On April 24, the Franciscan family celebrates the memory of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen (1577-1622), a heroic martyr for the Catholic faith.
Born Mark Roy in the town of Sigmaringen, Germany, he was educated at the University of Freiburg and became a professor of philosophy. He eventually went on to obtain a law degree and began the practice of that profession in Alsace, becoming known as "The Poor Person's Lawyer." However, he became disillusioned with the rampant dishonesty in his profession; instead, drawn to prayer and a simple lifestyle, he entered the Capuchin friars in 1612.
Following his ordination, Fidelis was stationed for some years at Weltkirchen in Austria, becoming known as an eloquent preacher and a confessor. In 1621 he and several other Capuchins responded to a request from the Vatican Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith to preach in the canton of Graubünden (Grisons) Switzerland, where Calvinism had made major inroads.
Fidelis labored under continual threats from militant Protestants in the area and often had to be protected by Austrian troops. He faced beatings and other harassments. In the spring of 1622, he met with violence while preaching and was brutally murdered on April 24.
As described in a contemporary account:
"From Grüsch he went to preach at Seewis, where, with great energy, he exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the faith. After a Calvinist had discharged his musket at him in the Church, the Catholics entreated him to leave the place. He answered that death was his gain and his joy, and that he was ready to lay down his life in God's cause. On his road back to Grüsch, he met twenty Calvinist soldiers with a minister at their head. They called him a false prophet, and urged him to embrace their sect. He answered: 'I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I fear not death.' One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on the head with his backsword. Fidelis rose again on his knees, and stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, said with a feeble voice 'Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Mary, Mother of God, succor me!' Another sword stroke clove his skull, and he fell to the ground and lay in a pool of his own blood. The soldiers, not content with this, added many stab wounds to his body with their long knives, and hacked off his left leg, as they said, to punish him for his many journeys into those parts to preach to them."
When Fidelis entered the Capuchins, his novice master gave him the name Fidelis ("faithful") after a passage in the Book of Revelation: "Do not fear what you are about to suffer. . . Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." This was indeed fulfilled in his life. Fidelis was canonized in 1746 and was named patron saint of the Propagation of the Faith—now the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.
A few days before his death, Fidelis preached:
"For this is the Victory which overcomes the world, our faith; this is what has brought the most powerful kings under Christ’s rule, and made peoples the servants of Christ. . . . Living faith working through love—this is what leads men and women to put aside the goods of the present in the hope of those of the future, and to look to the future, rather than present sufferings."
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.