Tertiary Saints – Saint Conrad of Placentia, Tertiary of Saint Francis, 1351

Saint Conrad of PiacentiaSaint Conrad was a native of Placentia, a beautiful city of sunny Italy. He and his consort belonged to the noblest families of the country; both were of equal rank and virtue, both had been blessed with pious parents. They spent their days in works of charity, in labor, and love, and prayer, interspersed with simple amusements. Thus they lived in perfect harmony, serving their Creator in joy; but God had a great trial in store for them.

One day, when Saint Conrad was hunting, he commanded his attendants to set fire to some brushwood in order to drive out the game that he thought had taken refuge there. Unfortunately, a gust of wind drove the flames into a cornfield, then they rapidly spread to the neighboring fields, and caused immense damage. The attendants fled, and Saint Conrad, horrified at the impossibility of checking the flames, returned by stealth into the city, no one suspecting that he was the cause of the fire. By the order of the governor, a poor man was taken prisoner who had been found nervously picking up wood near the scene of the conflagration. The evidence against him being judged conclusive, he was condemned to death. He was already on his way to execution, when our Saint, stung with remorse, rushed into the midst of the crowd and declared himself to be the author of the disaster. Plaving rescued the poor man, he went before the governor, to whom he confessed the whole truth. Being found free from malice he was only charged with imprudence, but sentenced, nevertheless, to repair the damage of which he was the cause. Saint Conrad was obliged, in consequence, to sell all his property, and even to give up his wife’s dowry—this left him wholly destitute.

Saint Conrad truly loved God as the highest and greatest good. Therefore his actions were regulated by that eternal law which is the source of all justice. From the standpoint of the world he could have had a splendid future. Life smiled upon him, and drew before his wondering eyes a most beautiful picture of peace, plenty, happiness, and home. He was of noble birth, he was young, healthy, rich; his many friends loved and esteemed him; his devoted consort clung to him with all the fervor of youthful love. All at once he faces ruin, his delicate conscience cries out against him, but his human nature recoils at the thought of losing everything. Had he remained silent, no one would have known about his mishap in the forest. Why should he confess and then sacrifice all, perhaps even his very life? “He did not foresee, much less did he intend the havoc that he caused; if an innocent man is condemned to death the rashness of the judges must be blamed.” These thoughts surely flashed through the excited mind of our Saint, but the grace of God conquered. With one grand effort Saint Conrad swept aside the thoughts that assailed him. He confessed that he was the cause of the conflagration, and come what may, he was willing to make full reparation. His love of God gained the victory!

Saint Conrad felt the change that came over his life, as the result of his public confession; he felt it keenly. But Christ was his consoler, and he soon knew that the grace of God was working in his soul. His ill luck led him to reflect seriously on the instability of earthly happiness. After some time the bitterness of his mind was changed into sweetness, for our Savior filled his heart with such ardent love of God that God’s service now appeared to him as the only thing worthy of his esteem and ambition, tie sincerely communicated his thoughts to his virtuous wife, who, moved by his pious sentiments, thereupon also desired to have no other companion in her life and no other consoler in her afflictions than Christ Himself. With the consent of her husband she received the habit of Saint Clare in the monastery at Placentia, leaving Saint Conrad at liberty to consecrate the rest of his life to God in whatever manner he desired. The Saint was then about twenty-five. He put on the garb of a pilgrim, and retired to a solitary spot where some pious hermits lived under the Rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis; from them he received the habit of our Seraphic Father. Thus God rewarded Saint Conrad and his consort magnificently for the sacrifices they had made out of love for Him. Henceforth the virtues and counsels of Christ as laid down by the example and precepts of His servant Saint Francis was the guide of their lives.

