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St. Irene

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Death: 379

Irene was the sister of Pope Saint Damasus I (c. 304-384). She and her devout mother Laurentia are said to have often spent whole nights in the catacombs of Rome, keeping vigil in prayer beside the tombs of the martyrs. At the age of twenty, Irene consecrated her virginity by vow to Christ. When in 366 her brother was elected to the pontificate, one faction of the Roman clergy refused to recognize him, schismatically electing their own rival candidate and violently seizing the papal throne for their antipope, Ursinus. Irene ardently prayed for an end to the schism. A year later, the imposter Ursinus was expelled from Rome by the emperor Valentinian I. Pope Damasus wrote for his sister a book on consecrated virginity. Following Irene's death in 379, he buried her in a small church where he had interred their mother, and where he was later to be buried. The pope composed a loving epitaph for his sister, in which he testifies to her holiness and purity.


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