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Catholic Heroes… St. Vincent Pallotti

January 26, 2016 saints No Comments


Throughout the history of the Church, beginning with Christ Himself, disenfranchised youth have found a friend in the followers of the Lord. St. John Bosco and St. Philip Neri come to mind. There is another saint who also helped both young men and young women, St. Vincent Pallotti, a man born and raised in Rome during the time of the Jesuit suppression.
Peter Paul Pallotti and his wife Maddalena were a devout Catholic couple with two children when Vincent was born on April 21, 1795. He was the third of ten children, who were raised by attending daily Mass and many devotions in the neighboring churches of Rome.
As a child he had learning troubles, so his mother sought the advice of Fr. Fazzine, a close friend. He told her to make a novena to the Holy Spirit with little Vincent. Upon the completion of the novena, Vincent’s performance improved so dramatically that he soon moved to the head of his class.
From an early age Vincent both respected and loved the poor, treating them as he would treat Christ Himself. If he had a coin to give one of them, he would first wash it in the fountain because, he said, “When I give to the poor, I give the coin to Christ. I want it to look nice.”
His works of mercy were not the only signs of being a special child. He also practiced fasting and penances beyond his years. When his parents took their concerns to Fr. Fazzini, he replied, “Let us leave Vincent undisturbed. It appears he has a higher calling than we have been given. It seems to come from God.”
As a youth St. Vincent joined his first formative group at his grade school in San Pantaleone. This school, run by the Piarist fathers, was located across the Tiber from St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
It was founded by another saint: Joseph Calasanz, during the Counterreformation in Rome. Our Lady had appeared to Joseph, thus accounting for the Marian devotions of the school. From those devotions, Vincent developed a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As he matured, Vincent rose early to walk to nearby Santa Maria in Vallicella where he served as an altar boy. Beneath the sanctuary rested the remains of another saint that he came to emulate: St. Philip Neri. Like Neri he worked with the youth — some called him the “second Philip Neri.”
This work included leading a youth group at Santa Maria del Pianto, which met every Sunday and Holy Day for catechetical instruction, recreation, and Marian devotions. As a priest he continued to lead the group. His dedication to these youth was so great that he even wrote letters of encouragement to them while on vacation. One such letter urged them to seek sainthood because “it is sheer insanity to do the opposite.”
Vincent’s high school years passed at the world famous Collegio Romano, established by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1551 to train both secular and religious clergy. Despite the Jesuit suppression (1773-1814), the school retained its Jesuit influence with their saints Aloysius Gonzaga and John Berchmans buried below.
The Collegio Romano, known as the Prima Primaria for having founded the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, provided Vincent with the opportunity to advance in his devotion to Mary. This devotion led Vincent to make a courageous stand when he entered the Sapienza University.
At the time anticlericalism was widespread — even among Catholic priests. This attitude did not frighten St. Vincent, who continued to wear his clerics through the streets of Rome. When Vincent organized a trip for the Catholic youth group to go to Santa Maria del Pianto, he led them in his priestly garb.
Another priest, dressed in secular clothes, stopped Vincent in the middle of the street to berate him for wearing his “ostentatious and hypocritical” cassock. Vincent remained silent, turning to continue the journey when the priest was done.
When the students arrived at their destination, St. Vincent disappeared. Eventually he was found crouching in a corner of the sacristy. On his knees before Mary he was praying the Te Deum in thanksgiving for the humiliation which he deemed he needed.
As his Ordination neared, he was given an order to organize the farmers at the market. This he did by holding catechism classes for both the adults and children where they learned reading and writing along with their sacramental preparation.
The love for this work stayed with Vincent after he was ordained a priest at the Lateran Basilica in May 1818 — he was only 23 years old. After his Ordination, he remained at home, teaching at the Sapienza University and evangelizing in the streets of the ancient city. Frequently, he brought those to whom he preached into the nearby Catholic church where he would hear their Confessions.
But Vincent did still more for the poor of Rome. He also organized night schools for the workers who were eager to learn. In just a few years, over 500 students necessitated the transfer of their education to the Christian Brothers who were far better equipped to handle their education.
Like John Bosco, he then worked with the unruly and disadvantaged youth of Trastevere — the home of both St. Cecilia (third century) and St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440). He worked with both the nobility and the street urchins who came to respect him as he respected them. He told them they would be tomorrow’s leaders so they must have a love of virtue, a sense of honor, with both integrity and a sense of responsibility.
His next project involved persons from all levels of society. He called the group the Union of the Catholic Apostolate. The apostolate would be a revival of Catholic action serving the poor, treating the sick, and educating the illiterate in order to save the souls of their neighbors. Membership quickly climbed to nearly 1,000 persons.
This proved very timely as the cholera epidemic struck, leaving many children homeless and families destitute. They opened a home for orphans and founded The Pious House of St. Agatha to care for vulnerable young women. He also founded an orphanage near the Vatican.
He also continued to work with the young and those men preparing for the priesthood, winning the respect of such men as John Henry Cardinal Newman.
In his spare time he visited hospitals and prisoners, showing exceptional compassion for those condemned to death. He badgered the prison officials into separating the young offenders from the other adult prisoners who would corrupt them even more.
After many years of serving the Church, St. Vincent died in Rome on January 22, 1850. His feast is celebrated on January 23.
Dear St. Vincent, you worked tirelessly, serving the poor, educating the ignorant, and hearing Confessions to win more souls for the eternal Kingdom. Help us to see that peace cannot be realized if we fail to unite in service of the poor and less fortunate in our midst. 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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