A Patron Saint for the Chronically Ill

St. Juliana Falconieri (1270-1341)
Feast day: June 19

Juliana Falconieri grew up among saints. Her uncle, St. Alexis Falconieri, was one of the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order. The priest who taught Juliana as a child and deepened her love of God as she developed into a young woman was St. Philip Benizi, one of the early superiors of the Servites. Juliana's parents are not canonized saints, but they were devout people: her father built the Servites' first church in Florence, Santissima Annunziata (Most Holy Annunciation); and Juliana's mother spent the last 20 years of her life living an austere, quiet life of prayer and good works.
Inspired by the holiness she saw around her, Juliana decided to affiliate herself with the Servites as a nun. Her friend and spiritual director, St. Philip Benizi, heard her vows and gave her the habit of a Servite sister. Through what we would call parish missions, the Servite priests and brothers sought to promote devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to encourage Catholics to repent their sins and increase their commitment to the faith. Juliana added works of charity to the Servite way of life by going out into the streets of Florence to help the sick, the helpless, and the abandoned. It was hard, often dirty work; to keep their hands and arms unencumbered Juliana and the women who joined her modified their habit by shortening the sleeves.
For the first 20 years or so after she took her vows, Juliana lived and worked out of her parents' house. This was not unusual in the Middle Ages. Most orders of nuns lived a cloistered life within a convent, but religious women who wanted an active life nursing, teaching or doing some other form of good work, had the option of living in their own homes or living with other like-minded women as a community. While Julaina remained at home with her elderly mother, the women of Florence who became Servite sisters moved into a large house near the church of the Most Holy Annunciation. After her mother died, Juliana joined them.
During Juliana's life Florence was being torn apart by two political parties with odd names - the Ghibellines wanted the Holy Roman Emperor to be the dominant power in Europe, while the Guelphs believed that the ultimate authority was the pope. To gain the upper hand both parties resorted to bloody skirmishes in the streets, assassinations, even civil war. We don't know if Juliana took sides in this squabble. We do know that by acting as a mediator she reconciled several bitter enemies and restored some degree of peace to her hometown.
St. Juliana is the patron of people who suffer from any type of chronic illness because during the last years of her life she was plagued by an undiagnosed stomach ailment. She never knew when an attack of nausea or severe cramps would strike and incapacitate her. Eventually the illness proved fatal. As she was dying she was seized by such a severe bout of vomiting that the priest who came to anoint her felt she could not receive Holy Communion. Instead, at Juliana's request, he covered her chest with a corporal and laid the host over her heart. According to the story, a few moments later the host vanished, and soon after that Juliana died. When the nuns washed her body they found the imprint of a cross directly over St. Juliana's heart.

Craughwell is the author of Saints for Every Occasion (Stampley Enterprises, 2001) and Patron Saints Catholic Cardlinks (Our Sunday Visitor, 2004).

Copyright (c) 2006 Arlington Catholic Herald

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