Showing posts with label Pope Leo XIII. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pope Leo XIII. Show all posts

6 April 2017

Saint Gerard Majella

Patron saint of expectant mothers

St Gerard Majella
Gerardo Maiella, a poor tailor from what is now Basilicata who became the Catholic Church’s patron saint of expectant mothers, was born on this day in 1726.

Maiella, from the hillside town of Muro Lucano near Potenza, then part of the Kingdom of Naples, was credited with a number of miracles. The one that led him to be associated with childbirth relates to a handkerchief he dropped when visiting a family as a lay brother of the Congregation of the Redeemer, having become famous locally on account of his supposedly mystical powers.

According to the story, one of the daughters of the family picked up the handkerchief and ran out of the house to return it to him, at which he told her to keep it, suggesting  she ‘might need it some day’.  Years later, as a pregnant young woman fearing for her life in a painfully difficult labour, she remembered his words and asked for the handkerchief to be placed on her. Immediately, the pain ceased and she gave birth to a healthy child.

At the time, only about one in three pregnancies ended in a live birth and Maiella was hailed for his miraculous intervention. Word spread of the story and Italian mothers adopted him as their patron.

He was beatified in January 1893 by Pope Leo XIII and canonised as Saint Gerard Majella in December 1904 by Pope Pius X.

A statue of the Saint in Wittem, in the Netherlands
A statue of the Saint in Wittem, in the Netherlands
The youngest of five children, Gerardo was the son of a tailor who died when he was 12, leaving the family in poverty.

His mother sent him to her brother’s workshop so that he could learn his father’s trade. Despite being bullied by the foreman of the workshop, Gerardo saw out his four-year apprenticeship and after a period working as a servant to the Bishop of Lacedonia he set about making a living from his new skills, first as an employee of other tailors, then in his own shop. He reputedly gave his mother a third of what he earned to keep him and his three surviving sisters, distributing the rest among the poor people of his town and making offerings for the souls in purgatory.

Rejected twice by the Capuchin Order on the grounds of his frail appearance and supposedly poor health, in 1749 he joined the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer - also known as Redemptorists – an order founded in 1732 by St Alphonsus Liguori at Scala, near Naples, with a mission to preach the word of God to the poor.

St Gerard's Church at Lostock Hall, near Preston in Lancashire
St Gerard's Church at Lostock Hall,
near Preston in Lancashire
Maiella took the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. He remained the friend of the poor and worked on behalf of the order in many different jobs. He was said to have the gift of reading consciences and was permitted to counsel communities of religious women.

His intercession is now sought not only for expectant mothers but unborn children, women in childbirth, mothers generally, good confessions and, somewhat incongruously, falsely accused people.

This stemmed from an incident when Maiella was accused maliciously of breaking his vows by having a relationship with a young woman. When confronted by Alphonsus Liguori about the accusation, Gerardo remained silent. The girl later admitted the accusation was a lie and cleared his name.

Among other miracles credited to him were restoring life to a boy who had seemingly fallen to his death from a cliff, blessing the small amount of wheat possessed by an impoverished family so that it lasted for a year, multiplying the loaves of bread he was distributing to the poor and even walking across the surface of a stormy sea to rescue a stricken fishing boat.

Suffering from tuberculosis, Gerardo died in the chapel of Santa Maria Materdomini in Caposele, some 35km (22 miles) from Muro Lucano, where he was serving the Redemptorist order as clerk of works for a building project, on October 16, 1755, the date which is commemorated each year as St Gerard’s feast day.

The Basilica di San Gerardo developed from the chapel in Materdomini where Maiella died
The Basilica di San Gerardo developed from the chapel
in Materdomini where Maiella died 
There are churches in many parts of the world dedicated to St Gerard, the first of which was built in 1908 in Wellington, New Zealand.

In England, the town of Preston and the city of Bristol have churches named in his honour, as does Bellshill in the Scottish county of Lanarkshire.

There are Catholic parishes dedicated to St Gerard Majella in the Borough of Queens in New York and in the Del Rey section of Los Angeles, while St Gerard's Chapel in St Lucy's Church in Newark, New Jersey has since 1977 been a national shrine.

Muro Lucano perches on a hillside near Potenza
Muro Lucano perches on a hillside near Potenza
Travel tip:

Muro Lucano is situated about 50km (31 miles) north-west of Potenza.  With a population of around 5,500 it is built on a slope overlooking the Muro ravine, its houses built on a series of terraces. The area has significance in history as the site of a battle between Hannibal and Marcellus in the second Punic War, while its castle is said to have witnessed the murder of Queen Joan of Naples on the orders of her adopted son, Charles III of Naples.

Travel tip:

The village of Materdomini, a frazione of Caposele, grew from a hamlet after the chapel of Santa Maria Materdomini was developed into the Basilica of Santa Gerardo Maiella and became a centre for pilgrimage dedicated to the worship of St Gerard.

More reading:

How the festival of San Gennaro is celebrated across the world

The missionary saint from Limone sul Garda

Why St Thomas Aquinas is so important among saints

Also on this day:

(Picture credits: Saint Gerard by Nashastudiya; Wittem statue by Kris Roderburg; Mura Lucano by Pitichinaccio; San Gerardo Basilica by Gerrusson; all via Wikimedia Commons)


29 November 2016

Agostino Richelmy – Cardinal

Former soldier sent priests to say mass for troops

A photograph of Richelmy  as Archbishop of Turin
A photograph of Richelmy
as Archbishop of Turin
Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, who fought for Garibaldi as a teenager, was born on this day in 1850 in Turin.

He joined the Garibaldi Volunteers during the war of 1866 and is said to have worn his red shirt under his cassock for years afterwards.

