September 20 – Eustace; Andrew Kim Taegon

There once was a saint named Eustace (d. 118), and he almost deserved to have Shakespeare write his vita. As Placidus, he was an officer in the Roman army, but one with a heart for helping people. One day he was hunting a stag when it leapt a chasm and turned to face him. A bright, cross-shaped object between its antlers said, “What do you want from me?” “That depends,” Placidus said. “Who are you?” “I’m Jesus. You’ve got a good heart, so I’ve decided to appear to you. Now go to the local bishop and get baptized.” When Placidus got home, his wife said, “I had this weird dream telling me to go to the local bishop and get baptized.” He looked at her. She looked at him. They went and got baptized (along with their sons). Placidus was renamed Eustace (“Good Stace”), and his wife, Theopiste (“God is angry”). (Their sons became Theopistus and Agapius. Glosses left to the reader.)

When their cattle and their servants all died, they decided to pilgrimize to Jerusalem, but the captain of the Alexandria-to-Jerusalem cruise liner took a shine to Theopiste, and stranded Eustace and the boys at the next port of call. To make matters worse, Eustace had just carried one son across a river and was going back to get the other when wild animals (a lion and a wolf, respectively) absconded with them both. Despite having lost everything else, Eustace never lost his faith. He went to the nearest town and got a job.

Meanwhile back in Rome, his former army buddies missed him, and fanned out across the Empire to seek him. Two reached his village in wherever-it-was, and, not recognizing him or vice versa, accepted his offer of a meal. After some palaver, one of them saw a scar on Eustace’s arm that looked awfully familiar, and before you knew it they were sobbing in each other’s arms. Eustace was soon back in Rome, promoted to general, and leading a fine crop of new recruits, including two handsome and competent lads from back east somewhere. One day these two started talking and comparing life stories, and realized they were their own dear brothers. The woman in whose yard they were bivouacked heard them, and realized they were her sons. Going straight to the commander, she asked to be taken back to Rome, hoping in that way to stay near the boys. Then she realized the general was her own dear husband! Then the boys heard the commotion, and the rest, as they say, is lachrymony.

Once back in Rome, alas, they were all martyred (after lions ignored them, they were cooked in one of those metal bulls) for not offering incense to the gods. Eustace is the patron saint of firefighters and hunters, and one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers. His symbol is a stag with a cross in its antlers, which appears on the label of a particularly foul German liqueur. Theopiste, as is not infrequently the case for wife saints, doesn’t seem to be the patron of anything.

Andrew Kim Taegon (1821–1846) was born in Korea, which isn’t surprising given that’s where his Christian convert parents lived. After his father was martyred, Kim was baptized (at 15) and sent to the nearest seminary, in Portuguese Macau. He studied for a while in the Philippines, and was finally priested in Shanghai, which is better than being shanghaied in Priest. (That makes no sense, does it?) He returned to Korea to evangelize, preach, celebrate the sacraments, and do all the other things priests do. Unfortunately, the Joseon Dynasty was at the time having something of a snit as regards Christians, and rounding them up and killing them by way of so indicating. Kim was tortured and beheaded within two years of his return home. He is one of 102 Korean martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984. He was the first native Korean Catholic priest, and is the patron saint of all Korean clergy.