reptiles.  His grasp of science was astounding and clearly made him one of the most learned men of the Middle Ages.  However, his mental acuity did not last until his death.  As an elderly man, he was confined to sitting in a chair silently while his confreres engaged in scholarly pursuits and conversation around him.  Perhaps he suffered a stroke which left him speechless.  Though it was not known as Alzheimer’s Disease at the time, he might have suffered from dementia of one kind or another.  So today he stands as an example of someone whose elder years robbed him of his academic ability.  To the long list of people for whom he is a patron (medical technicians, natural scientists, philosophers, scientists of all stripes, and students), we can add those who suffer from the various forms of dementia that afflict millions of elderly people today.

St. Alphonsus Ligouri - Rheumatoid Arthritis

At the age of seventy-eight, St. Alphonsus, bishop of the diocese of Sant’Agata dei Goti, wrote to Pope Clement XIII, begging to be relieved of his duties as bishop since he was no longer to tend to the needs of his flock:

“I am in extreme old age. . .  I have many infirmities which warn me that death is near.  I suffer from the weakness of the chest which several times has reduced me to the last extremities, and palpitations of the heart . . .  At present I am suffering from such constant headaches that sometimes they make me like one deprived of his faculties.  My hearing fails me so that it is difficult to hear confessions.  I am paralyzed to such an extent that I can no longer write a line.  With difficulty I sign my name . . . I am become so crippled that I can no longer take a step and have need of two assistants to help me.”

The crippling condition of which St. Alphonsus writes is believed to have been rheumatoid arthritis.  His head was bent so far forward that his chin rested on his chest which in turn caused a terrible sore. 

He wrote more than 100 books on spirituality and theology.  He found the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, commonly called the “Redemptorists.”  Today we invoke his name to intercede for all who suffer from arthritis of any kind.

St. Anna Schaffer - Burn Victim

Anna Schäffer's father, a carpenter, died at the age of 40, leaving his family in great poverty. Anna dropped out of school and worked as a maid from the age of fourteen, hoping eventually to be able to enter a religious order.  But with family obligations she could barely make ends meet. In 1898, she had a vision from Christ that she was destined to endure long and painful suffering.On February 4, 1901, while working at a laundry, Schäffer slipped and fell while reattaching a stovepipe and boiled her legs in the washing machine.  She was taken to hospital, but nothing could be done about the painful burns.  More than thirty surgical operations followed, and the wounds had to be carefully dressed, which also caused much pain. Despite the constant care of her doctor, Dr. Waldin, skin grafts did not succeed and Schäffer became completely immobile. She was therefore forced to abandon her longtime dream of entering a religious order.  Her mother was to care for her until the end of her life.

Schäffer never lost her optimism and became even more devoted to her faith while ongoing constant suffering. She was often unable to sleep, but continued to express her adoration of Christ and her veneration of Mary. She had a special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A local abbot would bring her the Eucharist daily. She wrote: "I cannot write by pen how happy I am every time after Holy Communion. Ah, I forget my earthly suffering and the longing of my poor soul draws me every moment to adore my God and Saviour hidden in the Blessed Sacrament!"She considered her suffering, her writing, and her ability to knit clothes for her friends the three "keys" by which she could enter Heaven. Her beatific attitude made her a beloved figure in town and people would often visit her to hear her comforting words of faith.  A French writer says of her that "those who were the most prejudiced against Anna did not fail to be impressed by her patience and her kindness." Even her irreligious brother eventually came to her support.In 1925, she contracted colon cancer, and her paralysis spread to her spine, making it difficult to speak or write. On the morning of October 5, she received her final Holy Communion, and suddenly spoke: "Jesus, I live for you!"   She died minutes later.  At her funeral many already believed that they had known a saint.  She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 21, 2012.

St. Camillus de Lellis - Open Sores, Chronic Renal and Stomach Illnesses

Saint Camillus de Lellis began life as a soldier following in his father’s footsteps.  He saw action at Lepanto, Dalmatia and Africa.  During this time he developed an ulcerated leg for which he sought treatment in the Hospital of St. James in Rome.  After his release from the hospital, he began work as a stonemason which him into contact with the Capuchin Franciscans.  They counseled him in a complete reform of his life.  He tried to enter religious life on two occasions, but his ulcerated leg kept him from making his vows.  He once again sought treatment at the Hospital of St. James where he also joined in caring for other patients.  He became so disillusioned with those who were charged with the care of the sick that he decided to establish an Order whose members were to bind themselves by a fourth vow, to the charitable care of the sick and dying.  In addition to his diseased leg, the Saint also endured a painful rupture, frequent renal difficulties, and stomach pains.   Despite his multiple chronic illnesses, he completed his studies for the priesthood and spent his time visiting the various institutions of the sick and dying that his Order had established throughout Italy.  The symbol of the “red cross” with which we are so familiar today was first used by St. Camillus when he founded the Order of the Ministers of the Sick.  Camillus de Lellis was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746.  He is the patron saint of the sick, of nurses, and of hospitals.

St. Teresa of Los Andes - Patron of Young People, A Letter Writer

One needn’t live a long life to leave a deep imprint.  St. Teresa of Los Andes is proof of that.

As a young girl growing up in Santiago, Chile, in the early 1900s, she read an autobiography of a French-born saint — Thérèse, popularly known as the Little Flower.  The experience deepened her desire to serve God and clarified the path she would follow.  At age 19 she became a Carmelite nun, taking the name of Teresa.The convent offered the simple lifestyle Teresa desired and the joy of living in a community of women completely devoted to God.  

