If you know your Latin, you’ll know that St. Homobonus’ name literally means “good man.” What a fitting name for a great, and underappreciated, saint! St. Homobonus is a special model for the missionary entrepreneur: He was in many ways an average businessman facing business decisions, exhaustions, and commitments comparable to the ones we face today. Yet, within the ordinariness of his career, St. Homobonus lived the extraordinariness of the Gospel message, building up a culture of hospitality and charity fueled by a commitment to Church teaching and the sacraments.
St. Homobonus the Missionary
St. Homobonus lived in Cremona, Italy in the 12th century. He was a cloth merchant who inherited some money from his father, yet always worked extremely hard at his trade. St. Homobonus’ effectiveness as a missionary lies in how he smoothly integrated a seemingly average life as a lay person and married man with an extraordinary witness of service to others. Just as efficiently as he created wealth, St. Homobonus gave a significant part of his profits away to the poor.
The Lives of the Primitive Fathers, Martyrs, and other Principal Saints, compiled from original sources, records the following description of St. Homobonus’ character, which is worth reading in length:
His business he looked upon as an employment given him by God, and he pursued it with diligence upon the motive of obedience to the divine law, and of justice to himself, his family, and the commonwealth, of which he thus approved himself a useful member. If a tradesman’s books be not well kept, if there be not order and regularity in the whole conduct of his business, if he do not give his mind seriously to it, with assiduous attendance, he neglects an essential duty, and is unworthy to bear the name of a Christian. St. Homobonus is a saint by acquitting himself diligently, upon perfect motives of virtue and religion, of all the obligations of his profession.
In other words, St. Homobonus loved God through his job! He loved God and he loved his neighbor through his work as a cloth merchant. St. Homobonus simply responded with charity to each person and situation he encountered in his life in Cremona, and this made him an extraordinary channel of God’s grace. In this way, he became a missionary and saint without leaving his own neighborhood.
Amazingly, St. Homobonus’ witness to his neighbors was so powerful that he was canonized barely a year after he died. A priest and a group of pilgrims, with testimonies of miracles attributed to St. Homobonus’ intercession, brought his cause to Pope Innocent III.
St. Homobonus the Entrepreneur
Besides being a missionary through his witness to his neighbors, St. Homobonus was also an entrepreneur, successfully creating wealth and running an effective trade business. St. Homobonus did not have the advantage of being of a royal family; in fact, according to St. John Paul II, he was the only layman canonized during the Middle Ages who wasn’t from a noble or royal family. St. Homobonus was a man of the people with ordinary means, and he used his natural intelligence and the resources at his disposal to live out a business vocation: creating goods and services there was a genuine need for.
Because of his successful integration of the call to business and Christian virtue, St. Homobonus is now the patron of business men and women, practically the patron saint of entrepreneurs! Paul Voss of Legatus writes of how St. Homobonus gives a special witness to entrepreneurship, “As St. Homobonus demonstrated over 800 years ago, the free market, coupled with individual virtue, is a potent mix capable of producing both individual holiness and promoting the common good and collective well-being.”
St. Homobonus’ influence on those around him is evidenced by how quickly his cause for canonization was pushed forward. St. Homobonus seems to fit well Robert Greenleaf’s description of a servant-leader. In particular, St. Homobonus’ active decision to love and show hospitality to those around him shows his initiative, driving home a key leadership insight: Great things often start with the initiative of a single person. According to Greenleaf:
A leader ventures to say: ‘I will go; come with me!’ A leader initiates, provides the ideas and the structure, and takes the risk of failure along with the chance of success… Paul Goodman, speaking through a character in Making Do, has said, ‘If there is no community for you, young man… make it yourself.’
St. Homobonus took the initiative in humble ways to lead his community to greatness, making it more hospitable, more loving, and more oriented to God. By his initiative and the ideas of generosity he exemplified, he invited others to follow him in the path of sanctity, modeling servant-leadership and inspiring his neighbors.
For Us: We can be Lay Saints!
St. Homobonus makes real the call of ordinary people, not just the clergy, to extraordinary sanctity. “Although distant in time, St. Homobonus does in fact figure as a saint for the Church and society of our time,” St. John Paul II wrote in 1997, “…because of the exemplary way this faithful layman worked and lived Gospel perfection.”
One area worth paying special attention to in St. Homobonus’ life was his daily reception of the Eucharist. So consistent was this a part of his life, that St. Homobonus actually died while at Mass, looking up at the Crucifix. St. Homobonus reminds us that the sacraments are accessible for all Catholics, and sanctity is for all, not just for some. It is for cloth merchants as well as Popes, the cloistered as well as kings. Regardless of our state in life, to prioritize God in our lives demands frequent reception of the sacraments; the Eucharist empowers us to live out our commitments with more integration.
For Us: Called to Hospitality
As we seek to be missionary entrepreneurs, we can also learn from how St. Homobonus’ sanctity stemmed from the hospitality and generosity he exuded. St. John Paul II called him an “artisan and apostle of charity,” saying:
He made his home a place of welcome. He personally attended to the burial of the abandoned dead. He opened his heart and his purse to every category of needy person. He did his utmost to settle the controversies which broke out between factions and families in the city. He entirely devoted himself to the practice of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy and, at the same time, he safeguarded the integrity of the Catholic faith faced with heretical infiltrations, with the same fervor with which he participated daily in the Eucharist and devoted himself to prayer.
Again we see St. Homobonus’ commitment to daily prayer and to the sacraments. But we also see how he lived out the Faith in his life by welcoming others, treating his neighbors with generosity, and empowering them when they struggled financially, physically, or emotionally.
In particular, St. Homobonus’ living out of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy reminds us that we are called to go out on the streets and even into the cemeteries, finding Christ there! As men and women striving to be missionary entrepreneurs, it would be wise to ask ourselves: Is there a particular spiritual or corporal work of mercy that I can more intentionally live out on a weekly basis? Where can I cultivate a culture of hospitality in my life?
St. Homobonus’ Intercession
All business persons would do well to call upon the powerful intercession of St. Homobonus. This generous man is a positive reminder of the faith lived out in the little things: in cloth, the workplace, and the conversations with those around us. Especially in the sacraments and in union with Him in prayer, God is ready to pour out the grace we need to be saints in our walk of life, however ordinary that may be.
St. Homobonus, pray for us.
Be inspired by the lives of other missionary entrepreneurs here:
– St. Damien of Molokai
– St. Frances Xavier Cabrini