Saint of the Day – 22 June – St Paulinus of Nola (c 354-431) Bishop, Confessor, Poet, Writer, Apostle of Charity, Preacher, Orator, Senator and Governor, – born Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus in c354 at Burdigala, Gaul (modern Bordeaux, France) and died on 22 June 431 of natural causes. St Paulinus was an inspiration to many—including six great saint of the Church who referenced him in letters of encouragement to others: St Augustine, St Jerome, Melania, St Martin of Tours, St Gregory and St Ambrose . St Augustine wrote, “Go to Campania– there study Paulinus, that choice servant of God. With what generosity, with what still greater humility, he has flung from him the burden of this world’s grandeurs to take on him the yoke of Christ and in His service how serene and unobtrusive his life!”
It is believed that St Ambrose would have chosen him to replace him as bishop of Milan, but Paulinus was far from Milan when Ambrose died. He said of him that “Christians should follow and imitate Paulinus,” and that the greatest good fortune of the century in which they were living was to be “witness to the life of so rare and admirable a man.” Throughout his life, Saint Paulinus devoted himself to the care and service of the poor, giving away all that he had to improve the lives of others.
Paulinus was born to a Roman family noteworthy for the long line of senators, prefects, consuls and other important governmental figures it produced. Given the family’s status and station, Paulinus received the finest of educations available at the time. He was soon recognised for his eloquence in oratory, prose and verse and was admired by many for his hymns, poetry and eloquent speeches. Paulinus first served as Roman Consul, and then Prefect (or Governor) of Rome and had amassed a large fortune, which he promptly doubled by marring Theresia, a virtuous (yet rich!) Spanish noblewoman. The couple became one of the wealthiest and most respected couples in Europe, owning property in several nations across the continent. Despite the admiration and respect he earned from many of his contemporaries (now saints), Paulinus was a catechumen and had yet to devote himself to the faith. Rather, he attempted to maintain his status and riches in the world. Only through suffering and sorrow was Paulinus more fully drawn into the holy life the Lord had planned for him. Sadly, the first and only child of Paulinus and Theresia died shortly after his birth. Not long afterward, Paulinus was baptised into the faith, at the age of 38.
Paulinus and Theresia moved to Spain, and began to live lives of solitude and prayer and St Paulinus was ordained. He and his wife liberated the slaves that worked in the area and then piece by piece, sold off their vast fortunes in real estate and holdings, distributing the earnings throughout the world—so widely and generously that St Jerome wrote “both East and West were filled with his alms.”He and his wife then moved to Nola, near Naples. He had a great love for Saint Felix of Nola (died in 255), he credited his conversion to S. Felix and each year would write a poem in honour of the saint and he spent much effort in promoting devotion to St Felix. Paulinus gave away most of his remaining property—to the consternation of his relatives—and continued his work for the poor. Supporting a host of debtors, the homeless and other needy people, he lived a monastic life in another part of his home. He had the beautiful Church of Saint Felix constructed, where he devoted himself at all hours of the day in service to others. Paulinus undertook a life of extreme abstinence and toil, living a celibate life as brother to his wife, exchanging their fine robes for rough clothing and the fine silver furnishings of their home for wood. Together, they embraced a life of true poverty, embracing the Gospel and giving all they had—sometimes to excess—to those in need. They also founded a small community of monks in Nola and opened a hospice for the poor and for travellers to the region.At the age of 55, Paulinus was elected Bishop of Nola (by this time his wife had died) a post he served faithfully for 21 years. He comforted his peoples during the invasion of the Vandals and subsequent enslavement of the community. It is said that following the ransom of the captives, a poor widow, whose only son had been taken away by the Vandal king came to see Saint Paulinus, recounting her tale. “What I have I give you,” said the Saint to her. ”We will go to Africa and you will offer me to the prince, saying I am one of your slaves, in exchange for the prisoner.” This they did, and Paulinus was accepted in place of the widow’s son and employed as gardener. After a time the king discovered, by divine interposition, that this valuable slave was the renowned Bishop of Nola. He at once set him free, granting him also the freedom of the remainder of the townsmen of Nola who were enslaved.
Paulinus, having returned to Nola, died in 431. His holy remains were transferred several times but restored to the cathedral of Nola in 1908. Although some of his wonderful writings have been lost, thirty-two poems and fifty-one letters remain. His writings contain one of the earliest examples of a Christian wedding song.
The life of St Paulinus is one of great accomplishments and positions—none more important than those which began with his baptism into the faith. As with all baptism, Paulinus was made anew, filled with the Holy Spirit and through this rebirth, was able to devote himself to the holy work of God, serving others and bringing many to the faith.
St Paulinus is credited with the introduction of bells in Christian worship and ecclesiastical celebrations and helped resolve the disputed election of Pope Boniface I.The people of modern-day Nola and the surrounding regions remain devoted to St Paulinus. His feast day is celebrated annually in Nola during “La Festa dei Gigli” (the Feast of the Lilies), in which lilies and other flowers are arranged around large statues in honour of the saint which are then placed on tower-like structures,and carried upon the shoulders of the faithful around the city. In the United States the descendants of Italian immigrants from Nola and Brusciano continue the tradition in Brooklyn.