By admin - Posted on 28 March 2012



1. The decision to give his congregation St. Charles Borromeo as its patron was not apparently the result of some sudden inspiration, but came to Scalabrini from afar, from the innermost core of his whole spiritual life.

The very words he used when announcing it to his Missionaries in the famous letter of 1892 indicate this: "One day, after praying to the Lord in this regard [i.e. "placing our congregation under the patronage of a saint"], and beseeching light from the Holy Spirit, the figure of the great St. Charles came into my mind more radiant and gentler than ever." The last phrase, italicized here, indicates that he had seen the saint as radiant and gentle even prior to this.

Apart from his Lombard origins, we should remember that as a priest Scalabrini had the task of revising the Como Catechism in the light of St. Charles Borromeo's Christian Doctrine School; also that in his Little Catechism for Nursery Schools (1875), he quotes St. Charles twice, while his Catholic Catechism (published at Piacenza in 1876, but written in Como when he was parish priest of St. Bartholomew's) is studded with over thirty quotations from St. Charles Borromeo - including the whole of Chapter XVII.

2. It should also be noted that Piacenza had very close ties with Charles Borromeo through Scalabrini's predecessors, the bishops Burali (much respected by St. Charles, who invited him to take part in two of his synods), Sega (to whom Bascapè would dedicate the account of the last hours of St. Charles' life), and Rangoni (who was one of the promoters of the cause for the beatification of St. Charles).

3. St. Charles Borromeo was also at Scalabrini's time "the personification of the ideal bishop" (Alberigo), the pastor "who does all things for all people," burning with zeal for the salvation of the souls that cost Christ's blood. According to Soranzo, the renowned Venetian ambassador of the period, Borromeo's example was more valuable than all the decrees of the Council of Trent, because, by creating the suitable structures, he fulfilled all the Council's decrees concerning the ministry of bishops: residence, preaching, pastoral visits, seminaries, catechism, synods and provincial councils, worship and charitable works. The simple list of these elements seems to foreshadow the attitudes and features of Bishop Scalabrini.

4. The most reliable historiography sees St. Charles above all as a bishop-pastor.

"The more we study, read, know and hear about what Borromeo did, the more we are led to believe that the most probable key to his extraordinary stature lies in his function as shepherd, which he exercised with his eyes on the one and only Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, so that he perhaps came closer than anyone else has done to the image described in Chapter 10 of St. John's Gospel.

"He organized the whole care of souls with new structures which survived almost down to our own days, establishing very close relations between faithful and bishop and between faithful and priest as a cornerstone. Both bishop and priest had to know the baptized, helping them, nourishing them with sound doctrine, freeing them from ignorance, correcting them in their errors, punishing them for abuses if necessary, and assisting them if they needed it.

"Living alongside the people - hence the obligation of residence for parish priests and bishops and the example he set in this regard - became a primary commitment for St. Charles, allowing him to obtain a deep knowledge of the virtues and vices, needs and capacities of his people. He then issued a series of practical dispositions on the basis of this knowledge, ranging from exhortations to orders .... And before acting with ordinances and corrections, he would act by setting a good example. He always walked before his flock and was always the first to do what he asked, following Christ's example of "doing and teaching" (Acts 1:1). And Christ and his gospel became the reference point for St. Charles' every action and every ordinance ..." (L. Crivelli).

5. The many ways in which Scalabrini mirrored St. Charles will shortly be seen in this series of fold-out pamphlets, especially those on the subjects we consider the two cornerstones of his pastoral approach - after those of the Eucharist (fold-outs 2 and 3) and the catechism (fold-out 8) - namely, the pastoral visits and the synods.

For now, we shall confine ourselves to noting some elements common to both men, in order to sketch parallel portraits.

However, although we can draw a parallel between Borromeo and his "imitator," we should not ignore their major differences not only in personality (although this is not the right place to discuss these), but also between the two societies in which they played leading roles: that of the Counter-Reformation - or, better, the Catholic Reformation - and that of the Age of Positivism. St. Charles was in a way more fortunate than Scalabrini, for his society was still a Christian and unsplintered one, while Scalabrini's was lay and pluralistic: lay in family, school, world of work and politics, etc. Moreover, St. Charles' society had not yet been corrupted by the canker of anarchic individualism as had Scalabrini's.

