On May 25, 1802, excavators in the ancient Catacomb of St. Priscilla in Rome came upon a well-preserved shelf tomb sealed with terr-cotta slabs in the manner usually reserved for nobility or great martyrs. The tomb was marked with three tiles, inscribed with the following confusing words: LUMENA / PAXTE / CUMFI. However, if one places the first tile last and separates the words properly, the very intelligible sentence emerges: Pax tecum, Filumena, which is "Peace be with you, Philomena." Also inscribed on the tiles were symbols: a lily, arrows, an anchor and a lance, which would appear to indicate virginity and martyrdom. Inside the coffin there were discovered the remains of a girl of about twelve or thirteen years of age, along with a vial or ampulla of her dried blood.
Transferred to the Treasury of the Rare Collections of Christian Antiquity in the Vatican, the remains were soon forgotten by the public, especially since no record existed of a virgin martyr named Philomena. But in 1805, a Neapolitan priest, Don Francesco di Lucia, traveling to Rome with his newly appointed bishop, requested and, after a brief delay, received the relics of this martyr "Philomena" to enshrine in his village church at Mugnano, near Naples.
Immediately upon the official donation of St. Philomena's sacred remains, signal favors began to be granted through her intercession and unusual events to occur. The favors, graces and even miracles started to increase, even before her enshrinement at Mugnano, and they steadily grew in number thereafter - such that this virgin martyr soon earned the title, "Philomena, Powerful with God". In 1837, only 35 years after her exhumation, Pope Gregory XVI elevated this "Wonder-Worker of the Nineteenth Century" to sainthood. In an act unprecedented in the history of Catholicism, she became the only person recognized by the Church as a Saint solely on the basis of her powerful intercession, since nothing historical was known of her except her name and the evidence of her martyrdom.
St. Philomena has been successfully invoked by her supplicants in every sort of needed, such that she has become another patron of "hopeless" and "impossible" cases, like St. Jude or St. Rita, but she is known to be especially powerful in cases involving conversion of sinners, return to the Sacraments, expectant mothers, destitute mothers, problems with children, unhappiness in the home, sterility, priests and their work, help for the sick, the missions, real estate, money problems, food for the poor and mental illness. But truly, as her devotees discovered, no case, of whatever matter, is too trivial or too unimportant to concern her.
The Saints and St. Philomena
Among her most devout clients was St. John Vianney (the Cure' of Ars), whose childlike devotion to this virgin Saint played an intimate part in his daily life. other Saints who were always devoted to her prayed to her and sang her praises were St. Peter Julian Eymard, St. Peter Chanel, St. Anthony Mary Claret, St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, St. Euphrasia Pelletier, St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, St. John Nepomucene Neumann, Blessed Anna Maria Taigi and Ven. Pauline Jaricot.
The Popes and St. Philomena
A number of Popes have also shown remarkable devotion to St. Philomena as well: Pope Leo XII (1823-1829) expressed the greatest admiration for this unknown child-saint and gladly gave his permission for the erection of altars and churches in her honor. Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846), who authorized her public veneration, showed his esteem and devotion to the Saint by giving her the title of "Patroness of the Living Rosary". A Mass and proper Office in her honor were approved by him in 1834 or 1835. This is an extraordinary privilege granted to comparatively few Saints. Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) proclaimed her "Patroness of the Children of Mary." Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) made two pilgrimages to her shrine before his election to the papacy. After he had become the Vicar of Christ, he gave a valuable cross to the sanctuary. He approved the Confraternity of St. Philomena and later raised it to an Archconfraternity (which is still headquartered at her shrine at Mugnano, Italy). Pope St. Pius X (1903-1914) spoke warmly of her and manifested his devotion to her in various ways. Costly gifts were given by him to her shrine.
Truly, St. Philomena is a powerful intercessor - seemingly held quietly in reserve by Our Divine Lord during these many centuries - for especially strong help in our times, when so much confusion and absence of faith are manifest. Her principal feast day is August 11.
St. Philomena, powerful with God, pray for us!