On this day: St. Francis Jerome, S.J.

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day we celebrate the feast of St. Francis Jerome (1642-1716). He begged his Jesuit superiors to send him to the foreign missions, but they told him to "concentrate all his zeal and energy on the city and Kingdom of Naples".

He became a renowned preacher, in the church and on the streets, in the city and in the surrounding hamlets. Among those he brought back to the sacraments was Marie Alvira Cassier.

-- Alvira, The Heroine of Vesuvius: A Remarkable Sensation of the Seventeenth Century, Founded on Facts Recorded in the Acts of Canonization of St. Francis of Jerome, by Rev. A. J. O'Reilly, D. D., Sadlier, 1885.

When Alvira was a young girl in Paris, the daughter of a consumptive Catholic mother and a beastly Lutheran father, her brother left home to join the Society of Jesus, keeping it secret from his father who mocked religion.

Alvira's mother died and "was laid in a marble tomb amongst the first occupants of Pére la Chaise . . . not far from the famous tomb of Abelard and Eloise." Alvira's father's bank failed and he ran away, taking his two daughters and a million francs.

The two girls dressed as boys at their father's command, to help him avoid apprehension. In Geneva, Alvira, now known as Charles, became angry because their father spent so much time drinking with his fellow Freemasons. She berated him, and he slapped her. A few days later, the father and the two daughters had to flee again. They went to stay with the unsuspecting Benedictines at Martigny. While strolling in the mountains, Alvira killed her father by pushing him off a cliff.

The two young "men" gambled away the rest of the money and then joined the army at Naples. They were sent with two hundred soldiers to destroy a band of brigands at Vesuvius. The royalists were victorious, but Alvira's sister was killed.

The captain also died, and Alvira/Charles, now the senior officer, directed that the bodies be buried in their clothes. She led the royal troops back to Naples. "With her return to the city the war was ended, and the people were rejoicing in the restoration of peace. The young captain who had returned so victorious from Vesuvius was the lion of the day."

To read the rest of her story, which begins when she meets the famous preacher, St. Francis Jerome, go to page 164. Alvira leaves the army, and with Father Francis's help, receives a captain's pension. She witnesses a miracle by Father Francis and has a vision of her sister's soul being taken from purgatory to heaven. And, at last, a sweet reunion.

For more on St. Francis Jerome, see Jesuit Saints & Martyrs, by Joseph N. Tylenda, S.J., Loyola Press, 1998. Search term: Francis Jerome. Page 129.

"Fr. Jerome also visited the sick, day and night. On these visitations he always carried a relic of St. Cyr, the Alexandrian physician martyred in the third century. Contemporaries attest that many a cure happened when Fr. Jerome prayed over the sick and blessed them with the relic, but to divert attention from himself, he always attributed the healings to St. Cyr."

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