My childhood church featured beautiful, full-length stained glass windows. My family typically sat in the same area each week, and I grew to know the windows within view. The saints depicted in them became old friends I looked forward to seeing each week. One window was a particular source of fascination for me, and it was just out of view.
I found St. Philomena while walking around church after Mass. She was absolutely stunning. Incomparably beautiful with her long brown hair and deep purple dress, palms in her hand and an anchor by her feet. I could have stared at her all day, but only had time for a brief moment each week as my family gathered our belongings to head home. Every Sunday I would crane my neck to catch a glimpse of her from our pew, but her window was near the front and behind a pole, so in order to see her I needed to physically pay her a visit.
There was little to be found about the life of Philomena at the time, and she remains a fairly mysterious figure to this day. I learned more about her as I grew older, and my fascination with her continued. My mother loves to tell the story of when I befriended a little girl at a hotel pool while traveling, and I told her my name was Philomena. I was so inspired by her witness of faith as a virgin martyr in the early Church. According to legend, “each time she was attacked [during her martyrdom], angels took to her side and healed her through prayer.” I eventually chose her as my Confirmation saint at age 16.
Flash forward to 2016, when I began spending time with the Secular Franciscans. I was initially intimidated by St. Francis’ extreme conversion story, in which the son of a wealthy merchant cast off his money, belongings, and even his clothes (it must’ve been QUITE a scene in the town square) as he broke with his old life and embraced Christian poverty.
I had somewhat of an easier time acclimating to St. Clare, although her story is no less dramatic. Here’s a little snippet:
“At 18, Clare escaped from her father’s home one night, was met on the road by friars carrying torches, and in the chapel received a rough woolen habit, exchanged her jeweled belt for a common rope with knots in it, and sacrificed her long tresses to Francis’ scissors. He placed her in a Benedictine convent, which her father and uncles immediately stormed in rage. Clare clung to the altar of the church, threw aside her veil to show her cropped hair, and remained adamant.”Franciscan media
I made my perpetual profession to the Secular Franciscan Order this past July (on the feast of St. Benedict. He’s been after me lately, too), and Clare has become a source of inspiration. I am in awe of her fortitude, persistence, and fearlessness.
These two saints enchanted and impacted me in some of my most formative phases as a child, young adult, and grown woman. As your resident Liturgical Year Enthusiast, you can imagine my surprise at the realization last week that Philomena and Clare share the same feast day: August 11. I was glancing ahead at the calendar, and smiled as I looked forward to St. Clare’s upcoming feast. Then I noticed St. Philomena listed next to her, and I burst out laughing. It should not have taken me this many years to notice, but my goodness what a delight to know that these two have been scheming about me for quite some time.
Sts. Philamena and Clare, Ora Pro Nobis