“Trailers for sale or rent / rooms to let, 50 cents. / No phone, no pool, no pets / I ain’t got no cigarettes / ah, but, two hours of pushin’ broom / buys an eight-by-twelve four-bit room / I’m a man of means by no means / King of the road.”
In 1964, singer Roger Miller hit No. 4 on the pop music charts with this memorable slow-moving country ditty. Though long gone, the memory of that song lingers in the back of my head — it’s stored back there along “King Creole” (Elvis Presley), “King Tut” (Steve Martin), “King of Pain” (the Police) and “Rain King” (Counting Crows).
But as memorable as these King-songs are, I wonder if they will stand the test of time like many of our Catholic kings who became saints. This column is written about several famous Catholic kings who lived lives worthy of heaven.
St. Louis (King Louis IX of France):
The rock group Stories stormed the charts with the No. 1 hit “Brother Louie” in 1973, a memorable tune, but even more memorable and an even bigger hit with me is King Louis IX: a king, and a great saint. A plethora of kings named “Louis” wound through France’s monarchy, like the River Seine winds through Paris. There were 16 in all. But only one, King Louis IX, was canonized a saint. And as a point of trivia, this is the Louis for whom the city of St. Louis, Mo., is named.
Louis became king of France at age 12. He married his queen, Marguerite, at age 19, and they had 11 children. Louis IX was a very devout Catholic; he sought to keep peace in his kingdom and implement fair laws. It is said that King Louis would regularly invite a dozen or so members of the poorest of the poor to dine with him, and he even served them at times. He listened to what they had to say.
It was the qualities of peacefulness, fairness and charity, along with the sheer strength of his personality and his sense of holiness, that allowed Louis to keep France in peace during his reign, as well as earn him the respect of his people. Louis spent much money to improve his kingdom, building schools, hospitals, churches and monasteries throughout France.
In defending his faith, he led the not-successful Seventh Crusade in 1248 and died in 1270 while on the Eighth Crusade in Tunisia. He was canonized a saint in 1297, and to this day remains the only French king who is a saint. His feast day is Aug. 25.
• ‘Un Rey’ of hope:
St. Ferdinand (King Ferdinand of Castile): King Ferdinand of Castile (Spain) assumed the throne at the young age of 18. Ferdinand was a great administrator and a ruler of great faith. He spent much of his reign founding monasteries, churches, hospitals and even a university. However, his claim to fame is that he began a concerted push to drive the Moors (and Islam) out of Spain, and gave hope to the people that Spain might again be a Catholic kingdom.
In preparation for war, he prayed to our Blessed Mother, and fasted, knowing that this mission would take all of his physical and spiritual strength.
It paid off: In 1236, King Ferdinand drove the Moors and the forces of Islam out of their stronghold in Cordoba, and soon thereafter took the mosque in Seville and turned it into a cathedral. St. Ferdinand restored much of Spain, and was a leader in the massive advance in the Roman Catholic Reconquista (reconquest). By the end of his reign, the Moors had less. A father of 15 children, Ferdinand died in 1252. His feast day is May 30.
• A golden guy: St. Olaf
St. Olaf (King Olaf II of Norway):
On TV’s “The Golden Girls” in the 1980s, Betty White’s character, Rose, who was Norwegian, would frequently tell stories from her very-Scandinavian home town in Minnesota, called St. Olaf. Well, lo and behold, it turns out not only is there a town in Minnesota called St. Olaf (it’s in the central-west part of the state), but the saint for which it is named was a Norwegian king.
King Olaf II of Norway started out as a Viking warrior-king, with a belief in the pagan gods of Norse mythology. During the time he spent in the Catholic kingdom of France, Olaf had a conversion experience and was soon thereafter baptized.
Upon returning to Norway, the king began to spread his new found Christian faith. He promulgated “Olaf’s Law” which used Christ as the focal point for all law and activity. This was not immediately a popular move and some of the followers of the pagan Norse gods did not get on board for many years. (I guess they were “Thor losers.”) But, certainly, Olaf’s conversion did mark the beginning of a progressive Christianization of Norway.
Following an exile due to a Danish invasion, Olaf returned to Norway in 1031 to facedown the Danish invaders. On July 29, 1031, Olaf was felled by the blow of an axe defending his faith and his people.
It must be added that Olaf was not deemed by many to be a holy type of guy during his lifetime, however his bravery and faith in facing death, along with reports of miracles occurring at his tomb quickly turned minds and hearts. King Olaf died a martyr’s death and was recognized a saint by the Vatican in 1164. His feast day is July 29.
• Hungary for power:
St. Stephen (King Stephen I of Hungary):
There are those kings who are saints (many are listed in this column), and there are kings who are not just saints, but are saints surrounded by saints.
King Stephen I of Hungary, the father of the Hungarian nation, is once such person. Not only is Stephen a saint, but his wife Blessed Gisella of Ungarn is also a saint. His brother-in-law, Henry, who was Holy Roman Emperor Henry II, was a saint (and his wife Cunegunda, also a saint). St. Stephen’s son Emeric became a saint. And Emeric’s tutor, Gerard Sagredo, likewise became a saint. Even St. Stephen’s key advisor, Astricus, became a saint.
I’d say that if sainthood is contagious, St. Stephen was a carrier. He spawned more saints than Carter has little liver pills. (For those under the age of 50, that means he spawned a whole lot of saints).
So who was St. Stephen? Stephen was born into a pagan family and his father was Prince of several Hungarian tribes. St. Stephen, a convert to Christianity, worked to put down the various local pagan leaders and to create a united nation of Hungary. He was successful. According to tradition he was crowned “King of Hungary” on Christmas Day in the year 1000, with a crown sent to him from Pope Sylvester II.
During his reign, Catholicism flourished, replacing the various pagan religions of the region, and becoming the unifying faith of the new kingdom. Catholicism still remains the largest single religion in Hungary today. Ruling as King through many years of peace, St. Stephen died in 1038. He was canonized in 1083. His feast day is Aug. 16.
• Charles in Charge:
Emperor Charles I
Blessed Charles of Austria (Emperor Charles I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire): A beatified emperor, Blessed Charles was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004. Charles was the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; he assumed the throne in 1916, in the middle of World War I.
With a nod to Scott Baio, having “Charles in Charge” of Austria, seeking peace became an imperial goal. To this end, Charles was the only European leader to support a peace plan put forth by Pope Benedict XV. Charles saw his kingly office as a sacred ministry in which he was called to follow Christ and the church. At the end of World War I, with Austria’s defeat, the emperor issued a statement to his people saying that he recognized the Austrian people’s right to determine their form of government and added that he “relinquish(ed) every participation in the administration of the state.” He released his officials from any oath of loyalty. In doing this he averted a civil war in the country; he sacrificed his throne for his nation’s peace.
Emperor Charles and his wife Zita (also a candidate for beatification) were ultimately exiled and spent their final years in the Portuguese colony of Madeira. Charles died in 1922. His feast day is Oct. 3.
Father Lentini is pastor of Holy Cross in Dover and Immaculate Conception in Marydel, Md.