St. Benedict the African (1526-1589) was born a slave near Messina, Italy, where his parents were slaves brought from Africa. At 18 years old, he was freed by his master and did farm work for a wage and soon saved enough to buy a pair of oxen. He was very proud of those animals. In time he became a solitary, eventually settling with other hermits at Montepellegrino.
He was made superior of the community, but when he was about thirty-eight, Pope Pius IV disbanded communities of solitaries, and he became a Franciscan lay brother and the cook at St. Mary’s convent near Palermo. He was appointed, against his will, superior of the convent when it opted for the reform, though he could neither read nor write.
After serving as superior, he became novice master but asked to be relieved of this post and return to his former position of cook.
His holiness, reputation for miracles, and his fame as a confessor brought hordes of visitors to see the obscure and humble cook. He died at the convent, was canonized in 1807/ After Benedict’s death, King Philip III of Spain paid for a special tomb for this holy friar.
Canonized in 1807, he is honored as a patron saint of African-Americans.