Not all the saints have been “of distinguished family”. Thus, the parents of St. Isidore the Farmer (or “the Laborer”) were poor, and he himself was poor. Yet he became venerated by kings, chosen as the protector of Madrid, and invoked as patron of U.S. farmers.
He was a native of Madrid, named after the great seventh-century archbishop of Seville, St. Isidore. If his parents were unable to afford school for him, they at least taught him well their own love for prayer and hatred for sin.
As soon as he was big enough to handle a hoe, Isidore was sent to work for Juan de Vergas, a well-to-do farmer who raised crops outside of Madrid. He would spend all his life in the employ of this one man. Humdrum? Yes. But it was within this context that Isidore tried to achieve, and did achieve, the holiness to which we are all called. Eventually he met and married Maria Torribia, a young woman whose ideals matched his own. When their one child died early, Isidore and Torribia agreed to take private vows of continence.
Prayerfulness and generosity were the two characteristics that this farm-hand developed in particular. It is a sign of his great popularity that many legends developed about his life: the legends simply underline his reputation for these two virtues.
First, his devotion to prayer. Each morning before work he would go to church. One day, however, his fellow workers complained to Vergas that by tarrying too long at church Isidore was shirking his morning labor. The boss determined to check this report himself. Next day, Isidore did indeed come later than the others. But just as Vergas was about to scold him, he noticed that when Isidore started to plow, there were two other plowmen on either side of him, guiding snow-white oxen not of his own herd. Angels, it seems had been assisting the saint so that, even though he stayed a little longer at church, his portion of the work done was tripled.
It was usually in matters connected with his generosity that Isidore became noted even during life for miracles. He was accustomed to share his own scanty meals with the poor. One day when he came to attend a dinner given by his religious confraternity, he picked up a crowd of beggars en route from the church. Those in charge of the dinner were a little annoyed. “We can’t possibly feed all of these,” they said. “We have only one portion left – the one we have been saving for you.” “That will be enough,” the saint replied. And it was. Multiplied miraculously, Isidore’s dinner fed the whole group of unexpected guests.
Revered during his life, Isidore became immensely popular as a wonderworker after his death. Even the royal family joined his admirers. He was said to have appeared in a vision to King Alfonso of Castile in 1211 to show him a secret path by which to overtake and conquer a Moorish army. King Philip II (1598-1621) was cured or a mortal fever when the incorrupt, mummified body of the saint was brought from its shrine into his sickroom. In 1622, at the urging of the royal family, the Madrid farmer was at length canonized. It was at the same ceremony in which St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Philip Neri of Rome were declared saints.
In the Spanish new world, too, St. Isidore became a beloved figure especially among Indians and other agriculturists. In our own country, the National Catholic Rural Life Conference adopted him as patron of U.S. farmers, and got permission for the American Church to celebrate his feast May 15th.
St. Isidore’s wife also came to be recognized as a saint: St. Maria Torribia De Cabeza. Both of them teach an important lesson to all of us. We can become saints in whatever state of life God assigns to us. Holiness simply means doing His will where we are.
–Father Robert F. McNamara