Saint Boniface was born Wilfrid to a powerful family in an Anglo-Saxon Kingdom in modern England, in 654 AD. Little is known of his early life, but as a young man he was sent to a monastery in Exeter. The young Wilfrid wanted to dedicate his life to Christ and spread the Word of God to those who still followed the pagan religions.
Wilfrid was a brilliant student and gifted linguist. When he took his monastic vows, he changed his name to Boniface. The young man became renowned for his piety and his learning. When the Abbot of his monastery fell ill and died, the monks pleaded with the young man to become their Abbot. However, Boniface refused.
Boniface believed that he had a vocation as a missionary and to bring the word of Christ to the many pagans around Europe. At this time, many English clerics were active in Northern Europe, bringing the Good News to the many pagans who still lived in ignorance and darkness. St. Boniface joined a group of missionaries who were intent on saving the souls of the Frisians, a powerful tribe who lived in the modern day nation of the Netherlands.
After working as a missionary among the Frisians and winning many souls for Christ, Boniface travelled to Rome. Here he reported on the state of the Frisian missions, and also informed the Pope of the many pagan practices and errors that were still common among many Christians. The Pope was impressed by the young man, and appointed him Bishop of the Germans. St. Boniface was entrusted by the Pope with bringing the Word of God to the pagan tribes in Germany. He was also ordered to create a new German Church.
St. Boniface and some followers spread through Germany converting many to the faith. He was greatly aided in his work by the support of Charles Martel, the great Frankish ruler. St. Boniface made remarkable progress in a relatively short space of time. This was in part due to the style of his evangelizing. St. Boniface sought to convert the Germans by demonstrating that their pagan gods were only superstitions, and held no real power.
Boniface, in his attempt to destroy pagan superstitions, bravely destroyed many pagan shrines and altars. On a day previously announced, in the presence of a crowd of pagans, he cut down with an axe a sacred tree. The pagans waited for the gods to strike Boniface dead. When they saw the missionary was unhurt, the pagans realized that their gods were powerless and false. There and then, the missionary converted many hundreds of pagans. From the felled sacred tree, a wooden chapel was built. Boniface performed many miracles during his missions.
St. Boniface, despite his great success in Germany, was very concerned that the mission in Frisia was not going well. He decided to return to Frisia and win the people there for Christ. One day in 714 AD, while traveling, he and his group were attacked by pagan bandits. St. Boniface was guarded by an armed guard; however, he forbade them to use their arms:
“Cease fighting. Lay down your arms, for we are told in Scripture not to render evil for good but to overcome evil by good.”
The bandits attacked and killed the saint and his companions.
St. Boniface believed that every Christian should seek to spread the faith in any way they can:
"Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season."