Saint of the Day – 7 November – Blessed Anthony Baldinucci S.J. (1665-1717) Jesuit Priest, Preacher, Writer and Missionary. Born on 19 June 1665 in Florence, Italy and died on 7 November 1717 of natural causes. Beatified on 23 April 1893 by Pope Leo XIII.
Antonio Baldinucci was born in Florence (Tuscany, Italy), the son of a writer and artist and his wife. he fifth of five sons, Antonio’s parents had promised the Lord prior to his birth that if they produced a son, they would devote his life to Saint Anthony of Padua (whose intercession had cured a family member of serious illness). hen Antonio was born, he was raised in the faith, with the intention of his becoming a priest and serving God as promised by his parents. Antonio embraced his parents’ wishes with the zeal of one on fire for the Lord. ather than rebel, as we might expect from a teenage boy, Antonio instead gravitated to the holy, threw himself into his studies and lived a pious life. At age eleven, he began his studies with the Jesuits at San Giovannino but following his eldest brother’s entrance into the Dominican Order, expressed his wish to follow. he Dominicans, however, refused Antonio’s admission, due to his poor health. nstead, his father recommended that he embark on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, to attempt to discern God’s plan for his life. Under the spiritual direction of a Jesuit, Antonio was led to seek admission to the Society of Jesusand at the age of 16, began his novitiate in Rome.
Antonio, often ill, was assigned to serve the local Rome community. He first taught the young men at the college, despite his young age. Antonio was not content to remain in Rome, however, expressing his greatest wish to be sent out as a missionary among the Gentiles and to suffer martyrdom for the Lord. He applied, during his tenure with the Jesuits for three overseas missions trips—to India, China, and Japan—and was each time refused, on account of his fragile health. As his health worsened, he experienced debilitating headaches and body fatigue and was sent around the country to various Jesuit houses, seeking advice and cure. Apparently, getting out of Rome was helpful for him and he regained his strength. Allowed to preach, his brothers were amazed by his vigour and success in converting those who heard him!
Returning to Rome, Antonio would spend his afternoons in public places, preaching, and drawing many to the Church. He was ordained at age 30 and immediately applied to be sent overseas as a missionary but again was refused. Instead, Antonio was sent to Frascati, south of Rome, where part of his duties was to provide missions to the poor surrounding towns and villages in the area. Antonio embraced this task with zeal, working among the poor and uneducated for the remainder of his life. Looking to St Ignatius and St Peter Claver as models Antonio traveled barefoot to the towns and villages, regardless of weather. He carried all he needed in a bag on his back and walked with a pilgrim staff. When asked why he walked barefoot, he replied: “That God may be moved by my sufferings to touch the hearts of my hearers.”
Each of Antonio’s missions lasted between eight and fourteen days, depending on the needs of the parish and for his preaching he generally drew from the Spiritual Exercises. At the start of each mission, Blessed Antonio would lead a procession of penitents, during which he wore a crown of thorns, carried a heavy cross and whipped or flagellated himself. This he did as penance for the sins of those he served. Once he had instilled a bit of fear into his mission attendees, Blessed Antonio softened his approach. He spent little time in the pulpit, instead interacting on a personal level with his congregation, writing letters, teaching catechism, visiting and assisting children and the ill. All were welcome, including the ruffians or thugs of the villages. Antonio often began his missions by seeking out the roughest characters of the region and asking them to accompany him, offering him “protection.” By the conclusion of each mission, many of these dissolute characters had come to the faith. Each of Blessed Antonio’s missions ended in the same manner, with a large exhibition where everyone could receive Holy Eucharist. Following Communion, a public burning of cards, dice, obscene pictures, books and secular songs would commence. After one mission, 240 daggers and small guns and 21 pistols were laid at his feet.
Blessed Antonio participated in missions for over 20 years, during that time giving 448 missions in 30 dioceses (an average of 22 each year). Despite this schedule, he found the time to write down many of his sermons, as well as maintain correspondence with those who needed spiritual direction and support. To do so, he maintained a rigorous schedule of work, prayer and penance, sleeping little (about three hours each night on a bed of planks) and fasting constantly. While he had received a special dispensation from Pope Clement XI to not offer daily Mass due to his schedule, he refused to accept it, reading the Liturgy daily.
Gradually, Antonio’s reputation grew and he was summoned to larger and larger cities, drawing great crowds at each mission. Father Baldinucci was deeply devoted to the Eucharist, the Passion of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. He highly revered an image of the Blessed Virgin with the title, “Refuge of Sinners,” attributing numerous conversions and miraculous cures to its veneration. Beginning a new mission in Frosinone, his health failed him and he was confined to his bed. Although he appeared to others to be recovering, Antonio knew his death was approaching and requested that the image of Mary be placed before him. Repeatedly, he prayed to Our Blessed Mother, “Show yourself to be a Mother.” After asking for the Last Sacraments and despite the fact that he was barely able to speak, Antonio continued to recite the prayer, “Jesus and Mary, my hope,” until his death.
He began to convulse through the night until the following morning and finally at 11.00 am on the morning of 7 November 1717, Fr Baldinucci who was only fifty-two surrendered his soul to his Saviour. The indefatigable priest at his death had served the Society for thirty-five years and spent twenty years as an active preacher in the Italian countryside.
Fr Baldinucci was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on 25 March 1893 and his memorial is liturgically celebrated on 7 July.
Blessed Antonio was buried in the chapel of San Giovanni in Florence.