Saint Bernard of Corleone (1605 – 1667) could be the patron saint of the Mafia, and not just because he shares the same provenance as the fictional crime family of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel, and Francis Coppola’s subsequent film series. What I mean by that is that, like the Mafioso, Bernard – whose original name was Filippo Latini – lived a life of great violence during his early adulthood. Born in the Sicilian town of Corleone, Filippo was raised in a pious household, the middle of six children, and followed his father’s trade as a cobbler. There were early signs of religious devotion – his parents were devoted to the poor, and little Filippo would practice his Faith, often visiting a crucifix by himself. But soon after his father’s death in 1620, Filippo left Corleone to become a soldier, a mercenary of sorts, learning the skill of the sword, and quick to duel, and woe to anyone who flipped off Fillip. It seems that he never killed anyone, but his final fight, with the assassin Vito Cannino, cost his opponent his arm.
Filippo fled – out of remorse, as well as fear of retribution, taking refuge with the Franciscan Friars Minor. Repentance took hold of his violent soul, followed by a deep conversion, from which he never wavered. One is reminded of Ignatius of Loyola, who also hung up his sword in a convent, as well as the fictional Jesuit portrayed by Robert de Niro in the film, The Mission.
Filippo joined the Order, taking the name Bernard, and spent the rest of his life in penance and good works, sleeping but a few hours on a hard board with a stone for a pillow, scourging himself, often fasting on bread and water – but all of this motivated by love. For the fruits were there: Brother Bernard reconciled with Vito, and they became lifelong friends. He was always joyful, carrying around a big bowl of minestrone on his back for the poor, tending the sick, and became known for his patience, gentleness and compassion. His devotion to Our Lady was profound, and it was said she appeared to him, placing the baby Jesus in his arms.
Brother Bernard’s life was spent in various Franciscan convents throughout Italy, and he died in Palermo on January 12th, 1667, repeating ‘eamus’ – let’s go! – in his zeal to get to heaven. Bernard was beatified by Pope Clement XIII in 1768, and canonized by Pope Saint John Paul II on June 10th, 2001.
May Saint Bernard intercede for all those who live by the sword, that they not die by the sword, but give up the folly of their ways, and find the path to peace, which God will grant to the souls who seek Him in truth. +