Saint Brigid Religious Education
100 Mayflower Street
West Hartford, CT 06110
Bernardine of Siena
Feast day: May 20
Most of the saints suffer great personal opposition, even
persecution. Bernardine, by contrast, seems more like a human dynamo who
simply took on the needs of the world.
He was the greatest preacher of his time, journeying across Italy,
calming strife-torn cities, attacking the paganism he found rampant,
attracting crowds of 30,000, following St. Francis’s admonition to
preach about “vice and virtue, punishment and glory.”
Compared with St. Paul by the pope, Bernardine had a keen intuition
of the needs of the time, along with solid holiness and boundless energy
and joy. He accomplished all this despite having a very weak and hoarse
voice, miraculously improved later because of his devotion to Mary.
When he was 20, the plague was at its height in his hometown, Siena.
Sometimes as many as 20 people died in one day at the hospital.
Bernardine offered to run the hospital and, with the help of other young
men, nursed patients there for four months. He escaped the plague but
was so exhausted that a fever confined him for several months. He spent
another year caring for a beloved aunt (her parents had died when he was
a child) and at her death began to fast and pray to know God’s will for
him. At 22, he entered the Franciscan Order and was ordained two years
later. For almost a dozen years he lived in solitude and prayer, but his
gifts ultimately caused him to be sent to preach. He always traveled on
foot, sometimes speaking for hours in one place, then doing the same in
Especially known for his devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus,
Bernardine devised a symbol, IHS, the first three letters of the name of
Jesus in Greek, in Gothic letters on a blazing sun. This was to displace
the superstitious symbols of the day, as well as the insignia of. The
devotion spread, and the symbol began to appear in churches, homes and
public buildings. Opposition arose from those who thought it a dangerous
innovation. Three attempts were made to have the pope take action
against him, but Bernardine’s holiness, orthodoxy and intelligence were
evidence of his faithfulness.
General of a branch of the Franciscan Order, the Friars of the Strict
Observance, he strongly emphasized scholarship and further study of
theology and canon law. When he started there were 300 friars in the
community; when he died there were 4,000. He returned to preaching the
last two years of his life, dying while traveling.