The Saints, in the economy of salvation, have the purpose of being witnesses to the faithful of the light of Christ. The greatness of a Saint is measured also by the number of devotees that, following his/her steps, have taken the road to perfection.
Tertulliano used to affirm that the martyrs’ blood represents the seed for the birth of many more Christians. In this instance Philomena’s blood has become a powerful instrument of salvation for countless faithful of every social class. Apart from Popes, even Saints, Blessed and Venerable of the Church have venerated the Virgin and Martyr of Mugnano del Cardinale: a true record!
Only a few of them will be talked about here for the glory of God and Saint Philomena, our Saint.
2. Saints that have been devotees of Saint Philomena.
a – Saint Pius X (1835-1914).
The devotion of this Pope for the Saint has been dealt with in the chapter of the devotions of the Popes and the ex voto offered by them to the Sanctuary of Mugnano. Here we just have to add that the great devotion and respect of Pius X for the Curate of Ars, highly devoted to Saint Philomena, brought him to love our Martyr with deeper intensity.
b – Saint John Marie Vianney, Curé of Ars (1876-1859).
Amongst all the admirable souls, ardent with devotion for Saint Philomena, the first place belongs to the saint Curate of Ars.
It was Pauline Jaricot who talked to him about the Saint of Mugnano and introduced her to him. It was she that gifted him with one of her relics. There is not a biography of the Curate of Ars where our Saint is not mentioned.
In France he was the greatest promoter of the devotion towards the Saint of Mugnano. He had a statue of Saint Philomena placed in his parish church, and then built a Basilica in her honor in Ars. This Basilica, built in the same style of the one in Fourvière, which dominates over Lyon, was terminated after the death of Saint John Marie Vianney (fig. 21).
The saint Curate attributed to the intercession of our Saint, all the numerous miracles performed in Ars.
c – Saint Peter Louis Marie Chanel (1803-1841).
Saint Peter Louis Marie Chanel was born in Cuet in the Diocese of Belley, to which Ars belongs. He was missionary and first martyr (April 28,.1841) of the mysterious and wild Oceania.
His mutual devotion for Saint Philomena came from the Curate of Ars. When he embarked in 1836 for the Archipelago of Tonga, he had in his breviary three pictures: Our Lady, Saint Joseph and Saint Philomena. To the young Saint of Mugnano he would turn in the difficult moments of his apostolate amongst the mistrustful and hostile indigenous. Although not expert in constructions, he started building, trustful in “a Saint for whom he harbors a great devotion”. In honor of the Saint he recited a novena every year in the period of her feast. To one of the first baptized he gave the name Marie Philomeno.
d – Saint Peter Julian Marie Eymard (1811- 1868).
His greatest merit was the foundation in 1856 of the Congregation of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He was a very close friend of the Curate of Ars whom he visited regularly. He was also a disciple and friend of Father Colin. Like him, he had a great devotion towards Saint Philomena. He loved to kneel down in front of the Saint’s reliquary. In 1854 he was cured by the martyr, after a novena recited in her honor.
e – Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat (1779-1865).
Great devotee of Saint Philomena, she founded in 1802 the Society of the Sacred Heart. In the difficult times of her life and her religious order, Mother Barat invoked with faith the Saint of Mugnano.
In her biography she states that on the 11th of September 1846 one of her novices, Miss Monestrol, needed to undergo surgery. While the doctors were preparing the surgical instruments, Barat asked the novice to make a vow to leave for the Americas and she placed her hands on the affected area. The doctors afterwards ascertained that the patient was healed and, stunned, stated that what had just happened was unexplainable according to science. Barat attributed her healing to Saint Philomena, whom she had invoked.
f – Saint John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-1860).
Saint John Nepomucene Neumann was born in Bohemia on the 28th of March 1811. He finished his theological studies, but for a series of circumstances, he could not be ordained priest. He then decided to go to France and from there he embarked for the United States reaching Manhattan in 1836.