She focused her days on prayer and sacrifice. “I am God’s,” she wrote in her diary.  “He created me and is my beginning and my end.”Toward the end of her short life, Teresa began an apostolate of letter-writing, sharing her thoughts on the spiritual life with many people.  

At age 20 she contracted typhus and quickly took her final vows.  She died a short time later, during Holy Week.Teresa remains popular with the estimated 100,000 pilgrims who visit her shrine in Los Andes each year.  She is Chile’s first saint.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, OFM Conv - Patron of Drug Addicts

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish Conventual Franciscan Friar who gave his life in exchange for a fellow prisoner's in the German concentration camp known as Auschwitz during World War II.  He is regarded as a martyr of charity for his sacrifice.   He was also known for popularizing the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin Mary whose feast day coincides with the foundation of CUSA.  He was beatified by Pope Paul VI and canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1982.  Among his writings we find the following which is very much in keeping with the philosophy and spirit of CUSA.  "You must be prepared for periods of darkness, anxiety, doubts, fears, of temptations that are sometimes very, very insistent, of sufferings of the body and, what is a hundredfold more painful, of the soul.  For if there were nothing to bear, for what would you go to heaven?  If there were no trials, there would be no struggle.  Without a struggle, victory would be impossible, and without victory, there is no crown, no reward. . .  So be prepared from now on for everything."  In his youth, Fr. Maximilian suffered from tuberculosis which made it impossible for him to continue his work as a teacher of youth.  

St. Servulus of Rome - Patron of People with Disabilities, especially Cerebral Palsy

According to St. Gregory the Great (b. 540 d. 12 March 604), Servulus was a beggar in Rome. He was born with cerebral palsy, and lived on alms he solicited from people passing St. Clement's Church. He spent his lifetime giving thanks to God for His goodness, despite the squalor and difficulty of his life. It is Saint Gregory the Great who narrates this story: "We have seen under the porch of the Church of Saint Clement, a poor man named Servulus, who is known to all the people of Rome as to us. He was deprived of all the goods of this world; a long illness had reduced him to a pitiful state. From his youth he was paralyzed in all his members. Not only could he not stand up, but he was unable to rise from his bed; he could neither sit down nor turn himself from one side to the other, nor bring his hand to his mouth.  This unfortunate man, who had learned the mysteries of religion, meditated unceasingly on the sufferings of the Savior, and never did he complain. He was surrounded by the loving care of his mother and brother. Neither the mother nor the children had ever studied, yet the paralytic had pious books bought for himself, in particular the Psalms and the Holy Gospels, and he would ask the religious who came to visit him on his cot to read from them to him. In this way he learned these books by heart; he spent days and part of the nights in singing or reciting them, and meditating them.  When the time came which was decreed by God to reward his patience and put an end to his painful life, Servulus felt the paralysis spreading to the vital parts of his body, and he prepared for death. At the final moment, he asked those in attendance to recite Psalms with him. Suddenly he cried out: 'Ah! Hush! Don't you hear that melody resounding in Heaven?' At that moment his soul escaped from his body, which until his burial gave forth a marvelous fragrance." The devout beggar of St. Clement's was buried in the very church where he had begged. An altar in the back of the church still contains the 6th century relics of St. Servulus.

St. Germaine Cousin - Patron Saint of People with Disabilities

Saint Germaine Cousin was born in 1579 in Pibrac, a small village not far from Toulouse, France. From her earliest years she was a frail, sickly child, and throughout her life was afflicted with scrofula, a tubercular condition affecting particularly the glands of the neck. In addition, her right arm and hand were deformed and partially paralyzed. In spite of her many afflictions, the emaciated child possessed a charming, sweet disposition. Germaine endured not only bodily sufferings, but harsh, cruel treatment from her stepmother, who had a deep aversion for the little girl. The child was almost starved to death and obliged to sleep in the barn on a pile of leaves and twigs under the stairway. At break of day, summer and winter, she would drive the sheep into the fields to graze, then watch them until evening. She had to spin during this time, and if the allotted wool was not spun, she was severely punished.

The village children, not sharing the hostility of the adults toward this forlorn child, loved to listen to her speak about the goodness and love of God while she guarded her flock. The only instruction Germaine ever received was the catechism taught after Sunday Mass in the village church, which she attended with joy. During the long hours of solitude she spent in the fields and in the stable at night, she remained in sweet communion with God, and never complained of her hard life.

Every morning she was at Mass, and afterwards went to kneel before Our Lady’s shrine. To reach the church she had to cross what was ordinarily a small stream; but after a heavy rain it would become a raging torrent. Several times at those moments, the villagers were amazed to see the rushing waters separate when Germaine approached, and then to watch her cross on dry land. When she left her sheep to go to church, she would place her staff upright in the ground, and the sheep never went far from it. One day the stepmother was seen pursuing Germaine as she drove the sheep down the road. She was accusing the girl of having stolen some bread and concealing it in her apron. When Germaine unfolded her apron, fragrant flowers, foreign to that region, fell to the ground.

Germaine died one night in the year 1601, at the age of twenty-one, and was buried as was the custom in those days, in the village church. Forty-three years later, when a relative was to be buried near her and the stones were removed, the grave-digger found to his amazement, the body of a beautiful young girl in a state of perfect preservation. His pick had struck her nose, and the wound was bleeding. Some of the older residents identified the girl as Germaine Cousin. Miracle after miracle occurred, and in 1867 the neglected little waif of Pibrac was inscribed in the list of Saints by Pope Pius IX. Annually thousands of pilgrims visit the church of Pibrac, where the relics of Saint Germaine are enshrined.

Excerpted from Heavenly Friends: a Saint for each Day, by Rosalie Marie Levy