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Saint Felix of Cantalice: Humble Servant

By Dominic Monti, OFM
Published in Saints
May 21, 2022
3 min read
Saint Felix of Cantalice: Humble Servant

On May 18, the Franciscan family celebrates the memory of Saint Felix of Cantalice (1515-1587), a Capuchin friar known for his life of humble service.

Devoted to prayer in the midst of work

Born in the village of Cantalice near Rieti, Italy, to a peasant family, Felix Porri worked as shepherd and then a ploughman. He was known to be devoted to prayer in the midst of his work. One day, while he was breaking in a team of young oxen, the animals were suddenly spooked and trampled on Felix, pulling the plow over his body. He survived, but this narrow escape caused him to rethink his life, and in 1543 he sought admission to the Capuchin friars in Cittaducale as a lay brother.

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The village of Cantalice, Italy, birthplace of Saint Felix.

"Ass of the friars”

In 1548, Felix was sent to Rome, where for the next four decades he served as the "ass of the friars" (his own term!), going out each day with a sack to beg for food and other alms for the support of the fraternity. He was allowed to share the alms he gathered with the poor people he met in the streets, especially widows with children.

“Brother Deo gratias”

Over the years, Felix became a familiar figure among the people of Rome as he went about barefoot in all types of weather, singing improvised spiritual songs; the children, who flocked to him to hear his stories, called him "Brother Deo gratias" because of his cheerful habit of saying "Thanks be to God" for the alms he received.

Sharing profound homespun wisdom

He shared a profound homespun wisdom with all he met and became a close friend of Saint Philip Neri, who often sought Felix’s advice. Felix was beatified in 1625 and canonized in 1712, the first Capuchin to receive that honor.

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Felix encountering Philip Neri on the streets of Rome.

Embodying the words of Saint Francis

"In that love which is God, I beg all my brothers, whether they are in engaged in preaching, praying, or manual labor, to strive to humble themselves in everything; not to boast or be self?satis?ed, or take pride in any good which God sometimes says or does or accomplishes in and through them. We must be ?rmly convinced that we have nothing of our own, except our vices and sins. And so we should be glad when we fall into various trials, and when we suffer anguish of soul or body . . . in this world, for the sake of life eternal."

"We must all be on our guard against pride and empty boasting and beware of worldly or natural wisdom. A worldly spirit loves to talk a lot but does little, striving for exterior signs of holiness that people can see, with no desire for true piety and interior holiness of spirit. . . The spirit of God, on the other hand, inspires us to mortify and look down upon our lower nature. . . and strives for humility, patience, simplicity, and true peace of spirit. . . "

"Let us refer every good to the most high Supreme God, and acknowledge that every good is his; and thank him from whom all good comes, for everything. . . And when we see or hear people speaking or doing evil or blaspheming God, let us speak well and do good, praising God, who is blessed for ever."—Francis of Assisi, "The Earlier Rule," chapter 17

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Saint Felix's body lies in a sarcophagus beneath this altar in a chapel of the Capuchin church in Rome.

Dominic Monti, OFM

Dominic Monti, OFM

Professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University

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. 


In Memoriam
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