A saint who ate very little

Joseph gave up rich foods early in life, and turned to bread and water

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving stand as the three pillars of Lent and make St. Joseph Oriol a model of Christian living, at least in spirit.

This 17th century priest was the eighth child born to a poor family at Barcelona, Spain. His father died six months later and his mother, Gertrud Bugugna, remarried two years later. His stepfather entrusted Joseph’s education to the priests at St. Mary of the Sea Parish. There he developed a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

Joseph earned a doctorate in theology from the University of Barcelona and was ordained a priest at age 25. To help his widowed mother, he tutored the sons of Thomas Gasnieri and moved into their home. One night at dinner, as he was about to taste rich food, an invisible force held back his hand three times.

Joseph took this as a divine sign and began a life of fasting, living mainly on bread and water, and winning the nickname Dr. Pa Aguas (Dr. Bread and Water). On special days he added wild herbs and, on Christmas and Easter, a sardine. During Lent, he ate and drank only on Sundays.

He lived with the Gasnieri until his mother died in 1686, when he began a walking pilgrimage to Rome. There Pope Innocent XI (1676-1689) assigned him to Our Lady of Pines Parish in Barcelona. He stayed there until his death 15 years later.

Joseph sought complete detachment to give himself entirely to God. He rented an attic room, furnished it with a table, bench, crucifix and a few books, and spent hours each day in prayer and penance. He always wore the same shabby clothes and gave his money to the poor or for Masses for the deceased.

He was sometimes ridiculed, but responded with kindness. Although he seldom spoke, he always did so kindly with those who approached him, especially prisoners and soldiers.

He was the first in church and the last to leave. He spent many hours each day hearing confessions and was known to read hearts.

One day in 1689, he decided to become a missionary and set off for Rome to volunteer with the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith. While recovering from illness in Marseille, Mary appeared to him and told him his mission was to rouse the people of Barcelona, so he returned. Numerous miracles were attributed to him.


Sources: catholic.org; katolsk.no; saints.sqpn.com; saintpatrickdc.org; “The Catholic Encyclopedia”; and wikipedia.org.


Staley is a retired editor of The Compass

St. Joseph Oriol

When: 1650 – 1702

Where: Barcelona

What: Priest

Feast: March 23