Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, a day dedicated to the remembrance of all the souls of the Church Triumphant who enjoy the beatific vision.
Constant throughout the various liturgical reforms of the Church’s history has been a day dedicated to all the saints. This special liturgical celebration has a unique history, since its origins are not entirely clear. In the fourth century, the Church, especially in the East, celebrated a feast in honor of all the martyrs because there were too many to individuate on the calendar. Initially, the feast was celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost; eventually, May 13 became the fixed date. Pope Gregory III (r. 713-741) dedicated a chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica to all the saints and set November 1 as the date of celebration. Pope Gregory IV (r. 8247-844) extended the Feast of All Saints on November 1 to the universal church.
The joy of this day allows for a remembrance of the “non-celebrity” saints, or those who do not receive their own unique day on the liturgical calendar. Some of these saints may be known by the faithful and recognized officially as canonized, but some may be unrecognized saints, who, nonetheless, lived holy and virtuous lives that allows for the presumption of their presence in the Church Triumphant. In recognition of both kinds of “non-celebrity” saints, I offer vignettes on some of these lesser known, yet important, individuals in Church history.
St. Berno of Cluny (c. 850-927): Monastic Reformer
A member of a Burgundian noble family, Berno became a Benedictine monk and served the Church. He became abbot of a monastic community in Baume that practiced an observant interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict at a time when many monasteries had become lax and worldly.
Berno’s reputation for reform and sanctity drew the interest of Duke William of Aquitaine, a nobleman who desired to establish a new monastery in penance for killing a man in a fit of passion earlier in life. William promised to grant Berno whatever land he requested for the new monastery. Berno surveyed William’s land holdings and chose an isolated area that contained the duke’s favorite hunting lodge. When William protested Berno’s choice, the reformist monk said, “Drive your hounds hence, and put monks in their place, because you know which will serve you better before God.” The duke relented and issued a charter that granted Cluny freedom from secular interference. Later, the monastery was granted full freedom from diocesan jurisdiction, which afforded the abbot immense power.
Berno established Cluny as an observant monastery, and his successor as abbot, Odo, spread the Cluniac reform throughout Europe. Eventually, over 1,500 monasteries were subject to Cluny’s authority, and Western monasticism was reformed and enriched from Berno’s initial vision and leadership.
Johann Eck (1486-1543): Scourge of Protestants
Johann began his academic career at the age of twelve upon entrance to Heidelberg University. He received his Master’s degree from Tübingen in 1501 and his doctorate at the young age of twenty-four. Johann was ordained to the priesthood and served the Church through teaching and administrative posts at the university in Ingolstadt.
Eck played a prominent role in combatting the heresy of Martin Luther and his supporters in the early stages of the Protestant Revolution. At the Leipzig Disputation in the summer of 1519, Eck debated Luther’s friend Andreas Rudolph Bodenstein (AKA Carlstadt) for four days, after which it was clear that Eck had won the disputation. After defeating Carlstadt, Eck engaged in verbal combat with Luther and succeeded in demonstrating Luther’s heretical beliefs.
Eck understood that Luther had adopted many of the heresies of Jan Hus, a Bohemian heretic condemned at the Council of Constance in 1415. He demolished Luther’s arguments, such that the rebel Augustinian never openly debated another Catholic theologian.
When Protestant theologians, including Luther’s friend Philip Melanchthon, produced the Augsburg Confession in 1530, Eck led the Catholic scholars commissioned to review and respond to the document. Eck produced many scholarly works, including the 1525 Arguments Against Luther and other Enemies of the Church and a 1539 German edition of Scripture. He was a tireless defender of the papacy and the Church and a man of great virtue and piety.
Robert Aske (c. 1500-1537): Defender of Monasteries
A year after Parliament declared King Henry VIII of England head of the Church, the monarch began the despicable dissolution of the monasteries, enriching himself and English nobles with the spoils. Smaller monastic communities and houses were closed initially, and then larger and more profitable establishments followed.
The royal movement to dissolve the monasteries caused people to clearly see the impact of the religious changes sweeping Henrician England in the 1530s. In the north, monasteries provided extensively for the poor, and their dissolution affected many people. And so some of the men in northern England rallied to the monastic cause under a movement known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
The northern rebellion began in Lincolnshire but spread to other areas, including Yorkshire, where the layman Robert Aske assumed leadership of the movement. Robert was a one-eyed lawyer (no one is quite sure how he lost the other eye) who assembled an army of 30,000-50,000 men who marched under the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ.
Robert and his fellow rebels loved the king and believed he was being misled by wicked advisers. In December 1536, the rebels communicated their demands, including the restoration of the monasteries, to Thomas Howard, the duke of Norfolk, who agreed to them and promised a royal pardon. Robert declared the Pilgrimage over, and the movement disbanded. However, Henry VIII rejected the duke’s agreement and declared Robert and others traitors to the crown. Robert was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and executed in July 1537.
Fr. Ignatius Maternowski (1912-1944): D-Day Chaplain
Among the thousands of paratroopers who left England on June 6, 1944, was Captain Ignatius Maternowski, a Catholic priest assigned as chaplain to the 82nd Airborne’s 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
While in high school, Ignatius was impressed with the Conventual Franciscan friars he met and discerned a religious vocation. Upon graduation in 1931, he entered the order. He took his simple vows in the summer of 1932 and was ordained a priest in 1938. He served in parishes in New York and Maryland for several years until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
When the United States entered the Second World War, Fr. Maternowski received permission from his superior to join the Army as a chaplain. In his new role, he volunteered to become a paratrooper. His unit shipped out to England, where they spent five months training and preparing for their combat jump into German-occupied France.
Before the D-Day invasion, Maternowski celebrated Mass and granted a general absolution to the paratroopers. The combat jump did not go as planned, as American paratroopers missed their drop zones. Maternowski landed with a group of paratroopers near the town of Picauville. A company of German infantry occupied the town and engaged in combat with the American forces.
Soon after landing, Maternowski discovered a crashed American glider near the town with multiple wounded troopers. Along with a medic, he gathered the wounded and brought them to the hamlet’s café-grocery. However, the small aid station quickly became near capacity, so Maternowski crossed into German territory to suggest that the enemy forces create a combined aid station to minister to wounded soldiers from both sides. A German medical officer met with Maternowski and was open to the priest’s offer. After assessing the American aid station, the German medic returned to his troops, escorted by Maternowski.
Walking back to the American positions, despite being helmetless and wearing a white Red Cross armband and his chaplain insignia, Maternowski was shot dead by a German sniper. He was the only U.S. military chaplain killed on D-Day.
May these four holy men, and all the other innumerable lesser known and unknown saints in God’s embrace, pray for us on this most wonderful feast day!