Feast Day : May 20
Also known as: “the second Paul”
Patronage: against bleeding; against chest problems; against hoarseness; lungs and chest; wool workers; Massa Marittima
Bernadine of Siena was born on September 8, 1380, at Massa Marittima near Siena, Italy. His father was the governor. Bernadine was ophaned at age seven and then raised by an aunt. He is said to have been sensitive, and had an intense dislike for indecent language. He fasted and spent time in prayer. In 1397 he entered the Confraternity of Our Lady, and in 1400 organized the hospitals of Siena to cope with a plague outbreak. His work with the ill left him exhausted. Bernadine joined the Franciscans in 1402 and was ordained a priest in 1404. He had a weak and hoarse voice, and did not give his first sermon until September 8, 1417. He did very little preaching, and for 12 years lived as a hermit. He then went to Milan on a mission, and suddenly found he was a charismatic speaker with a strong and commanding voice. The story goes that he prayed earnestly to Mary about his voice, and one day a globe of fire came down from heaven and stopped at his throat, instantly healing him. Bernadine crisscrossed central and northern Italy on foot, preaching against immorality for hours at a time, several times a day. He also stressed punishment for sin, reward for virtue, the mercy of Jesus and the love of Mary. His special devotion was to the Holy Name of Jesus. He became the foremost missionary in Italy, and also healed people, especially lepers Once, he told a crowd he would show them devils, and then stunned everyone by telling them to look at each other, for they were doing the work of Satan. Perhaps because of his great popularity, he was slandered by enemies and was silenced for a short while. In 1427 he was defended by Pope Martin V (r. 1417–31). The pope offered him the see of Siena, but Bernadine turned down that and several other offers to be bishop in various cities. He was unable to avoid being named vicar general of his order, the Franciscan Friars of the Strict Observance, in 1430. Due to his efforts, the order increased in size from about 300 members to more than 4,000. Bernadine was devoted to Mary and had visions of her. In one, she appeared to him and showed him a farm near Bergamo where a friary could be built. Three years later, when Bernadine returned to dedicate the friary, Mary with the infant Jesus appeared in a brilliant light and was witnessed by many. Even when it was clear he was dying, he preached for consecutive days. He died at Aquila on May 20, 1444. His relics were enshrined there. Some relics also are in Siena, Rome and Massa Marittima. In art he is often depicted holding a sign with the letters IHS, the first three Greek letters of the holy name of Jesus, which he always displayed as a monogram from the pulpit and distributed to crowds. Sometimes mitres are at his feet, symbolizing his refusals of the office of bishop.