Saint Alphonsus Mary de’ Liguori, Bishop and Doctor

Alphonsus Liguori was born in Marianella, in the Kingdom of Naples, Italy. He was the eldest of seven and came from a noble family. He went to law school at the age of sixteen and became a distinguished lawyer. At the age of 27, after losing an important case through an error of interpretation, he suffered a serious depression. Later, he decided to give up his career because of the corruption in the courts of Naples.

In 1723, after a long period of discernment, he gave up his legal career and, against his father’s wishes, began his training for the priesthood. He was ordained on 21 December, 1726, at the age of 30. He spent his first years as a priest with the homeless and marginalized youth of Naples. He founded “Evening Chapels” which were run by the young. They became centres of prayer, community, the Word of God, social activities and education. At the time of his death, there were 72 of these chapels with over 10,000 active participants.

In 1729, Alphonsus left his family home began his missionary work in the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples.

On 9 November, 1732, Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (in Latin: Congregatio Sanctissimi Redemptoris – C.Ss.R). The congregation’s goal was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places. They also fought Jansenism, a very negative form of spirituality which created an exaggerated sense of sin, and which deterred people from receiving the Eucharist. A companion order of contemplative nuns, Redemptoristines, was founded at the same time by Sister Maria Celeste.

Alphonsus was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Sant’ Agata dei Goti in 1762. He tried to turn down the appointment because he felt too old and too sick to care properly for the diocese. During this period he wrote sermons, books, and articles to encourage the devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1775, he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani, Italy – where he died on 1 August, 1787.

He was canonized in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871 by Pope Pius IX. He was named Patron of Confessors and Moralists by Pope Pius XII in 1950, who also wrote an encyclical Haurietis Aquas about him.

Alphonsus’ greatest contribution was through his book, Moral Theology. This work was the fruit of his pastoral experience, his ability to respond to the practical questions posed by the faithful and from his contact with their everyday problems. He strongly opposed the sterile legalistic approach to morality and rejected the strict rigorism of the time, coming from theological elites quite out of touch with people’s ordinary lives. His system of moral theology was noted for its balance, avoiding both laxism and excessive rigor.

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