Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo
Image of St. Boniface of Mainz

Facts

Feastday: June 5

Patron of brewers; Fulda; Germany; World Youth Day

Birth: 675

Death: 754


Winfrith had expected to return to England from Friesland (in what is now Holland) in triumph. He had left the land where he was a respected scholar, teacher, and priest because he was convinced he was called to missionary work. He had argued and pestered his abbot into letting him go because he would gain greater success for God in foreign lands. He had abandoned a successful, safe life in his mid-forties to win souls for God.

But from the moment he stepped off the ship, his trip to Friesland to join the famous missionary Willibrord had been a disaster. Winfrith and his companions had landed to discover that the ruler of Friesland, Radbod, had declared war on Christians, destroying churches and monasteries, driving Willibrord into exile, and sending what was left of the Church into hiding. Winfrith tried in vain to convince Radbod to let him and his companions preach. Finally, he had no choice but to return to England a few short months later in defeat.

It would have been easy to give up missionary work at this point. Almost anyone would have looked at this fiasco and said that God was trying to tell him that he was called to stay and serve in England. Winfrith agreed that God had given him a message and he agreed that he had been mistaken. But his mistake had not been in the call but how he followed it. He had believed all he needed to ensure the mission's success was an enthusiastic response to God's call.

It's surprising that Winfrith ever would have believed this since so much of his previous life had depended on training and organization. Born about 675, he had convinced his parents to send him to a monastery for schooling because he admired the monks who had visited his home. Through diligent study he rapidly learned all that this local monastery could teach him and was transfered to the monastery at Nursling for further schooling. There he became such a well-known teacher that students circulated notes from his classes.

Back in England he started planning for his second missionary journey. He kept his enthusiasm but directed his zeal into organization and preparation for the journey. He would go to the pagan lands ... but first he would travel to Rome. When he had traveled to Friesland he had had no authority to back him up. No one had sent him there, no one would stand up for him if he needed support or help. Now he went to the pope asking for an official mission and the backing of the Church. Pope Gregory II was intrigued but uncertain and talked to Winfrith all winter long before finally sending him on a test mission to Thuringia in Germany.

In the pope's commission on May 15, 1719, we have the first record of Winfrith's new name, Boniface. The pope apparently gave him this new name because the previous day had been the feast of a martyr by that name. From then on he was known as Boniface to all who knew him.

Missionaries had come to Thuringia before but the Church there was in bad shape, isolated and subject to superstition and heresy. Boniface saw that he was going to get no help from the local clergy and monks, but he had learned in Friesland he could not spread God's word alone. He was about to send for help when he heard that Radbod had died and the missionary Willibrord was back in Friesland. Boniface immediately took off for Friesland, the site of his former humiliation. Perhaps he returned in hopes of redeeming his earlier disaster. It seems more likely, however, that he was following through on the lesson he had learned at that time and was going to get training from the expert in missions: Willibrord.

In the three years he spent with Willibrord, Boniface gave as much as he gained. So helpful was he that Willibrord, who was in his sixties, wanted to make Boniface his successor. But with his training over, Boniface felt the pull of the German missionary work he'd left behind, and, despite Willibrord's pleas, went to Hesse.

Unlike Thuringia or Friesland, Hesse had never been evangelized. Boniface had to start from scratch. Needing even more authority in dealing with chieftains who were his first goal for converts, he appealed to the pope again. During a trip to Rome, the pope consecrated Boniface bishop.

Boniface returned to find that his problems had worsened. People were attracted by Christianity but unable to give up their old religion and superstitions, perhaps out of fear of being different or of how their old "gods" would react. Knowing that the people needed a reason to let go, Boniface called the tribes to a display of power. As the people watched, Boniface approached the giant oak of Geismar, a sacred tree dedicated to Thor, with an axe. Some of the people must have trembled with each stroke of his axe, but nothing happened. Finally with a crack, the tree split in four parts that we, are told, fell to the ground in the shape of a cross. There stood Boniface, axe in hand, unharmed by their old gods, strong in the power of the one God.

After his success in Hesse, he returned to Thuringia to confront the old problem of the decadent remnants of the Church there. Unable to get help from the suspect clergy in Thuringia, he called to England for help. Nuns and monks responded to his call enthusiastically for many years. We still have many of Boniface's letters, including correspondence with his helpers in England. Reforming the Church was the biggest challenge in Thuringia and he had many thorny questions to answer. When a rite of baptism had been defective was it valid? What should he do about immoral clergy? Still remembering his first lesson, he appealed to Rome for answers from the pope. All his appeals to Rome helped him -- but it also helped forge a much stronger bond between Rome and Europe.

