SS Bernardino Realino, John Francis Regis, Francis Jerome; Blesseds Julian Maunoir, Anthony Baldinucci, Priests, SJ
The five priests commemorated today have in common that they spent most of their priestly lives going from place to place preaching parish missions to countless faithful. Three were Italians and two were French.
Bernardino Realino was born near Modena, Italy, on 1 December 1530. At university he began studying philosophy and medicine but switched to law which he thought would open greater chances for advancement and wealth. Family connections helped him become mayor of Felizzano at age 26, which also involved being a judge. He was regarded as honest by the people and was reappointed to the post. Other posts followed until he was made mayor of Castelleone.
Despite his successful career, Realino began losing interest in worldly advancement and began giving away his money to the poor. In August 1564 he met two Jesuit novices and learned that the Jesuits had only recently come to Naples. Further encounters strengthened his vocation and then he had a vision of Our Lady, who told him to enter the Jesuits. He was accepted as a novice on 13 October 1564 at the age of 34.
Realino wanted to be a brother but was told he should be ordained a priest. Only seven months after taking first vows he was ordained on 24 May 1567. It was a tribute to his maturity that the Jesuit General (St) Francis Borgia made him master of novices in Naples, although still studying theology. He also began the pastoral work which would occupy the rest of his active life. He preached and taught catechism, visited slaves on the galleys in Naples harbour, and heard confessions.
In 1574 he was sent to Lecce in Apulia, where there was a plan to set up a Jesuit house and college. The local response was enthusiastic and Realino began the pastoral work which would last for 42 years: preaching, hearing confessions, counselling clergy, visiting the sick and those in prison and giving conferences to men and women religious. Several times he was instructed to move to Naples or Rome but each every time he was about to leave the city, he was prevented by some unexpected occurrence – a sudden fever or bad weather. Eventually his superiors allowed him to stay on in Lecce doing his pastoral work. In 1583 he set up a sodality for diocesan priests to nurture their spiritual life and improve their competence to hear confessions. The people showed their love for their pastor, especially during his final illness in June 1616. Crowds gathered outside the Jesuit residence and only men were allowed in to kiss his hand and devoutly touch religious objects to his body. On his death-bed, the city mayor and magistrates formally requested Fr Realino to be Lecce’s defender and protector in heaven. Unable to speak, he nodded. The distinguished lawyer who spent most of his life as a parish priest in relative seclusion died at the age of 86 with his eyes fixed on a crucifix. His last words were: “O Madonna, mia santissima” (O my Lady, my most holy one).
Jean François Regis was born on 31 January 1597. His father Jean, a wealthy merchant, had been recently been given a title in recognition of the prominent part he had taken in the Wars of the League. His mother, Marguerite de Cugunhan, was born in the landed gentry of Languedoc. John Francis entered the Jesuit novitiate of Toulouse on 8 December 1616 and was ordained a priest at the age of 31. He spent much of his life preaching to the poor in Huguenot-controlled areas of south-eastern France. His preaching style was said to have been simple and direct and appealed to uneducated rural people. He established several shelters for prostitutes and helped young women earn an income by becoming lacemakers. He is now the patron saint of lacemakers. He also worked with plague victims in Toulouse. He also set up Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament, which organized charity collections of money and food from the wealthy. He died of pneumonia on 30 December 1640, at the relatively early age of 43 during a mission to La Louvesc, Dauphine. He was canonised on 16 June 1737.
Francis Jerome, the first of 11 children in the De Geronimo family, was born in 1642 in Grottaglie, near Taranto, in southern Italy. Around the age of ten he went to live with the Theatine Fathers where he served as sacristan in their church in return for his room and board. Francis often accompanied the Theatines as a catechist when they conducted missions in the neighbouring towns. At 16 when he expressed a desire to be a priest, the Theatines recommended he join the Jesuit school in Taranto for his classical and philosophical studies. At the age of 23 he went to study civil and church law at the Jesuit college in Naples in 1665. He was ordained priest at the age of 24 in 1666. As he had known the Jesuits for ten years, Jerome in 1670, at the age of 28, entered the Jesuit novitiate. After one year, he was sent to the diocese of Lecce to assist a Jesuit experienced in giving retreats and missions and stayed there for the next three years. After passing his final theology exam in 1676, he was assigned to his “Naples mission” and began the fruitful apostolate which would last for the next forty years until his death.
Jerome worked with the workers’ sodality which met in the chapel beneath the Gesu church in Naples. It was from this group that he chose people to help him in his apostolate in the city. Every Sunday and on the evenings of holy days he preached in the city’s public squares or busy streets where crowds could easily gather. In addition, he visited the slaves and criminals when a fleet of galleys would arrive at Naples Bay. He would try to console them and relieve their suffering in whatever way he could, including arranging for them to leave the ship and attend Mass in a nearby church. As he had known the Jesuits for ten years, Jerome in 1670, at the age of 28, entered the Jesuit novitiate. After one year, he was sent to the diocese of Lecce to assist a Jesuit experienced in giving retreats and missions and stayed there for the next three years. After passing his final theology exam in 1676, he was assigned to his “Naples mission” and began the fruitful apostolate which would last for the next forty years until his death.
