1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Many young people choose this verse as a standard to guide their lives by as they seek to do the Lord’s will in their lives. It is also popular with parents, teachers, and pastors around such key milestones as confirmation, graduation, and moving on to college or a new hometown. It reminds our young people that they can be powerful witnesses for the Gospel, regardless of their perceived lack of authority or status.
It also reminds all of us that we should never waver when defending the Gospel, even if it means paying the ultimate price and giving up our lives for the sake of the cross. One figure who is believed to have embodied that spirit, and whose legend has become a powerful example for the Catholic Church, is St. Philomena.
10 Facts About St. Philomena
#1 How did we learn about her life?
Sister Maria Luisa di Gesù was a Dominican nun who claimed to receive a heavenly vision from Philomena herself about the life of the long-dead saint. The Catholic Church released a judgment and statement in 1833 that her vision was legitimate and was consistent with the Catholic faith.
#2 When did St. Philomena live?
Philomena herself was believed to have been born in the year 291 to the governor of a Greek king. He later converted to Christianity, along with his wife.
At the age of 13, Philomena took a vow of consecrated virginity. This vow keeps a woman as a virgin for her entire life and considers her as a bride of Christ in the symbolism of Christ as the bridegroom of the larger church.
#3 How did she die?
According to the vision, when the Roman Emperor Diocletian went to war against Philomena’s father, he instead offered peace if she would become his bride. When she refused, he tortured her in several ways that all resulted in miraculous healings or deliverance: scourging, drowning, and bring shot with arrows. Through all of these trials, she was supernaturally healed or the torments were redirected.
Ultimately, she was beheaded at the age of 13.
#4 How does someone become a saint?
After a person has died, their life is investigated by an official expert authorized by the Church. Their initial report is submitted to the bishop of their diocese and further investigation is performed. They may then submit the individual to the office of the Pope for recognition by the universal church. If this recognition is granted, they will have been venerated by the Church, and are given the title “Venerable.”
The next level involves further research, and if warranted the person is beatified and is given the new title “Blessed.”
The final level of investigation determines whether or not miracles were performed. Proof of at least two miracles performed by God through this person must be verified. Once this is proven, the Pope may canonize this person as a saint through a public proclamation.
#5 When were her remains discovered?
The remains of a young woman were discovered in the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome in 1802. An inscription on her tomb read “Pax Tecum Filumena,” and it was assumed that Philomena (the English spelling) was the young woman’s name.
#6 What miracles are attributed to her?
In addition to the miraculous circumstances surrounding her torture and death, many people were said to be healed due to her intercession, including a well-known member of French society in 1835. St. John Vianney, a French priest, also attributed some of his own miraculous healings to her intercession.
#7 What made her worthy of becoming a saint?
Her devotion to the Lord in the face of great adversity and martyrdom were the primary criteria for her sainthood. This, coupled with the miracles later attributed to her remains and the vision from the Dominican nun, were the grounds for her consideration.
#8 How and when was St. Philomena canonized?
Widespread public devotion shortly after her remains were found was shortly followed by authorized action by the Catholic Church. Throughout the rest of the 19th century, several popes authorized liturgical celebrations, including a feast day, a Mass and office dedicated to her, official church literature, and even a confraternity (a voluntary association of laypeople centered around a particular saint).
#9 What is her patronage?
Some Christian denominations, such as Catholicism, recognize certain saints as able to intercede before God in prayer on behalf of those suffering from a particular ailment or to pray on behalf of a certain kind of believer. Others do not believe that saints can intercede on behalf of the living when they die.
St. Philomena is the patron saint of infants, babies, and youth. She was awarded this status by her younger martyrdom and supposed intercession on behalf of the young. She is also recognized by several cities in the Philippines.
In addition, she is the patron saint of the Association of the Living Rosary. This organization was founded in 1826 by the Venerable Pauline-Marie Jaricot, whose miraculous healing was attributed to St. Philomena.
#10 How is she recognized today?
After an initial surge in popularity, St. Philomena is not given the same level of recognition in some Catholic circles. Her name has been removed from the official list of saints recognized by the Catholic Church, and the Mass in her honor is not held to be universal but only regional where appropriate. The papacy also removed her name in 1961 from all liturgical calendars, although her sainthood was not revoked.
She remains venerated by other saints and church leaders, and some circles of devotion remain to this day.
While St. Philomena is only brought to our attention today through a heavenly vision, and much of her life is attributed to legend, she remains an example of devotion to the Lord under great persecution.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.