North American Sanctity: Blessed Sebastián de Aparicio

Welcome to "North American Sanctity," a new series on holy men and women, boys and girls, saints and those on the road to sainthood, from Canada, the United States, and Mexico. Some will be familiar, others less so; but all are inspiring!

By Kimberly Bruce

Have you every heard of Blessed Sebastián de Aparicio (1502-1600)? He is the patron saint of travelers and hailed as the “Angel of Mexico.”  A handsome, smart, affluent man, he lived a life of ascetism and service to others. Later in life, he became a Franciscan friar. We celebrate his feast day on Feb. 25.

A native of Spain, Sebastián was born on Jan. 20, 1502, to poor but devout parents in the country’s northwest region of Gudiña. Illiterate until the day he died, young Sebastián’s job was to tend the sheep and cattle.

Contracting bubonic plague at age 12, his parents quarantined him in a shelter in the woods and prayed for his recovery. 

The story is told by Sebastián that one day a wolf came into the shelter and sniffed his wounds. After opening one of Sebastián’s wounds with its mouth, the wolf then ran out of the shelter. From that moment on, Sebastián immediately began to recover.

Sebastián eventually left his family home to find work to support the family and to provide dowries for his sisters. Desiring to live a life of chastity, he found himself moving from city to city and job to job to avoid the temptations of would-be suiters and mothers who wished to pair him up with their daughters in marriage.

At the age of 31, he set sail for the Americas, landing in Veracruz, Mexico, settling inland in the town of Puebla de los Angeles. There he became a farmer, trained cattle and horses, and made himself a fortune. Even as a farmhand, Bl. Sebastián never forgot the poor, frequently bestowing alms upon them.

Business success
With very few roads in the area, navigating the mountains in the region was extremely difficult for people and livestock. Sebastián and a partner worked to obtain a grant to build roads to connect communities. 

Negotiations with local peoples in these various communities, however, proved difficult. But Sebastián was up to the task. He was known to be both cheerful and humble. One of the roads he built traversed 400 miles from Mexico City to Zacatecas, and took 10 years to build. 

He then decided to open an express wagon transportation business, providing transport from various mines into Mexico City, and his wealth grew substantially.

In 1552, Sebastián sold his transportation business, bought land in central Mexico, and became a cattle rancher. Always a man with a servant’s heart, he taught the locals how to plow, build wagons, and raise oxen and horses. 

Signs of sanctity
Sebastián was known to have an amazing gift for communicating with animals, such that when he commanded cattle to go no farther on land, they obeyed him. He devoted himself to deeds of mercy as those expressed by our Lord to St. Faustina (and to us as well) in her Diary:

I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 742).

Beset with illness at one point, and thinking he was on the verge of death, Sebastián signed over all his possessions to a nearby Dominican convent. He recovered, however, and began applying himself again to the tasks that had always proved successful for him before.

Finally deciding to marry at the age of 60, he chose a poor young woman in danger of never marrying because she could not afford a dowry. They agreed to a “Josephite marriage,” a virginal marriage, that would remain unconsummated. She died, sadly, the following year.

Two years later, he married a second time, again entering a Josephite marriage. This new wife soon died, too, after injuries she sustained from an accident.

To religious life
Sebastián chose to then enter religious life. He sold all his property, this time bequeathing it to a Poor Clare Franciscan convent. He became a Third Order Franciscan, and then, at 71, an Observantine Franciscan, as he wished to be in an order requiring religious vows.

Given the job as alms-questor, he applied himself to the mission of begging alms for his convent until he died at age 98, after a short illness, on Feb. 25, 1600.

Calls for his canonization began right after his death. The process was begun but was delayed until Pope Pius VI beatified him in 1789. 

Many miracles have been attributed to Bl. Sebastián, and his body, twice exhumed, lays, incorrupt, for viewing in the Church of San Francisco in Puebla, Mexico. 

Serving your neighbor
How are you serving your neighbor? We are all called to serve through daily acts of mercy as expressed by Jesus to St. Faustina. These acts, Jesus told her, are performed by means of the merciful word, by forgiving and comforting, and by prayer (Diary, 1158). 

“And when the Last Day comes,” Jesus told her, “we shall be judged from this, and on this basis we shall receive the eternal verdict” (Diary, 1158).

Blessed Sebastián de Aparicio, pray for us, and teach us to serve our neighbor by merciful deeds as you did. Amen!

Next in the series: Saint Katherine Drexel, March 3
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