Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, Priest and Martyr
April 24—Optional Memorial
Liturgical Color: Red
Patron Saint of lawyers and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
His murderers cut a leg off his dead body in bitter retaliation for his many journeys
To understand the historical and religious context for today’s saint, consider an event that took place fifty years before he was born. On January 5, 1527, in Zurich, Switzerland, a young man named Felix Mantz was taken hold of by local officials, had his hands and feet bound to a pole, and was rowed out in a boat to the deepest part of the local river. With a large crowd watching from the shores, he was tossed overboard into the dark water and immediately drowned to death. Felix Mantz’s crime? He believed only adults should be baptized, not children. Mantz was not killed by the Inquisition, the Pope, the local Bishop, or a Catholic mob. His cruel drowning, which mocked his views on baptism, was carried out by dissenting Protestants.
The Protestants of Zurich believed in infant baptism while rejecting almost all other Catholic beliefs. And they allowed absolutely no dissenting from their own dissenting from Catholicism. Felix Mantz was the first Protestant martyred by other Protestants. Heretics killing other heretics for not conforming to their heresy captures the chaos, intellectual dissonance, and cultural confusion in some regions of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. This total meltdown is known as the Reformation. Today’s saint, Fidelis of Sigmaringen, walked right into this still-raging storm of violence in the early seventeenth century, suffering a fate similar to the Protestant Felix Mantz, though for contrary reasons.
Its very existence challenged by Protestantism, Counter-Reformation Catholicism swelled like a great ocean, lifting up scholars, monks, abbots, nuns, priests, and bishops who overwhelmed Europe with their teaching and witness to the perennial truths of Jesus Christ. Saint Fidelis was just one priest-monk among that great tide of the Counter-Reformation, but he was one who became a martyr. He was born as Mark Roy in the town of Sigmaringen in Prussia, in Northern Germany, and raised in the Faith. He earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1603 and degrees in civil and canon law in 1611, yet over time he became disillusioned with his career in the law. He had always been an exceptionally ardent Catholic, so he entered the Capuchin Order and was ordained a priest in his thirties. He took the religious name of “faithful”—in Latin, “Fidelis.” Fidelis was intelligent, disciplined, ascetic, and committed. His abundant human and spiritual gifts were amplified and sharpened when put in the service of the King of Kings, and he rose to positions of leadership within the Capuchin Order.
Having become locally well known for his fervor and holiness, Father Fidelis was appointed by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in Rome to preach, teach, and write in present day Switzerland, with the goal of exhorting the people to return to the embrace of the Mother Church which had given them birth. Father Fidelis desired martyrdom, and it came for him soon enough. In Switzerland, his zeal and example brought some prominent Calvinists back to the true Faith. This made him an official enemy of the Calvinists who controlled much of that land. One day, when traveling between two towns where he was preaching and saying Mass, Fidelis was confronted along the road by Calvinist soldiers led by a minister. Fidelis had recently caused an uproar in a nearby town and had barely escaped with his life. The soldiers knew exactly who was before them. They demanded that he abandon his Faith. Fidelis answered, “I was sent to rebuke you, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I do not fear death.” His skull was then cracked open with the butt of a sword, his body punctured with stabs, and his left leg hacked off in retribution for the numerous journeys he had made into Protestant territory. Saint Fidelis died at the age of forty-five, ten years after entering religious life. He was canonized in 1746. Over three hundred miracles were attributed to his intercession during his canonization process. Saint Fidelis was faithful in life and continues to intercede faithfully in death.
Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, through your intercession before the throne of God, we ask you to fortify all teachers and preachers of the faith to remain faithful to the truth, even to the point of embarrassment, inconvenience, suffering, and death to self.