After his arrival in America he was received by Bishop John Dubois and ordained priest in the same year. In 1840 he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, founded by Saint Alfonso Maria de Liguori. He dedicated himself to the missionary activity in the States of New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and in Christian education for youth, founding many parish catholic schools.
In 1844 during his first appointment as Superior of the Order of the Redeemer and of Rector of the old Church of Saint Philomena in Pittsburgh, he committed himself with great zeal to the building of the new church in honor of Saint Philomena. The old one, called the “Farm Church” had been situated in an abandoned industrial building which had been demolished. Trustful of the help of the Martyr, “to whom God denies nothing for whomever invokes her” and without worrying about the money, he completed the building of the new Church of Saint Philomena in 1846. This was an accomplishment thought impossible and of great religious advancement.
When appointed Bishop of Philadelphia in 1852, he intensified his missionary and pastoral work and built five more churches and began building the Philadelphia Cathedral. After a saintly and industrious life, he left this earth for Heaven in 1860. Thanks to his pastoral work and his missionary zeal, the devotion to our Saint grew solid roots in Pennsylvania.
g – Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917).
Saint Francesca Cabrini was born in Sant’Angelo Lodigiano (Milan) on the 15th of July 1850 into a deeply catholic family.
In 1880, possessed by a strong zeal for a missionary life, she founded the Institute of the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Cotogno (Milan). In 1896 she went to Rome and in the Church of Jesus made a vow to go east as a missionary where she founded the Mother House of the Institute.
Urged by Pope Leo XIII, she left for New York in 1889 with other sisters to begin missionary activity helping Italian emigrants.
On her numerous journeys, especially the ones from New York to Buenos Aires and through the Andes, she always carried with her a small statue of Saint Philomena. We can say that Cabrini, and the Bishop of Philadelphia Mons. Neumann, had the merit of promoting the devotion of the Saint in America more than anyone else. . Saint Francesca died in Chicago in 1917. Her body is kept in the City of New York. Important relics can be found in Chicago and Cotogno. Pius XII declared her Universal Patroness of the Emigrants.
h – Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (1887-1968).
For Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Saint Philomena was the “Princess of Heaven”. His devotion for the Saint began within his family, where his sister was given her name.
The devotion was strengthened at his novitiate place in Morcone, where at the end of July, the feast of Saint Philomena was celebrated with great solemnity. This feast is continuing today in the Convent of San Giovanni Rotondo (Foggia) in the Capital of the Cappuccini where the Saint was highly venerated. After the liturgical reform of 1961, Father Pio used to imperatively reply to whoever dared to doubt the existence of the Saint: “for the love of God! It might well be that her name is not Philomena!, but this Saint has performed many miracles and it is not the name that did them”. This is the wisest reply: who wants to understand, will understand!
i – Saint Maddalena Gabriella of Canossa (1774-1835).
Maddalena Gabriella Marquis of Canossa was born in Verona on the 1st of May 1774. In 1808, no longer tied by family commitments, she founded the Order of the Canossians (Work of the Charity daughters), an institution of great religious and human advancement.
This religious order dedicated itself to the teaching of catechism, the education of poor young girls and the assistance of the sick in hospitals. Mother Madeleine continuously urged her religious sisters towards the love of Christ and the Virgin of Sorrows, and she entrusted them to the patronage of Saint Philomena (cfr. l’Epistolario della Beata Maddalena di Canossa (the Letters of the Blessed Madeleine of Canossa)).
In a letter she urged Rose Polli, Vice Superior in Milan, to pray to Saint Philomena, “by God distinguished with such miracles that in Romagna she is now called the Thaumaturge.” Superior (letter of July 14, 1834): testimony of love and faith towards our Saint. Many other passages invoke the patronage of Saint Philomena when required by her sisters. They are collected in volume III/5 of her letters. She died in 1835.
l – Saint Hannibal Marie Di Francia (1851-1927).
A native of Messina, he is unanimously recognized as the Apostle of the prayer for vocations, and Father of the poor and orphans. He founded two religious families (Rogationists and the Daughters of the Divine Zeal). Referring to Saint Philomena he used to say: “Saint Philomena has become famous for the great miracles that the Lord has worked through her.”
m – Saint Damien de Veuster (1840 – 1889).
