Extra Credit

Extra Credit

"Anyone who dares say that there is no Santa Claus perpetuates a grave error," says Assoc. Prof. Michael J. Connolly (Slavic and Eastern Languages), recalling the real-life 4th-century saint from Asia Minor, Bishop Nicholas of Myra in Lycia, who inspired the legend of Saint Nick.

Photo by Lee Pellegrini
An archdeacon in the Armenian Catholic rite, Connolly assisted at a Byzantine Catholic Mass in St. Mary's Chapel last week honoring St. Nicholas, whose feast day on Dec. 6 marks for many across the world the start of the Christmas season.

Connolly took the occasion to mull the legacy of St. Nicholas "the Wonderworker" (271-345 or 352), among the most popular saints of the Greek and Russian as well as Latin churches, whose legendary gift-giving inspired the Santa stocking. [An informative biography is available online at saints.catholic.org/saints/nicholas.html]

"The less credible aspects of his person come from modern secularizations and distortions about a man historically known for love and kindness and zeal for the truth," Connolly said.

"As patron of travelers, and particularly of mariners, even sans Santa, he sets an example as one of the most popular and best-loved saints of all time.

"In most Christian countries children set out their shoes or slippers for the eve of St. Nicholas and find the next morning in them, according to their demeanor over the past year, combinations of sweets, onions, garlic or coal. Our Christmas stocking has descended from this practice.

"One great story is that at the Council of Nicaea Nicholas slapped the arch-heretic Arius across the face - not that it helped. This was a violation of canon law because one cleric may not strike another, at least back then.

"The council fathers deliberated and decided that Good Saint Nick should not be disciplined because such a holy and kindly man could not have so acted out of anger but out of love and godly concern.

"Can one hope too much that students and faculty at this time of year will take Nicholas as a model, learn about him, and pray for his kindly intercession?"

-Mark Sullivan


Return to December 13 menu

Return to Chronicle home page