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St Pachomius, St Louise de Marillac

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Saint Of The Day

St Pachomius

Founder of Christian monasticism. Pachomius was born in 292 in Thebes (Luxor, Egypt) to pagan parents. According to his hagiography, at 21, he was swept up against his will in a Roman army recruitment drive, a common occurrence during this period of turmoil and civil war. With several other youths, he was put onto a ship that floated down the Nile river and arrived at Thebes in the evening. Here he first encountered local Christians, who customarily brought food and comfort daily to the forcibly conscripted troops. This made a lasting impression, and Pachomius vowed to investigate Christianity further when he got out.

He was able to leave the army without ever having to fight, was converted and baptised. Pachomius then came into contact with several well known ascetics and decided to pursue that path under the guidance of the hermit named Palaemon.

One of his devotions, popular at the time, was praying with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross.

After studying seven years with Palaemon, Pachomius set out to lead the life of a hermit near St Anthony of Egypt, whose practices he imitated until he heard a voice in Tabennisi that told him to build a dwelling for the hermits to come to.

An earlier ascetic named Macarius had created a number of proto-monasteries called lavra, or cells where holy men would live in a community setting who were physically or mentally unable to achieve the rigors of Anthony's solitary life.

Pachomius established his first monastery between 318 and 323 at Tabennisi in Egypt. His elder brother John joined him, and soon more than 100 monks lived nearby. Pachomius set about organizing these cells into a formal organization. Until then, Christian asceticism had been solitary or eremitic- male or female monastics lived in individual huts or caves and met only for occasional worship services.

Pachomius created the community or cenobitic organization, in which male or female monastics lived together and held their property in common under the leadership of an abbot or abbess. Pachomius realized that some men, acquainted only with the eremitical life, might speedily become disgusted, if the distracting cares of the cenobitical life were thrust too abruptly upon them. He therefore allowed them to devote their whole time to spiritual exercises, undertaking all the community's administrative tasks himself.

The community greeted Pachomius as 'Abba' (father), from which the word 'Abbot' derives.

The monastery at Tabennisi, though enlarged several times, soon became too small and a second was founded at Pabau. After 336, Pachomius spent most of his time at Pabau. Though Pachomius sometimes acted as lector for nearby shepherds, neither he nor any of his monks became priests.

St Athanasius visited and wished to ordain him in 333, but Pachomius fled from him. Athanasius' visit was probably a result of Pachomius' zealous defence of orthodoxy against Arianism.

Basil of Caesarea visited, then took many of Pachomius' ideas, which he adapted and implemented in Caesarea. This ascetic rule, or Ascetica, is still used today by the Eastern Orthodox Church, comparable to that of the Rule of St Benedict in the West.

Pachomius continued as abbot to the cenobites for about 40 years.

During an epidemic, Pachomius called the monks, strengthened their faith, and appointed his successor. He died on 9 May 345. By the time Pachomius died eight monasteries and several hundred monks followed his guidance. Within a generation, cenobic practices spread from Egypt to Palestine and the Judean Desert, Syria, North Africa and eventually Western Europe. The number of monks, may have reached 7000. His reputation as a holy man has endured.

Several liturgical calendars commemorate Pachomius. Among many miracles attributed to Pachomius, that though he had never learned the Greek or Latin tongues, he sometimes miraculously spoke them. Pachomius is also credited with being the first Christian to use and recommend use of a prayer rope.

and St Louise de Marillac

Widow. Foundress of the Daughter of Charity. Born in 1591 to an aristocratic family, Louise was educated by nuns at Poissy. Her mother died when she was very young and her father died when she was 15. Louise married Anthony Le Gras and they lived happily together for 12 years and had one son.

After her husband's death, Louise became involved with the work of St Vincent de Paul, who was organising groups of women into helping the poor and sick. He asked her to help train women in this work. In 1633 four women began working from Louise's Paris house in the Rue de Fosses-Saint-Victor.

They were to become the first Sisters of Charity. St Vincent had not intended to start a religious order. The sisters he said, should consider themselves simply as Christian women devoted to the sick and poor.

"Your convent will be the house of the sick; your cell a hired room; your chapel the parish church; your cloister the city streets or hospital wards," he said. Until 1642 they took no vow at all.

To this day they take vows for one year only - to be renewed each year until death. The Sisters took charge of the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Paris, of orphanages and schools.

Louise personally nursed plague victims and reformed a neglected hospital at Angers. Her son got married. He came to visit her with his family shortly before she died in 1660.

The Daughters of Charity went on to make foundations all over the world. For centuries they wore the distinctive dress of the 17th century Breton peasant women - with a grey wool tunic and large headdress. This was modified in the 20th century to be more in accordance with modern dress.

Saint Louise de Marillac was canonised in 1934.

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