St. Benedict the Moor

Author: Berchmans Bittle, O.F.M.Cap.


Feast: April 4

Benedict was born of Negro parents who were slaves on an estate near Messina, Sicily. Though of the lowest social rank, they possessed true nobility of heart and mind. As a baby Benedict was freed by his master and as a young boy he showed such a devout and gentle disposition that he was called the "holy Moor." While working in the fields one day some neighbors taunted him on account of his race and parentage. His meek demeanor greatly impressed a Franciscan hermit who was passing by and who uttered the prophetic words: "You ridicule a poor Negro now; before long you will hear great things of him." Wishing to join these hermits Benedict sold his meager belongings and gave the proceeds to the poor and then entered the community. After the death of the superior, Benedict was chosen his successor, though greatly against his will. When Pope Pius IV ordered all hermits to disband or join some Order, Benedict became a Friar Minor of the Observance at Palermo, and was made a cook. He was happy in this work since it enabled him to perform many little acts of kindness toward the others. His brethren were greatly edified by the saintly cook, especially when they saw angels at times helping him in his work. The Chapter of 1578 made him guardian, or superior, of the friary, though he protested that he was not a priest, in fact could neither read nor write. He was a model superior, however, and won the esteem and obedience as well as the love of his subjects. As superior he gave free rein to his love for the poor, and no matter how openhanded he was, the food never seemed to give out. After serving as superior he was made novice master, and to this difficult post he brought gifts that were evidently infused: he was able to instruct with an amazing knowledge of theology and to read the hearts of others. At his request he was relieved of his office and again made cook, but he was no longer an obscure Brother, for thousands flocked to the friary, seeking cures or alms or counsel and help. He died after a brief illness, having foretold the hour of his death. His veneration has spread throughout the world, and the Negroes of North America have chosen him their patron.

Taken from "A Saint A Day" by Berchman's Bittle, O.F.M.Cap. published by The Bruce Publishing Company, (c) 1958.