(Article written for OREMUS Newspaper at Saint Damien of Molokai Catholic Church, Edmond, Oklahoma)
By Donna Sue Berry
“Saint Philomena this, and Saint Philomena that! WHO IS SHE? You keep talking about her as if she is your best friend!” chuckled my husband, Joel. I grinned at him and said, “Ya know, she is my best friend!” I then began to share with him a condensed version about mine and my families’ favorite, little but mighty with God, Saint Philomena.
You see, she lived and was martyred in the 4th century, but she didn’t become known to the modern world until May 24th, 1802. It was on that day in Rome when excavators working in the Catacomb of Saint Priscilla happened onto a well-preserved tomb. This tomb was sealed with Terra-cotta slabs in a manner usually reserved for nobility or great martyrs. Three tiles inscribed with these words, LLULMENA/PAXTE/CUMFI were finally determined to mean Peace be with you, Philomena. There were also other symbols inscribed on her tomb, a lily, arrows, an anchor, and a lance which indicated virginity and martyrdom. Inside the coffin they discovered her remains and found her to be around the age of 12 or 13 years old when she died. There was also found a vial or “ampulla” of her dried blood. All of these were solemnly transferred to the Treasury of Rare Collections of Christian Antiquity at the Vatican. Three years later a Neapolitan priest, Don Francesco di Lucia from the town of Mugnano (near Naples) traveled to the Vatican in Rome to request the relics of a martyr to enshrine at his village church. He received relics of Philomena.
Almost immediately upon receiving her sacred relics, answers to prayers and what are called signal favors began to be granted through her intercession. Miracles and graces increased in number, and she soon earned the title Philomena, Powerful with God. She is especially known to be particularly powerful in cases of conversions of sinners, return to Sacraments, expectant mothers, destitute mothers, problems with children, unhappiness in home, sterility, priests and their work, help for the sick, money problems and mental illness. (Just to name a few things she is known for receiving miraculous answers for those whom have asked for her powerful intercession!)
Many great Saints had recourse to her intercession. Just look at whose names are on the list! There is St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. Peter Chanel, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Francis Cabrini, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, and Venerable Pauline Jaricot(Venerable Pauline’s healing was one of the “miracles” for Sainthood contributed to Saint Philomena). But it was St. John Vianney, the Cure’ of Ars in France whose childlike devotion to her played a very intimate part of his daily life. You see, she was one of his “best friends”, too!
AND if you want to talk about the Popes who loved and venerated this little saint, we have Pope Leo XII, Pope Gregory XVI, who raised her to the Altar as a Saint, and set August 11th as her feast day (He gave her the title of Patroness of the Living Rosary, and a Mass and proper Office in her honor). Pope Pius IX proclaimed her the Patroness of the Children of Mary. Pope Leo XIII went to Mugnano twice on pilgrimages to her shrine before his election to the papacy and later as Pope he gave a valuable cross to the sanctuary. He approved the Confraternity of Saint Philomena and later raised it to an Archconfraternity which is, to this day, headquartered at her shrine there in Mugnano, Italy. Pope Pius X raised the Archconfraternity to a Universal Archconfraternity, and named Saint John Vianney its patron.
Pretty great, huh? But here is a quick version about “who” she was in the 4th century.
What we know of Saint Philomena’s history actually came to the church through three people who did not know each other, who lived in different parts of the world, but who received by private revelations the story of the little martyr saint. All three received Saint Philomena’s life story in great detail and were amazingly identical in their accounts. They revealed that she was the daughter of a king in Greece, who with his wife, had converted to Christianity. Philomena, at around the age of 13, took a vow of consecrated virginity. The emperor Diocletian at the time had threatened to make war on her father, so he went to Rome to ask for peace. It was there that the emperor “fell” for the young Philomena, but when she refused to become his wife, he put her through various torments such as scourging, and drowning with an anchor tied to her. Two angels attended her and saved her from these tortures. She was shot three different times with arrows. The first time they were fired at her, her wounds were healed. The second time the arrows turned aside and the third time the arrows returned to kill six of the archers who had fired them. Finally, Diocletian had her decapitated, and her soul flew to heaven.
Two very special events have happened in our lives concerning Saint Philomena. First, in 1989 we received a fist class relic of the little Saint Philomena from Peter Canisius Van Lierde, Vicar General of His Holiness, Pope John Paul II. We had numerous prayers answered with wonderful signal favors, and we treasured the presence of her relic in our home for many years. My Dad had a tremendous love for her and kept her relic close to him as he died late into the night of August 11th, her feast day. That has meant a lot to us, and we believe she helped to usher him into the arms of Jesus. Her relic remained in his coffin until his burial and her picture was next to his on the memorial card.
Secondly, in 2004, my daughter and her husband took me with them to visit Italy and to the Shrine of Saint Philomena. (A few years before he had proposed to her in front of the Saint Philomena altar in the church of Saint John Vianney in France, two of their MOST favorite Saints.) It was a dream come true to visit there, to walk where other saints have walked, and to pray where Popes had prayed.
In July of 2006, we learned that the Oblate Nuns of Saint Benedict in Clear Creek, Oklahoma had a tremendous love and devotion to her, and that they were seeking a first class relic of her for their convent. We also found out that the Bishop of Tulsa was coming to institute the Blessed Sacrament at their convent chapel. So, that’s when we decided that the precious relic of Saint Philomena should be there to welcome her King. We gave the relic and the beautiful statue of her on which the relic hung to the Benedictine nuns for their chapel. What a joy it has been to go visit there and see the honor with which these dear sisters give to this special little saint!
Now there is just one more tid bit of information about Saint Philomena, Powerful with God, which I would like to share with the parishioners at Saint Damien of Molokai Catholic church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Saint Damien was one more devotee of hers, and he dedicated his first chapel in Molokai to the young Saint Philomena!