Who more than the Saints honour their homeland? And what greater glory is more real and more lasting than that of the Saints?
In this list of men and women, born in Sicily, many of these whom are no longer venerated and others who are not even remembered today, in fact it can be said that there are many more who’s virtues are known only to God.
The writer, the poet or the artist who educates the imagination and comforts the souls of his fellow man deserves every praise; even more so the Saint, who possesses the secret of reassuring consciences and minds, of softening suffering with love, or by inspiring others in everyday life to faith in our Heavenly Father.
But in Sicily the Saints are a decimated group; it’s no exaggeration at all, saying that, in terms of holiness, the island has the highest among all the Italian regions.
From the very first moment of Christianity the island gave its children to the new faith, its martyrs to Christ, its holy bishops and confessors and virgins to the Church.
The first two Bishops in Sicily were sent by St. Peter while he was still in Antioch. San Marziano of Syracuse considered the first bishop of the West and S. Pancrazio the first Bishop of Taormina. After St. Peter’s arrival in Rome, he consecrated and sent a third Bishop, S. Berillo of Antioch, to Catania on the island.
Moreover, it is certain that St. Paul, on his journey to Rome, landed in Syracuse:
“..cum venissemus Syracusas mansimus ibi triduo”(A. A. 28, 12).
A short stay, but sufficient for the apostle to inflame the people of Sicily.
The year 90 marks the first triumph for the Church in Sicily, which offers its martyrs as witnesses of Christ.
Taormina has the honour of the first Sicilian protomartyrs: S. Esia and S. Susanna (disciples of S. Pancrazio of Taormina and martyred with him) S. Zenaede, while in Agrigento the first Bishop: San Libertino is martyred for the faith, just before he died, he uttered: “Gens iniqua, plebs rea, non videbis ossa mea” [Iniquitous people, guilty people, you will not see my bones.] Following in chronological order, the martyrs Benigno and Eugario their martyrdom is linked to the bishop of Taormina San Pancrazio, they were killed in 204 under the emperor Severus., Bishop Bassiano, born in Syracuse around 320
by Sergio, prefect of the city, he was sent to Rome to complete his studies. Here, converted to the Christian religion by a priest named Giordano, he received baptism. Called home by his father who wanted him to apostatise, he took refuge in Ravenna, where he was ordained a priest. Around 373, the bishop of Lodi having died, he was chosen to succeed him. Bassiano built a church dedicated to the Holy Apostles, consecrating it in 380 in the presence of St. Ambrose of Milan and St. Felix of Como. He participated in the council of Aquileia in 381 and 390 in that of Milan, in which Gioviniano was condemned. His signature is found together with that of Saint Ambrose in the synodic letter sent to Pope Siricius. In 397 he witnessed the death and funeral of the same Saint Ambrose, of whom he was a friend. He died in 409, perhaps on February 19, the day when the festival was celebrated, and he was buried in his cathedral; Callisto, Evodio, Ermogene (+ 825), Fanzio and Donata (+ 304) in Syracuse; Stratonico and Cleonico (3 AD), Euplio a deacon, born in Catania around 275, was martyred in 304. In front of the Tribunal who were condemning him, he shouted in a loud voice, “I am a Christian, I wish to die for the name of Christ.” Not wanting for any reason to deny his faith. The governor of Catania, Calviniano, ordered that he be beheaded whilst the Gospel book he had been carrying at his arrest was hung around his neck; Ampelo and Caio of Messinian origins, these two saints were martyred under Diocletian, in Messina on November 20, 314. Their bodies are found in the choir of the convent of San Francesco; Eustozio, Procolo and Golbodeo who ccording to Fr. Caietano (Animadv. In Acta S. Nymphae) the title of Martyr was not only given to those who had wintnesses to the name of Jesus Christ, thus crowning them with martyrdom, but also to those who had left their own homes due to persecution with a self-imposed exile, they were bestowed with the title and honour of Martyr. Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, calling them winners: “those who in wandering alone in the mountains or wandering in hunger, thirst, cold, disease and killed by brigands or wild beasts were no less received into the glory of martyrdom.” Stratonico, Cleonico these two young Leontinesi were present at