St. Charles Borromeo and Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini: a brief sketch

a. Both were practical rather than theoretical men. Both were geniuses more of the will than the mind, and conceived pastoral strategies with meticulous detail and rules, scrupulously implemented, and capable of involving and motivating the people.

Their main element of genius was perseverance and long patience.

b. Both were involved in the social sphere. Here we can recall St. Charles' teaching institutes for the clergy, the nobility and the people, the institutes for the moral and material assistance of orphans, fallen women, old people, beggars, etc., the foundation of hospitals, etc. In Scalabrini's case we can recall his institutes for the deaf and dumb, rice-workers and emigrants, and the foundation of various rural credit and savings societies, Catholic banks, etc. In both cases, we should also recall their very generous charity, even with the sacrifice of personal possessions and the risk of their own life, not only during the plague and cholera epidemics, but also during the famines that afflicted the poor especially.

c. Both had the gift of making their pastoral activity reach down to the grass-roots level, to the point that the works and days in the lives of the members of their flock, whatever their position and situation, were all permeated with Christian leaven.

d. Both worked hard for the dignity of the house of God (in the Eucharistic Synod in 1899, Scalabrini took the Acts of St. Charles as his model, especially in the normative section [II], but also partly in the theological section [I), regarding construction and restoration work, consecrations, establishment of Marian shrines, etc.

The "colossal" tasks of restoring the Milan and Piacenza Cathedrals can be seen as emblematic for the two men.

Lastly, both were devoted to the saints who had established the faith and confirmed the historical truth by recognizing their relics.

e. Their main devotion in their pastoral approach was the Eucharist.

f. Love for the Crucified Christ, with whom St. Charles is depicted in iconography, was also progressively assumed by Scalabrini; and as his biographer (Bishop Caliaro) says, this can be summed up in his motto: "(0 Mary,) let me be intoxicated with the cross!"

g. The decrees of the Council of Trent, to which both often refer, was the basis for a new approach to ecclesiology, which was carried out through pastoral work, an ecclesiology whose precise goal was the Church: "The supreme law is the salvation of souls."

This pastoral approach meant that bishops in particular had to invest all their energies in making possible the practice of the faith, the exercise of worship in spirit and truth, and the effective practice of charity on the part of the faithful.

St. Charles and Scalabrini refer explicitly to the reform decree of the 23rd Session, which can be seen as a pastoral program for bishops: "By divine command, those who must tend to the care of souls must know their own flock, offer the sacrifice for them, nourish them with the preaching of the divine word, the administration of the sacraments and the example of all good, showing fatherly care to the poor and other unfortunate persons, and dedicating themselves to all other pastoral tasks."

Here we should recall not only that Scalabrini's main apostolate - that to migrants - was dictated by this concern for the "salvation of souls" ("... who will lose the faith of their fathers" - Italian Emigration to America, p. 6), but also that his political commitment was itself dictated principally by his pastoral concern - a concern that led him to exclaim sadly over the present situation: "And in the meantime, souls are lost!"

h. St. Charles felt very strongly about the dignity of bishops and "the joint responsibility of bishops in governing the Church" (Alberigo), what today is called "collegiality," not in the "episcopalian" sense, but as a primary ecclesial element which combines with the papal element to produce an articulated, complex view of the Church. The same has been said of Scalabrini, and this certainly led to his sensitivity over "bishops in top hats."

i. Both lived with intensity the interdependence of the personal virtues of a Christian called to holiness and those of a bishop responsible for the government of a Christian community. Prayer, self-renunciation, mortification and penitential instruments were not private spiritual practices for them, but above all apostolic requirements and energies placed at the service of their activity as pastors. Their own gospel path was that of those who follow more closely in the steps of the Shepherd who gives his life in the midst of his flock, be it the Milan or Piacenza of their day.

Their ministry requires personal ascetics, so that both men stepped up their ascetical practices when they felt unequal to the service called for of them, as on the occasion of the plague and the Miraglia schism. Thus they became saints because they became increasingly aware that they were pastors; they would not be pastors and saints, but saints because they were pastors.

St. Charles emphasized the close connection between his own ascetics and the fact that he was bishop in a letter to the Archbishop of Valenza: "Having understood that the bishop must be a light before the people, showing them the path of virtue not only by preaching the gospel, but also through an example of life, I felt that it was my duty to set an example in both fields, and in such a way as to be an example, especially in the life of sacrifice and in hardship."

