Today is the feast of St. Omer (aka St. Audomarus). Don’t pretend you know who he is. I know you don’t. The only reason I even know that there is a St. Omer is because that is about as close as I can get to a St. Omar. There is no St. Omar, so I have always had a soft spot for St. Omer.
He is largely known to us by two routes: the first is by the French city bearing his name. Located in the north of modern France in the “state” of Pas-de-Calais, the city grew up around the monastery the saint founded in the 7th century and so took his name. Today the cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady. The other way we know of St. Omer is by the fact that in this town, in 1593, Fr. Robert Persons, S.J. founded an English college; one which, as Evelyn Waugh puts it, “preserved Catholic education for three centuries of Englishmen and is the direct ancestor of Stonyhurst College.” Fr. Persons, by the way, was St. Edmund Campion’s superior during their expedition to England which ended in Campion’s martyrdom. This college of St. Omer was a part of the legacy of Campion’s sacrifice.
Back to St. Omer the man, Pas-de-Calais in the 7th century was, it seems, a rather lewd place and was known by the name Thérouanne. King Dagobert wanted a strong and zealous pastor in order to quiet the passionate extremes of the people he needed to rule. Omer was called upon from the monastery of Luxeuil, and he worked wonders through preaching and personal example. For instance, he would invite friends and acquaintances to help him as he fed the poor and took care of the ill. This engendered him to the local populace; they began to reform their ways; and his fame grew. Eventually, with the help of other monks from Luxeuil, he founded the monastery at Sithiu which is now the town of Saint-Omer.
The wonder of the lives of the saints is that we can still know something about what was no doubt a rather dark and dingy time and about people who were no doubt much different than we because of the heroic virtue of one man and some companions. We’ve a whole town in the north of France that has borne the weight of history through revolution and tumult coming out on the other side with the name of a saintly man who would rather spend time with the lowliest of people than swilling a cocktail glass and discussing the rudimentary facts of socialist collectives. St. Omer, whatever his particular personality traits might have been, however he was measured by Myers-Briggs was and is a man of consequence 1340 years later. Why? Well because he loved the baby Jesus not as a punchline to a joke, but as the savior of the world…no actually, he loved the baby Jesus because he was himself saved by the delicate hands that tugged at Mary’s hair.
The town of Saint-Omer was where St. Thomas Becket fled from Henry II. And, as I said, it was in Saint-Omer that the Jesuit English College was founded that did so much for the Catholic education of English men. That college was moved, after some adventures, to England in 1794 and became Stonyhurst College where Gerard Manley Hopkins taught classics for a time. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a pupil there and named Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, Dr. Moriarty, after a fellow student of the college. It is where J.R.R. Tolkien wrote parts of the Lord of the Rings while his son taught classics. It is where Oscar Wilde and Evelyn Waugh sent their sons.That college was also the college over which Fr. Alban Butler presided, and it is there that he died. Fr. Butler is, of course, the author of Butler’s Lives of the Saints which every good Catholic home should have if for no other reason than to be able to commemorate, with the communion of saints, the lives of our glorious heroes.
St. Omer died shortly after 670 AD. Raise a glass for him, and remember that our deeds of today do indeed echo into eternity by grace of the Christ child who likewise enjoyed crisp September days and nights.