St Gregory the Great
590-604 ~ Gregory was born into a wealthy Roman family. His father, Gordianus was the patriarch of Rome (senior bishop). Gregory was educated in Rome and graduated in law. He became prefect of Rome, one of the highest civil positions in the city. Ever since Gregory was young, he was interested in the religious life and at the age of thirty-five, he converted his house into a monastery and named it St Andrews. He was a monk under the guidance of Valentius who was the abbot. Gregory went on to found six other monasteries on land left to him in Sicily. For several years, he lived in the secluded monastery of St Andrew’s before becoming ordained by the Pope Pelagius and given the role of papal deacon. He resumed his monastic life and after five years, he took the post of abbot of St Andrews.
A year or so later, he embarked on a journey to England after seeing some fair-haired children in the slave market and was curious to know where they were from. He thought they looked angelic. He went to England to start his conversion of the people, but the pope called him back when the plague hit Rome and unfortunately, Pope Pelagius died of the disease. Gregory sent Augustine to England and Gregory was elected to take the place of Pelagius. This made Gregory the first monk to be pope, a role he stayed in for fourteen years. The Church was going through a very difficult time, resulting in disorder, disarray and a large number of the clergy had become lapsed. One of his first tasks was to remove them. This was at the time of the Lombard’s invasion of Northern Italy and Gregory managed to negotiate a truce with them. He re-organise the financial affairs of the church and restructured the income and administration of the estates, spending large amounts to relieve the suffering of the people from war, famine and pestilence. He continued to have good relations with the Lombards and Visigoths and overall he was responsible for strengthening the Catholic Church’s authority.
Gregory continued with his mission in England and worked well with St Augustine. He sent him forty monks to help with the project. Gregory was a fluent speaker and talented writer; over eight hundred of his letters are still in existence. He is most famous for the introduction of the singing of psalms in church services known as the “Gregorian Chant” and it is used in churches across the world today.
Gregory died in Rome after being in poor health for a long time due to his austere disciples. He is said to have had gastritis (stomach complaint) and suffered from painful gout, being in constant pain for many years. He was canonised immediately after his death. At Gregory’s death, the Roman Church was in a secure position over the Byzantine authority and was firmly established in the West, thanks to Gregory’s hard work and devotion.
Gregory is the patron saint of teachers and musicians.