Family, we have a special Super Saint of the 19th century to share with you today, St. Gaspar del Bufalo. His shrine is all over Rome, but his body is venerated in the Church of Santa Maria in Trivio, about a block in back of the Fountain of Trevi.
When we mention the name, Gaspar del Bufalo to our brothers and sisters in the United States, most Americans know virtually nothing about him. And yet, he was a very powerful worker for the Lord. He is credited with many things, including being the founder of a Religious Order, the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood, which is very active in the United States, as well as all over the world. Gaspar stood up against the powers of hell, which in his day was Napoleon Bonaparte and his reign of terror. Gaspar was a thorn in the side of Napoleon and his cohorts during their occupation of Italy. He spent most of Napoleon’s time as ruler of Italy either in exile or jail. However, by 1815, Napoleon was gone, and Gaspar was there to pick up the pieces of a broken country, and a wounded Church. He was able to found the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood that same year.
But wait, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. In order to bring you the exciting story of this zealot for the Lord, we must start at the beginning. Gaspar was born in Rome on January 6, 1786, the Feast of the Epiphany, which accounts for his name, Gaspar, Melchior, Balthasar del Bufalo, in honor the three Wise Men. He came from humble circumstances. But his father was a hard working ambitious man. He wanted the best for his family. He worked as a cook for a prominent Roman family. So although Gaspar never had enough to eat, and they feared he would die at an early age, he did have some benefits in living in the home of this prince of the nobility. He was able to get some medical help at a time when it was all but impossible for the poor to obtain. And he needed it all his young life. And as we will see, he was able to get some ideal educational help because of where he lived. A great blessing about the Altieri Palace, where they lived, and where the father worked, was that it was right across the street from the Gesú, the Mother Church of St. Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuit community. There is a chapel in that Gesú dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders and great Saints, along with St. Ignatius of Loyola, of the Jesuit order. Gaspar’s mother, Annunziata, prayed often at that chapel. There was a relic of St. Francis’ arm at the foot of the altar, where Annunziata knelt. She prayed there every day, sometimes twice and three times a day.
We have to believe the Lord orchestrated everything in the life of this future Saint. Gaspar was a very sickly child, very frail. A time was to come when Gaspar, only a year or so old, was going blind. He suffered from an incurable disease of the eyes. Annunziata prayed for a healing for her son. She had great faith in the power of prayer, and in the great Saint, Francis Xavier’s intercession. God blessed her faith and miraculously cured Gaspar of his eye’s affliction. Annunziata thanked Our Lord Jesus and the intercession of St. Francis Xavier the rest of her life. She told her son many times throughout his life of the miraculous cure he had received through the gift of prayer.
Gaspar took St. Francis Xavier as his special Saint and put his religious congregation under the protection of the Apostle of India. Gaspar studied about St. Francis Xavier, and also developed a great love for the missions. However, the mission the Lord had planned for him was to be confined to Italy. That is not to say that his followers, those who joined his congregation, did not travel to all parts of the world, creating missions, evangelizing in the name of the Lord. Today, the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood has a worldwide ministry.
It was obvious the Lord had hand-picked his family. He used the best of both parents to help Gaspar in accomplishing what the Lord had planned for him. From his father, he inherited the drive and organizational skills to decide what he wanted to do, determine how to do it, and get the job done. From his mother, he was given the gift of his spirituality. From the time he was a child, probably from the time he could understand the teachings of his mother, she shared with him stories of Our dear Lord Jesus, His Mother Mary, all the Angels and the Saints. Gaspar was very spiritual, very reverent, completely committed to Our Lord Jesus in the Catholic Church. He took her sensitivity, her love for the oppressed, her strong Christian convictions, and love of all things that had to do with Church. In his early years, he was fortunate in that living at the palace, he was able to be taught by highly qualified teachers. However, his later experience in the public schools was not good at all, as there was no comparison to the learning atmosphere of the palace. His father and mother deeply concerned with their son’s education, agreed to pay what, for them, was a highly exorbitant tuition to have their son attend a school run by priests of a religious order. This helped with Gaspar’s religious formation.
At age 12, Gaspar was admitted to the Collegio Romano, to prepare for his future life as a priest and ambassador of God. He spent the next 11 years in this seminary, completing all his formation for the priesthood, and being ordained to the various ministries of the Church, such as sub deacon, deacon, and finally, just before ordination, to acting Canon in the Basilica of San Marco in Rome. Then, on July 31, 1808, he was ordained a priest at the Church of the Missionaries of Saint Vincent de Paul in the Montecitorio area of Rome. He was now ready to begin his career for the Lord. Although he was only 21 years old when he was ordained, he began preaching missions immediately. His training at the hands of his dear mother, and then the priests of the Collegio Romano bore fruit early on. He was a popular speaker throughout Rome. He was doing what the Lord had planned for him and the Lord blessed him.
