St. Vincent Pallotti

(1795-1850)

Ss. Peter and Paul are accounted Rome’s first apostles. St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) is called the “second apostle” of the Eternal City. St. Vincent Pallotti, who worked in Rome in the 1800s, is reckoned its nineteenth century apostle, because of what he did to revive its faith.

Vincenzo’s father was a prosperous grocer of noble lineage. The boy did not do too well when he began grammar school. His teacher said of him, “He’s a little saint, but a bit thickheaded.” However, he matured rapidly enough to be ordained a year early. Soon he won his doctor’s degree in theology and became assistant professor at the Sapienza University in Rome.

Vincenzo was not called, though, to full-time academic work. He was a born shepherd of souls. So he eventually resigned his professorship in order to engage solely in pastoral work. In this, he had the encouragement of St. Gaspar Del Bufalo and the English priest (and future Cardinal) Nicholas Wiseman.

What did Vincent do to save souls? Everything he saw necessary. He was appointed pastor of the Neapolitan Church in Rome (and there for ten years he endured without complaint the petty persecution of the other priests on the staff who were jealous of him and his zeal). He served as confessor at several Roman colleges and monasteries. (One of the monasteries was the Visitation Convent of Our Lady of Humility, which would eventually be occupied by the North American College.) He was always in pursuit of sinners as an exorcist or confessor. Once he dressed up as an old woman in order to get to the bedside of a dying man who had a gun under his pillow and threatened to shoot the first priest who tried to approach him. He was, meanwhile, devoted to the poor, giving away his shoes and his clothing; and more than once he gave away his bed! (He used a bed very little anyhow, because he spent long night hours at prayer.) He was, meanwhile, gifted with insight into souls and often healed the sick.

Not content with the present, St. Vincent also built for the future. He organized schools for shoemakers, tailors, coachmen, joiners, and market gardeners. He started night schools for craftsmen. But he also took an ecumenical view. In 1836, for instance, he inaugurated an epiphany octave of liturgies in the various Eastern rites. Here, prayers were offered (and still are) for the reunion of the Eastern churches with the Holy See.

In 1835 Vincent founded a religious missionary order, the Society of Catholic Apostolate, better known as the Pallottines. They were not to be hermits, he said, but apostles to the wide world. “Holiness,” he told them, “is simply to do God’s will.” This worldwide order also gave rise to the Pallottine Missionary Sisters (1843). Both the Italian and the German branch of the Pallottine Fathers are represented in the United States, where they originally worked among German and Italian immigrants. St. Vincent, likewise, inspired the foundation of an English Catholic missionary order, the Mill Hill Fathers, which, in time, gave rise to an American order devoted to the Apostolate of the Blacks, the Josephite Fathers.

Hailed as a saint when he died, Vincent Pallotti was beatified in 1950, on his 100th birthday, and canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1963. As a prominent cardinal once said of St. Vincent, “He did all he could; as for what he couldn’t do — well, he did that, too.”

A very modern saint!

–Father Robert F. McNamara

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