Bishop of Ephesus and Martyr
Onesimus was a Phrygian by birth and a slave to Philemon, a person of influence who had been converted to the faith by Saint Paul. Having offended his master and been obliged to flee, he sought out Saint Paul, then a prisoner for the faith at Rome. The Apostle baptized him and sent him back to his master, with the beautiful letter we know as the Epistle to Philemon, asking for the liberty of Onesimus, that he might become one of his own assistants.
Philemon pardoned him and set him at liberty, and Onesimus returned to his spiritual father, as Saint Paul had requested; thereafter he faithfully served the Apostle. We know that Saint Paul made him, with Tychicus, the bearer of his Epistle to the Colossians. (Col. 4:7-9)
Later, as Saint Jerome and other Fathers testify, he became an ardent preacher of the Gospel and a bishop. It is he who succeeded Saint Timothy as bishop of Ephesus. He was cruelly tortured in Rome, for eighteen days, by a governor of that city, infuriated by his preaching on the merit of celibacy. His legs and thighs were broken with bludgeons, and he was then stoned to death. His martyrdom occurred under Domitian in the year 95.
Reflection. With what excess of goodness does God communicate Himself to souls who open themselves to Him! With what caresses does He often visit them! With what a profusion of graces does He enrich and strengthen them! In our trials and temptations let us then offer our hearts to God, remembering, as Saint Paul says, To those who love God, all things work together unto good. (Rom. 8:28)
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler's Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).