Today, February 15th, the universal Church honors St. Sigfrid of Sweden, a courageous and determined missionary bishop.
The place and date of this saint’s birth are undocumented. Nevertheless, in or about the 11th century, Sigfrid, a priest of York and/or Glastonbury, England, was sent by King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, to spread the Gospel to all of Norway. Two other bishops, John and Grimkel, accompanied him to Norway and also to Sweden. They worked under the protection of the archbishop of Bremen. Sigfrid chose to make his headquarters at Vaxjo. Olaf, the king of Sweden, was converted to Christianity by Sigfrid who also baptized him at Husaby in a spring, which place was the scene of various miracles. Sigfrid worked many years as a bishop missionary, with his three nephews assisting him in this regard, Unaman, a priest, Sunaman, a deacon, and Vinaman, a subdeacon.
Sigfrid entrusted the care of his diocese to these three nephews, whilst he carried the Gospel to other provinces. While he was gone, a troop which hated Christianity and also desired money, plundered and destroyed the church of Vaxjo and murdered Sigfrid’s three nephews, burying their bodies in a forest and placing their cut off heads in a box which sunk in a pond. The heads were recovered and placed in a shrine. The king desired to execute the evildoers, but Sigfrid, although greatly grieved and heartbroken, advocated to spare their lives. Olaf ordered the murderers to pay a heavy fine, but Sigfrid would not accept their money or goods. This he did in spite of the great hardship and economic difficulties he experienced in rebuilding the church.
Much like the first apostles of Jesus, Sigfrid had that same spirit, preaching the Gospel also in Denmark. It is through saints like St. Sigfrid, that the Gospel lives and thrives. Clearly, we can know Jesus through his apostles and/or disciples.
St. Sigfrid died in 1045 and was most probably canonized by Pope Adrian IV, an Englishman, who also brought the Faith to the North over one hundred years after St. Sigfrid.
This saint was a tough man, much like the persona of St. Peter, who brought the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ to Norway and Sweden, with zeal and discipline. One can only imagine the difficult circumstances he experienced during his life as a missionary bishop. Even though his nephews were brutally murdered, he kept the love of Jesus for the murderers and went on to build another church for the people. What comes to my mind is what a Jesuit priest said to me many years ago, one of my mentors: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” That is what St. Sigfrid did: Jesus was tough – He was not a wimp, nor were his apostles or disciples. Let us have that same strong determination, that same “toughness,” motivated by pure love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we can accomplish much good for Our Lord and His people.
St. Sigfrid, pray for us!
With respect and love,
Sources: Vatican website; Butler’s Lives of the Saints, edited by Michael Walsh