(Her Order’s establishment 1218)
The story of Our Lady of Ransom is, at its outset, that of Saint Peter Nolasco, born in Languedoc about 1189. At the age of twenty-five he took a vow of chastity and made over his vast estates to the Church. After making a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Montserrat, he went to Barcelona where he began to practice various works of charity. He conceived the idea of establishing an Order for the redemption of captives seized by the Moors on the seas and in Spain itself; they were being cruelly tormented in their African prisons to make them deny their faith. He spoke of it to the king of Aragon, James I, who knew him well and already respected him as a Saint; for the king had already asked for his prayers when he sent out his armies to combat the Moors, and he attributed his victories to those prayers.
In effect all the Christians of Europe, and above all of Spain, were praying a great deal to obtain from God the remedy for the great evil that had befallen them. The divine Will was soon manifested. On the same night, August 1, 1218, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Peter, to his confessor, Raymund of Pennafort, and to the king, and through these three servants of God established a work of the most perfect charity, the redemption of captives.
On that night, while the Church was celebrating the feast of Saint Peter in Chains, the Virgin Mary came from heaven and appeared first to Saint Peter, saying that She indeed desired the establishment of a religious Order bearing the name of Her mercy. Its members would undertake to deliver Christian captives and offer themselves, if necessary, as a gage. Word of the miracle soon spread over the entire kingdom; and on August 10th the king went to the cathedral for a Mass celebrated by the bishop of Barcelona. Saint Raymund went up into the pulpit and narrated his vision, with admirable eloquence and fervor. The king besought the blessing of the bishop for the heaven-sent plan, and the bishop bestowed the habit on Saint Peter, who emitted the solemn vow to give himself as a hostage if necessary.
The Order, thus solemnly established in Spain, was approved by Gregory IX under the name of Our Lady of Mercy. By the grace of God and under the protection of His Virgin Mother, the Order spread rapidly. Its growth was increased as the charity and piety of its members was observed; they very often followed Her directive to give themselves up to voluntary slavery when necessary, to aid the good work. It was to return thanks to God and the Blessed Virgin that a feast day was instituted and observed on September 24th, first in this Order of Our Lady, then everywhere in Spain and France. It was finally extended to the entire Church by Innocent XII.
Reflection: Saint Peter Nolasco and his knights were not priests, and yet they considered that the salvation of their neighbor was entrusted to them. We, too, can by good counsel and by prayer, but above all by holy example, assist the salvation of our brethren, and thereby secure our own.