Origins: Prior to the farce that was the U.S. Presidential election of 2000, few knew what the little bits of paper punched from a ballot were called, and no one much cared. The situation surrounding the balloting in Florida changed all that. Overnight, the electorate found itself in a world where talk of 'chads' was all the rage, with the significance of dimpled, hanging, and pregnant ones hotly disputed. An unfamiliar word no one had much noticed was now on everyone's lips, the Internet quickly picking up the slack with a false history of its etymology when ordinary dictionaries failed to provide much illumination. 'Chad' was fast on its way to becoming the word of the year.
Somewhere in the furor, someone noticed there had once been a Catholic saint of this name, and a hasty perusal of the details of his life appeared to link him to a disputed election. This link kicked in the irony afterburners. It didn't take long for statements of
St. Chad isn't the patron saint of disputed elections — no calendar of saints lists him as such, and probably none ever will. The details of his life don't support this association, as much as we, the irony-seekers, would like to find one.
Chad was born in Northumbria, probably around
His career as a bishop began under a cloud due to a botched consecration and a muddle over who had been appointed to serve where, and it is upon these points joking references to him being the "patron saint of disputed elections" rest.
Chad served for a time as a priest in Ireland but was recalled to run an abbey in Yorkshire. He was soon summoned by King Oswin to become bishop of York, but Oswin's son had already appointed another worthy priest, Wilfrid, to that office. Wilfrid was out of the country, however, seeking proper consecration from the bishops in Gaul. He afterwards chose to remain with them for an additional two years, setting the stage for what was to be an embarrassing situation all around.
It is likely honest confusion over who had been granted the mandate for the bishopric of York that led to Chad's belief he had been appointed to serve there. It is also possible King Oswin had concluded Wilfrid was dead, thus necessitating his appointment of Chad. However it came about, Chad left his abbey and took up his duties in York.
Further complicating an already contentious situation was Chad's
Wilfrid returned to England in 666. Finding Chad performing his duties in his place, he retired to the abbey at Ripon.
Although it has become fashionable in the current "Chad as patron saint of disputed elections" frenzy to claim Theodore was so impressed by Chad's humility that he declared the ordination valid and asked the king to appoint him bishop of Mercia, in truth it was the king of Mercia who set things in motion later in 669 by asking Theodore to appoint a bishop for his people. Theodore recalled Chad from Lastingham and appointed him to this new post. Chad settled the Mercian see at Lichfield, and rapidly acquired a reputation for sanctity. He lived there in quiet simplicity until his death three years later from bubonic plague in 672.
Should Chad be recognized as the patron saint of disputed elections anyway? Probably not, but that doesn't mean popular wisdom won't refer to him as such from now on. If anything, though, he should be recognized as the humble and holy man he was. If there's an opening for a patron saint of humility, he gets my vote.
Almighty God, for the peace of the church, your servant Chad relinquished cheerfully the honors that had been thrust upon him, only to be rewarded with equal responsibility: Keep us, we pray, from thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, and ready at all times to step aside for others, that the cause of Christ may be advanced.
Barbara "honor role" Mikkelson
Last updated: 13 July 2007
Coulson, John. The Saints: A Concise Biographical Dictionary. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1960 (pp. 108-109). Delaney, John and James Tobin. Dictionary of Catholic Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961 (p. 234). Gushee, Steve. "A Chad Mishandled Long Ago Became a Saint." The Palm Beach Post. 22 November 2000 (p. A18). Hernandez, Jaime. "Sainthood For Chad? It Happened Centuries Ago." The Associated Press. 1 December 2000. Kennedy, Helen. "Hard to Punch Holes in Story of St. Chad." [New York] Daily News. 1 December 2000 (p. 4). Lusk, Steve. "Man Vs. Machine." The Washington Post. 21 November 2000 (p. A24).