Today is the feast day of Saint Hyacinth, Ora pro nobis.
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
St. Hyacinth, a great ornament of the celebrated Order of Preachers, was born in Poland. He was the son of illustrious parents, who educated him according to the dictates of Christianity. During the years devoted to his studies, he was an example of innocence, piety and industry. His uncle, the bishop of Cracow, appointed him canon in his cathedral, so that he might employ him in the administration of his See. When he left for Rome, on account of troubles at home, he took Hyacinth with him. St. Dominic, so celebrated for his apostolic zeal, and for the miracles he wrought, was there at the time. Hyacinth, observing the wonderful zeal and piety of this holy man and of his companions, felt a growing desire to join them. He and three of his fellow-travelers, who had the same inclination, went to St. Dominic and begged him to receive them into his newly founded Order. The Saint received them willingly, and instructed them how to lead a religious life, to preach in a Christian spirit, and to labor successfully for the spiritual welfare of men. After a few months, the holy founder had so thoroughly imbued them with his spirit, that he did not hesitate, after they had taken their vows, to send them into their native country, to preach the word of God and promote the salvation of souls.
At Cracow, where St. Hyacinth had formerly preached by his edifying life, he now began to preach with words, and God gave them such power, that he reformed the most hardened sinners, induced others to become more zealous in the service of the Almighty, and animated all to be more solicitous for the salvation of their souls. That all this might have a more solid foundation, he gathered a number of spiritual co-operators about him, and having instructed them according to the maxims of St. Dominic, he established a Dominican monastery at Cracow. Hyacinth, who had been chosen superior by the new members, was an example to all. Besides the prescribed fast-days of his Order, he fasted all Fridays and vigils on bread and water. The greater part of the night he passed in fervent prayer, before the Blessed Sacrament. He allowed himself only a very short rest on the bare floor, and scourged himself severely every night. The whole day was occupied with hearing confessions, preaching, visiting the sick, and similar pious exercises.
He had particular devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin, and never undertook anything before offering his work to God and begging the assistance of His Blessed Mother. She appeared to him once, on the eve of the feast of her Assumption, saying to him: “Be assured, my son, that thou shalt receive everything thou askest from my Son.” The comfort these words afforded the holy man may be easily imagined. He, however, asked only for what was necessary for the salvation of souls. His own and his companion's pious labors were all directed to the same end. When he thought that he had firmly established religious principles and practices among the inhabitants of Cracow and the whole diocese, he sent his preachers to different places to labor in the same manner. He himself also left Cracow, and it is astonishing how many countries he journeyed through, how many convents he established everywhere: for apostolic laborers, how many souls he converted to the true faith or to a more virtuous life.
To aid his pious endeavors, God gave him power to work miracles, and so great was their number, that he might well be called the Thaumaturgus, or wonder-worker of his age. A miraculous event occurred in Russia, when the Tartars stormed Kiow, where the Saint had founded a church and convent. He was standing at the altar when they entered the city, spreading destruction and desolation around them. After finishing the Holy Sacrifice, the Saint, still in his priestly robes, took the Ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament, and telling his priests to follow him without fear, he went towards the church door. When passing a large alabaster statue of the Blessed Virgin, before which he had often said his prayers, he distinctly heard a voice saying: “My son Hyacinth, wilt thou leave me here to be at the mercy of my enemies?” The Saint's eyes filled with tears. “How can I carry thee? ” said he; “the burden is too heavy.” “Only try,” was the response; “my son will assist you to carry me without difficulty.” The holy man with streaming eyes, took the statue and found it so light, that he could carry it with one hand. Thus, carrying the Ciborium in one hand and the statue in the other, he and his companions passed through the enemy unassailed, to the gates of the city. Not finding any soldiers there, they passed on and reached Cracow in safety.
Whether Almighty God made His servants invisible to the Tartars on this occasion, or in some other manner prevented them from harming them, is not known; but it is a fact that they left the city unmolested. When they reached the river over which there was no bridge, nor a boat to convey them across, the Saint, trusting in the power of Him Whom he carried in his right hand, and in the intercession of her whom he held in his left, fearlessly stepped upon the water, and crossed it with dry feet. A similar, and perhaps still greater miracle happened at another time. He was going to Vicegrad to preach, but, on reaching the river, found no vessel which he could use to reach the opposite bank. Spreading his cloak on the water, he sat upon it, and was floated safely across and brought his companions over in the same manner. By this and many other miracles, God glorified His servant even on earth.
For forty years this holy man had labored for the salvation of souls, when, in 1257, it was revealed to him that he should assist, in Heaven, at the triumph of the Blessed Virgin, on the feast of her glorious Assumption. On the feast of St. Mary ad Nives, he was taken sick. On the eve of the Assumption he gave his last instruction to the priests of his Order; after which he prepared for the festival, and, having recited the office of the day, he fixed his eyes on heaven, and said the psalm, “In thee, O Lord, have I hoped,” to the words, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” when he calmly expired, at the age of 74. The innocence and chastity which he possessed at the time of his baptism, remained unspotted until the end. After his death, the miracles which the Almighty continued to work through this Saint, were the means of proclaiming to all the world, the sanctity and merits of His blessed servant. (1)
He was canonized by Pope Clement VIII in 1594. A portion of his relics is at the Dominican church in Paris.
Image: St. Hyacinth depicting with a monstrance and a statue of Mary, Artist: Giovanni Battista Piazzetta