Father Damien, Belgian missionary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts, spent his life spiritually assisting and curing the lepers relegated to the isle of Molokai in the Hawaiian archipelago. A great devotee of Saint Philomena, he dedicated to her the first chapel he built in the leper colony (cfr.: F. TROCHU, op. cit., p. 200).
Consumed himself by the horrible disease, he died at 49 years of age, leaving hell for Heaven. He fought stoutly against discrimination of the lepers, and his bright testimony generated important results. In the same year of his death (1889) an Association for the fight against leprosy was founded in London. Many more initiatives followed all over the world in remembrance of this heroic Father of the lepers. In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promoted this martyr to the glory of the Altars for his love towards the most unlucky and marginalized sons of God.
3. Blessed devotees of Saint Philomena
a – The Blessed Bartolo Longo (1841-1926).
Even the Blessed Bartolo Longo, founder of the famous Sanctuary of Pompeii and of its other works, was a great devotee of Saint Philomena. In 1896 he wrote “Life of Saint Philomena Virgin and Martyr”. It was based on the “revelations” of the mystic Neapolitan Sister Marie Louise of Jesus,
On the June 9, 1896, the Lawyer Bartolo Longo with his consort countess Mariana De Fusco, came in pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Saint Philomena. He served at a Mass and before leaving wrote in the visitors’ registry: “Today, June 9, 1896, I have had the ineffable consolation of offering to the renowned Virgin and Martyr Saint Philomena a sample of my writings with “children of prisoners”, which together with my little orphans and the works of Pompeii I have placed under the patronage of the great Preacher of Christ, Saint Philomena”.
Furthermore, in the June 1902 issue of “The Rosary and the New Pompeii” (p.204), Bartolo Longo published a brief work called The first centenary of the invention and translation of the body of Saint Philomena V. and M., where it can be read amongst other things: “On May 25th of this year was the first solemn centenary of the invention of the body of Saint Philomena V. and M. in Rome […] grateful to the illustrious Virgin and Martyr for favours which I received, I decided to give my homage and pay my respects, by writing about her ‘Life’ in a booklet edited by the Typography School of the Prisoners’ Sons”.
b – The Blessed Anne Marie Taigi (1769-1837).
The Blessed Anne Marie Taigi was a fervent devotee of Saint Philomena and often personally experienced her powerful intercession. Amongst other things, she received the healing of one of her young nieces. The Jesuit P. Gabriel Bouffier affirms that this admirable mother invoked the young Martyr from the Catacombs every night and made her family invoke her also. She had her image displayed in her house and on death’s door, like a good Christian mother, after having given the last recommendations to her sons, she placed them under the special protection of Saint Philomena, of whom she had always propagated the cult.
c – The Blessed Pius IX (1792-1878).
This Pope’s devotion was deep and sincere throughout his whole life. In 1849 he visited the Sanctuary. His name can be read in every chapter of this book: he is present in the miracles chapter (he, when young, was healed by intercession of the Saint); he is present in the liturgical and devotional documents chapter; he is present in the ex voto and the devotion of the Popes for the Saint chapter. Amongst other things, he proclaimed her Second Patron in the vast Neapolitan Kingdom.
Venerable and Servants of God devotees of Saint Philomena
a – The Venerable Pauline Marie Jaricot (1799-1862).
Pauline Marie Jaricot, founder of the Living Rosary and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith was highly appreciated by Pope Gregory XVI who wanted to personally receive her when she passed through Rome. She had been directed to Mugnano to invoke her healing to our Saint. The astonishing miracle of her healing, which he verified in person, induced Pope Gregory XVI to sign the well known decree of 1837.
It was she that gave the relic of Saint Philomena to the Curate of Ars and she was one of the promoters of Philomena’s devotion in Lyon and in the whole of France.
b – The Servant of God Sister Marie Louise of Jesus (1799-1875).
