Today is the feast day of Saint John Baptist de Rossi, Ora pro nobis.
Giovanni Battista de Rossi was born in the Piedmontese village of Voltaggio, in the diocese of Genoa, and was one of four children. His parents, Charles de Rossi and Frances Anfossi, were not rich in earthly goods, but had solid piety and the esteem of their fellow-citizens.
A nobleman and his wife vacationing in Voltaggio, and impressed with the ten-year-old John Baptist, obtained permission from his parents to take him to live with them and be trained in their house in Genoa.
After three years, hearing of his virtues, John’s cousin, Lorenzo de Rossi, Canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, invited him to join him in Rome. Thus John Baptist entered the Roman Jesuit College at thirteen. Despite episodes of epilepsy, brought on by excessive zeal in imposing harsh penances upon himself, he was granted a dispensation and was ordained at the age of twenty-three.
As a member of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin and of the Ristretto of the Twelve Apostles established at the college, he led the members in the meetings and pious exercises, in visits to the sick in the hospitals and in other works of mercy, and merited even then the name of apostle.
Now, as a priest there was much more he could offer suffering souls. He particularly loved the Hospice of St. Galla, a night shelter for paupers. There he labored for forty years. He also worked at the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini and extended his assistance to other poor such as cattlemen who came to market at the Roman forum. He had a great pity for homeless women and girls and from the little that he made in Mass stipends, and the 400 scudi sent to him by the Pope, he rented a refuge for them.
In 1735 he became titular canon at St. Mary in Cosmedin, and, on the death of Lorenzo de Rossi two years later, obedience forced him to accept the canonry. The house belonging to it, however, he would not use, but employed the rent for good purposes.
For a number of years John was afraid, on account of his sickness, to enter the confessional, and it was his custom to send to other priests the sinners whom he had brought to repentance by his instructions and sermons. In 1738 a dangerous sickness befell him, and to regain his health he went to Cività Castellana, a day’s journey from Rome. The bishop of the place induced him to hear confessions, and after reviewing his moral theology he received the unusual faculty of hearing confessions in any of the churches of Rome. He showed extraordinary zeal in the exercise of this privilege, and spent many hours every day in hearing the confessions of the illiterate and the poor whom he sought in the hospitals and in their homes. He preached to such five and six times a day in churches, chapels, convents, hospitals, barracks, and prison cells, so that he became the apostle of the abandoned, a second Philip Neri, a hunter of souls.
In 1763 St. John Baptist’s health began to fail, and he was obliged to take up residence in the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini. He expired after a couple of strokes on May 23, 1764 at sixty- six years of age. He died so poor that the hospital prepared to pay for his burial. But the Church took over and he was given a triumphant funeral with numerous clergy and religious, and the Papal choir, in attendance.
God honoured his servant by miracles, and only seventeen years after his death the process of beatification was begun, but the troubled state of Europe during the succeeding years prevented progress in the cause until it was resumed by Pius IX, who on 13 May, 1860, solemnly pronounced his beatification. As new signs still distinguished him, Leo XIII, on 8 December, 1881, enrolled him among the saints.
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff
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