From that time Saint Conrad made such rapid progress in perfection, that he soon became universally renowned for his sanctity, and was visited in his solitude by numbers of his fellow-citizens. To escape these honors and live unknown, our Saint went to Rome, where he visited the Tomb of the Holy Apostles. Then being guided by Divine Providence he continued his journey and came into Sicily. There the saintly Tertiary fixed his abode in the valley of Noto. He lived in this valley for the remainder of his life, with no other desire than to please God and to love Him as Saint Francis had done. Far away from his native city, from his relatives and former friends, Saint Conrad could give himself up to prayer and penance without being disturbed by the frequent visits of his fellow-citizens. Near the hut of a certain William Buchior, a rich nobleman who had left the world to lead a solitary and penitential life, Saint Conrad erected a hermitage for himself. In his solitude he worked, and prayed, and fasted, and lived for God alone. Even when disturbed in the midst of his deep reveries, he was meek and kind to every one who disturbed him. He was so pure and chaste, so mild, cheerful, and patient that he seemed rather to be an angel among men, than a poor follower of Saint Francis of Assisi.

The fire of charity and brotherly love which burnt with ever increasing ardor in his soul, led him to visit the sick in the nearby hospital of Saint Martin, in the city of Noto. His zeal for the House of God, and his earnest desire for the salvation of souls, almost consumed him. Although he loved retirement, and preferred being alone, his charity urged him to spend many days among the afflicted in this hospital; he even lived there for a time.* With unusual alacrity he served the sick, he kindly and prudently admonished sinners, and soon learned to be “all things to all men.” It especially gave him great satisfaction to be permitted to attend to those whose maladies were most disgusting. He consoled them in their afflictions, directed their thoughts to Heaven, and gave them every attention. Extremely solicitous for the spiritual and corporal welfare of his charges, Saint Conrad was even more solicitous for his own spiritual welfare; his body, however, he treated like an enemy, or more truly, as a friend, since he preferred to sacrifice it in this world by scourgings, night watches, fasts and other mortifications, rather than by overindulgence expose it to any harm in the world to come. He would frequently leave the hospital of Saint Martin to go back for a time to his hermitage in- the valley of Noto.

So entirely had this holy Tertiary consecrated himself to our Lord, that to those who knew him well he seemed to be completely absorbed in God and in His sacred service. Yet, his saintly life did not exempt him from temptations, quite to the contrary he had to encounter the most terrible assaults of Satan. Like Saint Jerome, the solitary of Bethlehem, Saint Conrad was tried by horrible and continual temptations; these he overcame by redoubling his austerities. Sometimes he would roll himself among brambles and thorns until his body was covered with blood. The devil, confounded and exasperated at his courage, appeared to him several times, loaded him with insults, and beat him unmercifully. The Saint only prayed the more ardently and thus put to flight the spirit of darkness. We need not be surprised that Saint Conrad was tempted so severely. The Holy Ghost himself warns us, saying: “Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation.”

Even in this life our Lord deigned to glorify His servant by the gift of miracles and prophecy. A famine having broken out in the country, numbers of persons came to his cave in order to implore his help. Touched with pity, Saint Conrad turned to our Lord, asking for bread for these poor sufferers. Immediately angels appeared to him bringing food in great abundance. The report of this miracle at once spread abroad, crowds came to ask for his prayers and repeatedly the Saint obtained sufficient food to satiate thousands of starving people. Saint Conrad’s miracles, the fame of his sanctity, and the supernatural lights with which he was favored, drew the most illustrious persons to his cavern. The Bishop of Syracuse came one day to visit him that he might judge for himself if public report had exaggerated his sanctity. Not finding the holy Tertiary in his grotto, he carefully examined his poor abode, where he found neither a couch, nor furniture, nor provisions. Soon after, Saint Conrad returned to the hermitage. He joyfully cast himself at the Bishop’s feet, humbly asking his blessing, and conversed for a long time with him on Heavenly things. Mealtime being come, the Bishop ordered his servants to prepare the provisions he had brought, in order to offer food to the holy servant of God. Then, suddenly turning to Saint Conrad, he said with a smile: “Brother Conrad, have you nothing in your cell? What! We have come to visit you, and have you nothing to offer to your guests?” The Tertiary arose at once and gaily replied: “My Lord, I will go and see if there is anything in my cell.” And presently he came back with some delicious fresh cakes! The Bishop, amazed at this miracle, received the cakes with reverence as a gift from Heaven. Having partaken of them he gave thanks to God, and declared those blessed who trust in Him.

