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  • Writer's pictureC. J. Parke

Walking with St. Dymphna

Sisters, have you ever felt anxiety over a situation beyond your control? Believed that you could never be loved because of what was physically and mentally wrong with you? It is not an uncommon position to find yourself in, even if in the moment it can seem like the most isolating time of your life. If you are struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental and emotional hardships, please take a moment to walk with a saint who has become a comfort to many in the faith, despite perhaps going underappreciated: St. Dymphna.

My journey with this Irish saint started when I was walking through St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. Perusing the saint prayer cards they had, I saw one of a medieval looking woman wearing a simple headcloth that almost hid a crown. Her gaze met mine as she held a green book with a cross on it. Taking a closer look, I saw her name was St. Dymphna, and that she was the patroness of epilepsy, incest victims, mental health disorders and runaways. Hearing all those groups together startled me, but the one that affected me the most was mental health disorders. I didn’t need that obviously: I was handling my own infertility journey pretty well. Sisters, that could not have been further from the truth! Still, something about this Irish martyr stayed with me after that initial pushback, and now St. Dymphna stays with me everywhere in the form of a small key chain. Who would’ve thought?

If you are unfamiliar with her story, St. Dymphna was a 7th century saint who was born to a pagan king father and a Catholic mother. After her mother died, Dymphna’s father Damon went mad with grief. After his advisors told him to remarry, the king decided the only woman beautiful enough to marry was his teenage daughter. Whisked away to Geel (in current-day Belgium) by her confessor and close friend, St. Gerebern, St. Dymphna stayed hidden away within the kind community until her father eventually found them. After beheading St. Gerebern and failing to persuade his daughter to come back to Ireland to be his bride, the deranged Damon beheaded his own daughter, thinking that would be the end of Dymphna’s legacy. Instead, it was just the beginning.

During St. Dymphna’s funeral procession, people who had mental health and some medical conditions like epilepsy were cured as the saint’s body passed by. More and more instances of mental and physical healing occurred as people made pilgrimages to visit the saint at the church built in her honor and eventually, in 620 AD, she was canonized. Her site has thousands of visitors each year and miracles are still attributed to this remarkable 14 year-old!

Now, one may ask why would a virgin martyr from over a thousand years ago have any relevance to a modern infertile woman? Sisters, at least for me, infertility has driven me to the breaking point mentally and emotionally. The anxiety and depression I felt due to not believing myself to be a worthy spouse or mom prevented me from receiving Communion multiple times, despite now having a partner who loves every part of me, as well as having found a grounded faith community that I am lucky to be a part of. The tears spilled over a family member’s comments or another friend’s pregnancy or birth announcement or yet another baby shower all came from a place of deep hurt and mental hardship that I felt I had to handle alone because, well, who else would want to walk that path with me? Then, I remember the kind, steady gaze of the woman with a mostly hidden crown, calling me to give some of my burden to her and the God who loves us both. Whose courage and faith kept her faithful when she must have been so mentally spent throughout her entire life. And the load becomes a little lighter because there is someone on the path with me towards Eternal Love. 

Good St. Dymphna, great wonder-worker in every affliction of mind and body, I humbly implore your powerful intercession with Jesus through Mary, the health of the sick, in my present need. (Mention your need.) St. Dymphna, martyr of purity, patroness of those who suffer with nervous and mental afflictions, beloved child of Jesus and Mary, pray to them for me and obtain my request.

St. Dymphna, virgin and martyr: pray for us.

Sisters, take some time to talk with St. Dymphna today, and may she allow you some peace, grace and love as she points you to the One who is love. Know you are in my prayers.

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