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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

St. John Francis Regis

St. John Francis Regis Church - Grafton, New York
Sometimes posting ideas come to me in an unusual way.  This post is a prime example.  Last Saturday, I made my usual trip to the Town of Grafton Recycle Center.  I asked Nate where the closest clothes drop-off point was and he told me to go to the Catholic church parking lot.  Sure enough, nice big shiny new bin.  So I dropped off my annual "clothes not worn in the last 365 days" pile.  

I noticed the a sign on the bin and found it confusing.  I thought this was St. John Francis Regis Church, yet the bin indicated Our Lady of the Snow Parish.  A check of the Our Lady of the Snow website clarified things.  So the Church in Grafton is St. John Francis Regis but it belongs to Our Lady of the Snow parish along with Sacred Heart church in Berlin.

Sacred Hearth Church - Berlin, NY

I decided to do a bit of research on the history behind these Grafton and Berlin Catholic Church names.  I knew about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  There are many Sacred Heart Churches, Grafton and Wynantskill being two close-by.  In fact, my great uncle, Rev. Maxime E. Sarrault, was pastor of what had been Sacred Heart Church in Schenectady years ago.  That church was established specifically to serve the French Catholics of Schenectady.  However, I had never heard of Our Lady of the Snow or St. John Francis Regis.  I was surprised to learn that there are actually quite a few Our Lady of the Snow churches.  There's even a large National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois.  Devotion to Mary under the title of Our Lady of the Snows is traced back to a legend about a snowfall in Rome in 352 A.D.  The Roman patrician John and his wife, who were wealthy and childless, made a vow to donate their possessions to Our lady. They prayed to her that she might make known to them in what manner they were to dispose of their property in her honor. On a hot, morning on August 5, Esquiline Hill was covered with snow. All Rome proclaimed the summer snows a miracle, and a beautiful church to honor Mary was built on the hill, now the magnificent Basilica of St. Mary Major, which still stands today as the seat of devotion to Our Lady of the Snows in the Catholic Church. 

So that brings me to St. John Francis Regis (Jean-François Régis).  He was born on Jan. 31, 1597, in southern France. He entered the Society of Jesus at age 19, and was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1630.  A tireless worker, he spent most of his life serving the marginalized. He walked from town to town, in rough mountainous areas where travel was difficult, especially in the winter. He would remain in a parish several days giving sermons that were simple, but sincere, and flowed from the heart. He also visited prisons and collected food and clothes for the poor (thus, as logic would have it, the clothes collection bin in Grafton).  Regis is most famous for his work with at-risk women and orphans, for whom he established safe houses and found jobs. He helped many become trained lace makers, which provided them with a stable income, and an opportunity to maintain their humanity under the threat of exploitation. For this service he is known as the patron saint of lace makers.  Regis passed away in 1640 while serving a mission and was declared a saint in 1738. Regis Societies were formed throughout France and focused on outreach to the poor and teaching in rural areas.  Regis University in Denver is named after him. 

Very relevant names for a Grafton church and parish.  Snow, mountainous region, and synergy with those of French-Canadian descent.  Jean-François Régis, he was a saint.  He was a someone we can all learn from.

St. John Francis Regis
(Jean-François Régis)


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