“Let the little children come unto me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14)
Daughter of Light
What do St. John Vianney, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Peter Eymard, St. Frances Xavier Cabrini and St. Pio of Pietrelcina all have in common? Besides being saints, that is!
They were all devoted to St. Philomena, a mysterious saint whose life and heroic death were not uncovered for a millennia and a half after she died.
St. Philomena (meaning “daughter of light”) lay quietly in her resting place in Rome for over 1,600 years. Then, in His infinite wisdom, God decided it was time to reveal this pearl of great price to the whole world and she made her “debut” in 1802, when the bones of a female between the ages of 13 and 15 were discovered in the catacomb of St. Priscilia.
An inscription near her tomb read "Peace be with thee, Philomena," along with drawings of two anchors, three arrows and a palm. Near her bones was discovered a small glass vial, containing the remains of blood. Because it was a popular custom of the early Christians to leave symbols and signs of martyrdom such as these, it was easily determined that St. Philomena was a virgin and a martyr.
Her popularity soon became widespread, with her most memorable devotees being St. John Vianney, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Peter Eymard, and St. Peter Chanel. After being miraculously cured, Ven. Pauline Jaricot insisted with Pope Gregory XVI to begin the examination for the beatification of St. Philomena, who was to become known as the "wonder worker." After hundreds of other miraculous cures, she was beatified in 1837.
Pope Leo XII granted permission for the erection of altars and churches in her honor. Pope Gregory XVI authorized her public veneration, and named her patroness of the Living Rosary.
The cure of Pope Pius IX, while archbishop of Imola, was attributed to St. Philomena. In 1849, he named her patroness of the Children of Mary. Pope Leo XIII approved the Confraternity of St. Philomena, and raised it to an Archconfraternity. Pope Saint Pius X raised the Archconfraternity to a Universal Archconfraternity, and named St. John Vianney its patron.
St. Philomena holds a special place in the hearts of all America Needs Fatima members, as she was named the Patroness of the Living Rosary and the Patroness of the Children of Mary. She is the only person recognized as a saint solely on the basis of her powerful intercession, and powerful it is! She has come to the aid of countless souls who have turned to her and placed their hope in Our Lord’s words that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Filling in the Blanks
Now, as amazing as the discovery of the saint’s tomb was, there still remained many questions about this saint. Where did she come from? Who were her parents? Why and how did she die? In 1833, she obligingly appeared to Dominican Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù (1799–1875), revealing details about her short life and her heroic death.
According to Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù, St. Philomena told her she was the daughter of a king in Greece who, with his wife, had converted to Christianity in the late third century.
At the age of about 13 she took a vow of consecrated virginity. When the Emperor Diocletian threatened to make war on her father, her father went with his family to Rome to ask for peace.
The Emperor fell in love with the young Philomena and, when she refused to be his wife, he subjected her to a series of torments:
- scourging, from whose effects two angels cured her;
- drowning with an anchor attached to her (two angels cut the rope and raised her to the river bank);
- being shot with arrows, (on the first occasion her wounds were healed; on the second, the arrows turned aside; and on the third, they returned and killed six of the archers, after which, several of the others became Christians).
When her tomb was discovered in 1802, two anchors, three arrows, a palm and an ivy leaf, symbols of her martyrdom, were found on the tiles there.
St. Philomena also revealed to Sr. Maria that her birthday was January 10th, and that her martyrdom occurred on August 10th, which happened to be the exact same date that her relics arrived in Mugnano, Italy, where they remain for veneration to this day.
Favorite of the Cure of Ars
One day, St. John Marie Vianney, Curé of Ars (1876-1859), was given a very special gift from a very special lady. Ven. Pauline Jaricot, foundress of the Living Rosary, she talked to him often about the mysterious Saint of Mugnano and introduced St. Philomena to him formally by giving him one of her relics.
There is not a biography of the Curate of Ars where St. Philomena is not mentioned. In France he was the greatest promoter of her devotion. He had a statue of St. Philomena placed in his parish church, and then built a Basilica in her honor in Ars. This holy man of God, in his characteristic humility, attributed all the miraculous works that occurred in Ars to the intercession of St. Philomena.
It is further recorded that he called St. Philomena the New Light of the Church Militant, a title befitting this little child who, because of her great love for God amidst trial and persecution, is truly a saint for our times.
St. John Vianney commissioned this painting of St. Philomena and it is housed in the Shrine of Ars, France.