Saint Boniface was born in Devonshire, England, in the year 680. Some missionaries staying at his father’s house spoke to him of heavenly things and inspired in him a desire to devote himself, as they did, to God. He entered the monastery of Exminster and was trained there for his apostolic labors. His first attempt to convert pagans in Holland having failed, he went to Rome to obtain the Pope’s blessing on his mission, and returned with the authority to preach to the German tribes.
It was a slow and dangerous task; his life was in constant peril, while his flock was often reduced to abject poverty by wandering bands of robbers. Yet his courage never flagged. He began with Bavaria and Thuringia, next visited Friesland, then passed on to Hesse and Saxony, everywhere destroying the idol temples and raising churches in their place. He endeavored to make every object of idolatry contribute in some way to the glory of God. On one occasion, having cut down an immense oak honored in the name of Jupiter, he used the tree in building a church which he dedicated to the Prince of the Apostles.
After being recalled to Rome and consecrated bishop by the Pope, he returned to extend and organize the rising German Church. With diligent care he reformed abuses among the existing clergy, while establishing religious houses throughout the land. At length, feeling his infirmities increase, and fearful of losing his martyr’s crown, Saint Boniface appointed a Superior for his monastery and set out anew to convert a pagan tribe.
While he was about to administer Confirmation to some newly baptized Christians, a troop of pagans arrived, armed with swords and spears. His attendants would have opposed them, but the Saint said to his followers: My children, cease your resistance; the long expected day has come at last. Scripture forbids us to resist evil. Let us put our hope in God; He will save our souls. Scarcely had he stopped speaking, when the barbarians fell upon him and slew him, with all his attendants, fifty-two in number.
Reflection. Saint Boniface teaches us how the love of Christ changes all things. It was for Christ’s sake that he toiled for souls, preferring poverty to riches, labor to rest, suffering to pleasure, and death to life, that by dying he might live with Christ.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).