“First, that you dwell together in harmony in the house and be of one mind and one heart in God, remembering that this is the reason you are gathered here. Call not anything your own, but let all things be held in common among you.”
St. Gilbert of Sempringham, the founder of our Order, was born at Sempringham, near Borne in Lincolnshire. He was the son of Jocelin, an Anglo-Norman lord of the manor, who unusually for that period, actively prevented his son from becoming a knight, instead sending him to the University of Paris to study theology. Some physical deficiency may have made him unfit for military service, making an ecclesiastical career the best option. In 1120 he became a clerk in the household of Robert Bloet, Bishop of Lincoln, started a school for boys and girls (the existing primary school at Pointon is still named after him) and was ordained by Robert’s successor. Offered the archdeaconry of Lincoln, he refused, saying that he knew no surer way to perdition. St. Gilbert’s father was impressed with his education and abilities and his religious manner and presented him with the rectories of Sempringham and West Torrington so that he had an income.
When St. Gilbert’s father died in 1130, he became lord of the manor of Sempringham. In 1131 he founded the Gilbertine Order, with the construction of a dwelling and cloister for seven nuns, at the north end of the church of St Andrew. Eventually St. Gilbert presided over twenty-six priories — some of double houses of men and women, and some of Canons Regular.
Our Holy Father Gilbert lived a long and happy life in service to the men and women of his communities. The Saint was a real teacher with a pastor’s heart and was passionate about bringing his spiritual sons and daughters to a greater and greater personal holiness. He was kind but firm, always encouraging progress in the spiritual life. The communities St. Gilbert founded were ultimately suppressed by King Henry VIII from 1538–39, but even the King could make no claim that the Gilbertine Priories had become corrupt or otherwise lost their way. The Sisters, Brothers and Clergy remained true to Father Gilbert’s vision of being the voluntary poor of Christ.
St. Gilbert served his flock as Magister well into his 90’s and lived until he was 106. He was revered and loved in his own time and was the first Saint to be canonised as according to the more contemporary process of proofs of holiness and miracles. Our Holy Founder was canonised in 1202 by Pope Innocent III who had a vision of the Saint and who wrote the collect we use on his feast day (4 February).
Saints with us
The Oratory of the Holyrood, no longer in existence, housed four first class relics (still cared for by the community): those of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Veronica Giuliani, St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows and Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God. The Canons Regular remember them and count them among their many spiritual friends. The relics of St. Aloysius and Blessed Dominic are now housed at St. John the Evangelist in Calgary, the others are at the Holy House Priory next door.
St. Aloysius was a Jesuit who left his aristocratic life behind in 1585 in favour of a radical Christian discipleship. He is known for his faithfulness, devotion to the Christian life of simplicity and for kindness to those who fell victim to the plague. While tending the sick, he contracted the disease himself and died six days before his twenty-third birthday—with the Holy Name upon his lips. Purity was St. Aloysius’ notable virtue. He is the patron saint of Christian youth, and students and owing to his manner of death, he has always been considered a patron saint of plague victims. For his compassion and courage in the face of an incurable disease, he has also become the patron of those who suffer from HIV/AIDS as well as their caregivers.
St. Veronica Giuliani joined the Capuchin Poor Clares in 1677 and eventually served there as Novice Master and Abbess. She was known as a very practical woman of able leadership with a life-long devotion to Christ crucified. She was given the gift of the stigmata, which caused her great humiliation due to the wounds themselves but also because of the rigorous testing of her experience by her bishop. She is remembered as one of the most extraordinary mystics of her era.
St. Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows received the Passionist habit in 1856. Despite his colourful past and love of the social scene, St. Gabriel proved himself an exemplary Religious and follower of the Passionist Rule. He had a particular devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows and died cheerfully at twenty-three of tuberculosis sitting up and reaching out to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the moment of his death. He is another patron of Catholic youth and of students, as well as those preparing for the priesthood.
Blessed Dominic of the Mother of God, was another Italian Passionist. He felt a particular call to preach to the English for the sake of their conversion. He was given this opportunity at long last and despite poor health in 1841. Though he wasn’t well received at first, he won many to the Church including Blessed Cardinal Newman of the Oxford movement. Blessed Dominic Barberi is remembered and loved for his efforts to return England to the Catholic faith. He was beatified by Pope Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council. We pray, as many others do, that he will be Canonised.
The Canons Regular of St. Gilbert of Sempringham have been given permission, by Bishop Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, to venerate the relic publicly, and to take up (in their own small way) the cause for Blessed Dominic’s sainthood.