Originally known as Marie Carmela Ascione, she wore the cloth of the Dominican sisters by age 18, taking the name of Sister Marie Louise of Jesus. Later on, intent on spreading of the cult of Saint Philomena and by the echoes of her miracles in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, she founded the religious family of the “Oblates of Our Lady of Sorrows and Saint Philomena”. From her written work and her autobiography transpires simplicity and clarity of style, together with a deep ascetic doctrine.
Her devotion for our Saint was deep and sincere. However, her “revelations” on the life and martyrdom of Saint Philomena (fig. 22) although answering the need to know more about her life, has effectively brought our Saint towards the legend, detaching her from history. In truth the cult of Saint Philomena did not start from her revelations, nor has it been divulged through them.
The Church, in all the official acts in relation to the cult of our Martyr, has never taken it into account. There is however the sincere devotion of Sister Marie Louise and the beneficial influence that her written work has given to the veneration of Saint Philomena.
c – The Venerable Marie Christine of Savoy (1812-1836).
Born in Cagliari in 1812, the Venerable Marie Christine of Savoy – first wife of King Ferdinand II and mother of Francis II, last King of Naples – was a Christian and charitable heroine in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. She had a great devotion to Saint Philomena. With her husband Ferdinand II, she came for the first time to the Sanctuary of Mugnano on April 11, 1835. The Pius Queen had been married for three years, but she was not fruitful. Immediately after her visit to the Sanctuary, the happy news about the conception of the heir to the throne was announced. The Queen attributed her pregnancy to the intercession of Saint Philomena. As a sign of recognition, she decided to have a female orphanage built in Mugnano dedicated to the Saint, which was built by her august consort. She actually came ten times to Mugnano and her ex voto are kept in the Sanctuary Treasury. She left this earthly life for Heaven on the 31st of January 1836. She was just over twenty-three years old and she had been a Queen for just three years. After the solemn funerals, her body was buried in the Neapolitan Basilica of Saint Clare, where she rests today. The death of the young sovereign generated great mourning and increased the fame of her sanctity. People rushed to pray at the tomb of the “Saint Queen”. Many prodigies happened through her intercession. Pius IX in 1853 proclaimed her as Venerable and Pius XI in 1937 declared heroic her virtues. In numerous biographies the great devotion of Marie Christine of Savoy (fig. 23) towards Saint Philomena is highlighted.
d – The Servant of God, Julie Colbert (1785-1864).
Julie Colbert, Marchioness of Barolo, imposed herself as one of the most extraordinary figures of the nineteenth century. She was very devoted to Saint Philomena and greatly attached to her Sanctuary. She promoted the devotion of the Saint in the city of Turin.
At Napoleon’s court she met the Count Carl Tancredi Falletti who became her husband in 1814. Not having any children, she dedicated herself to charity work and prisoner rehabilitation. She dedicated herself to this work of social and Christian promotion and donated all of her huge wealth to them. She founded the Daughters of Jesus Good Pastor. The Marchioness of Barolo visited the Sanctuary of Saint Philomena in January 1834 and in February 1852, at which time she left a silver heart with a letter for the grace received. Barolo entitled a small, beautiful hospital for sick and crippled young girls to the saint.
e – The Servant of God Andrew Filomeno Garcia (1800-1853).
Amongst the devotees of Saint Philomena there is the Servant of God Brother Andrew Filomeno Garcia who, for his simplicity, calls to mind the Curate of Ars.
Native of the Canary Islands (1800), emigrated to Montevideo when he was about twenty-three years of age, became mendicant friar at the Franciscans of Santiago. For many years he travelled through the cities and the countryside of Chile, carrying in one hand a small box for offerings, in the other a big picture of Saint Philomena that he would show to everybody. To the ones who would stop to listen to him, Friar Garcia would tell about the miracles of the small Saint, leaving them enriched.
He also composed prayers and hymns in honor of Saint Philomena. He died in Santiago in 1853. Two years later, his body, found in pristine condition, was buried in the Church of his monastery, at the altar of Saint Philomena.
f – The Venerable Father Vito Michael Di Netta (1787-1849).
