Blessed Matthew of Girgenti

Blessed Matthew of Girgenti
(Blessed Matthieu d’Argrigente)

Feast Day – January 17

Blessed Matthew of Girgenti, born at Girgenti on the island of Sicily, entered the Franciscan Order when he was still quite young. When he had completed his studies and had been ordained a priest, the desire to enter upon a more perfect observance of the Franciscan rule led him to transfer to the Observant reform which was being promoted by St Bernardine of Siena.

St Bernardine soon perceived the outstanding qualities of the young religious and took him with him as a companion on the missions that he was then giving throughout Italy. By his ardent zeal Matthew was instrumental in the conversion of numerous sinners, and in rekindling the flame of piety where it had long since grown cold. In imitation of his master Bernardine, he did all in his power to promote devotion to the holy name of Jesus.

Believing that religious perfection is particularly meritorious before God, Matthew strove earnestly to promulgate the perfect observance of the rule of St Francis. He went to Spain, where he was successful in introducing the observance in many convents. Then he went to his own country of Sicily, where, with the approval of the Holy See, he established several convents and labored with much success among the people. In honor of the name of Jesus and that of His Blessed Mother, Matthew gave every convent he founded the title of St Mary of Jesus.

About this time the bishop of Girgenti died, and clergy and laity joined in the request to have Matthew as their chief pastor. He resisted at first, but Pope Eugene IV commanded him to accept the appointment. Blessed Matthew of Girgenti then discharged his office so well that his diocese was soon in a flourishing condition. He took vigorous action against prevalent vices and disorders. As a result powerful enemies denounced him to the pope. The gold was to be tried in the fire.

Blessed Matthew of Girgenti was called to Rome by Pope Eugene IV, to answer the charges brought against him. But the inquiry resulted in such a clear justification of the bishop that the pope declared him innocent and sent him back with honor to his diocese. However, not long after, Matthew, worn out by his labors, voluntarily resigned his office in order to return to a Franciscan convent and prepare himself for death.

For several years Matthew then suffered from severe maladies and, thus purified, he entered the eternal bliss of heaven. He died in the convent at Palermo in 1451. His body was taken to the Church on an open stretcher. When the procession arrived before the high altar, to the amazement and terror of all present, the deceased prelate raised himself on the litter, adored the Blessed Sacrament with folded hands, and then lay back again.

Numerous miracles occurred at his grave, and the people honored him as a saint from the time of his demise. Pope Clement XIII confirmed the veneration paid to him, and later Pope Pius VII renewed this confirmation.

*from: The Franciscan Book of Saints, ed. by Marion Habig, ofm

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