Boniface was called upon to lend his own support to Frankish Church which was also sadly in need of reform. He set up councils and syonds and instituted reforms which revitalized the Church there.

Few saints retire, and Boniface was no exception. At 73, a time when most are thinking of rest and relaxation, Boniface headed back to Friesland on a new mission. One day in 754 while he was awaiting some confirmands, an enemy band attacked his camp. Although his companions wanted to fight, Boniface told them to trust in God and to welcome death for the faith. All of them were martyred.

Boniface is known as the Apostle of Germany. He not only brought the Christian faith but Roman Christian civilization to this portion of Europe.

In His Footsteps:

When have you jumped into something without thinking you needed preparation? What was the result? Is there something you feel called to do but don't feel that you know enough or would be able to handle it? Who can you go to for training or support? Talk to one of these people this week.

Prayer:

Saint Boniface, you faced discouragement and failure and learned from them. Help us to hear God's message in our moments of failure and to use what we learn to serve God better. Amen

Copyright 1996-2000 by Terry Matz. All Rights Reserved.



More about St. Boniface of Mainz from Wikipedia

St. Boniface of Mainz Video from YouTube

St. Boniface of Mainz Comments




More Saints





Browse Saints by Category


Popular Saints

Rank

Saint

17.

Image of St. Agnes

St. Agnes

St. Agnes was a Roman girl who was only thirteen years old when she suffered martyrdom for her Faith. Agnes had made a promise, a promise to God never to stain her purity. Her love for the ... continue reading | shop

18.

Image of St. Paul

St. Paul

St. Paul, the indefatigable Apostle of the Gentiles, was converted from Judaism on the road to Damascus. He remained some days in Damascus after his Baptism, and then went to Arabia, ... continue reading | shop

19.

Image of St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete ... continue reading | shop

All Popular Saints

Saint of the Day

Image of St. Alphege

St. Alphege

Archbishop and "the First Martyr of Canterbury." He was born in 953 and became a monk in the Deerhurst Monastery in Gloucester, England, asking after a few years to become a hermit. He received ... continue reading

More Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day by E-Mail

Saint of the Day by E-Mail Newsletter Sign Up icon

Learn about the lives of the saints and other saint resources, including a calendar, over 5,000 saint biographies, our most popular saints, and a list of patron saints.7 days/week. See Sample


Female Saints

Image of St. Kateri Tekakwitha

St. Kateri Tekakwitha

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin, was canonized on 10/21/2012 by Pope Benedict XVI. Kateri was born near the town of Auriesville, New York, in the year 1656, the daughter of a Mohawk warrior. She was four years old when her mother died of smallpox. The disease also ... continue reading

More Female Saints



Saint Calendar
Saint Feast Days
Saint Fun Facts

Angels

Image of St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel

St. Michael the Archangel - Feast day - September 29th The name Michael signifies "Who is like to God?" and was the warcry of the good angels in the battle fought in heaven against satan and his followers. Holy Scripture describes St. Michael as "one of the chief ... continue reading


Image of St. Gabriel, the Archangel

St. Gabriel, the Archangel

The name Gabriel means "man of God," or "God has shown himself mighty." It appears first in the prophesies of Daniel in the Old Testament. The angel announced to Daniel the prophecy of the seventy weeks. His name also occurs in the apocryphal book of Henoch. He was the ... continue reading



Saints Fun Facts

Saints Fun Facts for St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

John the Baptist was the son of Zachary, a priest of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Elizabeth, a kinswoman of Mary who visited her. He was probably born at Ain-Karim southwest of Jerusalem after the ... continue reading

Saints Fun Facts for St. Cecilia

St. Cecilia

In the fourth century appeared a Greek religious romance on the Loves of Cecilia and Valerian, written, like those of Chrysanthus and Daria, Julian and Basilissa, in glorification of the virginal ... continue reading



Christian Saints & Heroes

Image of

Duc in Altum: Men, Put Out Into the Deep on the Feast of St Joseph

By Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, Ph.D., S.T.D.

This model of Christian manliness recommends himself to us not for any strange or exciting things he did (because he really didn't) but for the daily listening to and heeding the voice of Almighty God - in the home, in the synagogue and Temple, in the ... continue reading

More Christian Saints & Heroes


Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Genesis 1:1--2:2
1 In the beginning God created heaven and ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
5 My birthright, my cup is Yahweh; you, you alone, ... Read More

Gospel, Matthew 28:1-10
1 After the Sabbath, and towards dawn on the first ... Read More

Reading 2, Genesis 22:1-18
1 It happened some time later that God put Abraham to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 19th, 2014 Image

St. Alphege
April 19: Archbishop and "the First Martyr of Canterbury." He was born in ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter