As a young boy, St. Louis Bertrand (1526-1581) desired to join the Dominican ranks of his distant relative, the Spanish miracle worker St. Vincent Ferrer. They each began their new life in Christ in the same place, having been baptized in the same font in Valencia, Spain. Even though his father tried to stop him, pleading for the saint to keep his inheritance, St. Louis took the Dominican habit and was ordained a priest in 1547 by St. Thomas of Villanova, then archbishop of Valencia.
St. Louis was not an intellectual, but he worked hard at his studies, nonetheless. His stern and humorless disposition was counteracted by a gentility and kindness that caused him to be well-received by others. When a plague broke out in his hometown, he cared for the sick and dying, and he assisted in the effort to bury the large numbers of dead. For a time, he also served as novice master for his convent.
Despite a description saying, “his voice was raucous, his memory treacherous, his carriage without grace,” St. Louis became known for his preaching. Multitudes came to hear him, and saints sought his counsel, including St. Teresa of Avila, who came to him seeking advice about reforming her Carmelite order.
Despite his successes, St. Louis was granted permission to fulfill a longstanding desire to serve in the missions. He set out for the Americas in 1562, carrying only a staff and breviary. He was destined for the territory of New Grenada, reaching land in Cartagena, Colombia.
In the New World, St. Louis worked for the spiritual welfare of his new flock and fought to secure a better life for the natives under colonial rule. He was known to exercise spiritual powers manifested though activities such as physical healings. And he also worked alongside fellow Dominicans, like Bartholomew de Las Casas, to advocate for the natives’ human rights.
He established a variety of missions throughout modern-day Colombia, bringing tens of thousands into the Church, despite some struggles along the way. He traveled from town to town, preaching the Gospel and establishing devotion to the holy Rosary. To assist him in his ministry, he prayed for and received the gift of tongues, enabling the natives to hear and understand his words. He faced every imaginable hardship, from jungles and insects to wild beats and tropical diseases. Once, when approached by a gun-toting man who intended to kill him, St. Louis made the Sign of the Cross over it, turning it into a crucifix.
St. Louis also visited and sewed seeds of faith in the West Indies as well as the Spanish-controlled Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco.
He returned to his native Spain in 1569. There he continued working as an advocate for the rights of the exploited and mistreated natives of the lands where he ministered. He was not allowed to return to those lands, however, and was banned from ministering among the natives in the future.
In his last years, he renewed his contact with St. Teresa of Avila, serving as a spiritual counselor to her. He again assumed the duties of novice master for his convent and inspired the young men by infusing their souls with missionary zeal.
St. Louis died on Oct. 9, 1581, a date he predicted himself. He is regarded as the Apostle to the Americas and was canonized less than a century after his death in 1671.
His feast day is Oct. 9.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter at @HeinleinMichael.