March 21 – Thomas, Patriarch of Constantinople; Benedicta Cambiagio Frassinello

Thomas, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 610), after a youth spent in ways his hagiographers didn’t care to relate, became first a deacon, then sacristan at the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia), then patriarch of Constantinople. Just as he was settling into the office (getting his files unpacked, putting pictures of his family on the walls, etc.), he caught word of a strange thing happening down in Galatia. To wit, during a procession involving the carrying of crosses, they began to sway and bang into each other, even though the ground was level, there was no wind, and the altar servers were perfectly sober. “Whoa,” the people said. “We’d better tell the Patriarch.”

Troubled, Thomas wrote to the famous ascetic and prophet Theodore the Sykeote (seeing his half-page ad in the Yellow Papyri), asking what it was all about. “Let me pray about it,” said Theodore, and he did. He wrote back saying that the church would soon come into a time of discord and strife and general brouhaha. Christian would fight and kill Christian, and Barbarians would stand at the gates (the courtesy benches having long since been removed), and all manner of other equally unpleasant stuff would happen. (He didn’t necessarily use the word “stuff.”) “I’d rather die than see that happen,” said Thomas. “If you don’t mind.”

“That can be arranged,” said Theodore, and sure enough they both died soon thereafter. All the bad things Theodore prophesied came to pass, and more besides, including the True Cross™ being taken to Persia. But that is a story for another day.

Benedicta Cambiagio Frassinello (1791–1858), of Pavia, Italy, had a mystical experience of some sort (vague sources are vague) that left her devoted to prayer and hungering for a religious life (in this case that’s code for “life as a nun”). Nevertheless her parents insisted she marry, so she nuptualed one Giovanni Battista Frassinella. After two years of normal marriage, Giovanni, seeing her great piety, agreed to live “continently” (“not on an island”). Together they raised their little niece until, sadly, she died of cancer, at which point they went separately into religious orders—Giovanni becoming a Somaschan, and Benedicta an Ursuline. Sadly ill health soon drove her back to Pavia, where after a miraculous cure she started a school for young women. The work went so well that the bishop assigned her husband as her helpmeet (there’s a twist for you). Ultimately Benedicta was appointed Pavia’s Promoter of Public Pedagogy (the source said “Instruction” but I like alliteration).

Unfortunately the neighbors sooner or later started gossiping about her working with (horrors!) a man (even if he was her husband) (as if it was any of their business anyway) (there I go editorializing again), so Benedicta handed the keys over to the bishop and retired to a convent in Ronco Scrivia, some 100 km south on the A7. Convent life soon grew dull, however, so she started a new school in her new town, and when that proved only moderately taxing, she started the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of Providence, a women’s order dedicated to teaching. Since her husband was back in Pavia, the local gossips had nothing to rail about, and her work continued unhindered. She was canonized in 2002 by Pope John Paul II.