“Saint who?” “I’ve never heard of Saint Peregrine.” “I didn’t know there was a patron saint for cancer sufferers.” These are some of the frequently heard responses from people when first learning about Saint Peregrine. It is almost as if Saint Peregrine is an unintentionally well-keep secret among the Servites and those associated with them and their institutions.
“…I have been in remission since 1985! Talk about being blessed.” – Frances
“I am a 79-year-old widow and a four-time survivor of breast cancer. In 1976, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had my first mastectomy in November of that year. In December of 1983, I was diagnosed with cancer in my other breast. I had my second mastectomy the week of Christmas. A year later, two malignant lumps were discovered in my chest. These were removed and followed by 25 radiation treatments. St. Peregrine has been a great support to me. I pray to him everyday not only for myself but also for a number of others I know that have cancer. Thanks be to God, I have been in remission since 1985! Talk about being blessed.”-
According to recent cancer statistics, nearly 1.7 million new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2017, and over one-third of those cases will result in death. Worldwide, the statistics are dire: between the years 2012 and 2030, cancer cases are expected to increase by 50% and cancer deaths by 60%, with the majority of these cases occurring in Asia, Africa, and Central/South America. If there was ever a time to let the world in on the secret of Saint Peregrine, that time would be now.
Who was Saint Peregrine?
Saint Peregrine was a Servite religious brother who was born around 1266 and died on May 1, 1345. The earliest biographical information available on the saint is the Life of Saint Peregrine Laziosi of Forlì, written by the humanist NiccolÒ Borghese in 1484, nearly 140 years after the death of Peregrine. However, Borghese based his Life on an existing account of Saint Peregrine’s life that was written shortly after his death most likely by one of his Servite brothers.
The Life states that Peregrine received his call to join the Servites directly from the Blessed Mother when he was thirty years of age. And for the next thirty years he pursued a life of service to the community in his hometown of Forlì. It is said he assisted and nursed the populace during a plague. He was especially devoted to ascetical practices such as standing for extending periods of time. When he was around 60 years old, Peregrine developed a cancerous ulcer on one leg that would not heal and eventually turned gangrenous. The putrefying odor from the leg caused Peregrine to isolate himself from others. A local doctor, Paolo Salaghi, decided that the only course of action was to amputate the leg – an operation that at that time almost certainly would have killed him.
The night before the operation, Peregrine dragged himself to the chapter room of the priory where there was a fresco of the Crucifixion. While in prayer and in great pain, he fell asleep and dreamed that he saw the crucified Jesus “come down from the cross and take away all the sickness from his leg.” When he awoke, he was no longer in pain and saw that his leg had been healed. Giving thanks to God, he returned to his cell. When the doctor arrived in the morning to perform the amputation, Peregrine stated that he had no need of the doctor’s skills. Demanding to see the leg, the doctor, to his amazement, found no trace of swelling or a scar and declared it to be a miracle. Peregrine lived another twenty years ministering to the local community before finally succumbing to a “devouring fever.” At his death, there was a great outpouring of devotion as many flocked to Forlì to reverence the body of the saint. Peregrine was canonized in 1726.
The holiness of Saint Peregrine was noted during his lifetime and the Servite Order fostered devotion to St. Peregrine starting shortly after his death and continuing to this day. In fact, the earliest image of the saint is a fresco in the Servite church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Siena. The fresco is dated approximately 1348, a mere three years after his death.
Why Saint Peregrine is Relevant to Us Today
Because of the unique circumstances of his life, as well as the healings attributed to his intercession, Saint Peregrine is the ideal companion for those suffering from life-threatening conditions, for those who are caretakers of suffering people, as well as for those who survive serious illness. When sickness isolates and separates us from friends and loved ones, as well as from our comforting routines and activities, we can look to Peregrine who himself was shut off from the community with the effects of his disease. Peregrine can serve as a model of patient and prayerful suffering for he knew his suffering was a means of participating in the sufferings of Jesus. And some of us will even know the grace of a healing through St. Peregrine’s intercession.
But what makes Saint Peregrine a companion and friend for all of us is not so much his miraculous healing, wonderful as that is, but the patience in suffering that his example can teach us. Saint Peregrine was healed of a life threatening wound, but this healing was temporary and partial. Peregrine’s true healing was achieved, after a life of humble service and faithful suffering, with his death and new life in Christ. This mystery that we all must face is put best by Bro. Peter Broadhurst, O.S.M., an English Servite who died of mesothelioma in 2007:
“I have terminal cancer and it is unlikely that a miracle such as Peregrine experienced will occur in my life. Too great an emphasis upon the extraordinariness of his life will mean that his life has little or no meaning for people such as me who have not been blessed with the kind of miraculous physical healing he experienced…” Bro. Peter saw the time between his diagnosis and death as a time of profound healing and comfort as he could reflect and see God’s small miracles throughout his life. “The comfort comes from the recognition that if He has sustained me up to now in my life, why should He cease to do so as I face my death. Such faith in God’s active presence in my life, even in those darker moments where faith is tested, is the touchstone of my Christian life.”
Saint Peregrine always kept his eyes turned to the crucified Jesus and was rewarded for his faith. This is what makes Saint Peregrine a model, companion, and friend to all on the faith journey of life.