History of Religious Orders: Congregation of the Pious Workers

Father Charles Caraffa, founder of this congregation, a descendant of the dukes of Atri and the counts of Ruro, belonged to the illustrious house of his name, which has given to the Church several Popes, Cardinals, Prelates, and, among other distinguished personages to the world at large, a General to the Society of Jesus. He was born in the year 1561, and at the age of sixteen he became a Jesuit. After remaining five years in the Society, his constant ill-health forced him to leave it. For some time after this he wore the clerical habit, but he finally abandoned the ecclesiastical state, to enter the army. In this new career, forgetting the lessons of virtue he had learned among the Jesuits, he abandoned himself to a life of licentiousness. He might have spent his life in this miserable condition had not the eye of a merciful Providence rested upon him. Going on a certain day toward the royal palace in Naples, and passing before the monastery of Regina Caeli, he stopped in order to listen to the chant of a nun. This was the means God made use of to touch his heart. His eyes were opened; he wept over his sins, and from that day he was a changed man. He began the study of philosophy and theology at the age of thirty-four, and, after five years, he was raised to the priesthood. He celebrated his first Mass on the first day of the year 1600. After this event his life became a constant exercise of charity and zeal, combined with the greatest austerities. Cardinal Giesualdo, beholding the abundance of fruit produced by the works of this saintly man. attached him to the church of Santa Maria di Tutti i Beni. Several ecclesiastics who were under his spiritual guidance left their homes to live with him and aid him in his apostolic labors. The archbishop sanctioned this, and permitted Caraffa to receive priests and lay men desirous of joining him. Though he had no intention of founding a congregation, but only that of devoting himself to the work of the missions, together with his companions, nevertheless the foundations of a special institute had been laid.

In 1601 Caraffa opened his church, and, with eight priests, he began to labor at his neighbors’ salvation. Many were the trials of this saintly man. He was misrepresented at Rome; he had to leave the church which had been given to him, and most of his disciples abandoned him. But he kept up his courage, rented a house and contmued his work with three companions, who had remained faithful. Some time after, his perseverance was rewarded by new accessions to his community, among whom were several subjects of distinguished merit. This enabled him to establish several houses of his congregation He obtained for it the approbation of Gregory XV by a Brief of 1621. It received the title of Congregation of the Pious Workers. The saintly founder, after a life of great merit, spent in works of zeal, went to his eternal home on 8 September 1633.

After his death the congregation was again confirmed by Pope Urban VIII. The members of the congregation, which remained limited in numbers, take no vows. It is governed by a General and four Consultors who are elected for three years, and who may be continued in office by the general chapter, which meets every year. Each house is governed by a Rector. The members practise great poverty and austerity, and accuse themselves of their faults before the Superiors several time a week. They recite Matins at two in morning.

Saint Alphonsus appears to have held the memory of Father Charles Caraffa in great esteem, and we feel inclined to believe that he copied the institute of the Pious Workers in several points when preparing the rules of his own congregation.

– from History of Religious Orders, by Father Charles Warren Currier, 1894