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Saint Agatha has been venerated as a virgin and martyr since the time of her death in AD 251. Besides the Blessed Virgin Mary, she is only one of seven female Saints commemorated in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1) and as early as the fifth century had two churches in Rome dedicated to her.  Born in Catania, Sicily to a wealthy and noble family, Agatha was a devout Christian. As a young, beautiful and wealthy woman she would attract the attention of Quintian, a Roman governor. Following the anti-Christian edits of the Roman Emperor, Decius, Quintian tried to blackmail Agatha into a sexual relationship in exchange for not prosecuting her for her religious faith. Agatha rebuffed him and, as a result, was thrown into a brothel but refused to accept customers. She was then put in prison and endured brutal interrogations and tortures that included being stretched on the rack and having her breasts cut off.  She would reproach her prison guard by telling him: “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you that you dare to mutilate me in this way?”  That night St. Peter would appear to her in a vision and miraculously heal her.

Four days later upon further interrogation, she was condemned to death by rolling her naked body in broken glass and hot coals.  Unshaken to the end in her devotion to God she thanked Him for an end to her suffering and died.  St. Agatha’s feast day is February 5th.

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St. Francis of Assisi was born in Umbria, Italy in 1182 and baptized Giovanni, after St. John the Baptist. He was the privileged son of a wealthy Jewish/Venetian banker and cloth merchant who loved traveling to France. His father insisted that he be renamed Francis, or Frenchman, and expected his young son to follow in his footsteps. As a young man Francis enjoyed the easy life thanks to his family’s wealth but he also led a somewhat sinful life due to the permissive culture in this era of Italian history. Later he would take part in the battle of Collestrada in 1202 between Assisi and Perugia in which the Assisi forces were captured and taken prisoner. After a year in prison Francis was ransomed by his rich father. It took him more than a year to recover from his health problems that had resulted from his prison stay. Once he felt better Francis went to Spoleto in 1204 with the idea of becoming a knight and joining the fourth Crusade but after praying for direction Francis was called by God to forego his worldly wealth and “repair” God’s church. He returned to Assisi to the scorn of his father and friends.

In 1206, Francis began a mendicant life while trying to repair the church of San Damiano. It was during this endeavor that he realized that God meant for him to reform His institutional church which was beset with scandals. Although never ordained a priest Francis began preaching in the streets and soon had many followers. Francis formed the Franciscan order of monks to continue caring for the poor and spreading the Gospel. This order was endorsed by Pope Innocent III in 1210. Francis loved nature and believed that all parts of God’s creation were his brotherhood. His final years were full of suffering and illness. While praying to share in the pain of Jesus’ Passion he received the stigmata. Francis died on October 3rd, 1226. Pope Gregory IX pronounced him a Saint on July 16th, 1228. Construction of the basilica started in the same year and was finished in 1230. An addition called the Upper Basilica was begun in 1239 and was completed in 1253.

The feast day of St. Francis is celebrated on October 4th.

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