Benedict the African was a natural leader. But the way he exercised his leadership was different from the way we might expect. The son of enslaved Africans brought to Italy, Benedict was freed (either at birth or at age eighteen) and found work as a shepherd or day laborer. He was invited to join a nearby group of hermits, and spent time as their leader. When the group was forced to align more closely with the Franciscans, Benedict became a friar and relocated to Palermo, where he served as the community’s cook.
His confreres had so much respect for his spirituality and temperament that they selected him as their superior even though he was not a priest. After one term, Benedict asked to return to the kitchen, where he ministered not only through food but through private counsel and healing for his community and other visitors. Benedict likely found the responsibilities of formal leadership to be soul-sucking, and knew his call was to lead by example and love. We can lead from his example, and not accept promotions and titles simply because they’re offered.
—from Brotherhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration,
by Melanie Rigney