Feast Day: 16 April
Patronage: Bachelors, mental illness and those living with mental illness, the homeless
St Benedict Joseph Labre was truly an eccentric. Born in France, the eldest of 18 children, he hoped to become a priest. But poor health and a lack of academic prowess meant he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. At age 16, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood, much to the consternation of his family.
He became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. He wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the poor. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called “the poor man of the Forty Hours devotion” and “the beggar of Rome.” The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that “our comfort is not in this world.”
On April 16, 1783, the last day of his life, Benedict dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death, the people proclaimed him a saint. Benedict Joseph Labre was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881, and his feast is celebrated on April 16 (Saturday – usurped this year with Easter). He is the patron saint of homeless people.
I think if someone like him were around today we may think him mentally unstable – a raggedy man sleeping in a ruin – but in his time he was holy.
It just shows you – never judge, because God works through us all, and holiness is everywhere if you look.