the glorious martyrdom of three brothers Alfio, Filadelfio and Cirino, they shouted against the tyrant accusing him of cruelty. Tertullo immediately had them arrested and had their tongues torn out then dumped in wells and had then killed. Epiphanius was born and lived in Catania in the second half of the eighth century. He took part in the Council of Nicea in 787, giving a sermon against iconoclasm. At the end of the Second Council of Nicea (October 27, 727), Epiphanius only 18 pronounced his long closing prayer, in place of Thomas, Archbishop of the Sardinians, celebrating the Church’s victory and zeal of Empress Irene and Patriarch Tarasio. With this prayer the learned Deacon of Catania proposed to counter the arguments that the iconoclasts had launched to the Orthodox Christians in the faith, that the Church had fallen for many centuries into idolatry venerating the holy images already condemned by the Holy Scriptures as idols; He, in his Sermo laudatorius 19, he strongly emphasises that God incarnated himself in Jesus and that with his death and resurrection he overcame sin and that the Church founded by Christ could not err for so many centuries. Epiphanius, therefore, bases his arguments on the divine nature of the Church and therefore on its indefectibility. This argument, so opportune and with such force and eloquence would then be used by Catholics against the Protestants about eight centuries later. The prayer, which he had developed can be considered as one of the most beautiful passages of the eighth-century oratory. Isidoro and Neofita in Lentini.
Numerous are also the ranks of the holy Bishops, in the first centuries of persecution. Besides Gregory, Bishop of Lilibeo, Mamiliano, Procolo, Golbodeo and Eustatius of Palermo, who were also martyrs and the Church venerates them as Saints: Cresto, first successor of St. Martian in Syracuse, Eulalio, Maximianus, Giovanni, Elias, Zosimos and Theodose also from Syracuse; Everio, Severino and Sabino in Catania, Massimo in Taormina; Neofito, Rodippo and Lucìano in Lentini; Patamione, Gregorio I and Isidoro in Agrigento.
Most famous are the Bishops: St. Pascasino, of Lilibeo, who fought against Eutyches and in 451 presided, as Apostolic Legate of St. Leo the Great, the Council of Chalcedon, St. Giustino, an opponent of the heretic Pietro Gnaffeo who supported the incarnation of the three divine Persons. The “Responsiones ad Orthodoxos” are his.
Nor less famous is St. Gregory (591 – 630), monk from Agrigento, who lived in the 6th century and was consecrated by Pope Pelagius as Bishop of Agrigento. He participated in
the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople and tirelessly turned the tide of the East ready for the conversion of the infidels.
Like St. Gregory I, there were also other Sicilians who were bishops in locations outside the island. We remember S. Neoso, in Ravenna, and S. Bassiano, Siracusano, bishop of Lodi, at the time of S. Ambrogio. But a place of great esteem belongs to the five Sicilians called to the supreme splendour of the Pontificate, all five are venerated as saints.
San Agatone Palermitano begins the list; (he is buried in St. Peter’s Poliandro at the Vatican – he is celebrated on 5 July). From the Benedictine Monastery of S. Ermete, a monastery founded in Palermo by St. Gregory the Great. He sat on the throne of Peter from 27 June 678 to 10 January 681, and became famous for the condemnation of monotheism in the Third Council of Constantinople, and for having exonerated the Holy See from the annual tribute paid to the Emperor of the East. He was succeeded by another Sicilian to the throne of Peter, from Aidone or from Messina; Saint Leo II, who even in his brief pontificate, (from 17 August 682 to 3 July 683), succeeded in pacifying the Diocese of Ravenna, tormented by the discord caused by Theodore. He also introduced the kiss of peace in the mass and the expiation of holy water for the people.
