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By Judy Ball


Rooted in Soil, Praised on High


From Dreams to Reality
Head of the Class
Historical Background

Saints often distinguish themselves in dramatic ways: unparalleled holiness, profound spiritual writings, extraordinary leadership, remarkable forms of service, heroic martyrdom. But not always.

Take St. Isidore the Farmer, a simple, uneducated peasant, a man of the earth whose life was rooted in the ordinary. A man who lived and died a hired hand, he planted, plowed and prayed his way to sanctity. He spent his days in the fields working for a wealthy landowner. Isidore and his wife, Maria de la Cabeza (also a canonized saint, whose feast is September 9), devoted their energies to good works, especially following the death of their young son. The young couple had little, but they shared it with those who had less.

From Dreams to Reality

Born in Madrid, Spain, in 1070, Isidore was named after the famous bishop of Seville, who lived 500 years earlier. While the young boy’s parents had high hopes for their son, it soon became clear they lacked the financial resources to realize their dreams.

From an early age Isidore labored from sunup to sundown on the estate of Juan de Vergas. The work was physically wearing and often tedious, but Isidore always gave his employer an honest day’s work.

He began each day by attending Mass at dawn, and continued to talk to God in prayer during the quiet hours in the field. His fellow workers couldn’t help but notice—and feel resentment. Some complained that he was cheating his employer.

In response, Señor Vergas secretly observed Isidore at work one day. What he saw was not an unproductive worker but a man dutifully at the plow, assisted by angels at his right and his left!

That’s only one of the miracles attributed to the quiet, humble Isidore. Others have him bringing a group of poor people—unannounced—to a parish feast, where the unexpected guests were miraculously fed. Another has him providing water to parched fields. He also reportedly found miraculous ways to feed hungry animals.

Isidore died as he lived, quietly, in 1130.

Head of the Class

Today, almost 900 years after his death, Isidore is the patron of peasants, farmers and field workers. His feast day is marked around the globe—from the United States to Mexico to the Philippines and beyond—with processions, parades, music and the blessing of crops. The city of his birth sponsors a weeklong celebration that even includes bullfights. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference also claims him as its patron.

We needn’t own a family farm or spend our days in the fields to feel a sense of solidarity with Isidore. However we labor—at a factory, in an office, behind the wheel of a truck, at home or on the land—Isidore reminds us of the dignity of our work, of all work. He also reminds us of our call to share our treasure and time with the poor. Perhaps most of all, Isidore tells us that the most ordinary life can lead to holiness.

When Isidore was canonized in 1622, he shared the moment with four others—Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, Francis Xavier and Philip Neri. It’s a stellar class by anyone’s standards. Even if he comes in dead last in the name-recognition category, all evidence tells us that St. Isidore the Farmer wouldn’t mind a bit.

Next month: St. Germaine Cousin (1579-1602)

Historical Background

The Moors invaded Spain in 711. By the time of Isidore's birth several centuries later, Muslim influence was on the wane. Christian forces were gathering in Madrid and elsewhere to recover the peninsula in what is called the Reconquista of Spain.

We have no evidence that Isidore participated in the struggle between Christians and Muslims, but he is said to have indirectly influenced the course of its history. Not quite 100 years after Isidore's death, King Alphonso VIII of Castille reported a vision of Isidore in which he showed the king an unknown pass that enabled his men to surprise and defeat the Moors at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1211. It was a decisive moment in the Reconquista.

Judy Ball is managing editor of Every Day Catholic, a monthly newsletter. She edits the print and audio Saint of the Day segments on this Web site.

Find Out More
For more information about saints whose feast days occur this month, visit Saint of the Day.

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