First Bishop of Munster
Saint Ludger was born in Friesland (the Netherlands) about the year 743. His father, a nobleman of the first rank, at the child’s own request, committed him very young to the care of Saint Gregory, Bishop of Utrecht, a disciple of Saint Boniface and his successor in the government of the see of Utrecht. Saint Gregory educated him in his monastery of Utrecht, and gave him the clerical tonsure.
Ludger, desirous of further religious studies, passed over into England, and spent four and a half years under Alcuin, Rector of a famous school at York. In 773 he returned home, and when Saint Gregory died in 776, his successor, Alberic, compelled Saint Ludger to receive the priesthood.
The new bishop employed him for several years in preaching the Word of God in Friesland, where he converted great numbers, founded several monasteries, and built many churches. The pagan Saxons then entered and ravaged the country, and drove out the missionaries. Saint Ludger traveled to Rome to consult Pope Adrian II as to what course he should take, and what he thought God required of him. He then retired for three and a half years to Monte Cassino to study Saint Benedict’s Rule; there he wore the habit of the Order and conformed to its practices during his stay, but made no religious vows.
In 787, Charlemagne overcame the Saxons, conquering Friesland and the coast of the Germanic Ocean as far as Denmark. Saint Ludger was sent by the Emperor, who had heard of him, to evangelize the pagans of five districts; thus he returned into East Friesland, where he brought the Saxons to the Faith, with the province of Westphalia. He founded the monastery of Werden, twenty-nine miles from Cologne. In 802, Hildebald, Archbishop of Cologne, in spite of his strenuous resistance, ordained him Bishop of Munster. He joined to his diocese five cantons of Friesland which he had converted, and founded the monastery of Helmstad in the duchy of Brunswick.
Being accused to the Emperor Charlemagne of wasting his income and neglecting the embellishment of churches, that prince ordered him to appear at court. The Saint, when he was summoned before the Emperor, was at prayer, and told the messenger he would follow him as soon as he had finished his devotions. He was sent for three times before he was ready, and his delay was represented to the Emperor by the courtiers as contempt for his Majesty. The Emperor, with some emotion, asked Saint Ludger why he had made him wait so long, though he had sent for him often. The bishop answered that although he had the most profound respect for his Majesty, yet God was infinitely above him; that while we are occupied with Him, it is our duty to forget everything else. This answer made such an impression on Charlemagne that he dismissed him with honor and disgraced his accusers.
Saint Ludger was favored with the gifts of miracles and prophecy, but desired that these not be published. His last sickness did not hinder him from continuing his functions up to and including the last day of his life, which was Passion Sunday. On that day he preached very early in the morning, said Mass towards nine, and preached again before nightfall, in another town. He told those with him that he would die during the night, and indicated a place in his monastery of Werden where he wished to be interred. He died as he foretold, on March 26, 809.
Reflection. Prayer is an action so sublime and supernatural that the Church in her Canonical Hours teaches us to begin it by a fervent petition of grace to perform it well. We ought never to appear before God, to offer Him our homages or supplications, without trembling and without being deaf to all creatures, and closing off our senses to any object apt to distract our minds from God.
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); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 4