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saint of the month
Playing it by the rules
St. Stephen Harding 

by Katie Hicks

Feast day: April 17
Canonized in 1683
Meaning of name: Crowned

Claim to fame:
While traveling, Stephen happened upon the Benedictine monastery of Molesme. He met with the abbot, St. Robert, and was so impressed with him that Stephen decided to stay. At the monastery, Stephen became known for his strict adherence to the rules. The local bishop worried that the monastery was too zealous, and as a result, gave the monks property and ordered them to relax their rules. Stephen, St. Robert and several others, however, wanted to adhere to their original rules. They left Molesme and went to Citeaux, founding another monastic order later known as the Cistercians.

After several years, Stephen was elected abbot against his will. However, he used his position to advocate for his preferred lifestyle, which was absolute poverty. He and his fellow monks did hard manual labor, and Stephen forbade any decoration besides painted wooden crosses. Stephen spent the rest of his life working to expand the order, successfully helping to found 10 more monasteries.

Why he is a saint: In a time when the church leadership allowed lax practicing of rules and when corruption was common, Stephen worked hard to keep his order from slipping into the pattern. He sacrificed the financial support of several feudal lords so he could keep his order pure, and left Molesme when the bishop forced the monastery to relax its rules.

Best quote: On his death bed, Stephen continued to show his humility and devotion to God. His last words were, “I am going to God as I had never done any good. If I have done some good, it was through the help of the grace of God. But perhaps I have received this grace unworthily, without turning it sufficiently to account.”