Like many of the great Irish saints, Saint Kilian (c. 640 – 689) was a wanderer. Born in Ireland, he embraced the monastic life, which makes him one of those heroes celebrated by Thomas Cahill in “How the Irish Saved Civilization.” Yet Kilian felt called to be a missionary, and after a pilgrimage to Rome he was commissioned by Pope Conon as a kind of roving bishop. With eleven companions, he headed north to evangelize what is now Germany. Based in Wurzburg, he converted many of the local pagans to Christianity. His influence spread throughout the region that is now Bavaria, earning him the title “Apostle of Franconia.”
One of Kilian's most important converts was the Duke of Gosbert. The Duke was married to Geleina, the widow of his brother, and Kilian insisted that the marriage was invalid. Geleina decided to solve this problem by murdering Kilian. She waited until Gosbert was away to order the assassination, then tried to cover it up. One historian writes: “Geilana was seized with an evil spirit, which tormented her so much she died soon after.” At least one of Geleina’s thugs also went mad and died a horrible death. But the Christianity that Kilian had planted in Bavaria is still strong today and it is said that he personally intercedes for every citizen of Franconia, Germany, when they approach Heaven.
For some reason, the church I attended as a child in Farmingdale, Long Island, was called Saint Kilian’s, but the school was called Saint Killian’s. I seem to remember that the extra “L” was originally a misprint and the thrifty Dominican nuns and/or the Benedictine priests decided to just roll with it.
Saint Kilian might have enjoyed that. He was, after all, an Irishman, so he must have had a sense of humor.
I spent eight years at St Killian’s (a/k/a St Kilian’s) school and my class will mark a Very Important Anniversary in 2009. I’d love to hear from any of my former classmates who have probably traveled even further than St Kilian himself. I hope some of them will read this and e-mail me here.