Father Simon de Rojas, the "Apostle of the Ave Maria," was a Spanish priest of the Trinitarian Order, born in Valladolid (Castile, Spain) on October 28, 1552.
At age 12, he entered the Trinitarian monastery in the town of his birth, where he made his religious profession on October 28, 1572. Simon studied at the University of Salamanca from 1573 to 1579, was ordained a priest in 1577, and taught philosophy and theology in Toledo from 1581 to 1587. He founded the Congregation of the Slaves of Mary.
From 1588 until his death, he was the superior of several monasteries of his province and was sent as an apostolic visitor, twice in his own province and once in Andalusia: all these responsibilities he fulfilled with great prudence.
On April 14, 1612, he founded the Congregation of the Slaves of the Sweet Name of Mary; in 1619, he was named tutor of the royal princes of Spain; on May 12, 1621, he was elected Provincial of Castile; on January 1, 1622, he was chosen to be the confessor of Queen Isabel of Bourbon. He died on September 29, 1624.
Canonized at the end of the Marian year 1988, the Church has glorified this great servant of Mary, whom Lope de Vega compared to Saint Bernard de Clairvaux and Saint Ildephonsus of Toledo.
It was his virtuous mother Constanza who planted in his soul the love of Mary. Because she and her husband Gregorio had a deep, continual devotion to Our Lady, it is hardly surprising that Simon, uttering his first words at age 14 months, cried out: "Ave Maria!" He was only repeating the prayer that his parents recited so often.
He was very happy when he could visit the shrines dedicated to Mary; he prayed to her constantly, imitating her virtues, singing her praises, and insisting on the important role she played in the mystery of God and the Church.
Through his theology studies, he came to understand Mary's unique mission and how she was chosen to cooperate with the Trinity for the Salvation of the human race and the sanctification of the Church. He lived out his religious vows in imitation of Mary.
He believed that to belong to God like Mary, one had to become her slave, or better even, God's slave in Mary. For this reason he established the Congregation of the Slaves of Mary, to glorify the Trinity and praise Our Lady by serving the poor. For him, to be the slave of Mary meant to belong to her unreservedly: "Totus tuus" ("I am all yours") was his motto, in order to be united to Christ more intimately, and in Him to the Father, through the Holy Spirit.
The Congregation he founded had a secular character: it was open to all social classes.
Its members, who included the king and his children, promised to glorify Mary by helping the poor, her sons of predilection.
His work still continues to flourish in Spain.
Considered one of the greatest contemplatives of his period, Saint Simon wrote in "The Greatness of Prayer" that the contemplative dimension goes hand in hand with an active life and attains its fulfilment in the works of mercy.
Faithful to the Trinitarian charisma, he worked toward the redemption of slaves, assisted all the poor her met and comforted the infirm, prisoners and marginalized of all sorts.
When he was pressed to accept a post in the royal court, he accepted on condition to continue devoting his life to "his" poor, whom he helped at any time of the day or night.
The proofs of his love to the Virgin Mary are many.
All the artists who have painted him have placed on his lips the greeting "Ave Maria," which he said so frequently that he was nicknamed "Father Ave Maria."
Saint Simon printed thousands of holy pictures of Our Lady inscribed with "Ave Maria," and sending them all over, even abroad.
He made blue rosaries with 72 beads held together with a white string, these colors being a symbol of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception. The 72 beads were in memory of Mary's life, commonly believed to have lived for 72 years. He even sent rosaries to England, which had become a Protestant country.
Taking advantage of his influence at the court, he had the Angelic Salutation written in gold lettering on the facade of the royal palace of Madrid: "Ave Maria."
On June 5, 1622, the Holy See approved the office and mass he composed in honor of the Name of Mary. These liturgies were extended to the universal Church by Innocent XI.
At his death, the funeral honors took on the aspect of an anticipated canonization. For 12 days, the most celebrated orators of Madrid exalted his virtues and sainthood. Impressed by this strong public display of veneration, the Papal nuncio immediately ordered the opening of the canonization process.
On March 25, 1735, Clement XII recognized his heroic virtues, and Clement XIII proclaimed him blessed on May 19, 1766.
On July 3, 1988, before the closing of the Marian year, Pope John Paul II inscribed in the book of saints this great servant of Mary and father of the poor.