February 9 – Nicephorus of Antioch and Miguel Febres Cordero

Icon of Nicephorus of AntiochNicephorus of Antioch (d. 260) had a bosom buddy in the priest Sapiricius. They finished each other’s sentences, liked the same bands—in short, they loved each other like brothers, minus the sibling rivalry. Then they got into a disagreement about something and turned into bitter enemies. Eventually Nicephorus came to his senses, and sought Sapiricius’s forgiveness, first through mutual friends and then in person. It didn’t work. Father Sap (as nobody called him) was stuck in his anger and enmity.

Along about that time the Emperor decided the Christians needed winnowing, and the local shortlist of winnowees included Sapiricius. When Nicephorus heard, he hurried down to the public square, shouting, “Please forgive me, martyr of God!” Sapiricius declined, perhaps with the third century Antiochian equivalent of our modern “I don’t think so” hand signal. God saw the hardness of Sapiricius’ heart, and withdrew his supernatural courage. “Wait!” Sapricius said to the axeman. “I’ll offer a sacrifice to the idols! Heck, I’ll offer TWO.” (Okay, I added the “two” bit.) Nicephorus was beside himself. “Don’t do that!” he said. Then turning to the guards he said, “Look, I’m a Christian, how about if you kill me instead and let him go free?” The guards looked at each other and shrugged. One of them texted the judge, who texted back that that would be just fine. So Nicephorus won the crown of a martyr, and Sapiricius—well, this isn’t his story. We hope he came to his senses. But you won’t find his name in the index here, or in any book of saints.

Illustration of Miguel Febres Cordero - might be a book cover or pamphletMiguel Febres Cordero (1854–1910) was born Francisco Febres Cordero Muñoz in Cuenca, Ecuador. His polyglot father taught English and Spanish at the local seminary; his mother’s family included five nuns and a Jesuit. Just the family for a future scholar saint (danger: foreshadowing!). In early childhood, Francisco had a severe foot deformity, but he was made able to walk after a vision of the Blessed Virgin. At nine he entered the Christian Brothers school in his hometown, rapidly becoming a star pupil. He wanted to enter the Brotherhood, but his parents wanted him to follow his Jesuit uncle’s footsteps, and said no. Obedient to their desires (and not grumbling too much, we hope), Francisco went to seminary, but left before the semester ended, gravely ill.

When he recovered, his parents relented. He entered the Brotherhood at 13, taking the name Miguel. He went on to become a teacher of Spanish, French, and English, publishing textbooks, a catechism, poetry, and works of Christian spirituality. His scholarship in Castilian Spanish made his texts required reading for all schools in Ecuador. Yet he always said his favorite class was the preparation for first communion he did with the little children, which is sweet, I hope you will admit. He was known throughout his life for his humility and his dedication to Our Lady.

He was ultimately elected to the National Academy of Ecuador (which was a bargain as it included membership in the Royal Academy of Spain), the Académie Française, and the Academy of Venezuela. (Argentina returned his application unopened†.) In 1907 he went to Europe to translate French religious historical documents into Spanish. He lived in Paris, then near Brussels, and finally in Barcelona. Never healthy for long, he finally succumbed to pneumonia, and was buried in Spain. His body was disturbed during the Spanish Civil War (it was a pretty disturbing war), so in 1936 his relics were returned to Ecuador, where his tomb soon became a place of pilgrimage. The centenary of his birth was marked by a parade of 30,000 children and one commemorative postage stamp (a decent ratio). He was glorified in 1984 by Pope John Paul II, and is the first Ecuadorian-born saint of the Catholic Church.