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St. Dymphna: The Most Helpful Saint for 2020

The year 2020 has been… something else. We’ve dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, lost jobs, economic instability, and even the inability to attend Mass. Our sources of strength and courage -- the sacraments -- have been inaccessible due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

And as the situation progresses, we face more uncertainties and anxieties: parents wondering how to go to work and educate their children virtually, having to stay at home for long periods of time, and the ever-present concern of actually contracting the virus. 

That’s why St. Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally ill, is a particularly helpful saint to turn to in the year 2020. She’s a common intercessor for those dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. Not all of us may experience these things clinically, but many of us have found ourselves feeling stressed, anxious, or even depressed at some point over the last few months. 

Who Was St. Dymphna? 

St. Dymphna is thought to have lived in seventh century Ireland -- most of what we know about her is based on oral tradition passed down among the faithful for centuries. 
St. Dymphna was born to a pagan king named Damon in what is now Ireland -- her mother was a devout Christian. Dymphna, too, became Christian at a young age. Her father deeply loved her mother, but she died when Dymphna was 15 years old. Dymphna’s mother’s death set in motion the downward spiral of her father’s mental health. 

He was grief stricken and inconsolable, and began showing signs of mental instability. He tried to find a new wife, but was unable to do so. He ultimately decided to try to marry Dymphna, his daughter. Of course she refused, but not without enraging her father. 

She escaped her father’s castle with a few friends and her confessor, Father (and now Saint) Gerebrand. They ultimately found refuge from King Damon in Belgium. Some sources say that Dymphna began a hospital for the poor and sick in Geel, Belgium -- and that this expenditure of money is how her father tracked her down. 

Regardless, Damon found Dymphna and proposed marriage again. Dymphna held fast to her refusal, and Father Gerebrand encouraged her to persist in her resistance. Damon even had Father Gerebrand beheaded to scare Dymphna into yielding. But she continued to refuse, and ultimately Damon beheaded his own daughter, killing her at the age of 15. 

Dymphna, the patron Saint 

This young virgin martyr is the patron saint of those with mental, nervous, and spiritual afflictions. Not long after she died, tradition says that several mentally ill people were wandering around where she was killed and spent the night there. They awoke completely healed of their mental afflictions. 

Another tradition says that those who visited her tomb after it was found in Geel, Belgium were cured of mental illness and epilepsy. Thus, she earned her patronage of the mentally ill and those struggling with anxiety and depression. 

In the present day, there is a hospital for the mentally ill and a church built in her honor near where she was martyred in Belgium. She has been venerated in Belgium for centuries. 

How She Can Help Us 

As with any saint, we can ask St. Dymphna to intercede for us with her own prayers before God. As Catholics we believe that the communion of all the faithful includes those on earth, those in Purgatory, and those in Heaven. 

Lumen Gentium explains it well: 

“...we believe that in this communion the merciful love of God and his saints is ever listening to our prayers. For by reason of the fact that those in heaven are more closely united with Christ, they establish the whole church more firmly in holiness… they do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, showing forth the merits which they won on earth through the one mediator between God and man… Thus by their brotherly interest, our weakness is greatly strengthened.” 

If we’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or stress, we can both ask St. Dymphna for her intercession and try to emulate the courageous faith she lived during her earthly life. 

Managing Our Mental Health with St. Dymphna’s Help 

Our mental health should be a priority always, but it’s especially relevant given the turbulent times in which we’re living. This year many of us have experienced unprecedented challenges that threaten to shake or at least worry even the most mentally stable and relaxed person.

Here are a few ways we can invite St. Dymphna into our lives to help us live in the peace of Christ, even in turbulent times: 

    • Pray for St. Dymphna’s intercession. Incorporating a simple “St. Dymphna, pray for me” throughout our day or praying a longer prayer for intercession like this one is one of the easiest ways to invite St. Dymphna into our lives. We can ask for her intercession in times of anxiety and stress, and also ask for her to pray for our family members, as well. Spending time in silence contemplating her life and martyrdom can be an edifying spiritual practice you do every day or every time you feel anxious. 
  • Keep ourselves grounded in faith by matching her courage. St. Dymphna forged ahead in terrible circumstances -- running from her mentally ill and predatory father -- with the help of her faith. We, too, can forge ahead with peace and self-surrender to make the most of our earthly lives, knowing that whatever we face in this life, Christ has already conquered and will help us weather the storm. 
    • Emulate how she embraced the challenge to her faith with steadfastness. The year 2020 has brought many people great adversity. We can look to St. Dymphna to emulate how she embraced the adversity of her father’s mental illness and responded to it with courage. We too can embrace adversity by being courageous and arming ourselves with our faith. 

    St. Dymphna, pray for us! 

    If you are struggling with crippling anxiety and depression, don’t be afraid to ask for professional help. Spiritual practices can’t and shouldn’t take the place of mental health care. But alongside a strong support system and mental health treatment, if necessary, contemplating St. Dymphna’s life and asking for her intercession can help us surrender ourselves to God and find the courage to forge ahead, even in the midst of anxiety and depression. 


    Here’s a novena to St. Dymphna! 

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