The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Nunzio Sulprizio

Blessed Nuntius SulprizioArticle

The renown of being a bright example for working boys was attained by the Venerable Nunzio Sulprizio. Leo XIII, in his decree on the heroic degree of the virtues of Sulprizio, published on the three hundredth anniversary of the death of Saint Aloysius, wrote as follows.

“It is proper that on this festal day, consecrated to the memory of the angelic youth Aloysius, we publish the decree which acknowledges the practice of heroic virtue by the venerable Servant of God, Nunzio Sulprizio. In consideration of the deplorable condition of the times it is truly a matter of importance. The world … all mankind finds itself groaning under a smothering burden of all possible evils. In consequence of the spread of false and unsound doctrines, unbelief and godlessness lord it over all. Unbridled immorality is spreading everywhere, after every barrier which so far restrained the lower passions has been swept away. It is inexperienced youth that suffers most from the evil. They grow up without protection and, cast amidst dangers and allurements of all kinds, fall into the craftily laid snare, miserably perishing in vice and corruption.

“The Church, which seeks to protect youth with loving care, deeply mourns this misfortune and with motherly solicitude does all things possible to save them from final loss. Since in this matter example is of more avail than mere words, she seeks to put before her youth for their imitation a pattern adorned with virginal purity. For the last three hundred years the amiable figure of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, the true model and protecting angel of Catholic youth, has shone before them with resplendent light. Gladly have we taken advantage of the three hundredth anniversary of his edifying death to encourage our youth to celebrate this feast with unusual ceremony, and to honor the wonderful achievement of his life. To-day we would direct the attention of the young to a faithful copy of their heavenly patron.

“This is the young working-boy Nunzio Sulprizio. From his earliest years he took Saint Aloysius as his model and strove to imitate the saint in the spirit of mortification, of patience, humility, and prayer, so that, rich in merits and although like his model young in years, he died in the repute of sanctity.

“Would that our youth might learn from Nunzio Sulprizio how the angelic virtues of Saint Aloysius may be imitated. May they ever be filled with the spirit of interior piety and be devoted to God and their Church, avoiding with the greatest solicitude all intercourse with the wicked and likewise the corruption of the world. This is the dearest and most ardent wish of our heart”

Leo XIII rightly presents Nunzio Sulprizio as a new model for our youth. Our hearts warm toward this amiable young man when we read how earnestly he fought for the angelic virtue in dangerous surroundings – what heavenly patience and gentleness he practised under unjust treatment; and how immovably firm his character remained under the heaviest misfortunes.

He was born on 13 April 1817 at Pesco Sanfonesco, in the Abruzzi, the child of poor parents. At six he was an orphan. A grandmother took loving care of him. But within three years God removed this only support The bereaved and destitute boy was now brought to a maternal uncle, a blacksmith, a coarse and cruel man, who strove only for earthly possessions. Nunzio was obliged to recompense him by doing the full work of an adult laborer, for which he received no pay. He permitted the boy nothing, not even to go to school, but overloaded the child with work far above his strength from early morning till late at night. Both in summer, when the excessive heat was unbearable, and in winter, when barbarous ill weather in the rough mountain country cut to the bone, he had to go long distances on the errands of his master. The roughest ill treatment was soon added to this. The uncle was a man of violent temper and fell into a fury upon the slightest occasion. Nunzio could not possibly meet all his humors and each time he failed he had to bear severe punishment. The blacksmith seized the first bar of iron or tool at hand and unmercifully struck the boy or flung him on the floor and kicked him until he was senseless. The master had companions scarcely behind him m cruelty to the innocent boy. Yet the worst to Nunzio’s mind were the blasphemous and unchaste language and the obscenities of these men he was obliged to hear every day. He often closed his ears or retired to some corner where he might not listen to such conversation. Harsh treatment and insufficient food were sure to undermine the health of the apprentice. The allowance of food was so scanty that Nunzio was forced to beg from compassionate neighbors. He became extremely emaciated and after a time a great ulcer appeared on his left leg. But his heartless uncle paid no attention to it. When Nunzio could no longer walk they forced him to stand all day and work at the bellows; and when his strength failed in this, they bound him fast in the bellows’ chain. Even his frequent fainting spells in the smithy made no impression on the coarse mind of his uncle.