That is, until he locked horns with the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte. The year after his ordination, 1809, Napoleon took over Italy. In May, he overpowered the Papal States; in June, Pope Pius VII excommunicated Napoleon, and in July, Napoleon arrested the Pope, and sent him to France to sit out Napoleon’s reign in prison. All the loyal priests in Italy knew their future was insecure. The French rulers did not want to close the Catholic Church; they wanted to control it. So they required all religious in the country to take an oath of allegiance to Napoleon. Many priests gave in. Many did not. Gaspar was not about to betray his Pope, and so he refused, saying resolutely, “I cannot, I must not, and I will not.” In 1810, he was exiled to a prison in Piacenza in northern Italy. It was a hell-hole. The conditions in Piacenza were unbearable. That, coupled with his frail health, caused him to become deathly ill, and so he was transferred to Bologna. Earlier that year, a nun in Rome, the Venerable Sister Agnes of the Incarnate Word, prior to dying in Rome, predicted to Fr. Albertini, Gaspar’s mentor, that there would be a community of priests and nuns of the Precious Blood which would be founded by Gaspar del Bufalo. When Gaspar was so ill in Piacenza, Fr. Albertini told him of the prophecy of Sister Agnes. Immediately, he regained his health.
Things were better for Gaspar and his friend in Bologna that year. He and Fr. Albertini were allowed to live in an old palace. Although he slept in the servant’s quarters in the attic, he was able to celebrate Mass again! He studied in the University. All was going well when two devastating things happened. His friend, Fr. Albertini, was sent to the Bastia prison in Corsica, where he suffered for the rest of the war. As if that was not enough, Gaspar’s sainted mother, Annunziata, died. Her heart gave out. There were those who said she died of a broken heart because her son had been taken away from her and been imprisoned. She was 50 years old.
The following year, 1812, did not prove to be any better, as it was a period of exile and imprisonment for Gaspar. In September, he and a group of deported priests were brought in front of the French government and asked to take the oath of loyalty to Napoleon. They all refused. Gaspar was sent to a prison, San Giovanni in Monte in Bologna, where he languished in terrible conditions for the next six months. The prison was so foul and seedy, it was unbearable for most, but for Gaspar, who had grown up in a palace, it was a real hardship.
There’s an old adage, “When fate hands you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s exactly what St. Gaspar did. It was very obvious the French were determined to break their spirits. But our future Saint followed the way, another future Saint, the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux would take. He and another priest, who were confined together under the worst conditions, behaved as if they were living in a palace. They slept on bare boards. They never let on how uncomfortable it was. They were given dirty soup to eat. They said it was delicious. It just went on and on. They offered everything up, for many petitions, one, the end of the captivity for their Pope and for themselves, and a final resolution of the Napoleon question. The French in charge came to the conclusion that there were too many in the one prison, and they were fortifying each others’ spirits.
So at the beginning of 1813, the French took half of them, of which Gaspar was one, and sent them to a far worse prison if that was possible, in Imola. The logic was that after six months in a prison like Imola, they should be ready to agree to anything. In January, 1813, Napoleon had forced Pope Pius VII to issue a statement of sort of reconciliation, called the Second Concordant, which the Pope then recanted a few days later. But this would have allowed his priests to take the loyalty oath, according to French logic. So in May, Gaspar was asked again to take the oath of loyalty, and again he refused, insisting “I cannot, I must not, and I will not.” He was told about the Pope signing the Second Concordat, but Gaspar still refused.
The French were furious. They took Fr. Gaspar and all those who had not taken the oath of loyalty, and sent them to an even worse prison in Lugo di Romagna. Their time there was possibly the worst of all their imprisonment. Now, the number of priests who had refused to take the loyalty oath had dwindled considerably. These fourteen were severe holdouts. The French had to either break them or send them to Corsica, which amounted to a near death sentence. We believe our Saint would have gone to his death rather than give his loyalty to anyone other than his pope. But the Lord intervened.
In December, Gaspar was sent back to Bologna, and again the French ordered him to take the loyalty oath. He refused for what would be the last time. That was it. He was sent to Florence to prepare for his last trip, to Corsica, which would ultimately lead to his death. But Napoleon came up against his greatest adversary, and the One he gave no importance to at all, God. Before the end of the year, Napoleon’s armies had suffered defeat after defeat. He was all but finished, and by the beginning of the new year, he was on his way to his first place of exile, Elba. In January, 1814, all the priests in Italy were freed, and allowed to return to their homes. Gaspar was on his way back to Rome, and a powerful ministry for the Lord.
