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Catholic Heroes… St. Nunzio Sulprizio

May 9, 2019 saints No Comments


In the hagiography of the saints in the Catholic Church, there are rich and poor, noble persons and peasants, brilliant intellects and simple minds, and young as well as old.
Perhaps the youngest canonized saint is St. Maria Goretti, who died at the age of eleven defending her honor. At the age of 14, St. José Sanchez del Rio died as a martyr for being a Mexican Cristero. St. Therese of Lisieux was 24 years old when she died, and St. Agnes was 13 when she was martyred in the fourth century.
On October 14, 2018, along with Pope Paul VI, Oscar Romero, two other priests, and two other nuns, Pope Francis canonized Nunzio Sulprizio who died when he was just 19 years old.
Nunzio was born within the Easter Octave on April 13, 1817 in Pescara. This lovely province lies in eastern Italy on the Adriatic coast. His parents, Domenico Sulprizio and Rosa Luciani, married on May 28, 1816. When Nunzio was born, they took him to the church to have him baptized mere hours after his birth, giving him the name of his grandfather who had died on September 8, 1803.
From the very day of his birth, Nunzio’s life involved uncommon hardships. In 1817, Pescara was suffering a great famine. The family was not wealthy either, and yet rejoiced at the birth of their daughter, Domenica, not long after Nunzio’s arrival.
Domenico and Rosa took Nunzio at the young age of three to Bishop Francesco Tiberi, head of the Sulmona Diocese, to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation on May 16, 1820. Months later, Nunzio’s mother received two terrible blows. Domenico, Nunzio’s father, died on July 31, 1820 and then his sister, Domenica, died on December 7, 1820.
With no means to support herself and her son, Rosa married again in 1822 to a man much older than she was. So it was, when Nunzio was only five years old, that his suffering intensified. His stepfather, even though he provided for Rosa, was cruel to Nunzio. Rather than ignoring the boy, he treated him with contempt and cruelty.
This drew Nunzio even closer to his pious mother, who did her best to instill virtue in her son. He also spent more time with his maternal grandmother, Anna Rosaria Luciani. When his mother died on March 5, 1823, Nunzio went to live with his grandmother.
Though Anna Rosaria was illiterate, she possessed great wisdom and love of the true faith. For the next three years, Nunzio had a reprieve from his anguish. His grandmother took frequent walks with him as well as taking him to Mass and mentoring his growth in virtue.
This would prove very providential and beneficial for the youth, who faced even more suffering ahead. The grandmother also helped Nunzio receive some education during their three years together. Fr. Fantacci ran a school for poor and disadvantaged children that Nunzio attended.
When Anna Rosaria died on April 4, 1826, her son, Domenico Luciani, reluctantly took custody of Nunzio. His uncle, a blacksmith, was strong and robust, having no sympathy for the weak and frail constitution of Nunzio. He forced him to work in the blacksmith shop, giving him difficult tasks and providing Nunzio with little to no food. As a result, Nunzio’s health began to fail from the harsh treatment his uncle gave him. When this happened, his uncle treated him even worse.
Nunzio was beaten for the simplest reason, he was verbally abused, and treated worse and worse as time passed. However, he never complained, but had recourse to his faith received from his mother and nourished by his grandmother.
In the winter of 1831, Domenico sent Nunzio on a grueling errand to the hills of Roccatagliata to fetch materials. He was not well when he began his journey and by nightfall was exhausted from a raging fever and a painfully swollen leg.
He fell into bed when he returned, never telling his uncle of his affliction. The next morning, Nunzio could not stand and was unable to get up from his bed. His uncle cared little for the boy’s condition and scoffed at him even when Nunzio was taken to the hospital.
Later, diagnosed with gangrene, Nunzio first went to the hospital in L’Aquila from April to June. Then he was transferred to the hospital in Naples about 231 kilometers south of Pescara.
Even though the long trip was excruciatingly painful and tiring, Nunzio suffered in silence, offering his pain up to God. Eventually, he was released from the hospital, but the wound needed much cleansing and treatment. The oozing from the wound was constant and to ease the pain, Nunzio went to a nearby stream where he could find some soothing relief from the cool waters.
Once, when he went there, a woman who was washing her clothes scolded him and made him leave so he would not contaminate the waters. He quietly left, finding another area where he could freely soak his leg. The water was extremely cold, soothing. Nunzio remained there long enough to “recite several rosaries.”
When Nunzio was hospitalized again, he met his paternal uncle, Francesco Sulprizio. who treated Nunzio far better than his maternal uncle had. Francesco was a soldier and brought one of his comrades, Col. Felice Wochinger, to meet Nunzio. The colonel and Nunzio soon became like father and son.
Nunzio also met Gaetano Errico, the founder — and future saint — of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. He promised Nunzio that he could join his religious order when the time was right.
Since Nunzio was not recovering, he was sent to the Hospital of the Incurables on June 20, 1832. His uncle made sure Nunzio had all that he needed. During this time Nunzio prepared to receive his First Communion and made trips for spa treatments on Ischia Island. Slowly he was able to graduate to the use of a cane and set aside his crutches.
In 1835 the doctors finally determined that Nunzio’s leg had to be removed. Even after amputation, the pain remained and Nunzio’s condition deteriorated.
Even though his fever increase in March 1836, Nunzio did not become discouraged as he placed all his trust in God. Knowing the end was near, he focused on the eternal blessings to be possessed after his trials here on Earth.
In May he asked for a crucifix and then asked for his confessor to come to give him the sacraments for the last time. He died on May 5, 1836 and his remains now rest in the Church of San Domenico Soriano, Naples.
Nunzio was beatified on December 1, 1963 at the Vatican by Pope St. Paul VI. On October 14, 2018, both Pope Paul VI and Nunzio were canonized. The Church celebrates Nunzio’s feast on May 5.
Dear St. Nunzio, our world so needs your intercession in assisting the many children who are victims of domestic abuse and slavery! By your holy intercession, grant us knowledge of those who are abused and show us the way to be of the greatest help to them. 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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