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Catholic Heroes… St. Joseph Cafasso

June 21, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Truman Capote wrote: “Love is a chain of love as nature is a chain of life.” More important, grace is a chain of grace with one grace leading to another. And holiness a chain of holiness as God pours His love through one person to another, as the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mediatrix of all graces, pours graces upon her children on Earth.
This is evident from the life of St. Monica, who is largely responsible for the conversion of both her husband and her son, St. Augustine of Hippo. Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas was the student of St. Albert the Great, and Saints Louis and Zélie Martin were the parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, doctor of the Church, and her sisters who entered the convent. St. John Bosco was also mentored by a saint who assisted him in founding his order, St. Joseph Cafasso.
Joseph, born on January 15, 1811, was the third of four children born to peasant parents in Castelnuovo d’Asti, Italy. His sister, the youngest child, became the mother of a saint also, Blessed Giuseppe (Joseph) Allamano.
Joseph Cafasso was born with a deformity of his spine that prevented him from standing up straight. This cross he bore with uncommon serenity which demonstrated his holiness from his earliest days. Those who recalled the young child could not recall that he had ever committed a sin. Many held him up as a model for other children.
Thus the townspeople were not surprised when Joseph entered the seminary at just 15 years old. He went to the seminary in Turin and was ordained a priest in 1833, when he was only 22 years old. It was also around this time that he first met John Bosco.
Joseph continued to study at the seminary after his Ordination, and in 1834 he met Luigi Guala, the cofounder of the Institute of St. Francis of Assisi. The purpose of this institute was to provide higher education for priests. After Napoleon’s invasion of Italy in the 1790s, most of the Catholic institutions had been destroyed or confiscated by his forces. When they left, new ones had to be built to replace them — thus the founding of the Franciscan school for priests.
With the encouragement from Guala, Joseph first became a student at the institute and shortly thereafter, he began his career as a lecturer. As a lector, he taught moral theology and also led formation in French spirituality as lived by Pierre de Bérulle, who introduced the Discalced Carmelites of St. Teresa of Avila into France. He included the teachings of St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis de Sales as well.
Then he became the chaplain; and when Luigi Guala died in 1848, Joseph was named his successor and became rector of the college. One of his main priorities was the proper formation of priests both before and after their Ordination.
He studiously fought the rigors of heretical Jansenism by using the works of St. Alphonsus Liguori and St. Francis de Sales. In addition he opposed the state interfering in Church matters.
His temperance was above reproach, as he never engaged in smoking or drinking. The only beverage he allowed himself was plain water. He never partook of coffee nor did he ever eat between meals. His fortitude and quiet perseverance in suffering his physical pains surprised many. When he was asked about his long hours of serving others and not getting much sleep, he replied, “Our rest will be in Heaven.”
This holiness left a lasting and deep impression on St. John Bosco who testified: “A single word from him — a look, a smile, his very presence — sufficed to dispel melancholy, drive away temptation, and produce holy resolution in the soul.”
While serving the Institute of St. Francis, Joseph also practiced temperance and prudence to win the loyalty of his students. He — like Padre Pio — had the special gift of discerning penitents’ needs as well as knowing precisely how to strengthen their wills to live holier lives. He also assisted those students in need of temporal assistance by providing them with books or helping them with their living expenses.
At some point, Joseph became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. It is in keeping with that saint that Joseph focused so much of his energy on the poor and needy, especially those shunned by society such as condemned prisoners.
He particularly touched the hearts of lawbreakers when he would visit them in prison. He heard their Confessions, and soon became known as the “Priest of the Gallows” for the more than five dozen condemned prisoners with whom he stayed on the days leading up to their execution. He once grabbed the beard of a prisoner and pulled on it saying that he would not let go until the prisoner confessed.
He would listen to their woes, console them, and support them by standing near them at their last moment until death from the hands of their executioners. Beyond that he would offer many penances and endure many mortifications for their salvation.
He also passed many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, praying that God would have mercy on their souls, and he would call those who converted — more than 60 — his hanged saints.
Perhaps he has been most noted for his guidance of St. John Bosco from 1841 to 1860. This association led to the formation of the Salesian order, dedicated to helping young boys, and then the establishment of the Daughters of Our Lady, Help of Christians, to care for the isolated and destitute young girls.
Bosco was not the only person who started great apostolates at the urging of Cafasso. Others included Venerable Giulia Falletti di Barolo, a noted advocate for women prisoners, Blessed Francesco Faà di Bruno, a professor and priest known for his social work, and Blessed Clemente Marchisio, founder of the Daughters of St. Joseph of Rivalba, dedicated to meeting the religious needs of young women.
When Fr. Joseph Cafasso was only 49 years old, his health became much worse and he seemed to have a premonition of his approaching death. He not only suffered from pneumonia, but he also suffered from his congenital deformities and ailments, complicated by hemorrhaging in his stomach. After receiving the sacraments for the final time, he died on June 23, 1860.
He left his meager possessions to the religious order founded by St. Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo in Valdocco, Italy. This order, known as the Little House of Divine Providence cared for those suffering from cancer. It later included housing for orphans. When the college he headed for the last 12 years of his life moved to Santuario della Consolata in 1870, St. Joseph Cafasso’s remains were also transferred and interred there.
Dear St. Joseph Cafasso, guide us in our discernment of God’s will for us. May we continually seek to serve God’s children in need, to protect them from the evil in this world! 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.)

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