The Jesuit priest in his homily for the Catholic mass service I was attending with fellow high school students many years ago declared there were no Catholic patron saints for business people. At least there weren’t any who could be a model for those who led corporations and enterprises.
In the Roman Catholic Church, patron saints are canonised saints who a person or a community considers as ‘a special intercessor with God and the proper advocate of a particular locality, occupation, etc., and merits a special form of religious observance.” A patron saint is a “heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person.’
Communities, like the barrios in my hometown country of the Philippines, would have a patron saint, a person to pray to for whatever intentions, be it for good fortune or for assistance in a crisis. The barrios would hold fiestas, or celebrations complete with parades and group parties, on the feast days of their respective patron saints.
Hospitals, courts of law, retail stores, and schools also would have patron saints as their divine sponsors. Many would name themselves after their respective patron saints.
A saint can be patron for more than one group or place. Many churches, for example, schedule the blessing of animal pets on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, even though a tour guide at Assisi scolded me once that St. Francis is first and foremost the patron saint of Italy.
There is a patron saint for just about every profession. For academics, there’s St. Thomas Aquinas; for accountants: St. Matthew, evangelist and former tax collector; for doctors of medicine: St. Luke, evangelist; for lawyers: St. Mark, evangelist; for fisherfolk: St. Peter the Apostle; and for athletic sports: St. John Paul II.
For business people, there is supposedly one patron saint: St. Homobonus.
Saint Homobonus was ‘a merchant from Cremona, northern Italy. Born Omobono Tucenghi, he was a married layman who believed that God had allowed him to work in order that he would be able to support people living in a state of poverty. His name is derived from the Latin homo bonus (“good man”).’
St. Homobonus was no multi-millionaire but he apparently succeeded as a merchant in his town. He was honest and helped people by donating some of his profits. St. Homobonus was a devout Catholic and Pope Innocent III was impressed enough to canonise him in 1199, two (2) years after St. Homobonus’ passing.
St. Homobonus, to this day, is the one and only patron saint for business enterprises. Except for a church in Rome and a commune in Bergamo, Italy, he is a virtual unknown. The Jesuit priest erred in overlooking St. Homobonus as the patron saint for business people but we can forgive him for his mistake given that many business enterprise executives haven’t even heard of him.
The Jesuit priest’s point of his homily is that being saintly contrasts with the practice of the business profession. Business people pursue profit and the accumulation of wealth on top of gaining competitive advantage, power, and esteem. The saintly priorities of sharing possessions with the less fortunate, helping communities, and working for a Divine intangible God are not in the to-do lists of typical business executives.
Many business people are good people who lead morally upright lives. Many raise families who are faithful in Christian teachings. Many successful business leaders have very respectable reputations for sharing much of their wealth with less fortunate communities. Microsoft founder’s Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet are citable examples of business magnates who have given much of what they have to charities.
Despite how good business people may be or how much they donate, most, if not all, enterprise executives wouldn’t make the cut for sainthood.
The Roman Catholic Church calls all faithful followers to live to be saints, or to be those who lead heroically virtuous lives, offer their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation. To become a canonised saint in modern times, however. requires any candidate to undergo a stringent series of examinations, more so than what it took for St. Homobonus to go through.
A ‘good person’ who worked hard, lived a pious life, and shared profits with poor people probably won’t qualify for canonisation in the 21st century’s Catholic Church. By modern canonisation rules, candidate saints would need to pass three (3) levels before being considered recognised as such:
- Venerable: The Pope would need to notice a deceased saint’s heroically virtuous life or offering of such a life;
- Beatified & Blessed: There must be a miracle attributed to the candidate saint;
- Canonisation: A second (2nd) miracle after the attainment of beatification.
I doubt very much St. Homobonus would have been able to pass these standards, and thus more so we could doubt business people would even be in the running even if they aspired to it.
Are business people evil? They definitely don’t share the same priorities with the leaders of the Church. And because they don’t, we probably won’t see business people being model saints in the near future.
But aspiring to be saintly can be good for business. Accumulating wealth to generate positive cash-flow and sharing a lot of the profits with communities would boost an enterprise executive’s place in the community. Lowering prices for poorer people to afford buying needed products and services may also help an enterprise gain greater market share. And investing in sustainability by mitigating pollution and tapping renewable sources may lead to accolades of popularity and fame for the enterprise and its stakeholders.
The two-edged benefits from being saintly and capitalistic may not bring canonisation to an enterprise’s executives in the long run but it might be a viable strategy nonetheless in getting desired results.
And isn’t that what business is for? To make money, grow in influence, gain esteem, and become the market leader?