Seven things to know about St. Louis (the actual saint, not the arguably perfect city)

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When most people think of St. Louis, they think of an idyllic town nestled in a glorious tetrad of magnificent rivers and blessed by God Himself with some of the best people, food and sporting teams in this great nation (no media bias—this is all fact. Also, I’m from STL). However, there was also a man named St. Louis, and as today is his feast day, perhaps we should all take a few minutes to learn some interesting facts about him.

  1. He provides succor and a good example to seminarians on “National Kiss and Make Up Day.”

From a seminarian at Kenrick-Glennon in St. Louis:BFFLstatus

  1. He was the king of France. His mother was the queen of Catholic guilt.

St. Louis was born in 1226, and is officially St. Louis IX in the long King Louis of France lineup. His mother ruled for him after he became king at age 12. She loved her son, but it appears that her love language was setting the golden standard by which all future Catholic mothers would guilt their children into holiness. Some of the advice he heard growing up include:

–The sins of his people were actually a reflection on him as their monarch.

–She would rather see him die than commit a mortal sin.

One can only assume she rounded out the stereotype by informing the young monarch he was making Our Lord cry by not finishing his escargot.

  1. He really, really loved God

This might seem like a given for a canonized saint, but look back at what he grew up hearing. By all accounts, he should have been scrupulous and filled with that awful loveless faith that can be so enticing to public figures. But he wasn’t. He was really in love with Jesus.

In addition to running his country, he prayed the Divine Office and heard two Masses every day. Best of all, his faith wasn’t something that he kept locked away in the palace chapel.

He instituted a law that would allow serfs to be freed. He personally fed the poor from his table, and would wash their feet. He even mediated disputes between other European rulers, including Pope Innocent IV and Emperor Frederick II, also known as the “Chump City of Emperors” (starting now). Frederick was actually excommunicated multiple times; probably because he would do things like drive the Pope out of Rome and capture a hundred bishops on their way to meet with the Pope.

Pope Innocent fled to Lyons, France (ie, Louis’ turf) where Innocent was able to hold a council and declare Frederick deposed. He also declared a crusade against Frederick. This was good news for St. Louis, because…

 

  1. He was all about crusading.

I know. That sounds horrible. But I think we’ve lost sight of what the crusades actually were.

In St. Louis’ time, religion wasn’t something you shopped for after you had already decided what all of your political and cultural ideations were going to be. Religion was your culture and identity. It was the foundation by which you related to God and fellow man, and people were keenly aware of it. The way a people worshiped defined them. Also, once a people had the Truth revealed to them, they needed to share it. Think about it–if you had just realized that your faith held the answers to all of life’s questions, wouldn’t you be kind of a jerk for keeping that to yourself?

It wasn’t just Christians who felt this way. Muslim armies had spread from the Middle East to Northern Africa, and were starting to make inroads into Europe. The united Christian monarchs (ie, Christendom) did not like this, so they pushed back. In fact, they decided they were going to take back the holy cities and reopen pilgrimages. These conquests were called Crusades, and much of our information about St. Louis comes from his actions in them.

  1. He wasn’t afraid of would-be assassins, and he proved it multiple times

At one point during his crusading adventures, St. Louis was captured. While he was being held in Egypt, an Emir rushed into his tent and demanded St. Louis knight him or be stabbed. St. Louis calmly informed him that only a follower of Jesus Christ could perform the duties of a Christian knight.

Later, his captors offered him his freedom if he would swear an oath that implied a blasphemy. They held their swords to his throat and threatened to massacre Christians, but St. Louis still refused to blaspheme. I would like to propose that this action is worth making him the patron saint of stone cold bruisers everywhere.

After he was ransomed, he started another crusade, because he gave exactly zero cares. He won a battle in Tunis, but died of a fever there. He received Viaticum kneeling next to his camp-bed, the very picture of a humble and pious ruler.

Sidebar: a fun way to judge political candidates is to imagine them dying like he did. If you burst out laughing, they may not be the one for you.

  1. He helped end some really weird movements and heresies back home.

Crusades were a really popular idea, but sometimes they got a little weird. For example, in 1251 tons of poor people called “pastoraux” (shepherds) crusaded around France demanding the release of Holy Places and killing clergy. They were led by an elusive figure named the Master of Hungary. St. Louis shut that weirdness down.

France also hosted one of my personal favorite heresies in Church history: Catharism (also known as Albigensianism, just to confuse us). Catharism was more of a church than a heresy, with its own clergy, dioceses, etc. They believed that two opposing deities ruled the world. They thought the biblical God was the God of evil and the Church was the invention of Satan, because they also apparently believed that heretics should go big or go home.

They also hilariously taught that sex was inherently evil, and that having children was a sin because it trapped a soul in a body. St. Louis fought them, and they eventually learned the hard way that a movement that condemns having children is doomed to destroy itself.

  1. He has an awesome legacy, including one of the great American cities

It’s true. The guy had eleven children, and remains the only canonized French monarch. He even introduced the “innocent until proven guilty” concept to law, which is a pretty big deal.

Most importantly, in my unbiased opinion as a native St. Louisan, is the magnificent city named for him. St. Louis is the proud owner of the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi, although the diocese built a new and even more beautiful one in the 1900s. Missionary sisters, priests, and bishops came to help educate the people, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne among them. In 1891, the first archbishop of the city was greeted by a torchlight parade of 20,000 people. In short, this city is Catholic. And what’s more, St. Louis the city has provided the world with the best entrée and dessert known to man, and created sports teams that have clearly been blessed with divine favor. Even more amazingly, they did it without pyromaniacal cows or dumping raw sewage on their neighbors, unlike some Midwestern cities I could name (looking at you, Chicago). What a legacy.

 

St. Louis de Poissy, roi de France, priez pour nous!

 

 

 

PS: Go Cardinals.

 

 

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright