Patron saints are a sacred group in the Catholic church! Saints selected as a patron are believed to impart special protection for a certain place, group of people, cause, or event. St. Patrick’s Guild wants to honor the important histories and unique stories of patron saints by featuring one each month. Our first featured saint is St. Florian.
St. Florian is best known as the patron saint of firefighters, but his story has many other interesting elements as well. St. Florian was born in 250 A.D. in an ancient Roman city that is now part of Austria. Hence, it is no surprise that Florian is the patron saint of Linz, Austria, where the Abbey of St. Florian stands. This monastery is the largest in all of upper Austria.
As a young man, Florian joined the Roman army and advanced quickly. Despite his service and training of an elite force of soldiers dedicated to fighting fires, St. Florian was singled out for his faith during the Great Persecution. During this time, Christians were required to sacrifice to Roman gods and follow traditional Roman religious practices or face torture, imprisonment and death. St. Florian would not refuse his Christian faith during this time.
His training of the firefighting force, as mentioned above, is one reason he is the patron saint of firefighters. But the way he responded when faced with death also contributed to his special status with firefighters. When his Roman prosecutors were preparing to burn him at the stake – his sentence for refusing to sacrifice to Roman gods - he shouted that he would walk the stairs of fire to heaven. The soldiers tasked with executing St. Florian changed course; he was instead drowned to death, avoiding perishing in fire.
Given his story, it is no wonder that firefighters might feel a sense of protection and understanding if they choose to wear a St. Florian medal or carry a St. Florian prayer card. The St. Florian prayer for firefighters is quite powerful, and it is easy to understand why he is a perfect fit for the patron saint of firefighters.
St. Florian is also the patron saint of Poland (as some of his relics were given to a Polish king by Pope Lucius III) and chimney sweeps. Many people, especially Europeans, invoke St. Florian for protection from water and drowning as well.
St. Florian’s feast day is May 4th.