Saint Heron And Other Black Saints You Probably Never Heard Of
November is known for Thanksgiving and the official kickoff to holiday shopping but it’s also Black Catholic History Month. While much isn’t known about Black Catholics, they have a long history of contributions to the Church and the religion. Recently, singer Solange named her compilation album after Saint Heron, an Egyptian martyr. Here are some other lesser-known Black saints.
St. Benedict the Moor
Born a slave near Messina, Italy, St. Benedict the Moor was freed by his masters and eventually settled in Monte Pellegrino, Italy. Before an uprise that led to reform catapulted St. Benedict to serve as superior of the St. Mary convent, he cooked for the parish. Many were excited by the prospect of seeing a former cook and would flock to see the saint who had a reputation for miracles. St. Benedict died at the convent and was canonized in 1807, becoming the Patron Saint for Blacks in the U.S.
St. Augustine (Augustine of Hippo)
While there are disputes as to whether St. Augustine was Black, we do know he was African. Viewed as one of the most important and influential Church Fathers of his time, St. Augustine first learned about God and Christianity from his mother, Monica. Born in Tegaste, Africa (present day Algeria) in 384, St. Augustine was highly educated and was considered a genius after having studied in Africa, the University of Carthage, and Rome. He lived an austere life and performed great acts of mortification and penance, but St. Augustine made a profound impact on the Early Church. Having written over a thousand letters and sermons and more than 250 books, St. Augustine is perhaps best known for two of his more popular works, “Confessions” and “City of God,” both of which are still read to this day.
St. Josephine Bakhita
Kidnapped from her home in Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was sold into slavery as a little girl. After being subjected to a series of different slave owners who would torture and beat her, Bakhita was sold to an Italian diplomat when she was 14 years old. It was around this time that she was introduced to Christianity by the Sisters of Charity in Venice. Bakhita refused to return to Africa with the diplomat when he and his family relocated and remained at the convent serving as the cook, seamstress, sacristan, and doorkeeper for the next 50 years until her death in 1947. St. Josephine Bakhita is the first African woman to be canonized as a saint by the Church in the 21st century.
Maurice was born in an ancient city near Egypt 250 years after Jesus Christ. He worked his way up through the ranks of the Roman Army, eventually becoming a general. As the leader of the Thebes Legion, Maurice and his army of six thousand African men were ordered to fight against a rebellion threatening the empire but after learning his ‘enemies’ were Christians, he and his men refused. In return, the emperor executed Maurice and most of his men. He became the Patron Saint of southern Germany and parts of France, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.
St. Monica (Monica of Hippo)
Outside of the Virgin Mary herself, perhaps no other mother had more influence on the Early Church than St. Monica. The mother of St. Augustine, one of the greatest theologians the Church has ever seen, Monica has been honored by the Roman Catholic Church for her devout Christian virtues and for her tireless devotion to her son, who wrote about her numerous pious acts as part of his famous book, “Confessions.” Christian legend claims St. Monica wept every night for her son and the “weeping” springs in Santa Monica, CA are named after her.
St. Martín de Porres
Born in Lima, Peru to a Spanish nobleman and a freed slave, Martín de Porres’ father abandoned his family after the saint’s sister was born. Forced into a life of poverty, de Porres showed signs of modesty, charity, and humility for the poor. Because his African descent barred him from becoming a full member of the religious order, de Porres started out as a monastery volunteer, who performed menial tasks until he eventually became a Dominican Brother. Martín de Porres founded a hospital and an orphanage and ministered to the hundreds of people from Africa that were forced into slavery in the new western world. St. Martin is both the Patron Saint of Peru and of the poor.
St. Moses the Black
St. Moses the Black was a slave of an Egyptian government official who was dismissed after he was suspected of theft and murder. Joining a gang of roaming criminals, Moses eventually became their leader helping spread violence and terror across the Nile Valley. It was during an attempted robbery when Moses was found hiding out with some monks in a colony that convinced him to give up his criminal life. Hiding out in the desert, his old gang found him and tried to revert Moses back to his old ways but it was Moses who converted them. Moses was killed at the age of 75 when he refused to fight against a band of bandits that broke into the monastery.
St. Peter Claver
Born into a wealthy, African family in Spain, St. Peter Claver chose to live a life serving the less fortunate. Following in the footsteps of his predecessor and mentor, Father Alonso de Sandoval, Claver devoted his life to serving slaves by meeting the ships from Africa on the docks in Columbia. Ministering to those with leprosy, Claver also baptized and comforted the downtrodden. Throughout his unwavering service, he touched more than 50 thousand African slaves and baptized more than 300,00 people. The Knights of Peter Claver was founded in his memory.
St. Bessarion the Great
St. Bessarion was born in Egypt but as he got older, he set out to lead the life of a wanderer and decided to live in the desert as a hermit. Credited for performing many miracles, Bessarion once converted salt water into sweet water simply by making the sign of the cross so he and his disciples could quench their thirst. He infamously brought rain during a particularly long drought and even reportedly walked across the Nile River.
St. Antonio Vieira
An African born in Portugal, Antonio Vieira found his calling at an early age. At 12 years old, Vieira became a Jesuit novice. He continued his studies and became a professor of rhetoric and dogmatic theology. Eventually making his way to Brazil, Vieira fought against discrimination against Jewish merchants. He strived to abolish slavery and worked tirelessly to help the poor. Two hundred years after his death, St. Antonio Vieira was canonized.
St. Anthony (Anthony the Great)
Born in Egypt to wealthy land-holding parents, St. Anthony inherited the land and his unmarried sister at the age of 18 after his parents passed away. Soon after, Anthony sold all of his property, gave the fortune away to the poor, sent his sister to a nunnery, and eventually became Father of Monks. Many would often pray to St. Anthony to cure infectious diseases, specifically skin afflictions. Several skin diseases, including ergotism, erysipelas, and shingles, were even known as St. Anthony’s fire.
St. Pierre Toussaint
Born and raised as a Haitian slave, Pierre Toussaint’s owners fled to New York to escape uprising. Toussaint became an apprentice under one of the city’s leading hairdressers. When his owner died, Toussaint took care of his widow. To show her appreciation, she in turn set him free. Using his sizable wealth and earnings, he fought against racial and religious discrimination and even opened his home as an orphanage and refuge for travelers. Toussaint passed away at 87 in 1853. He was declared “Venerable” by Pope John Paul II, the second step in canonization.
St. Mary of Egypt
Born in Egypt, Mary left home around the age of 12 and traveled to the city of Alexandria. There she lived a dissolute life. Mary would often refuse money that was offered to her in exchange for sexual favors, instead choosing a diet mainly consisting of flax. Thus, St. Mary of Egypt is known as the Patron of Chastity (warfare against the flesh and deliverance from carnal passion).
St. Julian and Basilissa
St. Julian and Basilissa were married but choose to live a life of chastity together. Opening up their home, the couple used all of their money to help the sick. They converted their home to a hospital, which could hold up to 1,000 patients. Basilissa would tend to the sick women in one part of the house while her husband would minister to the men in another part. While his wife died a holy death years before him, Julian was martyred after he was beheaded.
Born in Egypt, St. Thais was a beautiful woman who made a considerable amount of money working as the world’s oldest profession. She eventually inquired about Christianity and wound up converting, leaving her old life as a prostitute behind. St. Thais gave away all of her money and devoted the rest of her life to Christ. After she was accepted into the Church, St. Thais performed penances for her sins before living among the nuns in the desert.