In spite of this cruel treatment no one ever heard any complaint from Nunzio, nor did he cast reproach on his tormentor. He never lost his gentleness nor his serenity of soul. When in spite of all the energy of his will he became unfit for work, his uncle allowed him to be removed to the hospital for the poor in the neighboring town of Aquila. It was too late. Careful attention brought some relief to the sick boy, but he could not be cured. There was no accommodation in the place for incurables, and after some time he was dismissed. On his return his uncle burst into a rage, for he had hoped to have been rid of his sick nephew. Torture began anew for the poor boy. Although he was half dead and too much exertion might kill him, he was obliged to work. But undismayed he stood fast to the end, bearing all things with heroic patience. “I will become a saint – a great saint and in a short time.” With these words he encouraged himself in many a dark hour. To a saint it is most important that he possess steadfastness of character. In the smithy of Pesco Sanfonesco the character of Nunzio stood the test of fire.

At length, after six years of suffering, came relief. There lived in Naples another uncle of the orphaned apprentice, Francis Sulprizio. When the latter heard of the frightful treatment of his nephew he at once took steps to free him from the hands of his torturer. The blacksmith was glad to lose what he called “so useless a workman.” Thus far Nunzio had been for the men about him only a body in the way, but now he was to be overwhelmed with benevolent proof of true charity. Francis Sulprizio, corporal in the first regiment of grenadiers at Naples, invited his nephew to come to him and brought the boy to his superior officer, Colonel Felix Wochinger. When the colonel, well known for his deep piety and great charity, saw the emaciated youth, who could move only with the aid of crutches, and learned how innocent had been his life and how inhumanly he had been treated, his heart was moved with a strong affection for Nunzio and he declared that he would care for the boy as a father. They placed the sick boy in the hospital for incurables, Santa Maria del Populo. Caries of the bones had resulted from long neglected wounds. Nunzio soon became the favorite of all in the hospital. On his countenance shone his innocence and in spite of his dreadful pains he was continually cheerful and uttered never a complaint of his misery. Admiration increased when his previous history became known. He dragged himself to the bedside of other patients to console and encourage them. The spiritual advice which he skillfully wove into his ingenuous conversation was particularly efficacious. He was most edifying in his great and tender devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the ever blessed Virgin. Like all pure souls he was a great lover of prayer. The attendant often surprised him during the night as he knelt absorbed in prayer by his bedside. Colonel Wochinger gave his ward the best of attention, often sending him to the baths on the island of Ischia. After some two years, on April n, 1834, he brought the sick boy to his own home, Castel Nuovo, to care for him yet more generously, and particularly to have more frequent opportunity of witnessing the heroic virtue of a saint. “How could I complain of the trials which God sends me,” he said, “when I see with what heroic courage Nunzio bears his afflictions. How can I delay for a moment to share my abundance with the poor when he, who is almost the neediest of all, refuses what is offered to himself so as to give to others, and in this says so plainly: ‘What, shall not the Lord’s own also receive?’ ” The news of Nunzio* s departure caused universal consternation in the hospital. No one had ever brought so much consolation and joy to the sick there as did the blacksmith apprentice of Pesco Sanfonesco.

In his new home nothing was wanting to the sick young man that could restore his crippled strength. For a while it seemed as if fresh life began to pulse in his broken body. Nunzio began to plan for the future. He desired to serve God in the religious state. His noble patron placed a private tutor at his disposal to teach him Latin with a view to the priesthood. But it was an illusion. The sickness returned with new strength. The sufferer remained ever like his former self. Just as formerly the bitterest poverty, so now the greatest comforts could not withdraw his heart from God. He endeavored as far as it was possible in the castle to lead a cloistered life. Suffering he had in full plenty, but not enough for his penitential spirit, and he tormented his weak body by voluntary mortifications. Toward the servants, who out of envy often treated him neglectfully, he was love itself, and no word of complaint ever came from his lips to the master of the house. God glorified him even now by extraordinary favors.

On 5 May 1836, Nunzio, then nineteen years of age, was released from his sufferings. With a smile on his countenance, he took his leave of this world. While gazing upon a picture of the Mother of God he exclaimed: “See how beautiful she is,” and in a few moments he had departed. The news of his death brought a pilgrimage to Castel Nuovo. A wonderful change was observed in the dead body. The wounds took on a rosy color and exhaled a sweet odor. To satisfy the people the body was exposed for four days, and it was then buried in the church of Castel Nuovo. High dignitaries in the world, among them King Ferdinand II of Naples, journeyed to Rome to beg for the beatification of the angelic blacksmith apprentice. Nunzio Sulprizio is indeed a splendid model for our youth. He was content in spite of extreme poverty, laborious and obedient under a tyrannical master, and a chaste and unspoiled soul in spite of licentious surroundings. A youth of steadfast character, he knew that man’s worth is judged only by his inferior spirit; and this interior spirit was summed up in his magnanimity in fulfilling the twofold commandment of love of God and of the neighbor. His life shows that it is not in social condition nor in age nor in health that a man achieves greatness in the kingdom of God.

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Venerable Nunzio Sulprizio”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 17 September 2018. Web. 19 November 2018. <>