Saint of the Day – 19 February – St Conrad of Piacenza TOSF (c 1290-1351) Hermit, Pilgrim and Penitent, Member of the Third Order of St Francis, born Corrado Confalonieri in c 1290 at Piacenza, Italy and died on 19 February 1351 at Noto, Sicily of natural causes while kneeling before a crucifix. Patronages – cure of hernias, Calendasco and Noto. His body is incorrupt.
He was a member of one of the noblest families of Piacenza, in the town of Calendasco, a fiefdom of his family. The date of his birth is uncertain. He married an aristocratic young woman named Ephrosyne when he was quite young. Though pious, he led the normal way of life for a man of his station.
One day, as he was engaged in his usual pastime of hunting within his family’s domain, he ordered his attendants to set fire to some brushwood in which game had taken refuge. The prevailing wind caused the flames to spread rapidly to the surrounding fields and forest. A peasant who happened to be found near where the fire began was accused of starting the blaze and was imprisoned, tortured to confess and condemned to death. As the man was being led to execution, a remorseful Conrad publicly admitted his guilt to the Signoria of the city. As punishment and reparation for the damages he had caused, the city seized all his assets, only sparing his life due to his noble status
Thus reduced to poverty and seeking penance for his act of cowardice, Conrad and his wife saw the hand of God in this event. As a result, in 1315 they agreed to separate and Conrad retired to a hermitage near the town of Calendasco, joining a community of hermits, who were Franciscan tertiaries, while his wife became a nun of the Order of Poor Clares at their monastery in the city.
Conrad soon developed a reputation for holiness and the flow of visitors left him unable to keep the solitude he sought. He then embarked on the life of a pilgrim, going to Rome and from there to the Holy Land and Malta and, about 1340, to Palermo in Sicily, where he was directed to an isolated site in the Val di Noto. After many years of an itinerant life, he settled there in a grotto now named for him and for the rest of his life spent a most austere and penitential life of solitude, working numerous miracles and gifted with prophecy.
In 1343 Conrad felt called by God to serve the local people more directly and in 1343 went to the city of Netum, where he cared for the sick at the Hospital of St Martin there for the next two years. He lived in a hermitage attached to the Church of the Crucified Christ occupied by the Blessed William Buccheri, a former equerry to King Frederick III of Sicily, who had also taken up a life of solitude and prayer. Conrad would regularly return to his grotto for silent prayer. His fame was such that in 1348 the Bishop of Syracuse, Giacomo Guidone de Franchis, went to his hermitage to beg his prayers for the relief of a famine afflicting the island.
Conrad died while in prayer, kneeling before a crucifix, on 19 February 1351, the day he had predicted. At his request, his body was buried at the Church of St Nicholas, the principal one of the city. After the city was destroyed in an earthquake in the 1690s, it was transferred to the new church of the same name, built in the relocated city, now called Noto, which has since been elevated to the statues of the Cathedral of the region.
Numerous miracles have been attributed to him while he lived and subsequently at his tomb in Noto, Italy. Holy legend records, for example, that when the Bishop of Syracuse visited him, the he asked Saint Conrad if he had anything to offer guests. Conrad said he would check in his cell and returned moments later carrying newly baked bread and cakes, which the bishop accepted as a miracle. Saint Conrad was also reported to have travelled surrounded by a cloud of fluttering birds, keeping him company.
Conrad is especially invoked for the cure of hernia. This comes from miracles attributed to him. He was visited at his hermitage by a former friend and companion in arms, Antonio da Stessa, from Daverio. His friend was suffering from the pain of a hernia he had developed. Seeing the pain his old comrade was suffering, Conrad was moved to pity and prayed for him. Stessa was immediately cured of the hernia. The same outcome was accomplished for a local tailor, who suffered severely from several hernias.
The miracle for which Conrad is best known is the “Miracle of the Bread”. This developed during the aforementioned famine which afflicted Sicily as a result of a severe outbreak of the bubonic plague on the island during 1348-49. During that catastrophe, anyone who approached the hermit for help was given a loaf of bread, still warm, which, it was said, he had received from the angels.
Pope Leo X Beatified Conrad on 12 July 1515 and permitted the town of Noto to celebrate his feast day. On 30 October 1544, Pope Paul III extended permission to the whole island. On 2 June 1625, he was Canonised by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, who was the Duke of Parma and Piacenza in a solemn ceremony at the cathedral of Piacenza, where it was declared an obligatory feast. On 12 September of that same year, permission was granted to the Franciscan Order by Pope Urban VIII for a distinct text for the Divine Office and Mass to be used for his feast, today, it is celebrated solely by the Third Order of St Francis to which he belonged. In Vietnam there is a popular devotion to Conrad.
On his feast day, the Parish Church of San Corrado in Noto commemorates him by the distribution of blessed bread.