November 13 – Brice; Frances Xavier Cabrini

Brice of Tours (ca. 370–444) was an orphan boy, and although not a pie-rayt, he was no angel. He was raised by Martin of Tours (Nov 11), but whenever Martin would rebuke him for some wrong (and there were plenty to rebuke him for), Brice would respond with sass and abuse. Why would Martin put up with such a thing, you ask? (Go ahead, I’ll wait a second.) Martin would say, “If Jesus could put up with Judas, I can put up with Brice.” Ouch. Periodically Brice would recognize his folly, and come to his foster-father in repentance. In time the periods of repentance grew longer and the periods of contumacy grew shorter, until Brice was totally mostly reformed, thanks to Martin’s longsuffering forgiveness. When Martin died, Brice himself was chosen to succeed him by popular acclaim. But popular acclaim, like the weather on St. Swithun’s Day (Jun 15 but see Jun 2), is fickle.

Perhaps Brice was not wholly reformed, or his reputation was too sullied, but, justly or not, the Tourians (Tourites?) accused him of indulging a little too much in worldly pleasures. When a nun (or seamstress) in his household became preggers, he was accused of being the father. To prove his innocence, he carried coals in his coat from somewhere (Newcastle?) to Martin’s grave, and his coat was neither burned nor scorched. But the populace were not convinced (“it’s asbestos,” they didn’t say), and insisted he seek forgiveness from the Pope in person. So Brice traveled to Rome, remaining there in what amounted to exile for seven (or twenty) years. When his replacement in Tours died, the Pope sent him back.

His transformation was finally complete, and in his second bishopric he proved so devout that he was proclaimed a saint almost before his limbs were cold. He was honored widely; in Stamford in Lincolnshire for example, St. Brice’s Day was long celebrated with a running of the bulls. That practice has since been outlawed. No bull.

Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850–1917) was born in Lodi, which is now in Lombardy but was then part of the Austrian Empire (those Austrians got their holy Roman fingers in a lot of pies). Her parents were cherry farmers (orchardists?) whose last names rhymed (Cabrini and Oldini), although that really doesn’t matter. Frances was born two months prematurely (as was your intrepid hagiographer), and sickly most of her life (I’ve been blessed with pretty good health, so the similarity ends there). She was nunnified in 1877, then made Superior of an orphanage, ultimately turning the half dozen nuns there into a new order*, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (M.S.C.).

What she really wanted was to be a missionary to China, so in 1889 she went to Pope Leo XIII to seek permission. He suggested she serve the many impoverished Italian immigrants in the United States. “Go west, young woman, not east” he said (actually the “young woman” is an interpolation). So she packed her nuns and assembled her bags (or vice versa), and shipped out for New York. There the Missionary Sisters founded the St. Cabrini Home (as it’s called now) orphanage; they went on to found 66 other orphanages and/or hospitals in such far-flung places as New Orleans, Los Angeles, and your intrepid hagiographer’s lovely home town of Seattle. (The M.S.C. did finally make it to China, but long after Frances died.)

Speaking of dying, Mother Cabrini did so while making Christmas candy for children at the Columbus Hospital in Chicago. Her relics reside in three different shrines, one in New York, one in Italy, and one in Chicago, built a-purpose on the site of the now-defunct Columbus Hospital. She was the first American citizen to be canonized a saint in the Catholic Church (she was naturalized in 1909), and is quite naturally the patron saint of hospital administrators.

For John Chrysostom see Jan 27, Sep 13.