Saint of the Day – 10 January – Saint William of Bourges O.Cist (c 1140-1209) Archbishop of Bourges from 1200 until his death, Confessor, Monk, renowned for miracles and virtue. He served as a Canon in Soissons and Paris before he entered the Order of Grandmont. Sometime later he entered the Cistercians. He was known to practice austerities, such as abstaining from meat and wearing a hair shirt. He was also known for his deep devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and for his conversion of sinners. He oversaw the construction of the new archdiocesan Cathedral that his predecessor had authorised and in which he himself would be buried. He performed eighteen miracles in life and many more in death. His Canonisation was celebrated under Pope Honorius III, a mere 9 years after his death, in 1218 and he was named as the Patron Saint for the Parisian college, i.e. the University of Paris as well as of gunsmiths. He was born as Guillaume de Donjeon in the 12th century in Nevers, France and died on 10 January 1209 at Bourges, France of natural causes whilst at prayer. He is also known as Guillaume de Bourges, William Berruyer, William de Don Jeon, William the Confessor. Additional Memorial – 8 November as one of the Saints of the Diocese of Evry.
William, of the illustrious family of the ancient Counts of Nevers, was educated by Peter the Hermit, Archdeacon of Soissons, his maternal uncle. From his early childhood William learned to despise the folly and emptiness of the world, to abhor its pleasures and to tremble at its dangers. At an early age he learned to elude the vanities of the world and to practice exercises of piety and the gaining of knowledge.
William was made a Canon, an Ecclesiastic attached to a Cathedral Church, first at Soissons and afterwards in Paris but, he soon resolved to abandon the world and retired into the solitude of Grandmont, where he lived with great regularity in that austere Order of Monks. Finally, he joined the Cistercians, flourishing with sanctity at the time and later was chosen to be Prior of the Abbey of Pontigny, then made Abbot of Challis.
On the death of Henri de Sully, Archbishop of Bourges, William was chosen to succeed him. The announcement of this new dignity which had fallen on him overwhelmed him with grief and he would not have accepted the office had not the Pope and his own Cistercian General, the Abbot of Citeaux, commanded him to do so.
His first care in his new position was to conform his life to the most perfect rules of sanctity. He redoubled all his austerities, saying it was incumbent on him now, to do penance for others, as well as for himself. He always wore a hair shirt under his religious habit and never added to his clothing in winter or diminished it in summer; he never ate any flesh meat, though he had it at his table for guests. As the Bishop William proved to be instrumental in the ongoing construction of the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Stephen which his predecessor had commenced earlier in 1195. The lower half of the Cathedral was completed and around December 1208 the choir was almost finished, at which time, he was able to celebrate the Christmas Mass.
He began preparations for a mission among the Albigensians when he died just after midnight kneeling at the altar in contemplation and meditation in 1209, in this posture he expired. In his last will and testament he requested that he be buried in his hair shirt and be laid on ashes.
While this holy Bishop was laid out for veneration, an infirm young boy who wanted to venerate him but had to be carried to the Church by his mother, was completely cured of his infirmities and ran about proclaiming the miracle. The stone of his Tomb in the Cathedral Church of Bourges cured mortal wounds and illnesses and delivered possessed persons; the deaf and dumb, the blind, the mentally ill became sound. So many miracles occurred there that the monks could not record them all.
St William had fostered a deep and special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and loved to spend much of his time at the foot of the altar contemplating it. The poor and sick were never forgotten for the Bishop visited them on frequent occasions, while he also ministered to the imprisoned. He defended clerical rights against state intervention. He once incurred wrath from King Philip II when the bishop enacted an interdict from Innocent III against him for having divorced his wife.