St. Benedict’s parents were from Africa, brought as slaves to San Fratello, a village in Sicily. There they embraced the Christian faith and lived such exemplary lives that their master granted Benedict, their eldest son, his freedom. Benedict served his former master for a wage, and, when he had saved enough, bought a pair of oxen with which he plowed as a day laborer. Because of his black skin and his lowly origin, he was often mocked and despised by his fellow laborers.
He became acquainted with some hermits who followed the rule of St. Francis. Their life so attracted him that he sold his small possessions, gave everything to the poor, and also led the life of a hermit in the vicinity of Palermo. When Benedict was around 40, Pope Pius IV issued an order that all hermits following the rule of St. Francis should join one of the Franciscan convents. Immediately Benedict went to the convent at Palermo, and there continued to perform his former pious exercises in addition to the heavy work he gladly took upon himself. After the example of St. Francis, he observed a 40-day fast seven times a year, slept only a few hours on the bare floor, and wore a coarse habit.
Because he was a model for all the friars of the convent, he was appointed their superior, even though he was only a lay brother without any formal education. Through his daily devotion to following Christ in the path of St. Francis, he inspired a great flowering of Franciscan spirit among the brothers. At the end of his term, he went back joyfully to his duties in the kitchen.
He died on April 4, 1589, and was canonized in 1807.