Feb 3 | Blessed Stephen Bellesini, Priest
Luigi Bellesini was born in Trent, Italy, on November 25, 1774. He entered the Order at the monastery of San Marco in his native city, taking the name Stephen, and making his profession on May 31, 1794. Following studies in Rome and Bologna, he was forced to return to Trent during the government suppression of religious houses and there completed his theological education. He was ordained priest in 1797. After several years of ministry, principally as a preacher as well as a teacher in the local schools, the monastery in Trent was also ordered closed and Stephen was forced to return to his family home. There he dedicated his energies to teaching the poor children of the city with such remarkable results that his work won the respect of the local authorities, who appointed him Director and Superintendent of all schools of the district.
However, when the opportunity presented itself, he resigned from these offices and secretly made his way to Rome in order to resume his religious life. He was appointed novice master first in Rome, then in Umbria and lastly at Genazzano. The closing years of his life were spent as pastor at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, where he died while ministering to the victims of an epidemic, a martyr of charity, on February 2, 1840. Stephen was beatified by Pius X on December 27, 1904. His remains are venerated in a special chapel dedicated to him at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, Genazzano.
Blessed Stephen is an extraordinary example of fidelity in the face of trials: fidelity to his vocation as an Augustinian and fidelity to the service of God's people, especially the poor and the infirm. His ministry as educator, formator and pastor recommend him in a special way to Augustinians today who share his religious vocation and ministry in challenging times.
Feb 7 | Blessed Anselm Polanco, Bishop & Martyr
Anselm was born in Buenavista de Valdavia (Palencia), Spain, on April 16, 1881. He joined the Augustinians at Valladolid, professing vows in 1897. He was ordained priest in 1904 and served as a teacher of theology and formator of young religious. In 1922 he was named Prior at Valladolid and in 1932 was elected Provincial of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus of the Philippines. While Provincial he was named bishop of Teruel, Spain, in 1935. The following year civil war broke out in the country and the small city of Teruel became one of the sites of greatest struggle. Bishop Anselm was determined not to abandon his people, but rather to remain with them to offer comfort and guidance. On January 8, 1938, clothed in his Augustinian habit and accompanied by a group of priests of his diocese, he was taken prisoner by the occupying forces. He resisted firmly all attempts to have him retract his signature from a letter of the bishops of Spain denouncing before the world, the persecution being inflicted upon the Church in Spain. Together with his Vicar General, Fr. Felipe Ripoll, Bishop Anselm was imprisoned for 13 months. Several days before the end of the war, on February 7, 1939, he was shot at Pont de Molins (Gerona), near the French border. He was beatified by John Paul II on October 1, 1995.
In his life as an Augustinian, Anselm was known as a man of kindly spirit, and a great promoter of unity and harmony - characteristics that served him well also in his brief ministry as bishop. On assuming responsibility for the diocese of Teruel he said, "I have come to give my life for my sheep", and on his episcopal coat of arms placed the words, "I will sacrifice and offer myself for your souls."
Feb 13 | Blessed Christine of Spoleto
Agostina Camozzi was the daughter of a well-known doctor in Ostenso in the Italian province of Como. A graceful and attractive young woman, she married at an early age but within a short time was left widowed. In a second relationship she suffered the loss of her only child, a son. A subsequent marriage left her widowed again, this time at the hands of a jealous rival. In about 1450 Agostina underwent a serious conversion, became an Augustinian Tertiary, and changed her name to that of Christine. Her life now was to be one of penance, prayer, and the works of mercy. She lived in various Augustinian convents, moving from one to another, in order to remain in obscurity as best she could. In 1457 she undertook a pilgrimage with the intention of visiting Assisi, Rome and Jerusalem. Together with another tertiary she arrived in Spoleto in the province of Perugia where she devoted herself to the care of the sick and where she died on February 13, 1458, not yet 30 years of age. Her body was interred in the Church of Saint Nicholas in Spoleto, which at the time belonged to the Augustinians. Her reputation as a woman of holiness and a worker of numerous miracles caused devotion to Christine to spread quickly and widely. Gregory XVI confirmed her cult in 1834, proclaiming her blessed.
Blessed Christine reminds us that even the possession of good and worthy things in life may not bring us the security and happiness we seek. Our certain and dependable hope is in God. Disappointment and misfortune will not defeat us if we are rooted in him.
Feb 16 | Blessed Simon of Cascia, Priest
Simon was born in Cascia, Italy, toward the end of the 13th Century, of the distinguished Fidati family. Initially, he dedicated his energies to the study of the natural sciences, but with a change of heart decided to embrace religious life and to pursue the science of holiness. He entered the Augustinian Order at about the age of 20, and following his formation and studies, became an outstanding preacher and a master of the spiritual life in Italy. His book, The Works of Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, gained a wide readership during the Middle Ages, and his letters reveal his gift as an expert spiritual director. Combined with his acute insights and persuasive style as a preacher, was his love of simplicity and humility in religious life. He refused all honors and titles offered to him, and preferred nothing more than to live a life of contemplation in solitude. Equally persuaded of the importance of obedience, however, he continued to use his gifts in the direct service of others. Simon died in Florence on February 2, 1348, a victim of the pestilence which was devastating Europe at the time. Gregory XVI confirmed his cult in 1833. His remains are now venerated in Basilica of Saint Rita in Cascia.
Simon illustrates the classic principle that one can only give what he has. Attentiveness to his own spiritual growth, expressed through devotion to prayer and contemplation, and combined with a generous willingness to use his talents for others, made Simon a fervent disciple and a zealous apostle.