St Benedict Joseph Labre was born in 1748 in the village of Amettes in northern France. He was the eldest of 15 children, the son of a shopkeeper and his wife.
Benedict’s uncle was a priest and at the age of 16 he approached him about becoming a Trappist monk, but Benedict’s parents said that he was still too young.
Two years later, an epidemic fell upon the city that he lived in and Benedict and his uncle devoted their time to supporting the sick and caring for the livestock. His uncle was one of the last casualties of the epidemic.
Benedict attempted to apply again for the Trappist order but it rejected him, saying that he was still too young and too delicate. He then tried to join the Carthusians and Cistercians but each order said that he would not be able to live in community.
Following these experiences, Benedict felt the desire to “abandon his country, his parents, and whatever is flattering in the world to lead a new sort of life, a life most painful, most penitential, not in a wilderness nor in a cloister, but in the midst of the world, devoutly visiting as a pilgrim the famous places of Christian devotion”. In this he was inspired by St Alexius of Rome and St Roch.
Benedict joined the Third Order of St Francis and lived a life of poverty and pilgrimage. He first travelled to Rome on foot and would beg in order to survive. He was known to swoon when contemplating the Crown of Thorns.
In his 30s, he lived in Rome in the ruins of the Colosseum and would make an annual pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Loreto. He was known in the city as the “Saint of the Forty Hours” for his dedication to Eucharistic Adoration. He died of malnutrition on April 17 1783, during Holy Week. He is buried in the Church of Santa Maria ai Monti.
One hundred and thirty-six separate cures were attributed to Benedict. He was beatified by Blessed Pius IX in 1860 and then canonised by Pope Leo XIII in 1881. He is the patron saint of unmarried men, rejects, mental illness, mentally ill people, beggars and the homeless.