Saint of the Day – 7 January – Blessed Matthew of Agrigento OFM (c 1377-1450) “Apostle of the Holy Name of Jesus” Bishop, Priest and Friar of the Friars Minor, Missionary Preacher often with St Bernardine of Siena, Provincial Vicar and General Commissioner of the Order, founder of many Convents. The Etymology of the name Matthew is “man of God,” from Hebrew. Born in 1377 as Matteo Guimerà on the Via Arco di San Francesco di Paola in Rabbato, Agrigento, Italy and died on 7 January 1450 in the Franciscan Monastery (which he had founded) of Santa Maria di Gesù, Palermo, Sicily, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Matteo/Matthew Guimerà.
The Roman Martyrology states: “In Palermo, transit of Blessed Matteo Guimerá, Bishop of Agrigento, of the Order of Minors, lover and advocate of the Most Holy Name of Jesus”
Matthew was born on the southern coast of Sicily in c 1377. His parents were pious Catholics and they educated and instilled in him, a fervent love of the Faith.
He entered the Seraphic Order in 1391-92 at the Convent of St Frances of Assisi in Agrigento where he made his religious profession in 1394. He studied theology in Bologna, Italy and Barcelona, Spain, where he earned his doctorate and was Ordained a Priest in 1400.
Matthew became a travelling missionary preacher in the region of Tarragona, Spain from 1400 to 1405 and was then appointed Novie Master. In 1417, Matthew returned to Italy, desiring to work with St Bernardine of Siena, who was leading the observant reform movement of the Franciscan Order which gave rise to the Observant Franciscans. They met in 1418, perhaps at the General Chapter of the Order held at Mantua and Matthew, soon afterwards, asked his superiors for permission, to transfer to the Observing branch of the Order.
Matthew’s friendship with St Bernardine had a profound effect on his life. The two were fellow preachers and shared a desire for reform. Both preached tirelessly and led an austere life, in keeping with the spirit of Franciscan rule. Likewise, both encouraged devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus – in the case of Matthew, joined to the name of Mary, the Mother of God – for this reason, many of the Convents he founded in Italy and Spanish lands bear the name of Santa Maria de Jesús.
Matthew had the support of King Alfonso the Magnanimous and Pope Eugene IV, for the expansion of the reform movement. . In 1425, Pope Martin V granted him the power to found observant convents, in addition to those he had already reformed: Messina , Palermo , Agrigento, Syracuse , Barcelona , Valencia , etc. In addition, he was Provincial Vicar of the Order in Sicily between 1425 and 1430 and General Commissioner from 1432 to 1440.
Invited by the King of Spain, in 1427-1428, he preached in Valencia , Barcelona, Vic and other places. Invited again, he returned in 1430 to preach and perform peacekeeping missions, spreading devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus and founding new observant convents. He was chosen Bishop of his native City, Agrigento which he wanted to refuse but at the insistence of King Alfonso, he was appointed Bishop on 17 September 1442 and Consecrated the following year.
He was a reformist and a zealous Bishop of the ecclesiastical discipline of the clergy, which pitted him against a section of the clergy and the nobility, who slandered him (accused him of squandering Church property by exercising charity to the poor) and having illicit relations with a woman) and asked the Holy See to investigate. Prosecuted by the Papal Curia, he was found innocent and acquitted, regaining the Pope’s confidence. Again, however, his enemies provoked new conflicts and Matthew, realising that he was unable to maintain order, presented his resignation from the Bishopric.
When this was accepted in 1445, he retired to the Convent of Palermo, where he lived as a Friar until his death on 7 January 1450. He was buried in the same Convent.
The people soon considered him a saint and began to venerate him. In 1759 the Diocesan process of Beatification began , which led to the confirmation of the immemorial cult, equivalent to the Beatification by Pope Clement XIII on 22 February 1767.
Around a hundred of Blessed Matthew’s sermons are preserved, which were found during the twentieth century and only from 1960 began to be published by Agostino Amore. Written in Latin and the vernacular, they comment on biblical texts with great theological depth.