24 April 2012

My experience with St. Fidelis

Mark Rey (1577-1622), a member of the Capuchins, was martyred as a result of his efforts in bringing Protestants back to the Catholic Church. He has been a man after my own heart for many, many years. Known now as St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, April 24th is his feast day. And it was on this day thirty-six years ago that I was ordained as an Anglican priest.

The date had been chosen for the convenience of the ordaining bishop, not because I had any particular devotion (nor any knowledge at that time) of St. Fidelis. I was serving in the Anglican parish of St. Stephen, Southmead in Bristol, England. Having gone there as a deacon, it was decided that my family and I would make a brief visit back to America where my presbyteral ordination could take place so that our wider family could be present. April 24th was the date which the ordaining bishop had available – a date which was more appropriate than I could have imagined at the time.

As I was kneeling before the bishop in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island, the thought going through my mind was, “I wish he was a Catholic bishop.” I wouldn’t have admitted to anyone at the time that I had such a thought, but it’s true. As I later learned more about St. Fidelis, I am convinced that it was through his intercession that the thought came to me. Even then, at the moment of my Anglican ordination, my feet were set on the path to Rome.

At that time I didn’t know the circumstances of the martyrdom of St. Fidelis. He was devoted to the work of bringing Protestants back to the fullness of the Catholic faith because of the overwhelming Christian love he had for others. He could not bear the thought that there were those who were deprived of the many and wonderful gifts God gives through His Church.

What a marvelous act of charity this was by St. Fidelis, that even from his place in heaven his concern extended to a young man who yearned to be home. I have loved him ever since.