Research indicates that the title Saint Denis has been given to two people—one named Denis (or Denys or Dennis) and the other named Dionysius. The identities of these two people have merged even though they did not live at the same time.
Little is known about the saint named Denis. According to Gregory of Tours, the Italian-born Bishop Denis was sent with other bishops to preach the Good News of Jesus to the people of Gaul. Denis preached in a place that today is Paris. He also organized the Church there. During a persecution, he was beheaded. The people of France took him as their patron. An abbey was built over his burial place, and French kings were later buried there.
Even less is known about the life of Saint Dionysius, but the story of his conversion is in Acts of the Apostles 17:16–34. One day at a large meeting of Greek thinkers, Saint Paul preached about the “unknown god” who was the true God. During his preaching, Paul was ridiculed and sadly walked out. A few courageous Greeks, who had listened and to whom God had given the gift of faith, followed him. Dionysius was one of them. In the ninth century, Dionysius became identified with Denis and caused a revival of devotion to Denis. Modern scholars favor Denis of Paris as the saint for this feast day. Both men publicly declared loyalty to Christ in the face of ridicule and death.
Read Acts 17:16–34 to the students. Ask them to write a paragraph outlining Paul’s argument. Then explain how Paul’s example might have convinced Dionysius. Have the students compose a letter from Dionysius, explaining his thoughts during Paul’s preaching.
Direct the students to find out how the French people express their faith through traditions, art, literature, architecture, and devotions to certain saints.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: The Last Communion and Martyrdom os Saint Denis by Henri Bellechose, 1416. Public Domain via Wikimedia.