Holy Cow! There’s a Patron Saint for Pierogi

While there are patrons for just about everyone involved in producing food and drink — butchers, bakers, brewers, winemakers — a patron of a particular type of food is rare. So St. Hyacinth, the patron of pierogi, stands out among the great multitude of patron saints.

The pastor of the Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Turners Falls, Mass., Father Charles Jan Di Mascola, an authority on all things Polish, informs me that “Swiety Jacek z pierogami!” (St. Hyacinth and his pierogi!) is an old expression of surprise in Poland, comparable to the American expression, “Holy cow!”

According to legend, Hyacinth invented the pierogi during a time of famine and served the hungry plate after plate of this hearty dish.

Hyacinth was the son of aristocrats. He was born in Silesia, a region of Poland roughly between Wroclaw and Cracow. His family sent him to schools in Bohemia and in Italy.

While he was studying in Rome he met St. Dominic, who urged Hyacinth to join his new religious community, the Order of Preachers, better known today as the Dominicans. Hyacinth did become a Dominican — he was the first Pole to join the order — and he made his vows to St. Dominic.

About the year 1220, Dominic sent Hyacinth and several other Dominicans to Cracow to establish a Dominican community there. The bishop gave them the Church of the Holy Trinity, which is still staffed by the Dominican friars.

At this time many Poles had become lukewarm in their practice of the Catholic faith, if they had not abandoned the Church altogether.

True to his calling, Hyacinth proved himself to be a dynamic preacher; since so many Poles did not go to church, he preached in market squares and other public places. His zeal and eloquence inspired countless Poles to return to the sacraments, earning St. Hyacinth the title, “the Second Apostle of Poland.”

He traveled as a missionary into Lithuania, where most of the population still worshipped pagan gods, and then he moved on to Kiev in what is now the Ukraine to reconcile Ukrainian Orthodox Christians with Rome. More Dominicans followed him, and he opened several Dominican priories in the Ukraine and Russia.

Legend says that in 1240 Hyacinth was at the Dominican priory in Kiev when the Mongols stormed the city. He took the ciborium containing the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle and prepared to flee the city when he heard the statue of the Blessed Mother speak to him.

“Hyacinth, you have taken my Son, but you leave me behind?”

Hyacinth returned, lifted the heavy marble sculpture from its altar, and found that it was weightless. With both the Blessed Sacrament and the statue of Our Lady, he escaped safely back to Poland, but all the Dominican priories he founded in the Ukraine and Russia were destroyed by the Mongols.

Hyacinth continued his missionary work, traveling as far as the Black Sea and even into Scandinavia. He spent the last years of his life at the Priory of the Holy Trinity in Cracow, where he died on the Feast of the Assumption.