St. Bernard of Montjoux, model of charity and compassion
Today, May 28, is the feast of St. Bernard of Montjoux, patron saint of mountain climbers and skiers.
We know nothing of his early life, other than the fact that he was most likely born of nobility in Italy or France. Tradition tells us that he avoided an arranged marriage in order to devote his life to God.
Saint Bernard entered the Benedictine Order, at the monastery in Aosta, Italy, and was ordained a priest. He served as Vicar General of Aosta, and spent more than four decades performing missionary work in the Alps. He was deeply devoted to the Lord and tirelessly preached the gospel to travelers, offering them comfort and hospitality, and in doing so, converted many.
He is probably most famous for the hospices he built on the summits of passes over the Alps. Many pilgrims from France and Germany would travel over the Alps on their way to Rome, but it was always a possibility that one would die from freezing along the way. In the 9th century a system of hospices had been attempted, but had lapsed long before Bernard’s time. Bernard’s hospices in the 11th century were placed under the care of clerics and laymen and were well equipped for the reception of all travelers. Eventually these caretakers became Augustinian a monastery was built close by, still exists today
At some point in time Bernard traveled to Rome to receive formal recognition of the hospices and community and to obtain permission to accept novices. Bernard lived to the age of eighty-five and is believed to have died on May 28, 1081 at St. Lawrence Monastery in Novara, Italy.
A now-famous breed of dogs, known for its endurance in high altitude and cold, was named in honor of this saint. Bernard’s life has been the focus of many romantic plays and stories. Many of us may remember childhood stories of St. Bernard dogs coming to the rescue of stranded or injured victims on Alpine slopes. The dogs almost always seem to have a cask of Brandy attached to their collars and when the victims were revived by a good drink the dogs would lead them to safety.
However romance was not what Bernard’s life was about. He was strongly committed to the ideals taught by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Bernard dedicated his life to bring the message of Christ to all and to correct the abuses of clerical life which he saw. He was deeply concerned for the care of the poor and disadvantaged. Living his life in the Alps he knew the dangers present and did what he could to relieve them. He is a model, not of romance, but of deep love and compassion, in imitation of God whom he loved and served with all his heart reprimanded.