But the Rome he came back to was not the Rome he had left. After years of French domination, Rome had been hit badly. Many of the men had not returned yet from enforced servitude. The streets and piazzas were almost empty. The people were in a depressed state. So what did Gaspar and his fellow priests and religious do? They made lemonade! (Remember, we had told you, When fate hands you lemons, make lemonade.”) They got to work. Because there was no formal organization, Fr. Gaspar and a fellow priest, Fr. Gaetano Bonnani, went to the small towns and villages surrounding Rome, preaching, hearing confessions and administering the Sacraments, most importantly Holy Communion.
In Gaspar’s heart, he had always dreamt of giving back to the Jesuits for the gift of healing he had been given as a child, through the intercession of St. Francis Xavier. He wanted to join the Jesuit Order, which had just been restored by Pope Pius VII. He asked the advice of Fr. Albertini, his mentor, who had returned from Corsica to Rome after the defeat of Napoleon. While Fr. Albertini did not think this was the path Gaspar should be traveling, he suggested the young priest follow his dream. Gaspar was not totally convinced that this was the right path, but felt the Lord would guide him through prayer. So he and another young priest asked for and were accepted into the Jesuit community. It was at that time that the Lord came through and guided Gaspar. It was through the intercession of Pope Pius VII.
Both Gaspar and Fr. Albertini were invited to have an audience with His Holiness. Gaspar could see how his beloved Pope had aged from the ordeal with Napoleon and the imprisonment in France. But he was their Pope, and he was about to advise them. He said to them, “My dear sons, news has reached me that you are preparing to become Jesuits. It is a very laudable choice, but it does not seem the most appropriate choice for you. You, Don Carlo, will serve in our diplomatic corps; while you, Gaspar, will become a missionary. So go and may God bless you.” Gaspar’s head was spinning as he left the audience with the Pope. But at least there was no question as to what his vocation would be. His Holiness had declared it, “You will be a Missionary!”
And so began the career of one of God’s most powerful missionaries. Having been given the mandate by his Pope, Gaspar threw himself headlong into the ministry of Evangelization. While working throughout Italy, the thought kept coming back to him of the idea his mentor, Fr. Albertini, had talked about, during their time of imprisonment; and then again when they were reunited at the end of the war. Fr. Albertini had suggested a new congregation, dedicated to the Precious Blood of Jesus. Basically, it would be a ministry of spreading the Faith, opening houses in the Papal States and training young men and women for the tremendous work ahead.
Fr. Gaspar was invited to preach a mission in a small town in the Umbrian valley, Giano, near Spoleto. The bishop who had invited Gaspar to do the mission in preparation for the Feast of All Saints, Monsignor Belisario Cristaldi, turned out to be the catalyst through which the Congregation would have their beginnings.
There was an old abbey and church in the mountains of Umbria, specifically Cerreto. It was called the Abbey of San Felice. It was 1814, and it had been abandoned by the Benedictines four years before. Gaspar fell in love with it. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit that this was it; this was where the new Congregation would begin. Gaspar asked Monsignor Cristaldi for his help, and it was gladly given. Within one month, Pope Pius VII gave his approval for the house and land to be given to the newly created congregation, and along with that, a yearly stipend to help them get started. If this was not the work of the Holy Spirit, we don’t know what was. At any event, the community began, less than a year after Gaspar was released from prison.
However, things were not as rosy as they may sound. The money which the Pope had promised never materialized. The abbey was in a shambles, having been completely abandoned for four years. And if that wasn’t enough, the Archbishop of Spoleto wasn’t quite sure he wanted this new group in his Diocese. It took all that Monsignor Cristaldi could do to finally convince the Archbishop to allow Fr. Gaspar and his Congregation to settle in the Diocese of Spoleto. So, on the one hand, Fr. Gaspar had to appease the Archbishop, and on the other, he had to attempt to persuade his members to run all over the countryside giving missions, and then come back to San Felice to become carpenters, plumbers and all else it took to put the abbey into condition. He lost a few; he gained a few. But by the Feast of the Assumption, 1815, he officially opened the doors of the new mother house of the Congregation of the Missionaries of the Most Precious Blood.
[The above article is an excerpt from our Minibook on Saint Gaspar. Please order the dvd and Minibook on the life of Saint Gaspar del Bufalo. For ordering information on this minibook or DVD, click here]