Lover Of The Holy Name Of Jesus

Saint Bernardine of Siena

Feast Day: 20th May

If preachers were to choose a patron saint for themselves they could do no better than St. Bernardine of Siena who spent his life preaching the word of God throughout his native Italy.

Born in 1380 to a noble family, he was orphaned at a very early age and brought up by an aunt who greatly loved him, and encouraged his spiritual development. He enjoyed spending time in prayer, serving Mass and especially listening to sermons, which he would memorise and repeat to his friends. He was particularly devoted to Our Lady, whose birthday he shared, and in her honour he fasted every Saturday. Through his love for her he had a great love for the virtue of purity.

Not only was Bernardine a pious young man, he was gifted with energy and initiative as well. He began working in the hospital in Siena where, in 1400, the plague arrived with devastating effects. As many as 20 people a day were dying in the hospital including priests and staff. It was Bernardine, still only 20 years old, who volunteered to take over the management of the hospital, and with the help of 12 young men cared for the patients until the plague had subsided. He escaped the infection but returned home exhausted. Soon afterwards his aunt became ill and he nursed her until her death.

Then he began to look for some direction in his life and through fasting and prayer came to realise what God wanted him to do. He entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained at the age of 24 on September 8, the same date on which he would take his religious habit, make his vows, say his first Mass and preach his first sermon, because of his devotion to Our Lady.

Bernardine proved to have a talent for preaching despite a speech impediment which was miraculously improved through his prayers to Our Lady. He began to travel throughout Italy, on foot following the example of St Francis, and became known as the greatest preacher of his day, attracting huge crowds. He touched the consciences of many people and caused them to reform their lives, make restitution for their wrongdoing, and be reconciled with enemies.

Bernardine's most powerful weapon was his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. It was he who promoted the IHS symbol which was derived from what the Emperor Constantine had seen in 312: the words 'In Hoc Signo' (In This Sign) appeared with a cross and the first two letters of the name of Christ in Greek in the sky before he won a decisive battle and Bernardine displayed the IHS against a background of a blazing sun. Everywhere he preached this symbol was displayed and it became the rallying point for his followers.

In 1438 he became Vicar General of the Order and during his term of office encouraged strict observance of the Franciscan Rule, emphasising scholarship and the study of theology and canon law. So attractive was his preaching and personality that his branch of the Order flourished with the number of friars increasing from 300 to 4000. After five years he asked to be allowed to return to the work he loved best. It was during a preaching mission in 1444 that he became ill of a fever. He died at the age of 64.

Since Bernardine of Siena was such an effective preacher that we should ask him to pray for all preachers and to help them to realise how powerful their role can be when supported by a life of prayer and penance. What does Bernardine have to say to us today? He would urge us lead lives of purity, to love and reverence the Holy Name of Jesus, and to be loving children to Our Blessed Mother.

St. Bernardine of Siena, pray for us.