The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Blessed Caspar del Bufalo

detail of a stained glass window of Saint Gaspar del Bufalo preaching a mission; date unknown, artist unknown; nave, Saint Henry Catholic Church, Saint Henry, Ohio; photographed on 22 December 2013 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe capital of Christendom has the happiness of seeing raised to its altars one of her sons of the nineteenth century, the Blessed Caspar del Bufalo, canon of Saint Mark and founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood. He was born on 6 January 1786, the son of the head cook of the Altieri Palace in Rome. The child being threatened with total blindness, his mother, strong in faith, brought her affliction to Saint Francis Xavier and obtained an almost instant cure. This was the reason that Caspar preserved during his whole life a tender and trustful devotion to the Apostle of the Indies and Japan, and always kept before his eyes the apostolic zeal of Xavier as an ideal which he strove with all his might to reach. He was one of those chosen souls who at the very dawn of reason consider all things in the light of faith and arrive early at maturity of virtue. His pious mother narrated to her beloved child the life of Saint Aloysius in all its detail. It spurred the little boy to imitation. Where other children are fond of play, he sought enjoyment in prayer either at home or in the Gesu nearby. Though but a child, he scourged himself thrice in the week, wore a chain, observed certain days of fasting, and slept on the floor during the night between Thursday and Friday. Enlightened by grace, he was already aware of the necessity and the high reward of penance. After making his first communion at the age of eleven he received the Holy Eucharist three or four times each week and always at the altar of Saint Francis Xavier in the Gesu, where he daily served Mass. He preached at home, repeating what he had heard at the church. It was his most heart-felt desire to go among the Turks with the hope of dying for the Faith.

Caspar del Bufalo studied at the Roman College, then conducted by secular priests. At fourteen he received the tonsure and soon obtained permission to instruct children in catechism, and occasionally to preach. All was going on well with him, he had become deacon when suddenly an indescribable anxiety came upon him concerning the dignity of the priesthood and he could not make up his mind what to do. But the Venerable Vincent Strambi banished the uneasiness of his delicate conscience and on 31 July 1808, he was ordained. He became canon at Saint Mark’s and entered at once into the labors of an apostle.

Meanwhile, Napoleon ordered Pius VII to be led away a captive and demanded from priests the oath on the Constitution which annexed the Papal States to France. Del Bufalo, of course, remained faithful to the head of the Church and was therefore exiled to Piacenza and thence to Bologna.

Two years after, in 1812, he was imprisoned in San Giovanni in Monte for having persevered in refusing the oath. Twice his prison was changed and at last he was listed for transportation to Corsica, when Heaven’s chastisement overtook Napoleon. In spite of the many and severe sufferings of those years it always remained a sweet memory to Blessed Caspar that he had endured banishment and prisons for Christ.

On 7 August 1814, Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus. The former members of the Order yet living gathered gladly under the banner of Saint Ignatius, overjoyed to have lived until this happy day. Caspar del Bufalo had grown up in the shadow of the Gesu and was most intimate with the old Jesuit fathers. Francis Xavier was his ideal. No wonder then that he soon formed the resolution to enter the Order. He had already been received along with Prince Charles Odescalchi when Pius VII sent for the two good priests and ordered Odescalchi to take up the career of a prelate, while Del Bufalo, who had high repute as a successful preacher, was to devote himself at once to missions among the people. To preach Christ to the world was exactly what the canon of Saint Mark’s most desired, and now that the Vicar of Christ had chosen him for this office it was to him the will of God. Nor did Pius VII fail in choosing the right man. Del Bufalo’ s preaching had mighty results. He was a man of no extraordinary oratorical gifts, his language and thought being as plain as possible, and at school he did not rise above mediocrity. But it was the tremendous earnestness, the profound conviction with which he spoke and, at the same time his gentleness, his unction, that laid hold of his hearers. The Venerable Strambi called his preaching “a spiritual earthquake.” A gray old sinner avowed after confession that of the whole sermon he had understood only one word: “Paradise,” but that the ardor, gesture, and voice of Del Bufalo thrilled his heart.

His repute for sanctity contributed much to this success. His untiring zeal, his love of prayer, and his ardent devotion during the Holy Mass could not be hidden – much less could he hide the gift of miracles that God had given him. He made extraordinary conversions and foretold future events. His biographer cites witnesses who saw him in different places at the same time.

From the first, Del Bufalo had several priests working with him. There occurred to them spontaneously the idea of forming a Congregation. They took the name of “Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood.” They desired by promoting devotion to the Most Precious Blood to excite a greater appreciation of the grace of redemption. The Church owes the Feast of the Precious Blood to the suggestion of Del Bufalo. Pius VII was very favorable to the young society. They soon opened many houses and the great missionary activity of their founder brought them a high reputation. But everything good must have its trials. Leo XII had been misinformed and was little inclined toward the Society. When Del Bufalo had his first audience, however, the condition of affairs changed. “I found him an angel,” declared the Pope afterward. Nor did Pius VIII show himself agreeable to the plan of the new Congregation. These were hard days for the Servant of God. It also hindered his external activities. He employed this leisure in perfecting his subjects and in consolidating the spirit of the young society. Only under Gregory XVI did things change permanently for the better.

With the co-operation of Del Bufalo, the Venerable Maria de Mattias founded a branch of the Congrega- tion for women – “Sisters of the Adoration of the Precious Blood.” Both Congregations have proved vigorous and have spread beyond Italy into the United States.

The health of Blessed Caspar had always been feeble. No one was surprised, therefore, when, on December 28, 1837, he succumbed to the hardships of his apostolic life when only fifty-seven years of age. Heaven immediately began to manifest the sanctity of the deceased by miracles. In 1904, Pius X declared him Blessed.

– 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