The Church is never short of saints, and I always enjoy learning about new ones. When I was younger, one book that made a big impression on me was Ann Ball’s Modern Saints: Their Lives and Faces. A former Catholic school teacher, Ball created a compendium of saints who have been photographed, to help her students “see” holiness in a whole new way. For me personally, these images made the saints more real and accessible.
As I was preparing my blog entry for this morning, I had this in mind. While today is the feast day of the first American born saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), I’ve written about Elizabeth several times here. So I thought I’d see if there were other saints on the calendar, and sure enough there was: a recently canonized Spanish bishop: Saint Manuel Gonzalez Garcia (1877-1940).
The first thing that struck me about Saint Manuel was his photograph: the kindness in his face and his eyes. In most old photographs, people are scowling (partly because they had to sit still so long for the camera!) But Manuel was smiling, and that struck me. It made me want to learn more about him. A picture can do that sometimes.Here’s what I learned: born to a large family in Seville, Spain, Manuel knew he wanted to be a priest early on: “If I were born a thousand times, a thousand times I would be a priest.” Ordained in 1901, from the start he had a strong devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, particularly the tabernacle itself, and working with the poor.
\During his lifetime he founded three religious communities devoted to the Eucharist: the Disciples of St. John, the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, and the Children of Reparation.
Ordained a bishop in 1916, he was Bishop of Palencia at the time of his death. He had one wish:
I ask to be buried next to a tabernacle, so that my bones, after death, as my tongue and pen in life, are saying to those who pass: there is Jesus! There it is! Do not leave Him abandoned.
On October 16, 2016, in Rome, after two miracles attributed to his intercession had been confirmed, Manuel was canonized by Pope Francis. He is known as “the Apostle of the Abandoned Tabernacle.” I enjoyed learning about Manuel. Again, what drew me to him was his smile. As St. Therese of Lisieux noted, you never know the power of a smile. Either in person or in a photograph.
St. Manuel Gonzalez Garcia, pray for us!
(*The above drawing of Saint Manuel is by Pat McNamara.)