The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Venerable Vincent Pallotti

detail of a Saint Vincent Pallotti holy card, date and artist unknown“Charitas Christi urget nos” – “The charity of Christ presseth us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). With these words Saint Paid briefly points out the motive of his unceasing desire to spread the Kingdom of Christ. The same love of Christ to-day inspires men of noble and generous heart with ardent desire to labor for Christ. The life of the Venerable Vincent Pallotti is an eloquent witness of this. It will be sufficient to notice only the more salient features of his remarkable career.

Vincent Pallotti was born on 21 April 1795, at Rome, and was the son of a rich merchant; but in the Pallotti family the securing of heavenly treasure was of more concern than the amassing of earthly wealth. The father was accustomed to hear two Masses every day and every eighth day to approach the Sacraments. The mother even surpassed him in her deep and interior religious spirit. It is evident that such parents considered the religious training of their children their holiest duty. In reward God bestowed upon Vincent, the third of their ten children, quite extraordinary graces. Were it not confirmed from all sources, we could hardly believe what perfect sanctity was manifest in the little boy, his great hatred of everything that bordered on sin, his careful avoidance of whatever might sully his purity, his fasting and penance which made even his parents afraid, his compassionate love of the poor, seraphic devotion in prayer, apostolic work among his companions – and all this at an age when the light of reason was just dawning.

When Vincent began his studies at the Roman College he was not distinguished for brilliance of intellect or for mental power. But he overcame this disadvantage by his trustful devotion to the Holy Ghost, and he was soon one of the first among the students. Religious exercises suffered no detriment from his zeal in the pursuit of knowledge. No one was surprised when the boy of sixteen entered the clerical state. He had long cherished the thought of becoming a Capuchin. While yet a student he made vows of poverty and chastity and of obedience to his spiritual director. He vowed also never to strive for dignities. His heart was overwhelmed with holy joy when on 16 May 1818, he was ordained. Words can not tell how happy the celebration of Holy Mass made him. He went to confession every morning. His interior fervor of devotion was evident in his countenance, and during Mass the tears often flowed down upon his vestments, and many persons saw him suspended in the air while he was celebrating. No less a witness than Ignatius von Senestrey, afterward bishop of Regensburg, who served Pallotti’s Mass at the Roman College, testifies to this.

Since Pallotti’s parents were quite wealthy, the young priest at first lived with his family as private chaplain and meanwhile continued his studies. Promoted to the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy and of Theology he accepted the position of private tutor in the department of dogma in the Roman University. He filled this office for ten years. But, his ardent zeal for God’s glory did not allow him to remain unmindful of the salvation of the souls of others. Wherever opportunity offered for apostolic work he joyfully accepted it. But this did not satisfy him. So in 1829 he resigned his post as teacher and accepted the rectorship of the poor little church of the Holy Ghost. Now began the glorious epoch in the career of Father Pallotti. He soon had the reputation of a divinely favored confessor and director, was obliged to stay all day long in the confessional and when he came home his room was visited by persons of every condition who came to consult with him on the affairs of their souls. Before long there was no name in all Rome so popular as that of Padre Pallotti. He entered into a life of continuous activity as director of spiritual exercises, missionary among the people, and preacher in the public squares of the city. Those who did not listen to his stirring words on death, judgment, hell, and eternity always yielded when he spoke of the motherly love and mercy of Mary. With him it was a necessary part of a preacher’s work to inflame the hearts of his hearers with love for Mary, Mother of God.

Many distinguished men were trusted friends of Pallotti’s; for instance, Cardinal Prince Odescalchi; Cardinal Aloysius Lambruschini, secretary of state under Gregory XIV; Blessed Caspar del Bufalo; and especially the Venerable Bernard Mary Clausif of the Order of Minims of Saint Francis of Paula. For nearly twenty years he was the spiritual director of another saintly soul, the Venerable Elizabeth Sanna.

Pallotti had incidentally formed a committee for the spreading of good publications. It was to be the beginning of his religious establishment. The union produced great results. Its members increased in number and this suggested to the founder the idea of gathering his friends into a strict organization for life in the service of the good cause. He found men enough ready to place full confidence in him. Through the intervention of his friend Cardinal Odescalchi he obtained in 1835 the approbation of the Church for the “Society of the Catholic Apostleship,” as he then called his Congregation. Later on, with the confirmation of Pius IX, it took the name of “Pia Societas Missionutn” – “The Pious Society of the Missions.” Its purpose was to arouse faith and charity among Catholics and to propagate the same among heretics and infidels; but the members made only solemn promises instead of vows, especially a promise of perseverance in the Congregation.

According to the same rules Pallotti organized a Congregation of women for the religious training of young girls, and finally a kind of third order to which persons of all conditions might belong. The influence and authority of the servant of God grew from day to day. Men hastened to him in every variety of affairs. The poorer classes especially claimed his compassion. He endeavored to help them by organization and permanent settlements. He formed guilds for the various avocations and established agricultural schools and country savings banks to protect small farmers against usurers.

It is also due to Pallotti that a solemn mission for the people is held in a Roman church during the Octave of the Epiphany. He desired all nations to gather before the crib of the Redeemer; and he therefore had Pontifical Masses said in all the various rites and sermons preached in the principal languages of the world. The closing sermon is always preached by a cardinal and Pius IX in the first year of his pontificate gave this sermon in person.

The Masonic revolutionaries of 1848 threatened the life of the zealous priest and he was obliged to remain concealed in the Irish College. He was not long to survive the triumph of the Papacy, however, and died on 22 January 1850. All Rome mourned in him the loss of its greatest benefactor. So great were the throngs that crowded to see his body that the police could with difficulty preserve order. He had worked miracles during his life, but many more took place after his death. Leo XIII once said that immediately after Pallotti’s death he would have a bust of the latter placed in his ante-room so that he would be reminded to ask the servant of God every morning in passing to implore for him the grace of a good preparation for Mass.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916