Being a good bishop of a diocese is no easy task. If many canonized saints are bishops, it must be because God, in His providence, has wanted to set before bishops plenty of examples of how best to discharge their duties as shepherds.
St. Vincent Strambi was one such example.
Vincent was born near Rome, Italy, on New Year’s Day, 1745. As a boy he was full of life and fun, but he had an innate generosity that prompted him to give his coat or shoes to a poor child who needed clothing.
Sensitive to their son’s goodness of heart, his parents were willing to cooperate when he showed a leaning towards the diocesan priesthood. Educated at the seminary of Bagnoregio, he was ordained a priest in 1767.
By that time, however, he had fallen under the influence of St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Congregation of the Passion; and after only a year in the service of his diocese, he entered the Passionist order. To this his parents strongly objected.
But Vincent (or to give his name in religion, Stanislaus of the Sorrowful Mother), quickly became a leading figure in the Passionist community. First, he was sent out to preach parish missions, and this he did with remarkable success. Then he was appointed professor of theology and preaching in the Passionist seminary. Finally, he was entrusted with various administrative tasks, culminating in his election in 1781 as father provincial of the area’s Passionist province.
Italy soon became engulfed in the French Revolution, and fell into disarray. In 1801 Pope Pius VII named Father Strambi bishop of the combined sees of Macerata-Tolentino. Strambi’s humility made him try to decline the task, but his holiness proved him a worthy choice.
There was no pomp in his episcopal palace. As bishop, Vincent continued to follow the rule of poverty and penitence characteristic of the Passionist order. The former seminary professor was especially happy to govern his diocesan seminary, taking personal interest in each of his future priests. He also organized clergy and laity into a team of religious instructors, and thus became a pioneer in the work of today’s Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. He proved to an able administrator of the goods of his diocese, and worked effectively for its spiritual revival. And, of course, he showed his usual solicitude for the aged, the ailing and the orphan.
In 1808, Napoleon was preparing to take over from the pope the States of the Church. He demanded of the bishops within the papal states an oath of allegiance to himself. Pius VII had already forbidden such an oath, so Strambi refused. Consequently he was sent into exile and eventually imprisoned, first at Novara, then at Milan. Only in 1814 was he able to return home, a year after Napoleon’s fall from power.
The reception he received in Macerata bore witness to how his people loved their bishop. But his political troubles were not yet over. When Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1815 and tried to rally his generals, King Joachim Murat made Macerata his headquarters. When Murat was defeated by the Austrians at Tolentino, his troops then threatened to sack Macerata, but Bishop Strambi personally talked the commander into sparing it. Famine and an epidemic of typhus followed the military campaign. Once more the bishop’s leadership promoted a solution of these health problems.
In 1823 the new pope, Leo XII, allowed the Bishop of Macerata to resign his diocese. However, he brought him to Rome to be his confidential adviser. In this task Vincent’s devotion to the Church was once more exemplified. When Leo XII was stricken with what seemed to be a mortal illness, Strambi offered to God his own life in exchange for the recovery of the Holy Father.
Leo did recover, but Bishop Vincent died shortly afterwards, on January 1, 1824, his 79th birthday. He had given his all for the Church.
St. Vincent was canonized in 1950.
–Father Robert F. McNamara