By CAROLE BRESLIN
At the tip of the South American continent lies one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with its towering Andes Mountains, lush valleys, beautiful plateaus, and colorful glaciers. (Los Glaciares National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Andes Mountains.)
Argentina, the eighth largest country in the world, established its nationhood in the period of Spanish colonization during the 16th century.
The country received its independence in 1810, but this joyful event was soon overshadowed by civil war which lasted until 1861. When peace returned, Buenos Aires was set up as the capital of Argentina and magnificent buildings were erected to house the government offices.
During this time, an itinerant preacher, Fr. Brochero, worked in the highlands to bring not only the sacraments, but also the world to the people there.
José, the fourth of ten children, was born on March 16, 1840 in Santa Rosa de Rio Primero, Cordoba, Argentina. Ignacio Brochero, his father, and Petrona Davila, his mother, had only two daughters, both of whom became nuns. A deeply religious family, the parents took José to the church the day he was born to be baptized.
José must have received some education in his youth while he helped his father on the farm, because when he was almost 16 years old, he entered the seminary. He entered the College Seminary of Our Lady of Loreto on March 5, 1856 and began preparing for the priesthood.
While studying at the seminary, he met a fellow student, Miguel Angel Juarez Celman, who would later become president of Argentina (1886-1890).
After six years of formation and study, José received the tonsure on the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, July 16, 1862. Almost four years later, on May 26, 1866, José became a subdeacon and then he was ordained a deacon on September 21, 1866.
Little is known about his prayer life or his other apostolic activities until after he was ordained a priest. On August 26, 1866, he joined the Third Order of Dominicans, joining the ranks of Dominican saints such as St. Catherine of Siena, Sr. Rose of Lima, and Blessed Pier-Giorgio Frassati.
These many milestones in his journey during 1866 were crowned on November 4, when he was ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Cordoba by Bishop José Vicente Ramirez de Arellano. Five weeks later, Fr. José del Rosario Brochero celebrated his first Mass on December 10.
He began his priestly service by teaching at the seminary as he continued his studies in philosophy. On November 12, 1869, he received his master of philosophy degree.
Fr. Brochero was dedicated to the spiritual life which he hoped to bring to the laity. He knew by deepening their spiritual life that he would also deepen their lives as Christians. In 1975, to facilitate this work, he established the House of Exercises based on Ignatian spirituality.
He also built several schools for young girls, beginning in 1880. Before he was assigned to the rural areas, he worked as a pastoral assistant at the cathedral in Cordoba, becoming well known for his attention to the poor and sick of that city. During the cholera epidemic that devastated the city, he tended the sick for many hours every day.
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in Argentina, Fr. Brochero began his most important work in the highlands, being assigned to St. Albert Parish. This parish, at an altitude of more than 6,500 feet, held about 10,000 people. When he arrived, he was greatly saddened by the deplorable state of their lives. Not only did they lack the basic necessities of life but their moral condition also needed much improvement.
Of course, his first objective was to attend to their spirituality and morality. He began to take pilgrims to Cordoba so that they could do the spiritual exercises. This was no easy task since it took three days by mule to get to Cordoba from their remote homes. Frequently, the travelers were delayed by snowstorms. The determined priest persevered and slowly the lives of the people began to change.
Riding on a mule with his ever-present cigar in mouth, he continued to serve them after their trip to the city. Dressed in a poncho and sombrero to help weather the cold winters and rainy seasons, he soon became known as the Gaucho Priest or Cowboy Priest. The people were spread widely over this area and rarely could receive the sacraments unless he brought them with his Mass kit, his prayer book, and an image of our Lady.
He was well known for his motto: “Woe if the Devil is going to rob a soul from me.”
Fr. Brochero also labored to improve the economic conditions of the highland people. He planned a rail line that would open travel for his people. This line eventually joined the Villa Dolores in the Valley of Traslasierra to Soto — a distance of over 200 miles. He also supervised the building of over 125 miles of roads and received permission from the government to build many post offices and telegraph lines that connected the isolated community to the outside world.
Although some may insist that it may have been more of a danger than an improvement, Fr. Brochero implemented these initiatives so that the farmers could take their goods to market and thereby provide for their families. It also served to make access to his parishioners easier for him and for them to come to receive the sacraments.
As he continued to serve the people, he befriended a leper who had been ostracized. His frequent visits and close contact with the man resulted in Fr. Brochero contracting the debilitating disease. He lost his hearing, his eyesight, and finally his ability to serve the people. For the last three years of his life, he returned to his home in Cordoba where his two sisters, now nuns, cared for him until he died on January 26, 1914. His last words were, “Now I have everything ready for the journey.”
The local newspaper wrote of this holy priest, “It is known that Fr. Brochero contracted the sickness that took him to his tomb, because he visited at length and embraced the abandoned leper of the area.”
Under Pope Paul VI, Fr. Brochero’s cause for canonization was opened. On March 17, 1967 he became a servant of God and he was declared venerable on April 19, 2004 by Pope St. John Paul II. Pope Benedict approved the miracle for his beatification which was celebrated by Angelo Cardinal Amato on behalf of Pope Francis on September 14, 2013. On October 16, 2016, he was canonized in St. Peter’s Square.
Dear Fr. Brochero, champion of the people, nothing would deter you from working for the Kingdom of God. You feared the leprosy of the soul much more than the leprosy of the body so, please, help us to value the treasures of Heaven more than we value those of this passing life. Amen.
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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)