S. Conone, who died in 687, it is highly probable that he was a Sicilian. At the beginning
of the next century, another Palermitano, S. Sergio I, ruled the Church for 13 years, acquiring special merits for the artistic embellishment of the basilicas of Saints Peter and Paul. In 768, the last Sicilian, St. Stephen IV, of Syracuse was elected Pontiff. He was able to reassert the usurped rights of the Papacy by Desiderio, king of the Lombards.
Finally, it seems only right to recall the name of the illustrious Sicilian Panteno, who, although not officially venerated as a saint, was a bold and ardent propagator of the Christian religion, as far as southern Arabia. And two holy martyrs of Messina; Eleuterio, Illyrian Bishop with Anzia his mother.
Another chapter, perhaps the most beautiful in Sicilian sanctity, is one concerning our Holy Virgins.
The large group in which the four saints are mentioned excel in the Canon of the Mass: Agata, Lucia, Agnese, Cecilia, the first two are Sicilian. They knew how to preserve their candour and offered the world a marvellous example of holiness.
Agatha and Lucia, a magnificent duo of faith and virginity, at a tender age renounced their high social status, distributed their wealth to the poor, retaining only purity for themselves, they went serenely to martyrdom and death. Admired by such greatness, St. Gregory the Great composed in their honour the “Mass Gaudearnus ornnes in Domino“. Words that the Liturgy later adopted for the Assumption and other feasts and the Oremus, which then became the canticle for all Virgins and Martyrs. Thus, every year, on their feast, the priests offer the propitiatory sacrifice and recites the liturgical prayer of the Breviary, remember the land that gave birth to these two heroic maidens.
S. Agata Patron of the city of Catania, her cult is widespread throughout the island of Sicily, she is also protector of breast cancer patients, martyrs, wet nurses, weavers, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and eruptions of Mount Etna. She is also remembered in the Canon of the Mass; and St. Lucia (Patron of Syracuse, her mortal remains are preserved in the church of Santi Geremia and Lucia in Venice).
In Palermo scintillating with holiness was S. Rosalia (lovingly named La Santuzza “the little Saint” by Sicilians) is Patron of the city, her mortal remains are preserved in the city’s cathedral. She was from a noble family, she despised the splendour of the court of King William, and fled from that worldly environment to hide in a cave of Mount Pellegrino.
The cave, for Saint Rosalia, was overrun visions, her fasts and vigils were rewarded with celestial visitations and consolations. Almost contemporary of S. Rosalia is another Sicilian virgin, S. Marina.
To Saints Agatha and Lucia we can associate other saints: first, St. Vito martyr. He is the third of the most known Sicilian saints in the world, revered as special patron of Bohemia and Saxony, while the splendid cathedrals dedicated to him in Rijeka, Prague and Mainz are perennial testimonies of the worship given.
The Church in Sicily also counts among the Virgins and Martyrs: Santa Eutalia da Lentini, S. Ninfa da Palermo (whose remains are in the Cathedral of Palermo since 1593, the saint is remembered in the Roman Martyrology with the saints Trifone. and S. Teogonia da Mineo; and among the Confessors, since the early centuries of Christianity, there is a S. Fantino in Syracuse and the Saints Donato and Caritone in Lentini.
Ancient Sicilian traditions testify to the existence of Saints hermits prior to St. Paul, believed by all to be the first hermit. They would be Saints Cleonico, Talleleo, Stratonico, Pellegrino and Neofito.
In the VI century the Benedictines arrived in Sicily. (The mother of their founder was Sicilian).
They founded six monasteries on the island. Famous in that period, were the abbots Moriniano and Urbico.
In this period in Sicily, there was only one martyr: St. James, Bishop of Catania, killed by the Iconoclasts, while he was absorbed in prayer. Under the Arab domination, the number, the martyrs return to rise. The Virgin of Palermo, Santa Oliva, was martyred in
Tunis; in Galatea, Santa Venera, killed by her brothers, in Taormina, the Bishop San Procopio.
