The Catholic Defender: Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen
Mark Roy was born in the small town of Sigmaringen, modern-day Germany. His father was a wealthy businessman who later became the town’s mayor, and his mother was a Protestant who converted to Catholicism when she married Mark’s father. Mark had three older siblings and one younger. His loving parents saw to it that as a youth he was well educated in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith, as well as in etiquette, self-discipline, and reverence for God.
was a Capuchin friar who was involved in the Catholic Counter-Reformation, and was martyred by his opponents at Seewis im Prättigau, now part of Switzerland. Fidelis was canonized in 1746.
If a poor man needed some clothing, Fidelis would often give the man the clothes right off his back. Complete generosity to others characterized this saint’s life.
Born in 1577, Mark Rey became a lawyer who constantly upheld the causes of the poor and oppressed people. Nicknamed “the poor man’s lawyer,” Rey soon grew disgusted with the corruption and injustice he saw among his colleagues. He left his law career to become a priest, joining his brother George as a member of the Capuchin Order. Fidelis was his religious name. His wealth was divided between needy seminarians and the poor.
As a follower of Saint Francis of Assisi, Fidelis continued his devotion to the weak and needy. During a severe epidemic in a city where he was guardian of a friary, Fidelis cared for and cured many sick soldiers.
He was appointed head of a group of Capuchins sent to preach against the Calvinists and Zwinglians in Switzerland. Almost certain violence threatened. Those who observed the mission felt that success was more attributable to the prayer of Fidelis during the night than to his sermons and instructions.
He was accused of opposing the peasants’ national aspirations for independence from Austria. While he was preaching at Seewis, to which he had gone against the advice of his friends, a gun was fired at him, but he escaped unharmed. A Protestant offered to shelter Fidelis, but he declined, saying his life was in God’s hands. On the road back, he was set upon by a group of armed men and killed.
The year 1618 marked the beginning of what came to be one of the longest and deadliest wars in all of Europe, the Thirty Years’ War. The war primarily resulted from the ongoing tensions of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. During this period, Father Fidelis continued his life of deep prayer and penance and preached with zeal, winning many back to the Catholic faith. He also shared the Gospel by writing pamphlets on the faith that were secretly delivered to those who had abandoned the Church for Protestantism.
In 1621, Fidelis was sent to modern-day Austria where he continued to preach with great success. He won many people back to the Catholic faith, including nobility and rulers. When an epidemic broke out, he helped care for the sick, especially soldiers, and his compassion, genuine care, and sanctity did not go unnoticed. Among those who noticed him were many of the Calvinists who were outraged at his success at winning others back to the Catholic Church.
The winter of 1621-22 was a busy period of preaching, instruction and theological disputation for the Franciscan priest. He preached not only in the pulpits of Catholic churches, but also in public places, and even in the meeting-places of the Calvinists themselves. Some Swiss Protestants responded with hostility, but many others were also brought back to the Church.
During 1614 a Swiss Catholic bishop had sought help from the Capuchins, to restore the faith and counteract the spread of Calvinist Protestantism. In 1621, Fidelis was sent on the mission. He brought just four items: a Bible, a prayer book, a crucifix and a copy of the Capuchin rule.
On April 24, Father Fidelis was preaching in a Swiss church when an angry mob arrived. A shot was fired but missed him, and he quickly departed from the Church. As he journeyed to the next village where he was staying, the mob, which included a Zwinglian minister, caught up with him and demanded that he renounce the Catholic faith and embrace the teachings of Zwingli. To them he responded, “I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I fear not death.” With that, Father Fidelis was stuck to the ground on the head with a sword. He then knelt and prayed, “Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Mary, Mother of God, assist me.” After that, he received many more blows, was stabbed repeatedly, and one of his legs was dismembered from his body in retaliation against him for the many missionary journeys he had made throughout their land. Father Fidelis was only forty-five, ten of those years being a religious.
This volatile situation boiled over on April 24, 1622, when Fidelis’ preaching provoked a riot at a church in the village of Seewis. Some Austrian soldiers were killed in the uproar, and a would-be assassin shot at the priest.
Catholic faith, how stable, how ﬁrm you are, how well‐rooted, how well‐founded on a strong rock. Heaven and earth will pass away, but you can never perish. From the beginning the whole world has spoken against you, but you have triumphed mightily over all. For this is the Victory which overcomes the world, our faith; this is what has brought the most powerful kings under Christ’s rule, and made peoples the servants of Christ. ~From Saint Fidelis’ final sermon
Fidelis was canonized in 1746. Fifteen years later he was recognized as a martyr.
St. Fidelis was beaten and stabbed to death. The sight of his martyrdom, however, is said to have converted one of the Protestant preachers who led the mob. A succession of attested miracles led to his canonization in 1746.
Fidelis’ constant prayer was that he be kept completely faithful to God and not give in to any lukewarmness or apathy. He was often heard to exclaim, “Woe to me if I should prove myself but a halfhearted soldier in the service of my thorn-crowned Captain.” His prayer against apathy, and his concern for the poor and weak make him a saint whose example is valuable today. The modern Church is calling us to follow the example of “the poor man’s lawyer” by sharing ourselves and our talents with those less fortunate and by working for justice in the world.
Fidelis in Sigmaringen, Germany where many people visit every year to venerate him. Fidelis is also honored as a patron saint of lawyers, because of his profession before joining the Capuchin Order.
Patron Saint of Patron Saint of lawyers and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
Canonized by Pope Benedict XIV in 1746
Over the next century, as many as 305 miracles were attributed to his intercession by those who prayed at his tomb.
Saint Fidelis, though you discovered your religious vocation later in life, what you lost in time you made up for in zeal and love of neighbor. You did not fear for your own life but only feared not doing enough for the salvation of souls. Pray for me, that I may imitate your courage and determination to do all I can to build up Christ’s Church. Saint Fidelis, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.