Weninger’s Lives of the Saints – Saint Roch, Confessor

detail of the painting 'Saint Roch and the Angel'; 19th century by Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo; Museum of Art and Archaeology, Senlis, France; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsArticle

The parents of Saint Roch, who were of high nobility and enjoyed great wealth, for many years had no offspring. Appealing to the Blessed Virgin, they begged her intercession, that they might be blessed w ith a child, who would make good use of their riches, and serve God with fervor and zeal. Their prayer was heard. At Montpellier, in France, in the year 1284, a son was born to them. Roch, as they named the child sent them by heaven, manifested, in his most tender infancy, that God had a great future in store for him. He was born with a red cross upon his breast On Wednesdays and Saturdays, he would partake of nourishment from his mother’s breast but once. The easiest way to quiet him when he cried, was to show him a picture of the Blessed Virgin, or give him one in his little hands. The careful education which his parents gave him, preserved his innocence. At the age of twenty, he lost his parents, and was left in possession of a large fortune. Fearing, however, that he could not save his soul as a ‘rich man, and preferring eternal to temporal goods, he resolved to follow Christ in poverty, and taking all the ready money he had, he gave it to the poor. He did the same with the proceeds of a few of the estates which he sold. He left the administration of the rest of his property to his uncle, assumed a pilgrim’s garb and left home, intending to go to Rome. He lived by alms on his journey, and suffered much misery. Arriving on Tuscan ground, he was informed that, in Aquapendente, a pestilence was making terrible havoc among the inhabitants. Feeling an intense desire to nurse those attacked by the dreadful malady, and to offer his life to God as a sacrifice of Christian charity, he went to the hospital, begged permission to attend the sick, and immediately began to serve them with the most self-sacrificing devotion. It seemed as if God rewarded him by relieving the whole city; for, the pestilence ceased to rage, and the people were soon restored to their former health. The same took place at Cesena, whither the Saint had gone, on hearing that the pestilence had appeared there. Finally he reached Rome, but only to find many of the people dying of the contagion. The Cardinal, who had heard his confession and was therefore acquainted with his innocence and virtue, asked him to pray God to avert this evil from the city. The saint obeyed and received from God the assurance that his prayer was heard. The result confirmed the truth of this revelation; for, the city was immediately freed from the disease. For three years, Saint Roch remained in Rome, praying, visiting the churches and tending the sick. When he left Rome, he visited several other cities where he performed similar acts of charity, all with the willingness and joy of a heart devoted to God. Among these places was Piacenza, where the saint waited, for a considerable time, upon those stricken with the pestilence. At last it was the will of God that he himself should be seized with a very painful malady. He suffered so intensely, that he frequently broke out into loud lamentations. That the other sick should not be disturbed by his moans, he requested to be laid on the public street. This was done; but the people in the neighborhood, fearing that they might become contaminated by his malady, forced the Saint to leave the city for which he had done so much. He was was not disturbed by this, but rather rejoiced as it made him resemble his Saviour who always repaid evil with good. Taking his staff in his hand, he mustered all his remaining strength, and with the greatest effort, dragged his sick body outside of the gates of the city. In some woods near by, he found a little hut, which he entered and laid himself down upon the floor, hoping that there, forsaken by men, he would end his life. But it was God’s will that he should live longer to suffer and thereby increase his merit. Not far from the wood stood a castle, the residence of a nobleman. One of the dogs of this gentleman, during the dinner, took some food from the table, and carried it straight to the hut. This was frequently repeated. Near the hut was a spring, where the Saint could quench his thirst, bathe his wounds and allay his pains. As soon as he had recovered from his malady,- he re-entered Piacenza, where the pestilence was still carrying off numbers, and making the sign of the cross in all the streets and over the hospitals, he cured all who were ill with the pestilence. The people, becoming aware to whom they owed their deliverance, came in crowds to the Saint to express their gratitude. But he went back to his hut. A divine voice admonished him to return to his native place, as new ordeals awaited him. He obeyed without hesitation, and after passing through great hardships, arrived in France.

His severe fasts, all the difficulties and sufferings he had undergone had so altered his appearance, that none recognized him; and the people of the very village which had once belonged to him, believing him to be a spy, arrested and conducted him to Montpellier, his native place. The governor, before whom they took him, was his uncle, but not even he could recognize the Saint, who being unwilling to make himself known, incurred greater suspicion, and was cast into prison, where he remained for five long years. He desired to resemble his Saviour in this also, as “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” He spent all his time in praying and praising God. When the day and hour of his death were revealed to him, he asked the jailer to send him a priest, that he might make his confession. The priest came and found him resplendent with heavenly light. Having heard his confession, and thus becoming aware of his holiness, he immediately went to the governor and told him how he had found the prisoner, and added that verily they had imprisoned not only an innocent man, but a very great Saint. Although the governor laughed at the priest’s words, he nevertheless ordered the jailer to investigate the matter. When the jailer received the message, he went to see the Saint, and on opening the door found the whole prison filled with a supernatural light, and the prisoner stretched on the ground, a corpse. A tablet lying beside him, told his name. The governor, awestruck at this information, imparted it immediately to his mother, who was Saint Roch’s grand-mother. Hastening to the prison, the lady recognized, by the red cross on his breast, that he was indeed her grandson, whom she had long mourned as dead. The feelings of the inhabitants of the city, especially those of the Saints relatives, can well be imagined. The holy death of this great servant of God took place in the 34th year of his age. The obsequies of the Saint were conducted with great magnificence, and Saint Roch was thenceforth honored as a special patron against pestilence, and his intercession was invoked to avert it, with the most beneficial results.

