23 Oct Saint Anthony-Mary Claret, Bishop, Confessor
Today is the feast day of Saint Antony-Mary Claret. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Anthony was born at Sallent, near Barcelona on 23 Dec 1807. He was the son of a small woollen manufacturer. He received an elementary education in his native village. He later wrote that, already at the age of five, my little heart trembled at the thought of hell, and I said to myself: Will those who fall into hell never stop suffering? No, never. Will they always suffer? Yes, always. This thought remained profoundly engraved in my mind, and I can say that it is ever present to me. That is what has animated me to work for the conversion of sinners. Why? Because I received [from God] so tender a heart that I cannot see a misfortune without assisting it. At the age of twelve he became a weaver.
The young Anthony practiced his father's trade, the weaving of fabrics, in which he excelled, until one day in church, “All the efforts I made not to voluntarily entertain thoughts of my trade were in vain; I was like a wheel turning with great speed, which cannot be stopped all at once… There were more machines running in my head than there are Saints on the altars.”
Meanwhile he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving; in addition he enlisted in the army as a volunteer. Recognizing a call to a higher life, he left Barcelona, entered the seminary at Vich in 1829, and was ordained on 13 June, 1835.
He received a benefice in his native parish, where he continued to study theology till 1839. He now wished to become a Carthusian; missionary work, however, appealing strongly to him he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but finding himself unsuited for that manner of life, he returned shortly to Spain and exercised his ministry at Valadrau and Gerona, attracting notice by his efforts on behalf of the poor. Recalled by his superiors to Vich, he was engaged in missionary work throughout Catalonia. In 1848 he was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. Returning to Vich he established the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (16 July, 1849), and founded the great religious library at Barcelona which bears his name, and which has issued several million cheap copies of the best ancient and modern Catholic works.
He received a royal decree nominating him Archbishop of Santiago, in Cuba. He was inclined to refuse it categorically and attempted to do so, but was not heard. He asked his five companions to pray for light for several days, then to advise him as to their reply — should he or not accept the nomination? They were unanimous in saying they believed he should accept, and he did.
For six years he dedicated himself to the organization and evangelization of his diocese. In Cuba he founded another new congregation, the Sisters of Mary Immaculate, dedicated to the instruction of the young. A School of Arts and Trades was opened there, and Latin America saw established its first common funds resources. Abuses vanished under his strict and persevering disciplinary measures. In Cuba an attempt was made on his life; he received a severe wound of the head which limited his preaching capacity for a time, and he was recalled to Spain, summoned by Queen Isabella II to replace her deceased confessor. He continued to travel to various places on the peninsula, preaching everywhere in Andalusia and elsewhere.
He obtained permission to resign his see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanopolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning; he lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years he was rector of the Escorial monastery where he established an excellent scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, a library, college, and schools of music and languages. His further plans were frustrated by the revolution of 1868. He continued his popular missions and distribution of good books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish Court.
When Isabella recognized the new Government of United Italy he left the Court and hastened to take his place by the side of the pope; at the latter's command, however, he returned to Madrid with faculties for absolving the queen from the censures she had incurred. In 1869 he went to Rome to prepare for the Vatican Council. Owing to failing health he withdrew to Prades in France, where he was still harassed by his calumnious Spanish enemies; shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide where he expired.
His zealous life and the wonders he wrought both before and after his death testified to his sanctity. Informations were begun in 1887 and he was declared Venerable by Leo XIII in 1899. His relics were transferred to the mission house at Vich in 1897, at which time his heart was found incorrupt, and his grave is constantly visited by many pilgrims. In addition to the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Heart of Mary (approved definitively by Pius IX, 11 Feb., 1870) which has now over 110 houses and 2000 members, with missions in W. Africa, and in Chocó (Columbia), Archbishop Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities of nuns.
By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language. His printed works number over 130, of which we may mention: “La escala de Jacob”; “Maximas de moral la más pura”; “Avisos”; “Catecismo explicado con láminas”; “La llave de oro”; “Selectos panegíricos” (11 vols.); “Sermones de misión” (3 vols.); “Misión de la mujer”; “Vida de Sta. Mónica”; “La Virgen del Pilar y los Francmasones”; and his “Autobiografia”, written by order of his spiritual director, but still unpublished.
Image: San Antonio María Claret, pintura del siglo XIX en la Sacristía de la Iglesia conventual de las Adoratrices del Santísimo Sacramento en Roma. (6)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff