Four saints with laughably ridiculous names

Melissa Keating

If the Church is a hospital for sinners, then these saints are the foreign night-shift nurses whose name you can’t pronounce. They’re dedicated, they love you, and you can’t help but giggle every time you hear their name come over the PA system.

Paging St. Abakerazum!

Paging St. Abakerazum!

Much like my analogy, our spiritual lives would fall apart if these saints weren’t there to inspire us. Because despite the overwhelming urge to laugh every time we pray for their intercession, we have to admit that they love us more than we could ever imagine.

All you holy men and women, weirdly-named angels and saints of God, pray for us!

1.St. Hilarius

Pope HilariusSt. Hilarius ironically appears to be one of the holiest buzzkills in Church history. He was a pope, so he wrote encyclicals — but they were about discipline. He convoked a synod — to discuss hierarchical titles and property sales. He fought some heresies, which is cool, but the heresies weren’t even interesting. All told, I honestly would have had more fun  listening to a pair of Dockers tell me about their food allergies than I did reading his biography. He was basically the Ordinary Time of people.

And yet…his name is Hilarius. The most coma-inducing saint in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” is a homonym for something that causes unadulterated joy.

That, my friends, is truly hilarious.

2. Polycarp

Saint Polycarp with Pokemon

Pro tip: This makes an amazing lockscreen.

In addition to coming devastatingly close to being named after a Pokemon, St. Polycarp was the bishop Symrna and an apostle of St. John the Evangelist. (Maybe I should have led with that?) Anyway, he was connected to just about every important person in the early Church. He even kissed St. Ignatius of Antioch‘s chains as the latter was led to his martyrdom. He was known throughout the ancient world for his love of Christ, hatred of heresy, and gentleness towards sinners.

His most endearing trait, though, was his sass. According to “The Golden Legend”, he once met a notorious heretic in the street and tried to brush by him. “Do you not know me?” asked the heretic. “Yes,” said St. Polycarp. “I know you as the first-born of Satan.” SASS.

The Smyrnian state officials began to persecute everyone who refused to worship the state gods. St. Polycarp refused (SASS), and was condemned to be burned to death. His persecutors wanted to nail him to the stake, but he told them not to bother. (SASS). So they set him on fire.

Then something miraculous happened. St. Polycarp didn’t burn (SASS).  Instead, he began to glow like “bread baking,” “metal refined,” or “a Charmander evolving.” Realizing he was sassing them yet again by refusing to die, the soldiers stabbed him in the heart. That did the trick. However, the fountain of blood that poured out of him was strong enough to put out the fire. In other words, he sassed them in death.

Let this be a lesson to any pagan Roman procounsels reading this: Catholics always have the last sass.

3. St. James the Dismembered

holygrail017

Closest thing to an icon I could find.

St. James was a noble Persian from a Christian family. He was good friends with the prince of Persia (insert video game joke here), and soon fell into his buddy’s pagan ways. When he eventually reverted, the penances he gave himself were so harsh that the prince realized he must be a Christian (remember, this was back in the time of hair shirts and stylites). He charged St. James with being a “Nazarene” and sorcerer, and sentenced him to be cut to pieces until he died (like you do).

The Golden Legend” then commences to give us a literal blow by blow account of St. James’ dismemberment. He cried out a prayer after every digit was amputated, and the resulting prose is truly a Catholic cultural treasure.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Go, third toe, to your fellow toes, and as the grain of wheat bears much fruit, so you at the last day will rest with your companions.”

“Little toe, be comforted, because the big and the little will arise again, and not a hair of the head will perish!”

“Fingers, Lord, I have none to hold out to you, nor hands to extend to you; my feet are cut off and my knees demolished, so that I cannot kneel to you.”

He said that last one while looking at a pile of 27 of his own body parts. I have broken the Second Commandment over a paper cut. Let’s all learn from his story, shall we?

Finally, after eight hours of this slasher film-worthy torture, his executioners cut off his head. He is the patron saint of lost vocations, which feels vaguely threatening if you think about it too much.

4. Saint Olav the Fat

Jabba the Hutt

Artist rendering

I really assumed his story couldn’t be better than his name, but I was wrong. Let’s start with the fact he was a Viking (seriously). Then let’s move on to his pedigree as a descendent of King Harald Fairhair, meaning he was a pale, flaxen, princely mound of flesh who also wore horns on his head. He was like a ye olde Norwegian prince version of Jim Gaffigan.

St. the Fat was basically always fighting someone in a misguided attempted to serve the Church. He later brought missionaries to Norway to evangelize his people, but got impatient and tried to force them to love Jesus. The people apparently would have preferred a more pastoral approach, as they revolted and forced him to flee to Russia. Some people might have taken this opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and make some changes. St. the Fat gathered troops and stormed Norway. Many parts, one body.

His plan failed when he was killed in battle. The Norwegians gathered around the massive crater that presumably formed when his seemingly infinite girth hit the earth. “Perhaps we misjudged him,” they mused. “Perhaps his multitude of varicose veins were only evidence of his enormous heart.”* So they made him a champion of national independence and a martyr. His battle axe is still in the Norwegian coat of arms.

Coat_of_arms_of_Norway_Edited

You’re welcome, people of Norway.

If that doesn’t make you proud of your Catholic heritage, I honestly don’t know what will.