Vito Michael Di Netta, known as the Apostle of the Calabries, was born in Vallata (Avellino) on February 26, 1787. He was a missionary heroic figure of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer founded by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, Doctor of the Church, whose preaching in Nola has remained memorable.
He was called by God after having terminated his studies at the Seminar of Saint Angelo of the Lombards. He joined the novitiate of the Father Redeemers of Saint Angelo at Cupolo, near Benevento. He was ordained priest on the 30th of March 1811 and was sent to the Calabries where he preached popular missions, covering the region by land and by sea. He worked mainly in Catanzaro and Tropea where in 1822 he became Rector of the Monastery of the Father Redeemers and where he died in an air of purity on the 3rd of December 1849. He was declared Venerable by Pope Pius XI in 1935.
Father Di Netta nurtured a great devotion towards Saint Philomena whom he always invoked in times of the danger he faced as a missionary. The testimony of his fervent devotion towards Saint Philomena is as follows:
“Once he was with Father De Blasio and Ilario at sea, heading for a mission, when suddenly they were surprised by a terrible storm, finding them face to face with death. Only he remained calm, while the others were crying dismayed. He then said: ‘Sons, do not fear, we will survive; let us make a vow to Saint Philomena to celebrate in Her honor the Mass, as soon as we reach the beach, and nothing bad will happen to us.’ ”
After pronouncing the promise, the storm died and everything went calm, and his friends stated to have seen beside him, during the danger, a young girl with an angelic face, whom they believed was Saint Philomena”.
g – The Venerable Jean Claude Colin (1790-1875).
Father J.C. Colin was a great devotee of Saint Philomena. Orphaned at the age of fourteen, he joined the Seminary of Saint-Jodard. He then moved on to the ones of Alix, Verrières and finally Saint Irénée of Lyon, where he completed his theological and philosophical formation. Ordained priest in 1816, he founded the Society of Mary. On April 29, 1836 Pope Gregory XVI approved the Marist Congregation and in 1837 Colin was elected its General Superior.
The Marists, following his guidance, dedicated themselves to the education of the young in local and foreign missions, especially in the remote Oceania. They reaped great results of religious and human promotion. Father Colin used to turn to Saint Philomena with the same love and trust of the Curate of Ars. In Belley, in an old Capuchin Monastery, he founded an oratory dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, in which he placed a statue of Saint Philomena.
Distinguished and common faithful, devotees of Saint Philomena.
a – Mother Mary Theresa (1809-1863).
Mother Mary Theresa, foundress of the Congregation of the Healing Adoration, owes her vocation to Saint Philomena. This religious woman, previously known as Théodelinde Dubouché, young happy and light-hearted, used to study painting. It was through this road that God led her towards the most beautiful heights. While painting a picture of Saint Philomena, which is now in the Cathedral of Bayeux, Mlle. Dubouché received her vocation and conversion.
b – The Abbot Louis Petit (1852-1914).
After the death of Don Francesco De Lucia (1847), of John Marie Vianney (1859) and of Pauline Jaricot (1862), another great apostle of Saint Philomena distinguished himself. He was the Abbot Louis Petit (fig. 24), who worked in Paris. Born in Colombey-Les-Deux-Églises on June 15, 1852, he cultivated within his family the love for Saint Philomena. He was a seminarian when his parents moved to Paris, living in the area of the parish church of Saint-Gervais. This church was the only one in the capital with the cult of Saint Philomena well established. In 1872 he founded the periodical L’Echo de Sainte Philoméne, which he managed to publish for two years. Not yet a priest, he also published Histoire du culte de Sainte Philoméne, “History of the cult of Saint Philomena.”
He was ordained in 1879 and two years later joined the Congregation of Saint Vincent de Paoli, where he was director of the Messager de Sainte Philoméne until his death. The purpose of his life had been the spreading of the cult of Saint Philomena and he created a center from which to radiate it.
