Tuesday, October 5, 2010

St. Crescent

I visited Costa Catholic School, the area grade school which is named after Fr. Joseph Costa, the founder of Corpus Christi Church where I am giving a parish mission. I met with all the students, divided into three groups: First through Third Grades, Fourth and Fifth, and Sixth through Eighth. As I came to the end of my last presentation the local tornado siren went off for a test. I mentioned to the group that the town probably didn't need the siren and then asked them if they knew why. One sixth grade boy answered: "Because of St. Crescent." He was right.

So what's the story of St. Crescent? Around 1838 the body of a nine or ten year old boy was discovered during excavations of the catacombs of St. Cyriacus in Rome. He suffered martyrdom at that young age around the end of the third century in the persecution of the emperor Diocletian, one of the fiercest persecutions of the early Church. His name "Cresces" (anglicized to "Crescent") was on the marble slab that covered the tomb and next to the body was an urn in which had been placed the blood of the martyr now dried.

The body of St. Crescent was removed and the Holy Father gave it to Blessed Antonio Rosmini, founder of the Institute of Charity or Rosminians. Father Rosmini had the relic taken to Stresa, Italy, where it was placed under the altar of his chapel. In 1887, Rosminian Father Joseph Costa asked his superiors if he could have the relic for the church he had just built in Galesburg, Illinois. His superiors agreed.

St. Crescent's body was enclosed in a case of thin glass and Fr. Costa worried that it wouldn't make the long trip to the U.S. without being damaged. He expressed his concern to his superiors, one of whom told him: "St. Crescent will take care of himself, and you too!" And so it happened. The relic survived intact the railroad trips through Italy, France, England, and from New York to Galesburg, but what was more remarkable was his ocean passage. Fr. Costa planned on crossing the Atlantic on a ship called "Alesia." Either because he suddenly changed his mind or because he missed the departure time, Fr. Costa and St. Cresent missed the boat. But the "Alesia" never completed the voyage; it mysteriously disappeared. Fr. Costa along with St. Crescent, having boarded a different ship, arrived safely.

You can see the body of St. Crescent in a glass case on the right side of Corpus Christi church. The bones are covered with wax except for two wounds through which you can see an arm bone and the skull. You can also see the teeth of the martyr through his partially opened mouth.

On Sunday morning I answered the phone in the rectory. It was a young woman who said she happened to be passing through Galesburg and wondered when would be a good time to view the relic, one of only ten entire bodies of a saint in the U.S.

Tradition has it that St. Crescent has kept Galesburg safe from a tornado to this day and will continue to do so.


  1. My name is Crescente and the name is always mistaken for that of a woman. Until now, the only St. Crescent I knew was the one mentioned in Acts who disappeared while escorting his bishop on a journey. There was a Roman persecution at that time.

  2. The Protestant counterpart to the legend of St. Crescent, which was told to me by one of my Galesburg teachers, was that the city was founded by George Washington Gale (1789-1861) as an outpost to train missionaries to send out west, and thus was protected by God for that purpose. Incidentally, G. W. Gale was also the minister of the revivalist Charles Finney (1792-1875) before he went on to become the Billy Graham of his generation. I found several links that tell the story of St. Crescent, however, I cannot find anything on the protestant version; all I have is my memory of what the teacher told the class years ago. So if a tornado hits Galesburg in the future, I guess it might be because the city has fallen from its original purpose, and is no longer under divine protection?