St. Onesimus lived in the first century. He was a slave who robbed his master and ran away to Rome. In Rome he went to see the great apostle, St. Paul, who was a prisoner for his faith. Paul received St. Onesimus with the kindness and love of a good father. Paul helped the young man realize he had done wrong to steal. But more than that, he led St. Onesimus to believe in and accept the Christian faith.
After St. Onesimus became a Christian, Paul sent him back to his master, Philemon, who was Paul’s friend. But Paul did not send the slave back alone and defenseless. He “armed” St. Onesimus with a brief, powerful letter. Paul hoped his letter would set everything right for his new friend, St. Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon: “I plead with you for my own son, for St. Onesimus. I am sending him back to you. Welcome him as though he were my very heart.”
That touching letter is in the New Testament of the Bible. Philemon accepted Paul’s letter and Paul’s advice. When St. Onesimus returned to his master, he was set free. Later, he went back to St. Paul and became his faithful helper.
St. Paul made St. Onesimus a priest and then a bishop. The former slave dedicated the rest of his life to preaching the Good News that had changed his life forever. It is believed that during the persecutions, St. Onesimus was brought in chains to Rome and stoned to death.