St. Francis Jerome
Holy Cross College, 1843
Saint Francis Di Geronimo (1642-1716) was the eldest son of a noble Italian family who lived in Taranto near Naples. His family name is sometimes written as Hieronymo, or Jerome, so the saint is also known as Francis Jerome. From the age of about ten years he lived and studied with the Theatine priests, earning his room and board by serving as a sacristan in their church. As Francis grew in knowledge he began to assist the priests by teaching catechism as he accompanied them on their missions in neighboring towns. When he was sixteen, because of his intention of becoming a priest, Francis began a full course of collegiate studies with the Jesuits in Taranto. In 1665, when Francis Jerome was twenty-three, he transferred to the Jesuit College in Naples for graduate studies in civil and church law, and was ordained the following year.
After having known the Jesuits for so many years, Francis entered the Society of Jesus in 1670, and soon began to give retreats and to preach throughout Southern Italy. In 1676 he successfully concluded the present-day equivalent of doctoral studies and was assigned to missions in and around Naples.
Francis’ creativity for reaching out to people included “street preaching.” With the help of some lay volunteers, he would gather a crowd in a public space and could talk to those whom he might not find in a church. Francis regularly visited prisons and he also went to the docks when a fleet of galleys came into Naples Bay. He visited with the prisoners and slaves chained to their places and sometimes obtained permission for them to leave the ship to attend Mass.
The saint also visited the sick, many of whom were healed. Since he had prayed over them with a relic of Saint Cyr (a martyr of the third Century) he attributed any healing to St. Cyr rather than to his own intercession. Though Francis was becoming acclaimed as “their saint” by the people, he also met with some opposition. For a time, he was even forbidden to go out into the streets because some wealthy and self-righteous citizens had protested that he was spending too much time with “sinners” in his street preaching. When the archbishop finally realized the illegitimacy of the complaints, he reinstated the saint’s ministry.
St. Francis continued his priestly service for forty years before his health finally failed, and he died in 1716.
Francis is depicted wearing a grey cassock with cincture, typical of Jesuits of his time. His hands clasp his collar as an indication of his frequent travels on even the coldest days of winter. At his left foot is a skull, symbolizing a core belief of his preaching that life after death is God’s desire for all people.
The shield of Holy Cross College contains a gold-edged book denoting an institution of learning with the traditional Latin legend about the cross, “In Hoc Signo Vincit” (“In This Sign, Conquer”). The book is mounted on the cross of faith which divides the lower part of the shield into four parts, alternately red and black, the colors of the city of Worcester, England. The upper part of the shield contains a blazing sun with the IHS emblem of the Society of Jesus in the center, and on either side of it a red bird that is part of the ancestral crest of Bishop Fenwick the founder of Holy Cross College, Worcester. The date of foundation is 1843. The school color is royal purple.