The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Anthony Mary Claret y Clara

Saint Anthony Mary Claret y ClaraSalient, high in the Pyrenees near the frontier of France and not far from grace-bestowing Lourdes, is the birthplace of an archbishop whose holy life may soon receive the acknowledgment of the Church. Anthony Mary Claret y Clara, archbishop of Santiago de Cuba and afterward of Trajanopolis, was born into this world on December 23, 1807. His parents were poor weavers, obliged to work hard the whole day long to provide for their family. But they possessed great riches in their profoundly religious spirit. The father insisted on his children’s going to Mass every morning. He recited the Rosary every day with his workmen and apprentices and was inexorable in dismissing those whose moral conduct might be dangerous to the othfers. He had many a jeer to suffer from his neighbors on account of his piety.

The little Anthony showed himself worthy of such a father. Besides hearing Mass devoutly every morning he again visited the church in the evening to worship Our Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament. From his earliest years the Holy Eucharist and the Mother of God were the greatest attractions to his pure heart. The boys of Salient yielded an involuntary respect to the authority of Anthony Claret, who always admonished them energetically for any ill-conduct. The gifted boy had begun to learn Latin, but unfortunately his teacher soon died, and so nothing was left for him but to take up the trade of his father. He showed very great skill in the work, but he made himself still more useful by his good example and by his beneficial influence upon his fellow-workmen. The father hoped through his talented son to make the business more profitable, and, with this end in view, sent the boy with his brother to Barcelona in 1821, to perfect himself in the weaver’s art.

Claret mastered all the new inventions of the time with such facility that he was appointed foreman over the other workmen in the Barcelona factory. He took lessons, besides, in French and drawing. But his heart constantly drew him toward the priesthood; and for this reason he again applied his leisure to the study of Latin grammar. Once while bathing in the sea he narrowly escaped drowning. A great wave had surprised him and had carried him far out from the beach. In his distress he called upon Mary, and against all hope, as it seemed, one of his companions happily succeeded in saving him from the waves. This accident made a deep impression on him and he resolved for once and for all to put into effect his purpose of giving himself entirely to God. About this time his father came to Barcelona to consult with his sons about increasing his business and to inquire into the new inventions in the sphere of the textile industry. Anthony surprised his father with his unlooked-for resolution. But the father was too good a Christian to resist the pious desire of his son.

In his studies at the seminary of Vich, Anthony Claret distinguished himself so notably by the steadfastness of his character that the bishop ordained him on his name-day, 13 June 1835, some time before his fellow-students. On the feast of Saint Aloysius he celebrated his first Mass and began his first labors as assistant to the old pastor of his native town. He soon won the confidence of his neighbors. No one could resist the power of his words and in all the surrounding country he was venerated as a saint. But this field of activity was too small for the zeal of the young priest and he longed for the foreign missions. He went to Rome, made the Spiritual Exercises and applied for admission into the Society of Jesus. But he had hardly begun his novitiate when he was attacked by a disease of the foot, which forced him to leave the Order after a few months. Following the advice of his former superiors, he returned to Spain. After a brief employment in parish work, he devoted himself entirely to giving missions for the people, principally in Catalonia. What he accomplished there is almost incredible. He made his long journeys always on foot, preached three or four times a day, and was indefatigable in the confessional. His activity brought upon him the hatred and persecutions of the impious, but it won at the same time the repute of a true apostle from the good. To have able co-laborers in his mission work, he founded in 1849 a Congregation called the Sons of the Immacu- late Heart of Mary, which developed into a flourishing establishment. In 1900 it numbered sixteen hundred and seventy members distributed among fifty-six residences. By command of the papal Nuncio at Madrid, Anthony Claret accepted, in 1850, his appointment as archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. Accompanied by several priests and religious women he set out for his distant diocese. On the voyage he preached every day and brought the whole crew of the vessel, without an exception, to confession.

Sad, indeed, was the decay of religion in Cuba. But the new bishop did not despair. He went from place to place through his diocese and gave missions everywhere. The results were truly wonderful. At the end of the mission in Santiago, which lasted during the whole of Lent, the distribution of Holy Communion covered six hours. During a mission in another city he brought to their duty about four hundred couples living in concubinage. He did not forget to take precautions that these beginnings might be lasting in effect. He erected schools, provided for religious houses, and opened a seminary for the training of priests. Pius IX, who had heard of this new Spring of spiritual regeneration in Cuba, sent a letter of special approbation to Archbishop Claret, praising him for his apostolic zeal.

The enemy, however, did not lay down his arms. It was especially Claret’s successful effort against concubinage that excited the degenerate to make an attempt on the archbishop’s life. A secret plot was concocted, and an attack was made upon him which resulted in his being dangerously wounded. Prevented from efficient activity by the constant peril to his life, he asked the Pope to remove him from his archbishopric. The honorable appointment of confessor to Queen Isabella was given to him in i860. Obedience alone prevailed on him to accept this office, but he remained the same apostle as before, full of zeal for souls. He withdrew as much as possible from life at the court and instead gave missions in the churches of Madrid, soon becoming the most beloved confessor in the city. His influence with the queen, which was very great, he used only for the benefit of the poor. Whenever he was traveling with the court, he preached and taught the catechism wherever they stopped. Seeing the evil caused by bad literature, he wrote and distributed very many good pamphlets, and founded the academic society of Saint Michael for the spreading of good books.

In 1869, he went to Rome to participate in the Vatican Council. After its adjournment, he intended to seek rest for a time in the Pyrenees, but he was taken with a serious illness, and on 8 October 1870 received the reward of his tireless labors in the vineyard of the Lord. The process of his beatification was introduced in 1899.

– 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

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Anthony Mary Claret y Clara”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 February 2018. Web. 20 March 2018. <>