#2. St. Benedict the Black
St. Benedict the Black (1526 — April 4, 1589) was the son of African slaves in Sicily. He was given his freedom upon his birth because of his parents’ “loyal service.” As a Black child of slaves in Sicily, he never got an education and he was illiterate. He worked as a shepherd and gave what he could to the poor although the people around him were often cruel to him due to the color of his skin. He caught the attention of some Franciscan hermits that lived nearby who invited him to join their community. He accepted the invitation. He started as the cook but quickly got promoted to the leader of the community.
In 1564, the Pope wanted to consolidate all of these independent groups of hermits so he asked that they join established friaries. Again, St. Benedict started as the Friary cook, but was soon promoted to the Master of Novices and ultimately as the Guardian of the community. In his leadership roles, he advocated for a stricter way of life for the Franciscan friars.
Although he lacked formal education, he was widely respected for his deep understanding of theology and scripture. He was sought by people inside and outside the Friary for counseling and healing. He died at the age of 65 on the exact day he had predicted. Like St. Martin de Porres, he already had an extensive following when he died. King Phillip III of Spain paid for a tomb to be built for St. Benedict in the Friary where he lived, worked, and died.
He was beautified in 1743 and canonized in 1807. His body was considered incorrupt when it was exhumed which is seen as a sign of sainthood. His feast day is on April 3 for Franciscans, April 4th for the rest of the Church. He is the patron of African Americans and many African American Catholic Churches in America are named for him.
He is a great role model for us all as we often equate formal education with intelligence. It doesn’t take much to see that often formal education is more related to how wealthy you are than how smart you are. Some of the smartest people I know have never stepped foot in a college classroom. So let’s not look down on people. Give everyone a chance to prove themselves. You might be surprised.