As Catholics, we think of most martyrs killed for their faith as part of the early history of the Church. As Americans with religious freedom, we can’t fathom what it would be like to be sentenced to death just for being Christian. But in countries like China, religious freedom was often forbidden by law, and many people were martyred just for openly practicing their Christian faith.
One example of a brave woman who met that sad fate is St. Lucy Yi Zhenmi, a catechist who lived in the 19th century and is counted among the Martyr Saints of China.
Lucy was born on Dec. 9, 1815, the youngest of five children in Sichuan. Her parents were converts from Buddhism and raised their children Catholic. Lucy was a devout and studious child and took a vow of chastity at age 12, knowing at that young age that she wished to devote her life to God.
When Lucy was 20, she fell ill, and the experience only deepened her faith. She began living as a religious woman would, with a strong and disciplined prayer life. As is the custom in China, she still lived with her family as an adult, even after her father’s death, and worked as a catechist, teaching local children the faith.
Lucy’s brother was a doctor and when he moved to Chongqing to practice medicine, Lucy and her mother accompanied him. While she was living there, the parish priest, recognizing Lucy’s deep faith, asked her to teach catechism to the women of the parish. When offered payment for the work, Lucy refused, saying she taught for the glory of God.
After her mother’s death, Lucy lived for a short time in a convent for lay virgins. Illness caused her to return to her home, but the local bishop asked her to continue to teach at the convent. Despite opposition from her relatives, she did, bringing the gospel to many women in the area.
In 1862, hatred and persecution against Christians was on the rise in the province. Despite this danger, Lucy and her friend Fr. Wen Nair opened a mission. Not long after, Lucy and five other catechists were arrested, seemingly for the crime of being Christian. She and her companions refused to renounce their faith, and were sentenced to death without a trial.
On Feb. 19, 1862 at age 47, Lucy and five of her friends were executed by beheading. Friends were able to arrange a Christian burial for them on the grounds of a local seminary.
She and her companions were canonized on Oct. 1, 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
St. Lucy is considered one of the Martyr Saints of China, those who were killed for practicing the faith from the mid 17th century until the 1930s.
Her feast day is Feb. 19.
She has no official patronage, however, many think she should be assigned to catechists.
Learn more about the Martyr Saints of China here: