December 19 – Boniface the Merciful; Pope Urban V

Boniface the Merciful (VI cent.) from a very young age had a heart for the poor. And, often, a shirt or a coat as well. His mother, a widow and none too well off, had a time keeping him clothed. This was as nothing to the time she went to the family granary and found that a whole year’s worth of grain had gone missing. Boniface had, of course, given it to the poor. Mum began to weep, and when Boniface could not console her, he escorted her to the door and locked it behind her. He then fell to the ground and prayed, and the granary was miraculously filled. He showed this to his mother, and she miraculously stopped nagging him about his generosity. (The sources say nothing about nagging caused by other things (dirty socks on the floor instead of in the hamper, for instance).)

One day Boniface saw a fox steal one of his mother’s hens. He prayed angrily, “Does it make you happy, God, to see my mother’s work wasted, and to see me go hungry, while vermin carry off our pullets?” Apparently it didn’t, as the fox brought the hen back, and set it down unharmed. (This is the origin of the pullet surprise.)

In time Boniface became bishop of either Florence, or “Ferentino in Tuscany” (which is odd because it isn’t, although Florence is). His nephew Constantius, a priest (apropos of nothing, did you know that “nepotism” comes from the Latin word for “nephew”?), lived in his home. One day Constantius sold his horse, and put the proceeds—twelve gold pieces—in a lockbox. He then went out, and some beggars came to the door. Boniface was about to send them away empty-handed when remembered his nephew’s gold pieces. He found the box, broke it open, and gave the coins to the beggars.

When Constantius found out, he flew into a rage, and began packing to leave, saying, “I cannot live here.” Boniface went to the church to pray. He lifted up his hands, and found that the depression this made in his robes was suddenly filled with shiny new coins. After his prayers, he returned to the house. He dropped his hands, and his robes dropped the coins into Connie’s lap. After this, Boniface prophesied that Constantius, who had his eye on the bishop’s throne (the brocade was marvelous), would never sit upon it. Nor did he. So if you sell a horse and your uncle gives the money to the poor, don’t complain about it, or you’ll never become bishop. You have been warned.

Pope Blessed* Urban V (1310–1370) was an abbot, was named William, and was papal-legating in Naples when Pope Innocent VI died. The enclave deadlockified, and was forced to look outside the College of Cardinals for a candidate. Clearly they were very farsighted, as they could see, all the way from Avignon, a man in Naples who was perfect for the job. William hurried back to France and was made first a bishop and then a pope. He took the name Urban, saying, “All of the Urbans have been saints.” He was half right.

Urban became a champion of education, saving a university in Toulouse, and starting many new ones, including one in in Hungary (and you know how hungary university students can be, especially during finals week). He tried to bring peace to Italy and war to Turkey, and failed at both. Probably his biggest accomplishment was moving the papacy to Rome for three years. Italy proved too unstable, though, and in September of 1370, in spite of the pleadings of Bridget of Sweden (Jul 23), he caught a ship back to France, whereupon (as Bridget had predicted) he fell severely ill, and soon died. He was beatified in 1870 by Pope Pius IX.