When Saint Conrad came to Noto one Friday to venerate a miraculous crucifix, some libertines invited him to dine with them. But instead of offering him lenten food they had only meat on the table. At the end of the dinner, they laughed him to scorn for having broken the commandment of the Church, either out of sensuality, or excessive simplicity. The holy Tertiary firmly assured them he had eaten nothing but fish, and to prove this he showed them the bones and the scales of the fish that he had eaten. Then it became manifest that He Who at the marriage feast of Cana changed water into wine, wishing to show His good will to married people, for the sake of Saint Conrad changed flesh into fish to show how zealously he watches over those who observe the Evangelical counsels.

In search of more complete solitude, our saintly Tertiary spent the last years of his life in the grotto of Pizzoni, one league distant from Noto. More than ever before his life in this utter seclusion was entirely consecrated to penance and contemplation. He took his rest on the ground, with a stone for his pillow. A few raw herbs and a little bread were his whole nourishment. Christ, alone in the Garden of Olives, was his model. He prayed with our Divine Savior in His agony, and implored that his own soul through the merits of Christ might be washed clean from the slightest speck or stain of sin.

When Saint Conrad was sixty-one years old he felt his death near at hand. An angel came to inform him of the day and hour of his release. Some time before his death, the holy man went to Syracuse to visit the Bishop and make a general confession to him of his whole life. On his arrival at the Bishop’s house, the birds came fluttering around him as they did of old when Saint Francis went to Mount Alverna, and on his return to his cell they accompanied him the entire way back to his solitude. A few days before his death he dragged himself to Noto, confessed his sins again, received Holy Communion with renewed fervor, and made known to his confessor his desire to be anointed, and to be buried in the church of Saint Nicholas at Noto. The time of his death being come he prayed for his benefactors and for the people of Noto, then he prostrated himself on the bare ground and yielded his beautiful soul to God, on the 19th of February, 1351.

Shortly after, the church bells of Noto and of the neighboring city of Hybla rang of themselves, to announce the death of this holy follower of Saint PTancis. The people of both cities went in numbers to the solitar)/ abode of the Saint, and a contest arose between them as to which city should possess his body. But the words of the priest who told them of the last wishes of the deceased, terminated the dispute in favor of Noto, of which city Saint Conrad was later on chosen chief patron. His precious remains, enclosed in a silver shrine, were interred in the church of Saint Nicholas.

A hundred and fifty years later, on opening the shrine, the body was found without any trace of corruption. Numberless miracles wrought after his death attested the sanctity of the servant of God, and in 1515, Pope Leo X gave permission to the city of Noto to celebrate his feast. Pope Paul V extended this feast to the whole of Sicily, and Pope Urban VIII to the Order of Saint Francis, at the same time giving the title of Saint to Conrad.

Saint Conrad is especially invoked for the cure of ruptures, because during his life and after his death, he cured numbers of that affliction. On his feast day in particular, many are healed of this infirmity. Thus the Lord, Who has all the tender compassion of a mother for our sufferings, often bestows in another order on His saints, those wondrous flowers of Paradise, far greater healing power than He has conferred on the lovely plants of the fields and forests. The Bollandists have republished the life of Saint Conrad, written by Vincent Littara of Noto, Doctor of Theology. Peter Mary Campi, Canon of the cathedral of Placentia, has written a much more complete life.

– from Saint Conrad and Saint Roch, Third Order of Saint Francis, by Father Hilarion Duerk, OFM, published in 1919