Saint John Baptist Scalabrini
(1839 – 1905)
“The saints and blessed are the pearls of the Church”
John Baptist was born in Fino Mornasco, a village in the province of Como, in northern Italy, on July 8, 1839. The third of eight children, after primary school, he entered the seminary of the diocese of Como. After completing his studies, he was ordained a priest in 1863. He expressed a desire to enter and participate in the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIFM), but the Bishop advised him to become a professor, and so it was. Later he was rector of the minor seminary. In 1870 he was appointed parish priest of the Church of San Bartolomeo, a parish on the industrial outskirts of Como, where he became aware of the situation of the textile workers, the unemployed and the disabled. In addition, he wrote the Small Catechism for Children (1875). He was a scholar of the First Vatican Council. He himself prepared and gave 11 lectures about the content of this Council and was highly praised by Don Bosco. The Pope at the time knew him very well and for this reason, in 1876, when he was only 36 yeas old, Pio IX appointed him bishop of Piacenza, Italy.
As a Bishop, he chose Saint Charles Borromeo as his model and copied his pastoral dedication, making his spiritual journey with great radicalism. He insisted with the clergy on the necessity of spiritual exercises; renewed discipline and studies in the three seminaries, thus anticipating the reforms of Leo XIII and Pius X. He Always promoted concord, severely tested by the conflict between compromisers and intransigentes and between Rosminians and Thomists. He was in favor of conciliation between Church and State. He was na excelente pastor, he visited five times the 365 parishes of the diocese, of which 200 were located in the mountains. Access difficulties didn’t make him back down. These visits were “the most blessed of his mission as Bishop”.
Bishop Scalabrini convoked three diocesan synods, dedicated to reform, the christian witness in the Church, the importance of the sacrament of the Eucharist and the need to live in the unity of the Church. He institutionalized catechism teaching in the form of a true school and reformed its content. He started the first Italian Catechetic Magazine (1876, published the Catholic Catechism (1887) and in 1889 held the first National Catechetic Congress in Piacenza (the first of its kind in Church history).For all this, Pius IX defined him as “Apostle of the Catechism”. The Bishop of Piacenza tirelessly dedicated himself to the poor, especially during the famine of 1879-1880, when he also sold his chalice, a gift from the Pope, and his horses. Felt the need to found a Deaf-Mutes Insititute (1879) and the Association in favor of rice growers, in 1903, guaranteeing the religiou, social and union assistance of these seasonal workers. He also wrote a on social issues: Socialism and the Action of the Clergy.
The migratory situation at the end of the 19th century maked his life and his history. He estudied the causes, held numerou conferences to solicit the intervention of the Italian government, the civil Society, and worked for the reform of legislation.
In the field of social and religous assistance for migrants, he founded the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles (1887), of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo (1895) and a lay association, the Society of San Rafael (1889), so that act in ports as protectors and defenders of those who migrated. And he also recommended to the Pope the creation of a kind of secretariat, that is, a Central Comission of the Holy See for the care of all migrants. In his apostolic zeal he visited the missionaries in distant lands: in 1901 he went to the United States and in 1904 he was in Brazil visiting migrants and missionaries.
His extraordinary activity as shepherd of the flock entrusted to him was the result of a soul completely dedicated to God, which found its nourishment in the Eucharist; he knew how to accept the cross of each day and that made him beg: Fac me cruce inebriari! God educates us with the sufferings and crosses of life. Don John Baptist Scalabrini nurtured a filial devotion to Our Lady. His total dedication to God and the neighbor in need led him to take on the Saint Paul’s Project as his own: “To be everytthing to everyone”. He concluded his fruitful carreer in this land on june 1, 1905.
After a long canonical process, Pope John Paul II declared him Blessed on November 9, 1997. The joy of being able to invoke him as Blessed lasted for 25 years. And during the “Scalabrinian Year” (09/11/2021-09/11/2022), the Scalabrinian Family intensified the prayer of intercession to the Blessed founder and, finally, the grace of canonization became a reality in october 9, 2022. The celebration of seeing the founder’s sanctity recognized filled the hearts of the ‘sons and daughters’ that follow his charism with holy joy.
The Scalabrinian Charism that summons the devout person to live as Saint John Baptist Scalabrini lived, na intense life of union with God through prayer (vertical dimension of the charism), and to a fruitful service to migrants and refugees who most need the attention of his missionaries (horizontal dimension of the charism). Now we can invoke his intercession by praying:
Saint John Baptist Scalabrini, pray for us!
Sr. Leocadia Mezzomo