Friday 13th December 2019

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Catholic Heroes… St. Guido Maria Conforti

November 14, 2019 saints No Comments


Many men and women who have established religious orders had to overcome various obstacles to obtain canonical approval. In addition to finding those persons with the same heart to serve God’s people, they must acquire housing, and find funding. These may be worldly concerns, but they are still important.
Founders must also consider the statutes for their congregation, give attention to the evangelical counsels, and work with Church officials to get approval according to the Directives of Formation in Religious Institutes published by the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life.
No wonder, then, that so many founders have been canonized for their holy lives. One of these is St. Guido Maria Conforti.
To complete the process of organizing a new order takes not only heroic virtue, but — more important — it takes special graces from God.
Guido Maria Conforti was the eighth of ten children born to Rinaldo Conforti and Antonia Adornia on March 30, 1865. The happy family lived in Casalori di Ravadese in Parma, Italy. On the day of Guido’s birth, Rinaldo and Antonia took their son to be baptized.
From his earliest days Guido enjoyed God’s creation — roaming the fields, climbing the trees looking for birds’ nests, and running down the lanes care free. Nature brought him enjoyment, but Christ brought him joy.
When he began to attend school at the Christian Brothers Oratory of Peace in Borgo delle Colonne, he would visit Christ on the crucifix for their daily conversation. In his later years he wrote of this time, “I looked at Him and He looked at me and seemed to say many things.”
Guido was confirmed by Msgr. Domenico Maria Villa in Parma when he was eight years old. The following year he received his First Holy Communion in Holy Sepulchre Church.
Guido joined the seminary on November 4, 1876, overcoming his father’s resistance, even though he was only eleven years old. While there, Guido performed admirably, exceeding in his studies, growing in holiness, and practicing uncommon diligence and obedience.
When Guido read the letters and accounts of St. Francis Xavier, Jesuit missionary in India and the Far East, he hoped to join either the Society of Jesus or the Salesians of St. John Bosco. Both applications were denied.
Fr. Andrea Carlo Ferrari, rector of the seminary since November 1877, took Guido under his special guidance and mentored him for future service to the Church. As Guido made progress through the different levels of Ordination, he took copious notes during his annual retreats. As a faithful man of God, he frequently referred to these notes to reflect on how well he was keeping his retreat resolutions.
In early 1887 Guido was appointed tutor of the first-year high school students as well as vice-rector of the seminary. In 1888 he was ordained a subdeacon in the bishop’s chapel by Msgr. Miotti; then in May he became a deacon.
Upon his Ordination, Guido’s superiors gave him the responsibility of teaching Italian to the seminarians. In this position, he proved to be a great model of sanctity and charity.
In 1891, Bishop Ferrari of Guastalla repeatedly asked Fr. Guido to become the rector of the seminary, but Guido refused each time. Then Fr. Guido became a canon of the Parma Cathedral in April 1892. Later that year, he was appointed to the Philosophical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
The following year, on March 30, 1893, Fr. Guido became the director of the Pius Society of the Propagation of the Faith as well as the director of the Association of St. Vincent de Paul. Shortly after these appointments, Fr. Guido began formal plans for a missionary association.
On December 3, 1895, Fr. Guido received approval for his Xaverian Missionaries from Pope Leo XIII. The first missionaries were sent to China in 1899. As part of their farewell, missionaries were given a special crucifix. Thus, on March 1, 1899, Fr. Guido gave the crucifix to Fr. Caio Rastelli and the seminarian Eduardo Manini as they left with Msgr. Fagolla. Sadly, news reached Fr. Guido in 1901 that Fr. Rastelli had died in China.
A detour in his missionary work came from Pope Leo XIII when he appointed Fr. Guido bishop of Ravenna, on the eastern coast of Italy. However, his health soon failed him and Pope Pius X reluctantly accepted Fr. Guido’s resignation in 1904.
Later that year, having recovered his health, he was appointed coadjutor bishop of Parma and titular archbishop of Stauropolis. During this time, Archbishop Guido worked on writing the Constitutions of the Xaverian Missionaries and the formation of the missionary students.
In 1907 Guido became archbishop of Parma and began making pastoral visits in his diocese, which he made four more times during his 24 years as bishop. He also held two synods and promoted Catholic Action.
Parma experienced difficulties during his time, so he worked diligently to restore peace, leading people back to the faith, sanctifying the clergy, forming the laity, establishing a Catholic press, and holding Marian and missionary congresses.
In 1908 Parma suffered from labor strife and strikes. To alleviate the plight of both peasants and the priests, the archbishop founded a group of lawyers to plead their causes. Likewise, when there was increasing conflict between the city officials and those promoting fascism, Archbishop Conforti interceded and mediated a peaceful resolution.
When Archbishop Guido Conforti made his ad limina visit to the Pope on February 25, 1916, he gave the Pope the Statutes of the Missionary Union of the Clergy, asking for approval.
As the statutes were being reviewed in Rome, Conforti worked long hours in his diocese, developing the faith of his flock and encouraging the holiness of his priests.
In 1916 he met with Fr. Paolo Manna to correct the first draft of the statutes for the Missionary Union of the Clergy and they were finally approved on October 31, 1916 by Pope Benedict XV.
In 1917 a branch of the Missionary Union was established in Parma and in 1918 the attendees at the Missionary Institute Conference unanimously elected the archbishop as the first president of the Missionary Union of Clergy.
With the support of the Pope, Archbishop Conforti sent letters to all the clergy of Italy asking them to implement Pope Benedict XV’s directives on the propagation of the faith as contained in his apostolic letter, Maximum illud, issued on November 30, 1919.
After 25 years, the Missionary Union of the Clergy received approval of its Constitutions in a letter from Willem Cardinal Van Rossum, the prefect of Propagation of the Faith. Over the next ten years, Archbishop Conforti presided over the opening of various shrines, congresses, and meetings of the Union. On February 23, 1927, he announced the end of his term as president of the Union.
The following year the archbishop made his first and last trip to China to visit the missionaries. Shortly after his return, he attended the opening of two junior seminaries. These were his last official appearances.
One week after he presided over the Ordination of the sub-diaconate on October 25, 1931, he was confined to his bed and received Viaticum. He died on November 5, 1931.
Pope John Paul II beatified him in 1996 and Pope Benedict XVI canonized him in 2011. His feast day is November 5.

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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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