By Larry Peterson
My parents would have celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary on September 19, 2018. They had made it to their 17th anniversary when Mom died. Dad lasted four years and then he was gone. For some unknown reason, their anniversary played inside my head…over and over.
I have Masses offered for both of them and other family members during the year. But it occurred to me I had never had a mass offered for my mother and father as a husband and wife. Let’s face it; as a kid you do not think of your parents as regular “people.” Rather, they are just mom and dad. So, in honor of their Diamond Jubilee Anniversary, a Mass was offered just for them.
When I opened the Sunday church bulletin and saw their names, Emil & Lillian Peterson, together as a couple, I could not believe how I reacted; I was standing in the church narthex with some friends and tears started flowing down my face. Shocked at my own reaction, I hurried outside hoping no one had noticed. I took a few deep breaths and regrouped. Whew!
There was one more thing I needed to do. I have written about many, many saints; some known and many unknown. But I had never tried to find St. Lillian or St. Emil. It was time to see if they even existed. What follows is a result of my quest.
There was a Saint Lillian. She lived in the ninth century in Muslim controlled Spain. It was a time when Catholics lived in constant fear of the Moors. They had no problem torturing and killing “infidels,” and Catholics were definitely “infidels.” Lillian was a Catholic layperson and had to practice her faith in secret.
History tells us the during the reign of the Caliph Abdurrahaman II, a great persecution took place. Lillian, her husband, Felix, and a man named Aurelius, were exposed as Catholics. Lillian and Felix along with Aurelius stepped forward and publicly admitted that they were, indeed, Catholic. They knew full well that death would come with their admission.
The Moors gave them four days to renounce their Christianity and to embrace Islam. After four days they all refused, remaining steadfast in their beliefs. They were all sentenced to death. Saint Lillian, Saint Felix, and Saint Aurelius, died in Cordova, Spain circa 892. A.D. They were all named saints during the pre-congregation era.
Saint Lillian’s feast day is on July 27th. She is the patroness of women named Lillian, Lily (my Mom’ nickname) and Elizabeth. We are supposed to pray to Saint Lillian to help strengthen our faith and to help us spread unconditional love to our neighbors. Ironically, in my novel, the Priest and The Peaches, the character of Elizabeth was fashioned after my mother, Lillian. That was never planned.
There also was a Saint Emil aka Emilian. Emil was a shepherd living in North Africa sometime around the year 250 A.D. He became a hermit and after a while was ordained a priest. He was a natural organizer and was able to develop a large group of followers. He became their Abbott and is called the first Spanish Benedictine.
During the latter part of the third century, the Roman Emperor, Decius, began a relentless persecution of the Christians. Emil was arrested and, after being weakened by constant torture, was released. He regained some strength and returned to preaching again. He was brought before the same judge that had ordered him tortured. This time he was sentenced to death.
Before being executed by fire, Emil was once again subjected to various, inhumane tortures. When his captors realized Emil would never renounce his faith, he was burned alive.
Saint Emil & Saint Lillian, please pray for us.
copyright ©Larry Peterson 2018