Today is the feast day of Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria. Ora pro nobis.
Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria was born at Cremona, Italy, in 1502, of noble parents. His father died when very young, and his eighteen-year-old mother was left to bring up her only son in the love of God. His mother taught him compassion for the poor and suffering by making him her almoner.
He took a private vow of chastity before his twelfth birthday, and frequently was observed giving away his possessions, food, and clothing to the poor and needy.
His gifted mind allowed him to excel at scholastic endeavors, and he studied both philosophy and medicine, eventually practicing as a doctor for three years. During that time Anthony felt more and more called not to the healing of men’s bodies, but of their souls, and eventually pursued theological studies. Drawn to the priesthood, Anthony was ordained in 1528, at the age of 26, and served the community—particularly those in hospitals and in need—for two years.
He went to the populous city of Milan, of which he was a burgess, and entered the Confraternity of Eternal Wisdom. Among the members of this religious body he allied himself with two priests, Fathers Ferrari and Morigia, and told them of his idea of founding a congregation of secular clergy. Northern Italy at this period was in a deplorable condition. Frequent wars had devastated the country. The advent of the Lutheran soldiery and their contempt for everything Catholic had spread the contagion of bad example, while famine and plague followed in the track of the soldiers. These scourges combined to produce a state of misery that appealed most powerfully to Antonio and his associates. “The Congregation of the Regular Clerks of St. Paul”, St. Antonio’s work, which began with five members, was canonically sanctioned by Pope Clement VII in 1533. Their rule bound them to “regenerate and revive the love of the Divine worship, and a truly Christian way of life by frequent preaching and the faithful administration of the sacraments.”
The first superior of the new congregation was St. Antonio, who soon hecame known in Milan as an apostle. Besides giving conferences in churches to ecclesiastics and lay people, he went into the streets of the city with crucifix in hand, and produced great fruit in souls by preaching on the Passion and Death of Christ and the need of penance for sin. In 1536 he resigned the superiorship to Father Morigia and later went to Vicenza at the request of Cardinal Ridolfi.
In Milan, Saint Anthony founded three religious orders: one for men, known as the Clerics Regular of Saint Paul (the Barnabites); a branch of uncloistered nuns, the Angelic Sisters of Saint Paul; and a lay congregation for married people, the Laity of Saint Paul, sometimes referred to in North America as the Oblates of Saint Paul. The three foundations met regularly and engaged together in various forms of apostolic action. Their aim was the reform of the decadent society of their day, beginning with the clergy and religious.
The last two years of his life were spent in Milan. He sought there a more suitable church for his Congregation and accepted the offer of the church of S. Barnabas, but died before the affaire was arranged. From this church of St. Barnabas, the Congregation received the name by which its members are commonly known, i.e. Barnabites. Worn out by his voluntary penences, as well as by his untiring labours of charity, he was attacked by fever during one of his mission. Knowing that this illness was his last, he had himself brought to his native city, Cremona. There, in his mother’s house, he received the last sacraments and peacefully expired at the early age of thirty-seven. His body was found incorrupt 27 years after his death. He was declared Blessed by Pope Pius IX in 1849. On 15 May, 1897, he was solemnly canonized in St. Peter’s, Rome, by Pope Leo XIII. His writings are: “Detti notabili, raccolti da varii autori” (Venice, 1583); “Constitutiones ordinis clericorum regularium” (not published); “Sermones super praeceptis Decalogi” (not published).
Image: Pintura de San Antonio Maria Zaccaria (6)