Born of a noble family in northern Italy, Conrad as a young man married Euphrosyne, daughter of a nobleman.
One day while hunting, he ordered attendants to set fire to some brush in order to flush out the game. The fire spread to nearby fields and to a large forest. Conrad fled. An innocent peasant was imprisoned, tortured to confess and condemned to death. Conrad confessed his guilt, saved the man’s life and paid for the damaged property.
Soon after this event, Conrad and his wife agreed to separate: she to a Poor Clare monastery and he to a group of hermits following the Third Order Rule. His reputation for holiness, however, spread quickly. Since his many visitors destroyed his solitude, Conrad went to a more remote spot in Sicily where he lived 36 years as a hermit, praying for himself and for the rest of the world.
Prayer and penance were his answer to the temptations that beset him. Conrad died kneeling before a crucifix. He was canonized in 1625.
Francis of Assisi was drawn both to contemplation and to a life of preaching; periods of intense prayer nourished his preaching. Some of his early followers, however, felt called to a life of greater contemplation, and he accepted that. Though Conrad of Piacenza is not the norm in the Church, he and other contemplatives remind us of the greatness of God and of the joys of heaven.
Pope Paul VI’s 1969 Instruction on the Contemplative Life includes this passage: "To withdraw into the desert is for Christians tantamount to associating themselves more intimately with Christ’s passion, and it enables them, in a very special way, to share in the paschal mystery and in the passage of Our Lord from this world to the heavenly homeland" (#1).