The Saints Elia and Filareto, S. Nicasio Burgio Martire are from Palermo; from Syracuse the Saints Andrea, Giovanni, Pietro and Antonio; from Messina Stefano and other Benedictine monks. Also from the period of Arab domination in Sicily, they are; the holy monks Gregorio, Nicodemo, Pietro, Giovanni, Demetrio and Filareto, Palermo, Simeone and Giuseppe Innografo, Siracusani, and Elia, from Enna, and again: San Attalo Bishop of Catania, Bernardo, Luca, Teotisto, Roberto and Giovanni Terista di Palermo, Leoluca di Corleone, San Teotista, of Caccamo, San Vitale di Castronovo, San Clemente, abbot of Syracuse, San Saba di Agira. Among the Bishops of that period are venerated as saints: Severus, Hermogenes and Hippolytus.
Under the Norman, Swabian and Angevin dominations. There were: S. Nicola hermit of Adrano, the monks, S. Cono, born around 1139 in Naso and baptised with the name of Conone, S. Lorenzo di Frazanò, S. Silvestro di Troina, at the time of William the Good.
The Carmelites have in glory, St. Alberto of Erice, (Beatified in 1454, canonised in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV), St. Nicola of Noto, St. Gugliemmo of Polizzi and St. Clemente, Abbot of the Basilian monastery of Salvatore de Placa, near Francavilla di Sicilia, and the blessed Luigi Rabatà da Erice born in the mid-1400s and died around 1490, his remains are buried in the Mother Church of Randazzo, and his relics are also found in Erice and Trapani.
Sicily was no less rich with saints during the Aragonese and Castilian dictatorship. The number of saints of that period lessened, because the church at that time adopted some more selective criteria for canonising men of God, and approving their worship.
These are the religious orders that arose at that time, which generate new life in the tree of holiness. In fact, with the exception of the hermit S. Gugliemmo of Noto, the saints of this period are, for the most part, religious. At that time Calatafimi was born around
1390, the Blessed Priest Arcangelo Placenza, founder in 1430 of the convent of S. Maria di Gesù, in Alcamo, by order of Blessed Matteo of Agrigento, who died in Alcamo in 1460.
In the church of the Convent the body is still intact, whose spiritual presence is still very much alive among the faithful.
The followers of St. Augustine, at the time of King Manfred, can boast a Blessed, Agostino Novello, of a noble family from Palermo, who lived first in the King’s court, then in Rome as Papal Penitentiary under Nicholas IV, and finally as General of his order; and a Blessed Francesco Marchese, who died in 1495.
The Dominicans can boast of San Giacinto Giordano Ansalone martyr in Japan, born in Santo Stefano Quisquina, of Blessed Bernardo Scammacca, born in Catania of which he was also archbishop, of Blessed Pietro Geremia, from Palermo, famous not only as a writer and orator, but also as an envoy of Pope Eugenius IV, at the Council of Florence. He was a skilled spiritual guide, he provided many novices for his Order, such as that of Blessed Dominic Spatafora, Randazzo, Salvo Cassetta, Master of the Apostolic Palaces, under Sixtus IV, and of Blessed Giovanni Liccio, who lived in S. Cita di Palermo, and died in Caccamo, his homeland, at the age of 111.
The list of the Reformed Friars Minor is even longer, the one who introduced the reforms of his Order in Sicily, the Blessed Matteo Gallo, from Agrigento, where he was also a bishop, he was a companion and friend of St. Bernardine from Siena. Followed by the Blessed Simone Napoli from Calascibetta, and the Beati Tommaso Torre from Caltagirone, Cherubino Mustaccio and Innocenzo Milazzo from S. Lucia del Mela, Raimondo delle Croci from Aidone, Matteo Giudici from Agrigento, Ludovico de Martino from Caltagirone, Paolo Bono from Palazzolo, and the Venerable Angelo Garlisi from Racalmuto, Francesco Bruno from Cammarata and the Archbishop of Catania, the pious friar Michelangelo Bonadies.
