October 23, 2017

St. Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop Reformer & Founder

Saint Anthony Mary Claret

Ordinary Time - October 24th

Saint Anthony Claret’s efforts would engender as much discussion in the 21st century as they did in the 19th. A champion of the Hispanic poor, he was vilified by those in power who did not appreciate his "Christian meddling" in their secular and often exploitive lifestyles. Yet, he also garnered the respect of some in authority, for precisely the same reasons that others sought to destroy him.

St. Anthony Mary Claret was born in Spain near Barcelona in 1807. His father was a small manufacturer of wool and, for a while, Anthony also pursued that occupation. His mind, however, was on another type of vocation entirely, and he dedicated his spare time to studying Latin and printing. Although he longed to join either the Carthusian or Jesuit orders, ill health prevented him from doing so. His gift was preaching, and for over a decade after his ordination to the secular priesthood in 1835, he gave retreats and missions, emphasizing the importance of the Eucharist and encouraging devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

In 1849, Anthony founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, popularly known as the Claretians. Their work, then as now, is as diverse as the people they serve.  From publishing (Anthony was always a great supporter of the Catholic Press) to immigration, health care and education, they seek to spread Anthony’s zeal for God’s love, justice and peace throughout the world.

In the 19th century, however, Anthony’s fervor for Gospel values was not always greeted enthusiastically. Appointed archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1851, his reforms in a diocese that had been much neglected made him as many enemies as it did friends. He opposed the practice of concubinage and sought to educate the slaves who worked the sugar plantations. Faced with the dire poverty of his people, he supported their cultivation of family-owned farms as a solution to the problem, as this would supply food for both the home as well as a cash crop for the market. The powerful plantation owners in Cuba did not appreciate a bishop who took workers away from the one crop they felt everyone should be forced to work — sugar cane. So incensed were they at his interference that there were at least 15 — fortunately unsuccessful — attempts made on his life because of it.

In 1857, Anthony was summoned back to Spain to serve as chaplain to Queen Isabella. Being “at court” was not a position that he relished, and so Anthony insisted on the following conditions for his return: he would live humbly, away from the palace, he would act only as the queen’s confessor and instructor of her children, and he would not be required to attend any court functions. His straightforward manner won the admiration of the queen, and when she was exiled following the Spanish Revolution of 1868, he accompanied her and her family to Paris. There he continued his work of preaching and caring for the poor.

Anthony was present at the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of papal infallibility. The Council came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, and Anthony retired to the Cistercian Monastery of Fontfroide in southern France. Still unable to return to Spain owing to the revolution, he would die in exile on October 24, 1870.

Known for his gifts of both prophecy and miracles, Anthony was also a prolific writer and preacher. His biographers note that he delivered some 10,000 sermons in his lifetime, and published over 200 written works. He is the patron saint of weavers and the Catholic press. Almighty God, who for the evangelization of peoples strengthened the Bishop Saint Anthony Mary Claret with admirable charity and long-suffering, grant, through his intercession, that, in seeking your will, we may piously devote ourselves to winning our brothers and sisters for Christ, who lives and reigns together with You and with the Holy Spirit. Amen.

No comments :