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Saints to intercede for roommates

BASIL THE GREAT AND GREOGRY OF NAZIANZEN

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Meg Hunter-Kilmer - published on 08/14/21

These saints can help us find and be the kind of roommate that leads to success.

As students begin to return to school, many are moving in with strangers, or with friends who were lovely classmates but remain untested as roommates. Anyone who’s had a roommate can attest that your roommate can make or break your year—and even, at times, your soul. Fortunately, there are some saints who are perfectly suited to intercede for us as we try to find (and be) the kind of people who lead their roommates to heaven.

St. Basil the Great (330-379) and St. Gregory Nazianzen (329-390) both have two canonized parents and plenty of canonized siblings, but they share a feast day not with family but with a friend who became closer than family. The two young men from modern-day Turkey met in Athens, where they had both moved to study, and soon became fast friends and roommates. Gregory later wrote, “Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own. We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit.” Basil and Gregory competed not for honors or for learning but only for virtue, even as they both went on to become bishops. They did fight, sometimes bitterly (as when Gregory accused Basil of using him as a pawn in a battle with another bishop) but they loved each other fiercely and challenged each other to holiness in such a tremendous way that their friendship is the stuff not just of legend but of hagiography.

St. Dominica of Constantinople (395-474) was a woman from what is now Tunisia who left the home of her Christian parents and moved to Alexandria. There she lived with four pagan women, whom she evangelized and who were soon converted by the witness of their holy roommate. Dominica and her roommates eventually moved to Constantinople, where Dominica left behind her ministry to roommates and became a hermit. She spent the rest of her life in prayer and fasting, a miracle-worker with the gift of prophecy.

St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552) and St. Peter Faber (1506-1546) were college roommates with no particular desire for heroic deeds or radical holiness until their third roommate arrived: an eccentric, middle-aged man with more money than sense (it seemed) and very little education. Francis in particular was intent on worldly success and thought their new roommate was a disaster. But the holiness of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) began to rub off on his roommates; Peter soon decided God was calling him to the priesthood, and while Francis tried to ignore his roommate’s witness, there was only so long he could coexist with such holiness without desiring it himself. The three set their hearts on heaven, founding the Society of Jesus and becoming the first of many Jesuit saints.

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (1532-1617) met St. Peter Faber when Alphonsus was 10; only four years later, the witness of the saintly Fr. Faber had inspired Alphonsus to leave the world behind and enter the Jesuits. But Alphonsus’s father died within the year and Alphonsus had to return home to support his family. He married, lost two children, was widowed, lost his mother, and had to close the family business. When he lost his sole remaining child, the man of constant suffering finally sought admission to the Jesuits again—and was refused. Alphonsus was eventually accepted as a lay brother and some years later lived with St. Peter Claver (1580-1654), a man nearly 50 years his junior. Blessed with the gift of prophecy, Alphonsus told Peter that God was calling him to spend his life in service to the people of Latin America; Peter listened and became one of the greatest saints of the 17th century through his service to enslaved people in Colombia.

St. Joseph Lê Đăng Thi (1825-1860) was a Vietnamese sergeant in the imperial army, a husband and father who sought and received a medical discharge from the army when a persecution broke out that would have required him to apostatize in order to remain a soldier. But the persecution soon spread to civilians as well, and Thi was arrested and sentenced to death. As he awaited his execution, Thi prayed with the other Catholics imprisoned with him, comforting them and inspiring them. He also befriended a non-Catholic cellmate who had been arrested for theft, witnessing to him for months as the man came to embrace the Gospel, then catechizing him until the day the two were slated to die. That morning, Thi baptized his roommate (in the absence of a priest) and the two went together to their deaths, a martyr for the faith and a newborn soul going to meet the God who had washed him clean.

St. Peter Choung Won-ji (1845-1866) was born to a Catholic family in Korea and lost his father to martyrdom when he was a child. As a young adult, he rented a room in the home of St. Peter Cho Hwa-so (1814-1866), a husband and father who encouraged the believers in his area. When the two were arrested, Won-ji initially apostatized, but his roommate Hwa-so encouraged him to think of his Lord and of his martyred father and be faithful. Hwa-so performed the same service for many of his cellmates, building them up when they were tempted to deny their faith and save their lives. Won-ji and Hwa-so were ultimately faithful unto martyrdom, along with Hwa-so’s son, St. Joseph Cho Yun-ho.

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