Also of that period is Father Cherubino martyr, from Caltagirone, killed in Ethiopia in 1638, and one raised to the honour of the altars, the humble layman Benedetto da S. Fratello, son of black slaves from Ethiopia. He died in Palermo, where he enjoyed a reputation as a saint for his virtues and miracles, in 1587.
Even the religious orders such as the Jesuits, Theatines, and Cappuccins, had men of virtue who were imbued with ecclesiastical spirit.
The Jesuits gave the Church some great Sicilian apostles.
They are the Venerable Luigi La Nuza, Vincenzo Ferreri of Sicily, Bernardo Colnago, to whom the city of Catania wanted to honour him with a tomb in the Cathedral, in the place closest to the relics of St. Agatha; the Gaspare Paraninfo Fathers, Filippo Maria Sceusa, Giambattista De Francisci; and finally, Stanislao Piolo and Cesare Gaetani. Even more numerous are those who in the distant and then very difficult Missions propagated the faith of Christ.
Without hesitation, they pushed through all the ways of the known world. The very first can be considered the Blessed Girolamo De Angelis, from Enna, who suffered martyrdom in the Empire of the Rising Sun. And always in Japan came, the Fathers Giovanni Matteo Adami and Marcello Saccano.
Missionaries to China, Fathers Niccolò Longobardi, Ludovico Buglio, Girolamo Gravina and Prospero Intorcetta.
In India, the Fathers Giambattista Federici and Francesco Castiglia.
In Ethiopia, the Messinese Antonio Bruno, and in Greece the layman Simone Bucceri; while Antonio Bellavia, Domenico Marini, Giuseppe Genovese and Ignazio Franciscis, went to the new lands of the Americas.
Among the Theatines Blessed Giuseppe Maria Tomasi was distinguished for holiness, also the author of numerous ecclesiastical books.
One of the most famous Sicilian Capuchins, is the Servant of God Father Innocenzo Marcinò da Caltagirone, Capuchin General, born in 1589 and died in 1655. He traveled through Europe, always followed by crowds, attracted by his sanctity and his miracles. He was received in the royal courts of Turin, Vienna, Paris and Madrid, always having sovereign honours.
Other illustrious sons of the Capuchin order are Blessed Felice da Nicosia, Father
Clemente of Lorenzo da Noto, Father Francesco da Piazza Armerina, Father Daniele da Lentini and Father Arcangelo da Modica; chaplain in the Austrian army, and Blessed Friar Bernardo da Corleone, and the Servant of God Father Girolamo Caruso, born in Cammarata in 1549 and died in Naro in 1627.
Even the female religious Orders give their saints in Sicily. These women knew how to flourish the characteristic virtues of their land: modesty, charity, renunciation and sacrifice. The first of them, in order of time, is a Franciscan Clarissa: St. Lucia da Caltagirone, who died in 1300. Followed by the not less known, and the glory of Messina the Blessed Eustochia Smeralda Calafato, who died in 1490.
She consecrated herself entirely to God. A model of a prudent virgin, she waited for the coming of the Bridegroom with the lighted lamp of faith and charity. The aroma of her virtues attracted many imitators behind her and even today, at the distance of five centuries, a white host of Clarisse watches and prays around the tomb that guards the incorrupt body of the holy foundress, whose cradle is a continuous and sometimes miraculous protection.
Also worthy of mention are the Blessed Margherita Calascibetta from PiazzaArmerina, the venerable Sister Innocenza Rizzo from Trapani, the Venerable Chiara Gallo, Antonina Miceli and Emilia Cordici from Corleone, Ludovica Piazza da Agira, Maddalena Battaglia from Termini Imerese, Arcangela Tardera from Piazza Armerina, Maria-Magdalena from Palermo, the Capuchin Sister Veronica Barone da Vizzini. We remember again the Blessed Maria Schinina ‘born in Ragusa in 1844 and died there in 1910, foundress in 1885 of the Order of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Even the Sicilian Clergy offered to the world, in times closer to us, shining examples of holiness.
