St. Fidelis (1577-1622) was born in the German town of Sigmaringen as Mark Rey. He became a lawyer as a young man, and dedicated himself to upholding the rights of the poor and oppressed; in fact, he was nicknamed “the poor man’s lawyer.” Mark became disgusted by the widespread corruption he observed. His brother George was a Franciscan friar of the Capuchin Order, and Mark decided to join the Order himself and to become a priest. He gave his wealth to the poor and entered the Capuchins, choosing the religious name Fidelis (Latin for “faithful”). Fidelis combined a life of continued service to the poor with an austere lifestyle, spending many hours in prayer, penance, and all-night vigils.
Speaking of Fidelis, Pope Benedict XIV (d. 1758) once said:
With wealth collected from the powerful and from princes, he comforted widows and orphans in their loneliness. He was always helping prisoners in their spiritual and bodily needs. He showed constant zeal in visiting and comforting the sick whom he would win back to God and prepare for their last struggle.
The most outstanding example of this meritorious way of life occurred when the Austrian army, stationed in the area of Raetia, was almost totally destroyed by an epidemic. To show compassion he used to bring food for the weak and the dying.
Fidelis led a group of Capuchins to Switzerland, where they preached against the Calvinists and Zwinglians (followers of the Protestant leaders John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli). Their mission was quite dangerous, but was very successful in bringing people back to the Church. Even though his life was threatened, Fidelis went to preach at the town of Seewis; while there, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped harm. A sympathetic Protestant offered him shelter, but Fidelis declined, stating that his life was in God’s hands. Upon leaving town, he was attacked by a group of armed men and killed.
1. The Christian response to social problems isn’t simply to complain about them, but to do something to help those who suffer. St. Fidelis tried to improve society — first as a lawyer, then as a priest.
2. Our Catholic faith is worth dying for; as St. Fidelis once wrote, “What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love.”
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
In addition to this charity, he was faithful in truth as well as in name. His zeal for defending the Catholic faith was unsurpassed and he preached it tirelessly.
— From a eulogy for St. Fidelis
We need more people like St. Fidelis in our midst today. Given the circumstances of my life, how can I respond to this need?
Other Saints We Remember Today
St. Euphrasia Pelletier (1868), Foundress of the Good Shepherd Sisters