And in a letter to his friend Bonomelli, Scalabrini emphasized the fact that the crosses of his episcopate during the Miraglia schism were what led him to a more intense ascetical life (Letters, 491). We then find the following among his resolutions:

"'The bishop" - and we should note that the subject of these resolutions is not some jealously private ascetic, intent on his own perfection, but the Bishop - "must be moved in every action by the Holy Spirit, the hidden motor of the all-holy humanity of Jesus Christ.

"He must do violence to himself to become holy.

"The bishop must be virgin, confessor and martyr ....

"Raise me up, make me noble, purify me, sanctify me."

1. In both we see a constant ascent toward an exclusive concentration on Jesus Christ and his passion, which "must be the foundation on which must stand all those who want to treat Christian and spiritual things with the people" (St. Charles to Cardinal Valier, 1582). And Scalabrini: "'Let me be intoxicated with the cross!'I will repeat often, pressing the pectoral cross to my heart. Humiliations, griefs, insults and bitter disappointments are part of God's plan .... I shall never lack them, nor do I at present .... My God, may you be blessed! Courage in the cross of Jesus Christ!"

Both shared St. Paul's "concern for all the Churches." We must remember St. Charles' concern that Rome should set up a congregation of cardinals to help bishops in applying the Council, the distribution of the Acta Ecclesiae Mediolanensis throughout the world, and "the seminary of bishops" that Milan became.

For Scalabrini, we would recall his memorandum to the Pope (twenty days prior to his death!), asking for the creation of a congregation for Catholic emigrants, which Pius X would in fact implement in 1912.

In 1591 Possevino, St. Charles' biographer, wrote: "His charity was not enclosed within the bounds or confines of his diocese or province, but went out from them, embracing all the dioceses and provinces of the world, in this way resembling the apostle Paul's daily concern for all the churches" - an observation almost truer of Scalabrini, who had realized that the care of Catholic migrants was the future of the Church in the New World and a kind of "extension of the Catholic faith."

The Gook Shepherd

Scalabrini "mirrored" the following portrait of a true bishop, as written by St. Charles for the Fifth Provincial Council in 1579:

"The bishop must be assiduous in prayer, a lover of contemplation of the things of God, constant in his presence in the diocese, applying himself wholly to his tasks and duties as bishop, and dedicating himself wholly to fasting and abstinence, a hospitable and true father and pastor to the poor, the widows and the young, a guardian of holy places, and a solicitous promulgator of holy institutions ....

"A person who has taken the Good Shepherd as his rule always fulfills the office of preaching the word of God as prescribed by the Council of Trent. On the other hand, a person who has focussed on the prestige of the episcopal dignity and not the toils, on the riches and not the responsibilities, on the ease and not the concerns and anxieties entailed in so many duties, will rarely - or indeed never - feed his flock with the word of God.

"The former celebrates a diocesan synod every year, while the latter does not convene congregations of clergy and priests, let alone a synod.

"The former commits himself fully to making the pastoral visit to the diocese, while the latter does not even know the faces of his flock, nor is he in any way concerned to be known lovingly by his flock.

"The former does everything to fulfill the aim of rooting out the bad habits, vices and sins of his flock and bring each erring sheep back to the path of salvation, while the latter measures everything against the yardstick of public opinion, and ignores people's sins in his concern to please them - if he does not in fact, horror of horrors, offer his flock an incentive to sin!

"The concern of the vigilant pastor is also seen in the splendor of worship and of places of worship..."

All things to all people

Scalabrini in fact drew a portrait of himself when he sketched his portrait of a bishop on the occasion of Bonomelli's jubilee:

"Now the mission of the bishop is precisely that... of preparing the ways of the Lord in souls: 'Make straight the way of the Lord.' In his position as supervisor, which is always difficult and often dangerous, the bishop has three things constantly before his eyes which keep him in a state of trepidation: the dangers to souls, the crime of silence, and the judgment of God.

"Thus he fulfills all the duties of the good shepherd, guiding his sheep to health-giving pastures and springs of clear water, and moving boldly and resolutely against the wolves who infiltrate the sheepfold in lamb's clothing.

