Feast Day: January 20
Fabian was a Roman layman who came into the city from his farm one day as clergy and the people of Rome were preparing to elect a new pope. Eusebius, a Church historian, says a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian. This sign united the votes of clergy and laity, and he was chosen unanimously. He was the successor of St. Anterus and governed the Church wisely for fourteen years.
Fabian is credited with dividing the city of Rome into seven ecclesiastical regions, each under the authority of a deacon. He also established churches in France and continued to promote the recording of the deeds of martyrs of the Christian faith. He also opposed heresies, particularly in Africa where he condemned Bishop Privatus of Africa for heresy. He revived the use of the catacombs in Rome, his native city. St. Cyprian described Fabian as “an incomparable man” whose glory in death matched the holiness and purity of his life.
Fabian’s lengthy pontificate was ended when Emperor Trajanus Decius began his persecutions, starting with Fabian, the first of the martyrs of the new oppression. He was initially buried in the catacombs of St. Callistus in Rome that still exists. Later his body was moved to the church of San Sebastiano. The stone that covered his grave in the catacombs may still be seen, broken into four pieces, bearing the Greek words, “Fabian, bishop, martyr.”
Comment: We can go confidentially into the future and accept the change that growth demands only if we have firm roots in the past, a living tradition. A few pieces of stone in Rome are a reminder to us that we are bearers of more than twenty centuries of a living tradition of faith and courage in living the life of Christ and showing it to the world. We have brothers and sisters who have “gone before us with the sign of faith,” as the First Eucharist Prayer of Mass puts it, to light the way for us.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” – Tertullian
Bunson, Matthew, Margaret Bunson, and Stephen Bunson. “Encyclopedia of Saints-Revised.” Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2003.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Hoagland, Victor, C.P., ed. “The Book of Saints: The Lives of the Saints According to the Liturgical Calendar.” New York: Regina Press, 1986.