Tag Archives: history

St. Nonna—She Converted her Pagan Husband and raised three Children who became Saints

St. Nonna and her son St. Gregory the Theologian
by mike searle/CC BY Sa 2.0

By Larry Peterson

She was born in the year 305 AD in a place called Nazianus, Cappadocia, which today is present-day northern Turkey. At the time, the Roman Empire still ruled most of the world. St. Nonna was the daughter of Christians who were named Philotatos and Gorgonia. They raised their daughter in the ways of Jesus and the growing Catholic Church.

It is hard for us in the 21st-century to truly understand the mindset of those from more than 1500 years ago but suffice it to say, St. Nonna had been raised by parents who had instilled in their daughter a true sense of Christian identity. Her faith was about to be tested when she married.

St. Nonna entered into a marriage (most likely arranged) with Gregory of Arianzus, who was a wealthy landowner and had an estate nearby. The marriage caused great sadness for St. Nonna because her husband was a pagan and followed a sect called Hypsistyarii whose members venerated a supreme god and also observed select Jewish rituals. Oh yes, they also worshipped fire. St. Nonna immediately began praying fervently that her husband would turn to the One True God.

St. Nonna had three children and one of them, who became St. Gregory the Theologian, wrote that his mom “could not bear being half united to God, because he who was part of her remained apart from God. She wanted a spiritual union in addition to the bodily union. Day and night she turned to God with fasting and many tears, entreating Him to grant salvation to her husband.”

St. Nonna’s prayers were answered because, in due time, her husband had a vision while sleeping. St. Gregory wrote that “It seemed to my father,” wrote St. Gregory, “as though he was singing the following verse of David: ‘I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord’ (Ps. 121/122: 1). He had never done this before, though his wife had often offered her supplications and prayers for it.”

The dream was very strange to Gregory, but it brought a desire to him to go to church. When he told Nonna about this, she told him that the vision would bring him the greatest joy if it were fulfilled.

Gregory did, in fact, embrace the faith and traveled to the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, where he announced his conversion to Christ. Gregory was baptized and then ordained presbyter and then Bishop of Nazianos. When he was ordained a bishop, Nonna was made a deaconess. St. Nonna, with the same intensity and fervor she put into converting her husband and teaching her children the faith, became completely involved in performing works of charity.

St. Gregory the Theologian wrote of his mom, “She knew one thing to be truly noble: to be pious and to know from where we have come and where we are going; and that there is one innate and trusty wealth: to use one’s substance on God and on the poor, especially the impoverished kin.”

St. Gregory the Theologian wrote about his mom as being strong and vigorous and free from sickness. But in her later years, she did become quite ill, and everyone thought she was about to die. She could not eat, and no remedy could be found. But she began to recover after a strange dream.

She dreamt that her son, Gregory, had appeared to her carrying a basket of the whitest bread anyone had ever seen. He blessed the bread with the sign of the Cross and fed his mom. Miraculously, by the next day, she was stronger and almost like her old self. Was this a Eucharistic Miracle?  Many believe it was.

In her final years, St. Nonna had much sorrow in her life. Her youngest son, Caesarious, died in 368. The following year her daughter died. Her husband had died several years earlier. St. Nonna bore these losses stoically and completely submitted to the will of God.

St. Nonna was a devoted wife, mother and, most of all, devoted to God and the Church. She is the patroness of servants and parents who have had children pass away. She became a saint in the pre-congregation era which was prior to the 11th Century. After that, the Catholic Church established strict guidelines for a person to be canonized by establishing the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

St. Nonna of Nazianus. pray for us.

copyright ©Larry Peterson 2018

Servant of God; Father Varghese Payyappilly Palakkappilly (Kathanar)

Venerable Payyappilly Varghese Kathanar

By Larry Peterson

On April 14, 2018, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. He presented the cardinal with the names of eight Catholics who have attained the designation of Servants of God. This designation is awarded to those who have attained the first pedestal on their road to canonization. Among those named was Servant of God, Father Varghese Payyapilly Palakkappilly (yes, that is a definite tongue-twister so we will keep it at Father Varghese).

Cardinal Amato was authorized by the Holy Father to place those named worthy of receiving a promulgation of “the Heroic Virtues.” Pope Benedict XIV, 1740 to 1758, who is considered the defining authority on these virtues, wrote five volumes about them. They are still used in determining if a Servant of God meets the criteria of demonstrating ‘heroic virtue.’

A simple way to think of  ‘heroic virtue’  might be as a virtue that has become a second nature.  It becomes a habit of good behavior that can only be attained through the love of God and a closeness to Him, a closeness that most of us never reach. Heroic Virtue must be a part of those who would be advanced to the level of Venerable from Servant of God.

Father Varghese was born in India, in the province of Kerala, on August 8, 1876. He attended St. Albert’s School in Ernakulam which is on the southeast coast of India. From St. Albert’s he moved onto the Central Seminary in Sri Lank (formerly Ceylon) an island off the coast of India. From there he attended the Papal Seminary, also in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained a priest on December 21, 1907.

Father Verghase was assigned as a parish priest and served as such in various parishes from 1909 thru 1922. While serving at the parish in Arakuzha, he began St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School. His presence and efforts at the school and church helped reunite many estranged families and succeeded in making the church self-sufficient through land purchases.

Father Verghase also managed to acquire land for the construction of St. Joseph’s Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. He remained there until 1929. It was reported that during Father Varghese’s tenure there, vocations to the priesthood exploded.

Father Verghases’s reputation as a kind and loving priest continued to grow. He became a member of the Diocesan Council and the Director of Apostolic Union as well as the Priests’ Provident Fund. People from all over came to him because they wanted his counsel to help them with their problems. He managed to bring many families back together using the wisdom he received from the Holy Spirit.

The simple priest was held in high esteem both by church officials and government officers. His empathy for the poor and suffering and his reputation spread far and wide after he helped many victims of the great flood of 1924. He even turned St. Mary’sHigh School into a shelter and delivered food himself by boat.

On March 19, 1927, Father Verghese founded the Sisters of the Destitute. His intention was to continue what he saw as Christ’s saving message among the poor. He found abandoned people, brought them to the shelter of the Home for the Aged and nursed them.

Today the Sisters of the Destitute, have over 1500 nuns and also include among its ranks doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers. They are located in Asia, Europe, Africa and across the United States.  The operate such institutions as homes for the sick and needy, health centers, libraries, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and cancer centers.

Payyappilly Palakkappilly Varghese Kathnar (that is Father Verghese’s full name) died from typhoid fever on October 5, 1929. He was buried at St. St John Nepumsian Syrian Catholic Church in Kornthurthy, India. On August 25, 2009, Father Verghese was declared a Servant of God by the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar CatholicChurch.

When Pope Francis authorized Father Verghese as worthy of having “the heroic virtue” he (aswell as the seven others) were elevated to the rank of Venerable. A miracle attributed to Father Verghase is under review for Father Verghese and if validated, Venerable Verghase Payyappilly may become beatified.

Venerable Verghase Payyappilly, please pray for us.