*Quotes may be bald-faced lies. Except for the St. James dismemberment ones—I cannot stress enough that those are actually real.

 

COMING UP: Machebeuf basketball star traded success playing hoops for a solitary life of prayer

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Shelly Pennefather led the Bishop Machebeuf High School girls’ basketball team to victory in every game she played in. It was not surprising to her friends and classmates that she would go on to play college ball for Villanova and then play professionally in Japan. It was not even surprising that she would have a religious vocation.

What was surprising was the order she chose. In 1991, Shelly Pennefather drove to Alexandria, Va., where she entered the Monastery of the Poor Clares. She would become a cloistered nun, living a radical life that included going barefoot out of penance and poverty and praying all of the hours of the Divine Office, even at 12:30 a.m.

This also meant she would not see her family except for twice a year from behind a transparent screen. She would not hug them until 25 years after her profession.

“I was shocked that she chose a cloistered order,” said Annie Mcbournie, graduate of Machebeuf in 1984 and a friend of Pennefather’s. “I was not at all shocked that she chose a vocation.”

Her story was recently featured on ESPN, who recounted how Pennefather gave up being the highest-paid women’s basketball player in the world in 1991 to live a life in service to the Lord as a Poor Clare.

Pennefather took the name Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. This past June, Sister Rose Marie celebrated her 25th anniversary of her solemn profession: the long-awaited moment to greet her family from outside the screen, not to happen again for another 25 years.

Villanova teammates, friends, Machebeuf classmates, and family were all in attendance. She hugged her 78-year-old mom for what will probably be the last time.

Mcbournie was not able to make it but will visit Sister Rose Marie this fall. Since she’s kept up with her via letters, she is permitted to visit the monastery.

Pennefather attended Bishop Machebeuf High School in Denver from 1980 to 1983 before transferring for her senior year due to her dad’s military job. She left Machebeuf with a 70-0 record.

“Her entire high school career, she never lost a basketball game,” Mcbournie said.

Mcbournie was a cheerleader and friend of Sister Rose Marie in high school, but a deeper friendship began 10 years after graduation. Sister Rose Marie’s brother Dick called Mcbournie before World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 since Mcbournie was still in the area.

Sister Rose Marie had just joined the Poor Clares and Dick and McBournie met up and spoke about the mourning process the family was going through, McBournie said. Dick mentioned to her that they could write Sister Rose Marie as many letters as they wanted, and one day a year, on the Feast of the Epiphany, she could write back.

Shelly Pennefather, pictured here in this photo from the Archdiocese of Denver archives, always exuded a deep spiritual life, her former Bishop Machebeuf classmates said. (Photo by James Baca)

“From that year on, I have been writing her every year,” McBournie said. She gives Sister Rose Marie updates on life, pictures from their high school reunions, and prayer requests.

“I have witnessed her journey through these letters,” McBournie said.

When Sister Rose Marie’s dad passed away shortly after entering, she was not able to leave the monastery to go to the funeral. McBournie saw how difficult these sacrifices were for her, especially in the early years of her vocation. But the letters show Sister Rose Marie’s joy.

“The last 5 to 10 years, I could just see her say, ‘I’m so blessed to be able to do this’,” McBournie said. “She’s so joyful.”

A fellow Machebeuf classmate asked McBournie for Sister Rose Marie’s address in order to have a little fun. He sent her a $20 bill with a note saying he thought she could use a smoke and a bottle of wine.

Sister Rose Marie did not miss a beat and in her yearly letter, she responded, “I bought incense, and I drank from the chalice,” McBournie recounted.

Shelly Pennefather (#15) had a 70-0 record playing basketball for Bishop Machebeuf in the 1980s, and went on to play for Villanova and then professionally in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Villanova Athletics)

But this letter sparked a friendship. This classmate has continued to write letters and even attended the 25-anniversary jubilee.

“Her letters are still hilarious, still very sarcastic,” McBournie said.

She remembers Sister Rose Marie being reserved and quiet in high school, focused more on school and basketball than anything else. Her father was in the military and the family was very disciplined, but they had a good sense of humor and quick wit, McBournie said.
“Her spirituality permeated her existence from the time she was young,” McBournie said.

David Dominguez was a few years ahead of Sister Rose Marie at Machebeuf but remembers her discipline and her talent. He called himself her cheerleader.’

“If it was really tight, we would start yelling, ‘Shelly, Shelly!’” Dominguez said. “It was one of my favorite cheers.”

Dominguez exercised at the Air Force base gym where Sister Rose Marie would train and play basketball with her dad and brother.

“I knew she had incredible skills,” Dominguez said. “It was kind of magical to watch.”

Sister Rose Marie recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of her profession of vows with the Poor Clares. She was able to hug her friends and family for the first time in 25 years. ESPN was there to cover the occasion. (Photo courtesy of Mary Beth Bonacci)

Dominguez also knew she was different.

“She was living for a different purpose than everyone else,” he said.

Sister Rose Marie’s devotion and personality remain the same, though she has traded in her jersey for a habit.
Although Sister Rose Marie can only write one letter a year, and can seldom have visitors, her friendship and influence reach far beyond the monastery walls.

Mcbournie said that their yearly letters have brought them even closer than they were in high school.

“I look forward to her letter every year,” Mcbournie said.