In the Parisian district of High Vaugirard, he built the lovely chapel of Saint Philomena in Rue Dantzig. From here his written work and his Messager reached France and the rest of the world. In 1883 he received the approval of the Cord of Saint Philomena from the Sacred Congregation of Rites and spread its devotion through his periodical.
Louis Petit also had the inspiration to found the Work of Saint Philomena, with the intention of giving Christian education to the working classes. He joyfully witnessed this pious association become a Universal Archconfraternity with an official act of Pius X on May 21, 1912.
The first century of the finding of Saint Philomena’s bones was solemnly celebrated in Rome in 1902. He had the honor of closing these celebrations with a sung Mass.
When the Abbot Petit came to Mugnano to venerate Saint Philomena in 1883 and 1902, he uses the wonderful missal donated by Pope Leo XIII for the celebration of the Sacred Mass. He died in Paris in 1914, full of merits towards our Saint whom he deeply loved and venerated.
c – An endless list.
In the whole world, countless individuals of every social condition have venerated Saint Philomena. Here are mentioned only a few:
Father Joseph Varin, one of the restorers of the Society of Jesus in France, used to pronounce at least forty times a day the name of the Saint and celebrated a mass in the Sanctuary dedicated to her.
Father O’Sullivan spread the cult of Saint Philomena in Portugal, Ireland, and USA.
Many writers and artists have had admiration and devotion towards the Saint:
Michael De Saint Pierre, French catholic novelist, in his biography about the Curate of Ars highlights great fondness for Saint Philomena;
Jean Dupré consecrated to Saint Philomena the first fruits of his works;
the Italian poets Joseph Borghi and Sylvius Pellico wrote hymns in honor of the “Pure Virgin” and the “Invincible Martyr”.
Many Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops, from all over the world have come to give homage to Saint Philomena in Mugnano and have left their ex voto:
Card. Louis Ruffo Scilla, Archbishop of Naples, who wanted to donate a statue of Saint Philomena to the Sanctuary; the English Cardinal Thomas Weld;
Card. James Philip Franzoni, Prefect of Faith Propaganda;
Card. Louis Lambruschini, Secretary of Pius IX; Card. Angelo Mai, Prefect of the Vatican Library; Card. Gabriel della Gerga Sermattei;
Card. Philip Judge Caracciolo, Archbishop of Naples.
In 1837 the Archbishop of Cesarea, went to Mugnano.
In 1852 the Sanctuary was visited by: the Bishop of Chicago, Mons. John James Oliviero Vande Velede; Mons. Vincent Spaccapietra, Archbishop of Smirne, John Hilary Bost, Bishop of Merida in the Venezuelan Republic.
Rightfully Ippolito writes: “The Sanctuary of Saint Philomena in Mugnano has by now become renowned for the continuous visits and pilgrimages of foreigners who expressly come from the most remote corners of the earth. Ecclesiastics, noblemen, ladies, and people of every class and condition of all nations have all been seen here and they still pour into that fortunate village to venerate the sacred body of the undefeated Heroine, in gratitude for the graces received, imploring her patronage.”
Fig. 21 – The Basilica of Saint Philomena in Ars, France. The Curate of Ars, to gather the considerable funds required for its building, in 1859 wrote this: “I will pray to the good God for those that help me to build a nice church to Saint Philomena. Jean Vianney, Curate of Ars.” The Basilica, splendid result of his great love for our Martyr, was finally completed in 1881.
Fig. 22 – The martyrdom and the cult of Saint Philomena in printings of the nineteenth century.
Fig. 23 – The pious Queen Marie Christine of Savoy, wife of Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies. She often visited the Sanctuary in Mugnano, near which she decided to build a female orphanage. The Queen attributed the birth of her only son, Francis II, last King of Naples, to the intercession of Saint Philomena. She died young and was mourned by everyone. In 1853 Pope Pius IX proclaimed her as Venerable.
Fig. 24 – Father Louis Petit. In 1902, by his initiative, Rome became for one day Philomenian City. Near Priscilla’s Catacombs the celebrations for the First Centenary of the finding of Saint Philomena’s body were held. In 1883 and in 1902 he visited Mugnano.