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St. Gregory The Great

Gregory was born around 540 in Rome to Gordianus, a patrician with large estates in Sicily and his wife, Silvia. Silvia and two of Gregory’s aunts, Æmiliana and Tarsilla are also known as saints. Gregory was well-educated and in 573 served as the perfect of Rome. Around 574, he became a monk; he built monasteries on the estates he had inherited from his father. In 578, the pope appointed him as one the seven deacons of Rome. The pope sent him on a diplomatic mission to the Byzantine Court, in hopes of winning the emperor’s favor to protect Rome from invaders. Gregory was recalled to Rome after six years at Constantinople and returned to his monastery, but he continued to assist the pope. In 590 Gregory was elected pope, after Pope Pelagius II died of the plague ravishing the city. Over a fourteen year pontificate Gregory assisted the people of Rome, spiritually and materially; throughout this time he suffered from various illnesses, especially gout. He distributed food to the poor through an organized system of diaconia--houses established to distribute alms. He insisted on strict celibacy for his clergy and he regulated the liturgy. He preached brilliantly and wrote numerous letters; many are still extant. He insisted on the primacy of the Church in Rome over all the churches. Since the emperor left Rome and the Italian cities unprotected from invasions by various tribes, Gregory set up tribunes (governors) on his own to organize defense of the cities. This was the precedent for the later political authority of the popes. As Gregory grew older, his painful illnesses increased. He died March 12, 604 and was canonized by acclamation immediately after his death. He is a Father and Doctor of the Church; his feast is September 3.

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