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The patron saint of TV… from the 13th century?

Refat/Shuttertock and Fr Lawrence Lew OP CC

Matthew Sewell - published on 09/17/16

St. Clare of Assisi was named the patroness of television in 1957. You might be surprised why.

It should strike us as a bit odd that a saint who lived nearly 800 years ago would be the patroness of television. And yet, that’s the case. St. Clare of Assisi was named the patroness of TV by Pope Pius XII in 1957.

Born in 1194 to noble parents, Clare decided to shirk her inherited riches and seek religious life. She was a close follower of St. Francis, having heard him speak for the first time as a teenager. Given that she was the only woman who sought to follow him at that time, she was initially placed in a Benedictine monastery. Her sister joined soon after, and before long the two had not only been moved to a new location next to the Church of San Damiano in Assisi, but had begun to attract other followers, as well.

St. Francis himself was their group’s director for some time, but St. Clare soon became the abbess of a community that would become known as the Poor Clares. She was a fierce defender of her order’s commitment to poverty and rebuffed many a bishop — even a pope or two — from trying to impose or suggest watered-down rules.

As Clare grew older, she experienced poorer and poorer health, and it’s here where our story gets interesting.

It’s said that one Christmas Eve, Clare was too sick to attend Mass and was overcome with emotion at being bedridden. The Holy Spirit came to her rescue, however, and projected the images and sounds of Mass on the wall of her room, in order to allow Clare to be “present” to the Mass.

Having grown up in Italy and undoubtedly hearing this story, Pope Pius XII immediately thought of St. Clare when the television — literally defined as “vision from afar” — was invented in the mid-20th century.

Perhaps prophetically predicting the days of Netflix binge watching, not to mention the vast temptations and precarious doors this new technology could open, Pius wrote of the new invention:

“This wonderful instrument — as everyone knows and we said clearly Ourselves — can be the source of very great wealth, but also of deep troubles”

As a result, he picked a saint steeped in poverty, humility, and love for the Lord to be its heavenly intercessor. Pius XII officially named St. Clare the patroness of television in a ceremony on Valentine’s Day in 1957.

St. Clare of Assisi, pray for us!

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