On February 25, Franciscans remember Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio (1502–1600) who lived a highly unusual life on two continents, first as a devout layman and then as a Franciscan friar.
Born into a poor family in the town of A Gudiña in the Galician region of northwest Spain, Sebastian left home to find work as a migrant agricultural laborer to provide dowries for his sisters. He eventually decided to find a new life across the ocean in “New Spain” and arrived in Mexico in 1533, settling in the recently founded town of Puebla. He became an agricultural laborer and then raised cattle. Struck by the lack of good roads, he then embarked on a career as a road builder to connect regions of Mexico, most famously a road linking the mining city of Zacatecas with Mexico City.
Blessed Sebastian de Aparicio was baptized in this church in A Gudiña, Galicia, Spain.
Although he became very wealthy as a result, Sebastian continued to live very simply. He then settled down on a “hacienda” near Zacetecas, farming and ranching, and was known for his prayer and charitable works. He instructed indigenous peoples in European methods of agriculture and how to domesticate horses and cattle and was often called upon to mediate disputes between them and Spanish settlers.
In 1573, after the death of his second wife, Sebastian donated most of his remaining wealth to support a Poor Clare monastery and lived at first as a servant on the property; the next year he sought admission to the Friars Minor. He spent most of his friar life as “quaestor” (alms-seeker) for the large friary in Puebla, where he became revered by the people. He traveled about the region in an oxcart gathering alms to support the friars and the poor, leaving an example of humility and cheerfulness. Many stories are told about his ability to connect with domestic animals. Sebastian enjoyed robust good health until the end of his life, dying after a brief illness at age 98.
The church of San Francisco in Puebla, a magnificent "Churrigueresque" structure, was constructed between 1743 and 1767. (Photo, CUTI1, Wikimedia, Creative Commons)
Many miracles were attributed to him after his death, leading to his beatification in 1789. His incorrupt body rests in a glass case in a chapel of the church of San Francisco in Puebla.
The incorrupt body of Blessed Sebastian in Puebla
There is a contract between the world and the brothers. The brothers must give the world a good example; the world must provide for their needs. When the brothers break faith and withdraw their good example, then the world will withdraw its hand in a just censure. (2 Celano, #70)
For a brief view of the spectacular church of San Francisco, watch this video in Spanish.
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. 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.