Obscure Medieval Saint Still Grants Baby Requests

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When I visited a fertility clinic for diagnostic tests a few years back, the place was packed to the gills. The nervous energy pulsed through the air as women considered investing their savings for treatments.

But this isn’t just another infertility story. This one includes a miracle from an obscure Medieval saint: St. Leopold of Austria.

St. Leopold with two deceased sons, from the Babenberger Stammbaum in Stift Klosterneuburg

St. Leopold with two deceased sons, from the Babenberger Stammbaum in Stift Klosterneuburg

I’m one of the unlucky women who has Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a leading cause of true infertility, rather than the “I waited so long to try that now it’s too late” variety. Women with PCOS recognize that they have a heightened chance of serial miscarriages if they are fortunate enough to get pregnant to begin with. The emotional distress can be as traumatic as the physical ailments that accompany this oft-misunderstood illness.

Even though I lived with PCOS worries for years, I was shocked when the doctor told me that I had only a 5-10% chance of conceiving. Really? That bad, huh? Truthfully, I was a little skeptical, but still…disturbed.

Something held me back from signing up for treatment. By the way, some avenues, like Clomid, are fine for Catholic PCOSers. Even so, the actual methods vary and the staffers I met seemed too busy marketing their success stats to care about moral concerns. The choices infertile couples have to make, by the way, are never easy. Catholic or not, ethical equations on a sheet of paper can never accurately reflect the raw emotion of real life scenarios that involve a deep yearning for a child.

Time went by, and I scheduled an appointment to follow up about my options, and also sent a prayer request to a priest who is a member of a community named in honor of St. Leopold. A month later, and a month before my appointment, I was pregnant!

Initially, I didn’t realize that the famous margrave (“marquis” in English) was behind the sought after miracle. St. Leopold is the patron saint of Austria and very little is written about him in the English language. He is patron of large families, death of children, and stepchildren. His family life explains his patronages. His first wife passed away at a young age and they had only one son together. His second wife, Agnes, lost her first husband after having 11 children. When the two widows married, they both became stepparents and formed a Medieval Brady Bunch. They had 18 children together, and tragically, lost seven.

A most virtuous ruler, Leopold was offered the role of Holy Roman Emperor and declined. This is perhaps the most impressive fact I have found about him. He was politically astute and ushered in an era of peace. A devout Catholic, he built monasteries and helped to resolve the Investiture Controversy.

Over the next year, I saw the Austrian saint’s fingerprints appear in my life. The puzzle pieces surrounding my baby’s entry into the world gradually sprinkled before me like fairy dust. While I was pregnant, the praying priest and I agreed to introduce more information about Leopold, who looks like Santa Claus in paintings, to English-speaking Catholics.

Once my son was born, I noticed some uncanny similarities between Leopold’s full name and the baptismal name we gave our son. As I researched the saint further, I learned that Leopold was documented to have helped someone have a child before. Albrecht, Habsburg duke of Austria, traveled to Leopold’s shrine to thank him for the birth of a son on November 15, 1339. This was 16 years prior to his formal canonization, which occurred after Rome uncovered an entire collection of miracles credited to Leopold.

Since Leopold’s life was dedicated to raising such a huge brood of children, it is natural that he would take a special interest in baby requests. If you or anyone you know is praying for a child, Leopold’s intercession can’t hurt! Now is the time to mark your calendar for a novena. Start praying on November 7th to end on November 15th, his feast day.

Copyright 2013 Amy Bonaccorso

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4 Comments

  1. How fascinating!! I have never heard about this saint before. He’s definitely one I’d like to learn more about. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Congratulations on your precious baby boy! Your article was full of great and insightful information. I do want to say, however, that as a woman who used Catholic-approved fertility treatments to conceive both of my boys, your third paragraph rubbed me a little the wrong way. I do not have PCOS- there’s no real, diagnosed reason for my infertility. But when you referred to PCOS and “true infertility,” it kind of smacked me in the face a little, and made me feel like my heartbreaking experiences with my inability to conceive aren’t as legitimate as those with PCOS. I felt like the struggles of people like my husband and me are looked at with diminished respect, and I admit I’ve never been made to feel that way before.

    This is a struggle that, no matter the underlying cause or reason, all men and women should embrace each other and unite in recognition of this trial we have in common. I have two very good friends that are dealing with infertility at this time- neither have PCOS. When I read the title of the article, I couldn’t wait to send it to them! But, for fear that they will feel the same way I did, I think it best not to share this one.

    Again, please accept my sincerest congratulations and best wishes on your sweet little blessing. He will surely bring to you immense joy as mine have! God bless.

  3. Stacey- I meant what I said. Waiting too long to try is not infertility, and I cite PCOS because women who have it are often misunderstood in the Church and I seek to help that specific situation. You can only write what you know and my expertise is specific to PCOS.

    We lose the ability to have children as we age and that is natural, normal, and expected. My point is that trying at 45 or in the 50s, and paying for extraordinary treatments to try to turn back the clock, is wholly different from someone who has had a legit issue in their 20s or 30s. Apples and oranges. We obviously live in a time when many women are intentionally delaying childbearing and then end up unable to conceive later in life and my statement was a purposeful one about that cultural issue. In my book and coaching practice, I encourage single Catholic women to walk in the direction of their prayers and use their fertile years wisely.

  4. Please know that I do not feel that you intended to insult or harm. I was 31 and 34- nobody knows why I was infertile. But I struggle with infertility just as you do, albeit for different reasons. Some people have conditions such as endometriosis. They are in their 20s and early 30s, but they too have the diagnosis of infertility, and it is just as “true” as those who are infertile due to PCOS. Their infertility is not any less legitimate. I liked the information you gave, and I will pass on the information about St. Leopold to my friends, but I will not pass on the link to the article, because these women are in a very delicate state right now emotionally, and they may take umbrage to the parts I did.

    I am very happy that you were able to conceive, and I hope God (and St. Leopold) will be instrumental in blessing you again and again! (I’d love that for myself too!) 🙂 You can bet I’ll be joining you in that novena- thanks for the heads-up so we all can participate.

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