Saint of the Day – 23 May – St John Baptist de Rossi (1698-1764) born Giovanni Battista de Rossi (22 February 1698 at Voltaggio, diocese of Genoa, Italy – 23 May 1764 at Trinita dei Pellegrini, Italy of multiple strokes) Priest, Preacher and Teacher, Apostle of Charity. Patronage – Voltaggio.
St John was born in 1698, near Genova, Italy. When he was 10, he went on a summer holiday to his relatives, a very pious couple. They noted the piety of the youth and asked permission of his parents to take him to their house in Geneva to educate him there. Capuchin priests came often to visit the house of this couple to ask for assistance for the poor. These religious recommended the youth to the Provincial Father. He made arrangements for John to study in Rome. In the Roman College he studied with great application, gaining the liking of his professors and friends. He was ordained a priest at the age of 23.
He read in some exaggerated book, that recommended doing very strong penances and he dedicated himself to mortify himself in food, drink and sleep, so intensely that a nervous depression overtook him that left him incapable of doing anything for several months. He was able to regain his strength but from then on he always had to struggle against his poor health. He learned that the best mortification is to accept the sufferings and the work of every day, doing well in each moment what one must do and to have patience with the people and the bothers of life.
From the time he was a seminarian, he felt a great predilection for the poor, the sick and the abandoned. The Supreme Pontiff had founded a shelter to receive people that did not have anywhere to spend the night and the young John Batiste went there for many years to care for the poor and the needy, to teach them catechism and to prepare them to receive the Sacraments. He took several friends with him, over whom the work had a great influence. He also agreed to go himself in the early hours of the morning to the market, when the farmers were arriving to sell their produce. There he taught the children and the adults catechism and prepared to make their confession and receive first Communion.
The first years of his priesthood he almost never dared to confess because it seemed to him that he would not be able to give the proper counsel. But one day a holy Bishop asked him to dedicate himself to hearing confessions in his Diocese for a time. There John Batiste discovered that this was the office for which God had destined him. Upon returning to Rome, he told one of his friends, “Before I was asking myself what would be the path for me to achieve heaven and to save many souls. I have discovered that the help that I can give to those that want to be saved is to confess them. The great amount of good that can be done by confession is incredible.”
He went to help a priest in a church that very few people attended. But from the time that Rossi began to confess there, the Church was frequented by hundreds and hundreds of penitents that came to be absolved of their sins. Each penitent brought other people with them to be confessed by him and the conversions that were happening were admirable.
The Supreme Pontiff entrusted to him the office of going to confess and preach to the prisoners in jail and the employees that worked at the prisons. And there he obtained many conversions. They invited from everywhere the sick, prisoners and people that desired to be converted. He went to many places to preach missions and obtained from heaven numerous conversions. In the hospitals he was an esteemed confessor and consoler of the sick. His friends were always the poor, the helpless, the sick, street children and sinners seeking conversion. He lived for them and he totally spent his life for them. He always remained humble and ready to help as many as possible. .
On May 23, 1764, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 66. His poverty was such that they had to use alms to pay for his burial. 260 priests, the Archbishop, many religious and an immense crowd attended his funeral. The requiem Mass was sung by the Pontifical choir of the Basilica in Rome.
On a superficial level St John Baptist de Rossi’s life was uneventful. A simple priest, for forty years he worked in the capacity of an assistant pastor in Rome. On a spiritual level, however, he touched thousands of needy people—the sick, the homeless, prostitutes, transient cattle drivers who came to market in Rome and other rough sorts. By day he devoted himself to the sick poor in Rome’s hospitals. By night he ministered to street people at a refuge.
Caregivers can look to John Baptist as a model. Before he would speak to a dying person about salvation, he did all he could to relieve their suffering. No service for the sick, no matter how repugnant, repulsed him. And his selflessness won people’s hearts.
Once, for example, a young man dying of syphilis rebuffed de Rossi’s attention until the priest emptied his bedpan. Touched by John Baptist’s humble care, the fellow finally listened to him and made a good confession before he died. Other priests and penitents were amazed by John Baptist’s persuasiveness in the confessional. With a few gentle words he turned people’s lives. Once a young man came to him who was sexually entangled with a woman who kept coming to his house under the pretence of washing and mending his clothes. A brief conversation with John Baptist broke the youth’s addiction. As a sign of his cure, the next day he brought the priest a pile of his clothes he had taken from the woman.
John Baptist exhorted others to follow his example in caring for souls. Here is an excerpt from one of his sermons to his fellow priests:
“Ignorance is the leprosy of the soul. How many such lepers exist in the church here in Rome, where many people don’t even know what’s necessary for their salvation? It must be our business to try to cure this disease. The souls of our neighbours are in our hands and yet how many are lost through our fault? The sick die without being properly prepared because we have not given time or care enough to each particular case. Yet with a little more patience, a little more perseverance, a little more love, we could have led these poor souls to heaven.”
Many of us shrink from going to the hospitals from fear of infection or from the sights and smells that await us there. Courage! We are not in the world to follow our own will and pleasure but to imitate the Lord.
John Baptist de Rossi, himself worn out by his unselfish service, suffered a stroke in 1763 and died a year later. “The poor come to church tired and distracted by their daily troubles. If you preach a long sermon they can’t follow you. Give them one idea that they can take home, not half a dozen, or one will drive out the other and they will remember none.”
St John Baptist de Rossi was Canonised on 8 December 1881 by Pope Leo XIII.