Saint Benedict of Palermo: Spiritual Guide and Healer

Saint Benedict of Palermo: Spiritual Guide and Healer

On April 4, the Franciscan family honors the memory of Saint Benedict of Palermo, sometimes called Benedict the African or the Black (1526-1589). In Italian he is referred to as “il Moro” (dark-skinned), and this was often translated into English as “the Moor.”

Hard-working peasant devoted to prayer

Benedict was born at San Fratello, a village near Messina, Sicily, to an African couple brought there as slaves. They eventually became Christians; in reward for their good service, their son was given his freedom. Benedict became a hard-working peasant, devoted to prayer; he never went to school due to his poverty and remained illiterate all his life.

St Benedict of Palermo Santa Maria di Gesu 700pxlsSt Benedict of Palermo Santa Maria di Gesu

Experiencing racial prejudice

Benedict sometimes experienced prejudice due to his race and the fact that his parents were slaves. When he was around 21, a nobleman witnessed his patient attitude when he was being taunted by a group of workers and invited him to join a group of lay Franciscan hermits that he was forming. There Benedict served as the cook and eventually became head of the small group.

St Benedict of Palermo stylized statue Jose Montes de Oca 700pxlsSaint Benedict of Palermo stylized statue Jose Montes de Oca

Highly regarded as master of novices

In 1564, Pope Pius V ordered such groups of independent lay hermits to join an established religious order, and so Benedict entered the Reformed Friars Minor in Palermo, where he again became the cook. Benedict soon became highly regarded in the community for his tact and good judgment and in 1578 was elected guardian. Then, despite his illiteracy, due his dedication to the Franciscan Rule he was asked to become the master of novices. When his term was over, he happily returned to his work in the kitchen. He gained a reputation in the Palermo area as a spiritual guide and healer and died there after a short illness on April 4, 1589.

St Benedict of Palermo street mural Palmintieri 700pxlsA recent "street mural" tribute to Saint Benedict "the Moor" (the African) in Palermo (2018) by Igor Scalisi Palmintieri (Facebook)

Patron of African communities and African-Americans

Popular devotion to him began shortly after his death; Benedict was formally beatified in 1743 and canonized in 1807. He is a patron of Palermo; devotion to him also spread among African communities in the Caribbean and Brazil; he was also declared a patron of African-Americans in the United States, along with Saint Peter Claver.

St Benedict of Palermo statue Brazil 700pxlsStatue of Saint Benedict, Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, Brazil

Wisdom of Saint Francis

I admonish and exhort my brothers in the Lord Jesus Christ that they beware of all pride, vainglory, envy, avarice, cares and worries of this world, detraction and complaint. And those who are illiterate should not be eager to learn. Instead, let them pursue what they must desire above all things: to have the Spirit of the Lord and his holy manner of working, to pray to him always with a pure heart and to have humility and patience in persecution and weakness. . .

St. Francis, Rule of the Friars Minor (1223), 10.7-9


Main image: Modern image of Saint Benedict in the style of Zurburan


Dominic Monti

Dominic Monti

Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. A native of nearby Bradford, PA, he was educated at St. Bonaventure (BA); after joining the Order, he attended the Catholic University of America (STB), Union Theological Seminary, NY (STM), and the Divinity School of the University of Chicago (PhD). He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor. He is spiritual assistant to a federation of Poor Clares and the Franciscan Secular Institute, the Missionaries of the Kingship of Christ.