"He speaks, writes and acts, but in doing so, his one aim is the glory of God and the salvation of souls .... His rule is not his own comfort or interest, not his own or others' petty satisfactions, but the truth, nothing but the truth ....

"Disregarding his own peace and rest, and restrained by neither inclement seasons nor harsh journeys, nor dangers of any kind, he spends a large part of his life travelling from cities to villages, from palaces to huts, from valleys to mountains, visiting churches, altars and cemeteries, eradicating abuses, settling disputes, exhorting sinners, confirming the righteous, consoling the afflicted, blessing children, kindling the zeal of priests, 'making himself all things for all people' ....

"The spirit, the character, the sole ambition of the bishop lies in sacrificing himself in every way to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ in souls, if necessary risking his own life for the salvation of his beloved flock, placing himself on his knees before all the people, as it were, imploring their permission to do them good. He uses everything - his whole authority, skill, health, strength for this noblest purpose."

St. Charles, the Apostle of Christ

Letter to the Missionaries for the Italians in the Americas, 15 March 1892

There are three "exemplary" aspects of the "patron" who would also be the "model" for his missionaries: St. Charles the apostle, St. Charles the man of will, and lastly St. Charles the man of constancy, patience and perseverance.

St. Charles is "a true apostle of Jesus Christ," who "thirsts after souls" to such an extent that he neither desires, asks, nor wants anything other than souls. "Give me souls and keep all the rest!" - a well-known biblical phrase, which Scalabrini could also have read in the portrait of the pastor of souls in a synodal prayer of St. Charles (Diocesan Synod XI).

St. Charles, a man of will and not intelligence, a pastor and not a doctor of the Church (his St. Francis de Sales had seen him in this light, not without irritating the Milanese!). And, as a man of will, he would also be a "man of action" more than contemplation.

This active will is then expressed in a pastoral strategy which determines the needs of souls and then considers the remedies, creates the most suitable structures, fulfills its objectives patiently and perseveringly, verifies them in minute detail, and lastly upholds resolutions and actions with the fire of his zeal, "not leaving even the dead in peace" (Giusanni, Life of St. Charles Borromeo, 1912, quoted by Scalabrini).

It seems superfluous to add that Scalabrini saw St. Charles as the portrait of the bishop and pastor of souls whom he took as his inspiration, as well as that for any other pastor, and for Catholic missionaries, including his Missionary Fathers and Sisters.


"The moment has come, my dear ones, to place our congregation definitively under the patronage of a saint, whose name should distinguish it and be a kind of banner or seal, according to the desire you have expressed to me several times.

"One day after praying to the Lord in this regard, and beseeching light from the Holy Spirit, the figure of the great St. Charles came into my mind more radiant and gentler than ever. I almost seemed to hear a voice telling me: Here is the patron, the support, the model for your sons! ... And from that day I decided to place you in his hands. The dear Saint immediately gave me a sign of his approval, providing me with a way to get a church dedicated to him. This is the church that will be built beside the large new premises that I hope to be able to acquire very soon with the help of various good people and also yourselves.

"From now on, you will have the honor of calling yourselves The Missionaries of Saint Charles.

"Saint Charles! He was one of those men of action who do not hesitate, do not bend or ever retreat: who throw into every act the whole strength of their conviction, all the energy of their will, their whole personality, all of themselves, and win.

"Saint Charles! What a marvelous example of undaunted constancy, of generous patience, of enlightened, unrelenting, and magnanimous zeal -- an example of all those virtues that make a person a real apostle of Jesus Christ. He thirsted for souls. He desired nothing but souls, did not ask for anything but souls. "Give me souls; take everything else away," he used to say. My God, to gain souls for Jesus Christ what did he not do! What did he not endure! What did he not say!

"Saint Charles! This is a name which the Catholic missionary should never hear without being inflamed with the noblest and liveliest enthusiasm, without feeling profoundly moved (...).

Dearly beloved, pattern yourselves after him. Recommend yourselves to him. Put all your trust in him. You can be certain of his protection."

"May I find comfort in the thought that this time too, my visit has done a little good to your souls - souls which are as dear to me as my own soul. I seek nothing but souls, I want nothing but souls, I thirst after nothing but souls.

"Lord, give me the souls of my children, and may none of them be lost!"

(Scalabrini's words at the opening of a pastoral visitation).