Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen
Capuchin friar martyred during the counter-reformation in Switzerland
Saint Fidelis was born Mark Roy in 1577, Sigmaringen in the Principality of Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen (today Sigmaringen is a town in Germany). After an early education, Saint Fidelis entered the University of Freiburg and studied both law and philosophy and was hired on after graduation to teach philosophy. Saint Fidelis was known for his modesty, chastitiy and meekness by his colleagues and would often be found wearing a hair-shirt for penance. He refused to participate in drinking wine and beer. After graduating with a Doctor of Law degree, Saint Fidelis accompanied three Swabian gentlemen across as Europe as their preceptor (teacher/mentor). From 1604-1610 he attended Mass during these travels at every opportunity and would spend many hours on his knees in Adoration.
He finished his travels in France and began to practice law as an counselor at Colmar in Alsace, France. Very quickly after beginning his practice Saint Fidelis became affectionally known as the poor man's lawyer. Despite contentment in serving the legal needs of the poor and finding great financial success he became totally disenchanted and depressed with the evils that were associated with his profession during this time and decided alongside his brother George to join the Capuchin friars.
Saint Fidelis joined the Capuchin order and was given the religious name Fidelis, or faithful. His guardian alluded to the text in the Book of Revelation that describes those who are faithful to the end of their lives receiving a crown of life upon their heads. On October 4th, 1612, the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Fidelis was ordained a priest and celebrated his first mass in Fribourg. He was sent to the friary in Welkirchen to serve as the guardian. Through his piety and zealous labors when tending for the sick of the city, many Calvinists converted back to Catholicism. These conversions did not come without trouble.
Enraged by the conversion of their fellow brothers, a group of Calvinists in the territory of Graubunden (eastern Switzerland) began to plot against him. Saint Fidelis was commissioned by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to take eight other friars into Graubunden to preach the Catholic faith. On the Feast of the Ephiphany in 1622, Saint Fidelis and his companions reached the town of Prattigau and began to preach sermons that were quickly converting many. Knowing his martyrdom was likely approaching, Saint Fidelis began preparing in earnest. On April 24th, 1622, at the of Mass in Grusch, Saint Fidelis suddenly stood silent and fixed his eyes upwards towards heaven. After experiencing religious ecstasy he told his companions that death was coming. He signed his final letters
"P. Fidelis, prope diem esca vermium"
The group departed the church and went to the church at Seewis to preach a reconversion message. Outside the church Calvinist agitators began to rile up the crowd and gathered weapons. Saint Fidelis and his companions depart the church immediately but Saint Fidelis chose to walk alone on the road back to Grusch. While walking he ran into a group of Calvinist soldiers that demanded he recant his Catholic faith, a demand Saint Fidelis would not capitulate to. The martyrdom was recorded by eyewitnesses:
From Grüsch he went to preach at Seewis, where, with great energy, he exhorted the Catholics to constancy in the faith. After a Calvinist had discharged his musket at him in the Church, the Catholics entreated him to leave the place. He answered that death was his gain and his joy, and that he was ready to lay down his life in God's cause. On his road back to Grüsch, he met twenty Calvinist soldiers with a minister at their head. They called him a false prophet, and urged him to embrace their sect. He answered: "I am sent to you to confute, not to embrace your heresy. The Catholic religion is the faith of all ages, I fear not death." One of them beat him down to the ground by a stroke on the head with his backsword. Fidelis rose again on his knees, and stretching forth his arms in the form of a cross, said with a feeble voice "Pardon my enemies, O Lord: blinded by passion they know not what they do. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Mary, Mother of God, succor me!." Another sword stroke clove his skull, and he fell to the ground and lay in a pool of his own blood. The soldiers, not content with this, added many stab wounds to his body with their long knives, and hacked-off his left leg, as they said, to punish him for his many journeys into those parts to preach to them
A Catholic woman hid in the bushes during this terrible murder and gathered the body for a proper Catholic burial the following day. One of the attackers, a Calvinist minister, later converted to Catholicism upon reflection of his participation in the murder and the defeat of the Calvinist rebels by Imperial troops. His relics were placed into two reliquaries, one sent to the Cathedral of Coire and the other at the Capuchin church in Feldkirch Austria.
Saint Fidelis was formally canonized in 1746 and recognized as a Martyr of the Catholic faith 15 years later. Today the feast day of Saint Fidelis is celebrated on April 24th.