It seems we Catholics have a patron saint for just about everything. But have you ever wondered if there is a patron saint for addiction? My research uncovered several. Hopefully, one of these will resonate with you.
Perhaps the best-known patron saint for addiction is Saint Maximillian Mary Kolbe (1894-1941). Saint Max, as he is affectionately known in my household, was a Franciscan Friar in Poland. Though he spent some time as a missionary in Asia, he spent most of his adult life spreading a devotion to Mary. Using the most modern forms of communication of his time, he published magazines and had a radio show as well (I’m sure if he was alive today he would have a blog and podcast!).
During World War II, he and other friars sheltered many refugees, including 2,000 Jews hiding from Nazi oppression. Swept up in the Nazi ethnic cleansing of Poland, Maximillian was sent to Auschwitz in 1941. There he continued to work as a priest, ministering to inmates to the great ire of the Nazis. When a prisoner escaped, the deputy camp commander chose 10 inmates to kill in order to discourage future escapes. One of the men selected cried out, “My wife! My children!”
In response to the man’s cries, Maximillian offered to die in his place. The officer allowed this substitution. The ten were held in an underground bunker without food or water. An eyewitness recounted that the men sang hymns and prayed. Slowly, the singing grew silent as the men became weak and died. After two weeks, only Maximillian remained. The guards injected Maximillian with carbolic acid, causing a painful death. It is perhaps this moment, when he was injected with a deadly substance, that causes us to seek Kolbe’s aid in overcoming addiction. Saint Maximillian Kolbe’s feast day is August 14th.
There is a far less known saint whom we can recommend to addicts, particularly with the current opioid crisis. Saint Mark Ji Tianxiang (1834 -1900) was a devout Catholic in southeastern China. As a doctor he treated the poor for no charge. Unaware of the addictive effects of opium, he treated his own stomach ailment with what was then a common prescription. He became hopelessly addicted.
He confessed his substance abuse many times. Eventually, his confessor refused to give him absolution because of his continued use (addiction had not yet been recognized as a disease). For the last 30 years of his life, though, Saint Mark Ji attended Mass faithfully even though he was barred from receiving communion. He was never able to overcome his addiction, but Ji continued to grow in faith and holiness. He prayed for the gift of martyrdom, as he feared it was the only way he could be saved.
In 1900, Ji and most of his family were arrested and killed during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Over 32,000 Chinese Christians and at least 200 missionaries died during the rebellion. Saint Mark Ji, who had his prayer for martyrdom answered, has his feast day on July 7th.
Though not yet a saint, Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925) is recommended as a patron for alcoholics. His first job was as a messenger in a wine bottling company, where at the tender age of 12 he began abusing alcohol. When he was 28 he resolved to never drink again and maintained abstinence until his death, 41 years later. The first seven years of his sobriety were the hardest. He attended daily Mass and spent as much time in prayer as his work as a laborer allowed. Upon his death, penitential chains were found on his body. Many addiction clinics and youth hostels are named for this Irishman. If canonized, his feast day will be June 19th.
Other saints recommended to addicts include Saint Augustine (354-430), who is a patron for those with sexual addictions, since he lived a promiscuous life prior to his conversion (surely aided by his mother, St. Monica, and her prayers). His feast day is August 28th. Saint Charles Borromeo (1538-1584) is recommended for those struggling with overeating (though there is no evidence he actually struggled with overeating). His feast day is November 3rd.
Do any of these saints appeal to you as a personal patron saint? Do you know of additional patron saints for those struggling with addictions not mentioned here? If so, please share them with the CIR community in the comments section below!
Celeste is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Louisiana’s Cajun Country. She is a lifelong Catholic and committed to spreading the Gospel through small group formation programs. She is a recovering food addict (embracing the slogan, “If you can’t stop at one, have none!”), an avid knitter, and a lover of God.