For all, it would suffice to name, the Venerable Ignazio Capizzi, born in Bronte on 20 September 1708, and died in Palermo in 1782. Born poor, he had an incomparable wealth: a heart burning with zeal and love for the poor and sinners; he was also a great educator, his homeland for gratitude erected a monument to him. And also Father Luigi Germano Crifasi, of the Caulonian Shepherds, he was born in 1717. He died adoring the holy Virtues in the flower of his life, at 46, April 25, 1763, with public reputation as an excellent religious, leaving the Convent and the whole province. I honour his death with evident signs of holiness.
Another priest flashing Sicilian glory is Father Giacomo Cusmano, founder of the religious congregation of the Bocconists, who lived in the second half of the 1800s. For the poor he became poor, and his name was dedicated to the history of charity with the title of Servant of the Poor.
Another name is that of the Priest Giambattista Scasso, born in Palermo in 1778 and died there in 1855. He, simple and humble, succeeded, preaching, catechising, visiting his faithful, to awaken the drowsy religious life, to extinguish rancour and to organise works of apostolate and charity. His filial love for the heavenly Mother, Mary Immaculate, patroness of Sicily was unconditional.
We must still remember, less famous names, but perhaps no less great: the Jesuits Giuseppe Spedalieri di Bronte, Giuseppe Piemonte di Regalbuto, who died in the early ‘900 in Honduras, Father Bonaventura Aloisio, founder of a mission in Greece, Father Vincenzo Basile of Siculiana, a missionary in Albania, and Father Cannata, the holy apostle of Catania, tells that his faithful had the habit of untangling his garment and taking some thread.
From the Salesian Sisters Blessed Maddalena Caterina Morano (15 November 1847 – 26
March 1908) from Catania. Morano served as an educator for her entire life believing it to be her vocation; she served as a catechist in addition to being an educator. Saint John Bosco accepted her in joining the Salesians and she made her solemn profession on 4 September 1879; the two met as Morano was walking to Buttigliera d’Asti. Bosco dissuaded her from being a cloistered nun and asked Giovanni Cagliero to invite her into Bosco’s order. She made her perpetual vows in 1880. In 1881 – at the request of the Archbishop of Catania – tasked her with new work where she would teach.
The Capuchins Samuel Nicosia from Chiaramonte, father Gioacchino La Lomia from Canicattì (1831-1905), Angelico Lipani from Caltanisetta (1842-1920) and friar Giuseppe Maria Diliberto (1864-1886) from Palermo, who died only 21 years old; another Jesuit, Father Giuseppe Cataldo, who died in 1927. He was the founder of a city and a university in California. It is said of him that one can not write the history of that region, without forgetting his name.
Blessed Father Annibale Maria Di Francia da Messina (1851 – 1927), founder of the Rogationist Fathers of the Heart of Jesus, of the Antonian Institutes and of the Daughters of Divine Zeal.
Also to be remembered, the Daughters of Divine Zeal, the first Superior Sister Maria Nazarena Maione, who died in the odour of sanctity on January 25, 1939.
Sister Giovanna of Monterosso, Orsolina of the Holy Family.
A model of holiness, was Sebastiana Cultrera di Chiaramonte, who died in 1935.
Even the Sicilian Catholic Action has its Apostle as the good of neighbour, it is the Palermitan Giuseppe Pipitone, maimed in World War II, he always knew how to realise in his heart, and had faith in our Heavenly Father.
One of my favourites as I met him in person at Palermo in 1974, when i was 10 years old is Blessed Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi (15 September 1937 – 15 September 1993) was a Roman Catholic priest in the rough Palermo neighbourhood of Brancaccio. He openly challenged the Mafia who controlled the neighbourhood, and was killed by them on his 56th birthday after being shot in the head at point blank range. Killed on the orders of the local Mafia bosses; Pino Puglisi, il prete che fece tremare la mafia con un sorriso (the priest who made the Mafia tremble with his smile).