Practical Considerations

• Saint Roch doubted the possibility of saving his soul while in possession of great temporal wealth, and therefore resolved to live according to the example of Christ, in voluntary poverty. The possession of worldly riches in itself does not prevent us from obtaining heaven. We may be rich and yet save our souls. A great many Saints, who possessed large fortunes, are examples of this, although it cannot be denied, that the riches of this world have prevented many persons from saving their souls, and are the occasion of eternal damnation. Christ Himself confirms this in the following words: “Amen I cay to you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven; and again I say to you it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matth. xix.) Many make themselves deserving of damnation on account of their riches, because they have obtained them by unjust or sinful means, as has already been said; others, because they do not return ill-gotten goods to the rightful owner; others, again, because they do not use their money well, but squander it frivolously, give too little of it to the poor, and employ it for the purpose of committing sin. Many merit damnation by means of their wealth, because they set their hearts too much upon their possessions, loving them inordinately, even more than their God. They think very little of their salvation, of eternity, but only how they can preserve and increase their means, like the rich man in the Gospel, who says: “What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? I will pull down my barns and build greater, and into them I will gather all things that are grown to me, and my goods. And I will say to my soul: Soul, you hast much goods laid up for many years; take thy rest, eat, drink, make good cheer. (Luke 12) Saint Paul calls avarice, “idolatry.” (Ephesians 5) because, as Saint Thomas explains it, an avaricious man worships his money and his possessions like an idol, and loves them more than the true God. “I have become rich, I have found me an idol,” said Ephraim. (Hosea 12) Is it surprising that an idolator is damned? Any one considering all this, will not wonder that Saint Roch feared that he would not attain to salvation while in possession of great riches. Yet God does not demand that all should abandon their wealth and leave it to the poor, as Saint Roch did, but only, that, when they rightfully possess it, they set not their hearts upon it. He wills that they make good use of it. But when they possess it unlawfully, He demands that they shall, under pain of damnation, restore it to the rightful owner.

• Saint Roch desired more fervently to obtain treasures in heaven than those of earth, and to acquire them, he lived in voluntary poverty, nursed the sick, patiently bore hardships and trials, and exercised other virtues until the end. Oh, how wisely Saint Roch acted in this! Temporal riches are vain; they cannot fill the heart with satisfaction and happiness. They are difficult to get, require much labor and anxiety, and when obtained, are uncertain. They are so easily lost again! In one hour, the richest man may become a beggar. But even if we keep them until the end of our life, we must leave them behind us when we die. We cannot take them with us to the other world. They do not protect us from sickness or accident. They do not prevent death from approaching us, much less, its taking us away. They do not shield us from the wrath of the Most High. “Whom does death spare on account of his riches?” asks Saint Basil. From whom does sickness depart in consideration of his ‘money?” “Neither shall their gold or their silver deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord,” says the Holy Ghost. (Sophon. I) Neither at death nor at the judgment will they bring comfort, if they are not employed well. Yes, even their remembrance is a sting to the rich, as is said in Holy Writ: “O death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee to a man that has peace in his possessions,” (Eccl. 41) Quite different is the comfort imparted by heavenly riches. These are possessions that fill the heart with real happiness. Having obtained them, we may possess them in security; no one can rob us of them. They console us in our last hour, and we take them with us to the other world. They speak for us at the throne of God and cheer us. Although they are not able to ward off physical death, they obtain for us life everlasting, and bring us into possession of an inheritance, which we shall retain in peace and security for all eternity. Who, then would not rather endeavour to procure these treasures than those which this world gives and again takes away? By good works, by the exercise of patience in crosses and sufferings, by the practice of virtue, by keeping the commandments of God and of the church, we can obtain them. “If you desire to be rich, to possess wealth, my dear brethren,” says Saint Gregory, “seek after real treasures.” Real treasures are those which are spiritual and heavenly. To this the Saviour exhorts us: “Lay not up to yourselves treasures on earth, where the rust and the moth consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither the rust nor the moth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matthew 6)

MLA Citation

  • Father Francis Xavier Weninger, DD, SJ. “Saint Roch, Confessor”. Lives of the Saints, 1876. CatholicSaints.Info. 9 April 2018. Web. 22 September 2018. <>