When Italy entered the First World War in 1915, Richelmy organised priests to serve as army chaplains in the mountains of Trentino, where they had to carve altars out of snow and say mass in temperatures below zero.

Richelmy was born into an ancient, noble family and his father, Prospero was a hydraulic engineer.

He was educated at the Liceo Classico Cavour and the Archiepiscopal Seminary in Turin and gained a doctorate in theology in 1876. He became a professor of moral and dogmatic theology and then a professor in the faculty of canon law.

Richelmy was elected Bishop of Ivrea in 1886 and named as the Archbishop of Turin in 1897.

He was created cardinal priest of Sant’Eusebio in Rome in 1899 and was then transferred to Santa Maria in Via in Rome in 1911.

The marble sarcophagus in the Santuario della Consolata in Turin, containing the remains of Cardinal Richelmy
The marble sarcophagus in the Santuario della Consolata
in Turin, containing the remains of Cardinal Richelmy
Richelmy supported all the social directives of Pope Leo XIII, who worked to encourage understanding between the Church and the modern world during his papacy.

The Cardinal then participated in the papal conclaves of 1903, 1914 and 1922.

During the First World War Richelmy dedicated himself to organising assistance for the people most affected, after more than 300,000 Italian soldiers had been killed in the early battles.

He died after surgical intervention for kidney stones in Turin in 1923 at the age of 72 and his funeral was attended by the Duke of Aosta, representing the King of Italy.

The Cardinal was initially buried at the chapel for the clergy in the cemetery in Turin but his remains were transferred in 1927 to the Santuario della Consolata, where they now lie in a pink marble sarcophagus.

Travel tip:

The Santuario della Consolata in Turin, the final resting place of Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, is a minor basilica in the centre of the city known to locals as La Consia. A church has stood on the site from Roman times and by the 12th century it was claimed that a blind pilgrim had his sight restored by an icon of the Virgin in the church. Construction of the present church building was commissioned in 1678 to be designed by architect Guarino Guarini and it now serves as a burial place for several saints connected with Turin. A procession of the icon of the Virgin passes through the streets of Turin every year on 20 June.

Santa Maria in Via, Richelmy's second church in Rome
Santa Maria in Via, Richelmy's
second church in Rome
Travel tip:

Santa Maria in Via, Cardinal Richelmy’s second church in Rome, has existed since the ninth century. The words ‘in Via’ mean ‘on the way’ and are a reference to nearby Via Flaminia. It is claimed that in the 13th century a well in the stables of a Cardinal’s house overflowed and a picture of Our Lady was seen floating on the waters. Pope Alexander IV declared it a miracle and ordered the construction of a chapel on the site. The chapel is the first on the right in the current church and still houses the well of the miracle. The current church building was erected in 1491 and now serves as the national church in Rome for the Ecuadorian community.

More reading:

How the ideology of Giuseppe Mazzini inspired the battle for Italian unification

Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour - Italy's first prime minister

How the capture of Rome completed Italian unification

Also on this day:

1797: The birth of Gaetano Donizetti

(Picture credit: Richelmy sarcophagus by Geobia via Wikimedia Commons)


22 July 2016

St Lawrence of Brindisi

Talented linguist who converted Jews and Protestants

A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
A statue of St Lawrence at the Convent of
Capuchin Friars in Rovigo, in the Veneto
St Lawrence of Brindisi was born Giulio Cesare Russo on this day in 1559 in Brindisi.

He became a Roman Catholic priest and joined the Capuchin friars, taking the name Brother Lawrence.

He was made St Lawrence in 1881, remembered for his bravery leading an army against the Turks armed only with a crucifix.

Lawrence was born into a family of Venetian merchants and was sent to Venice to be educated. He joined the Capuchin order in Verona when he was 16 and received tuition in theology, philosophy and foreign languages from the University of Padua. He progressed to be able to speak many European and Semitic languages fluently.

Pope Clement VIII gave Lawrence the task of converting Jews living in Rome to Catholicism because of his excellent command of Hebrew. Lawrence also established Capuchin monasteries in Germany and Austria and brought many Protestants back to Catholicism.

The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where Lawrence acquired his command of languages
The Palazzo Bo at the University of Padua, where
Lawrence acquired his command of languages
While serving as the imperial chaplain to the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolph II, he led an army against the Ottoman Turks threatening to conquer Hungary armed only with a crucifix and many people attributed the subsequent victory to his leadership.

He was later sent to be papal nuncio to Bavaria and then to Spain. Lawrence eventually retired to live in a monastery in Spain but was recalled to be a special envoy to the King of Spain in order to intercede on behalf of the rulers of the Kingdom of Naples.

His mission, made in the sweltering summer heat, exhausted him and he died on 22 July 1619, his 60th birthday, in Lisbon.

Lawrence was beatified in 1783 by Pope Pius VI and canonised in 1881 by Pope Leo XIII. He was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope John XXIII in 1959.

The feast day of St Lawrence is celebrated on 21 July each year.

A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
A feature in Brindisi, birthplace of St Lawrence, are the
remains of two columns marking the end of the Appian Way
Travel tip:

Brindisi, the birthplace of St Lawrence, is a coastal city in Apulia in southern Italy. Its port is still important today for trade with Greece and the Middle East. The city has two Roman columns, thought to have once marked the end of the Appian Way from Rome, which were used as a port reference for sailors out at sea centuries ago.

Travel tip:

The University of Padua, where St Lawrence became proficient in languages, was established in 1222 and is one of the oldest in the world, second in Italy only to the University of Bologna. The main university building, Palazzo del Bò in Via VIII Febbraio in the centre of Padua, used to house the medical faculty. You can take a guided tour to see the pulpit used by Galileo when he taught at the university between 1592 and 1610.

(Photo of St Lawrence statue in Brindisi by Threecharlie CC BY-SA 3.0)