Jerome worked with the workers’ sodality which met in the chapel beneath the Gesu church in Naples. It was from this group that he chose people to help him in his apostolate in the city. Every Sunday and on the evenings of holy days he preached in the city’s public squares or busy streets where crowds could easily gather. In addition, he visited the slaves and criminals when a fleet of galleys would arrive at Naples Bay. He would try to console them and relieve their suffering in whatever way he could, including arranging for them to leave the ship and attend Mass in a nearby church.
His success in these ministries aroused the jealousy of some church people who did not think that someone who worked with the lowest strata in society was suitable to give retreats to religious. These complaints led to severe restrictions on his ministry. However, on learning about the real situation, the archbishop re-instated him. Later his own Jesuit superior complained that Jerome’s activities were taking him away from his Jesuit community and that he would have to ask permission each time, something rarely granted. Jerome refused to be discouraged and saw them as challenges to spiritual growth. Eventually, his provincial superior regretted the decision and Jerome was able to return to his ministry.
From 1702 on, Jerome was asked to extend his mission beyond Naples. He spent six months in Naples and the rest of the year as a travelling missioner where his simple style of preaching was much appreciated. In 1716 Jerome developed pleurisy and died on 11 May with his Jesuit brothers at his bedside. He was 74 years of age and had been a Jesuit for 46 years. He was beatified on 2 May 1806 and canonised on 26 May 1839.
Julien (Julian) Maunoir (Juluan Maner, in Breton), was born in France in 1606. As a young Jesuit he was a classmate of Saints Isaac Jogues and Gabriel Lallemant, two of the North American martyrs. Julien aspired to join them as a Jesuit missionary to the native peoples of Canada but his superiors had another mission field in mind for him.
Having learned the Breton language while teaching as a Jesuit scholastic in Quimper, he was found to be uniquely suited for the difficult task of evangelizing the impoverished people of Brittany, a Celtic region in the northwest of France. Through his mastery of the language, he recognised that God was calling him to serve the the Breton people.
His missions bore great fruit, sometimes attracting 10,000 to 30,000 people. On these occasions he usually asked the parish priests, whose parishioners were attending the mission, to help in hearing confessions, catechising, and distributing the Eucharist. After seeing the wonderful results of these missions, seven priests asked their bishop to allow them to join Julien in his apostolate. He immediately began training these assistants, who came to be called Breton Missionaries. He started in 1651 with seven, but by 1665 there were 300, and by 1683 almost 1,000. Julien would work as a missioner among the Breton people for 43 years. He died in Plévin, Brittany on 28 January 1683 and, at the insistence of his people, was buried in parish church grounds rather than with his fellow-Jesuits. He is known as the “Apostle of Brittany” and the region still remains one of the most Catholic in France. He is also remembered as a noted orthographer of the Breton language.
Antonio Baldinucci was born in Florence, Italy, on 19 June 1665. He entered the Jesuits on 21 April 1681, at the age of 16, and was ordained priest on 28 October 1695. On the conclusion of his formation he began his mission career at Monte Santo. He worked mainly in the towns of Frascati and Viterbo, where, with some exceptions, he would spend the rest of his life.His methods of preaching were regarded as highly dramatic and even startling. Elaborate processions would proceed from various parts of the countryside to the place where the mission was to be given. Many of the people wore crowns of thorns and scourged themselves as they walked. When Baldinucci preached he would often carry a cross and be loaded down with heavy chains. He often walked up and down among the people scourging himself to blood. The exercises were usually brought to a close by the burning in the public square of cards, dice (instruments of gambling) and musical instruments (lascivious music and dancing), etc. He always brought with him a miraculous picture of the Virgin which was borne before him as he proceeded from place to place. The promotion of devotion to the Blessed Virgin was one of his special concerns.
To keep order among the huge crowds who flocked to hear him, he employed a number of laymen whom he called deputati. They were not infrequently men who lived immoral lives and whom he deliberately chose with a view to their conversion. His work among the clergy was also marked with success. Though so much of his time was taken up with preaching, he found time to write two sets of Lenten Sermons, to gather materials for many more, compose hundreds of talks, and carry on a huge correspondence.
The effect of his evangelizing upon the people among whom he worked could only be described as extraordinary. At times, when approaching a city, he would find crowds of people lined on the city walls awaiting his arrival. His singular methods were clearly designed for the temperament of the people of those places and times. After 20 years of incessant labour, he died in Pofi on 7 November 1717 at the age of fifty-two. Although he was in the eyes of the people already a saint and although the official process of his sanctity began in 1753, about 35 years after his death, the decree of his beatification was only issued on 23 April 1893.
These three saints and two blesseds are remembered for their untiring efforts in preaching the word of God according to the mind of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.