Saint of the Day – 29 October – St Gaetano Errico (1791-1860) – Priest, Founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in 1836, Teacher, Confessor, Apostle of Charity, Eucharistic Adorer – born on 19 October 1791 in Secondigliano, Naples, Italy and died at 10am on 29 October 1860 in Secondigliano, Naples, Italy of natural causes.
The Missionaries of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, are a religious congregation of priests and brothers, dedicated to serving the needs of God’s family, while witnessing the great love present in the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – St Gaetano is their Patron.
Gaetano Errico was born on 19 October 1791 in Secondigliano, a small village on the northern boundary of the City of Naples, Italy. He was the second of nine children born to Pasquale and Marie (Marseglia) Errico. His father managed a small pasta factory and his mother worked at the loom weaving plush.
As a child he was known in the small village as a good and obedient child, who helped his father in the pasta factory and eagerly shared his parent’s deep faith. By age 14 Gaetano felt called to the priesthood and religious life. Many congregations during this time did accept young men at an earlier age than is prevalent today. However, Gaetano’s first choices, the Capuchins and the Redemptorists rejected his application because of his age. At the age of 16 he proceeded to apply for the Archdiocesan Seminary of Naples and was accepted. In January 1808, having received the habit of the Diocese, he began his studies. His family’s meagre income did not allow him to reside at the seminary. He therefore registered as a day student which required him to walk the eight kilometers to the seminary and back each day.
During his years of formation in the seminary, he did very well in his studies. He was deeply faithful to his spiritual life never missing daily Mass and reception of the Eucharist. While still living at home with his parents, he managed to help them as well. The villagers noted his diligence in filling his days with the studies for the priesthood, visiting the sick on Thursday and even on Sunday he walked through the town encouraging the children to attend their catechism classes.
On 23 September 1815, in the Chapel of St Restituta within the confines of the Cathedral of Naples, Gaetano was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Ruffo Scilla. Soon after ordination he was appointed to a position as a teacher. For the next twenty years, he taught his students with exemplary dedication. Entrusted to his care, his students received both the elements of a good education and spiritual formation. With great care and ambitious zeal, he imparted the tenets of Christian doctrine and moral values.
He also served with loving commitment in pastoral service at the Parish Church of Saint Cosmas and Damian. His ministry was characterised by four principle concerns – Proclamation of the Word; Ministry of Reconciliation; material and spiritual assistance to the sick and selfless charity. Each principle held for Gaetano the way to proclaim and make known to all men and women, that in God they have a Father, who loves them.
Every year, he travelled to Pagani (in Salerno), a Redemptorist house, for his annual retreat. In the year 1818 while praying, an extraordinary event occurred – an event that would change his life forever. St Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787) appeared to him in a vision and told him that God wanted him to found a new religious congregation. Further, as a sign of this desire, he was to build a church in Secondigliano in honour of Our Lady of Sorrows. With this vision of Our Lady in his mind, Gaetano was assured that he would succeed. At first, the people of Secondigliano welcomed with joy the news that God wanted a church in honour of the Sorrowful Mother of Jesus in their little village. However, human weakness being ever apparent, some were opposed. Although their numbers were few, their jealousy and distrust made the task more difficult for Gaetano. He never lost sight of the goal, however and against all odds, the Church was built as God wanted. The Church of Our Lady of Sorrows was blessed on 9 December 1830.
When the Church was nearly completed, Fr Gaetano began the construction of a house to serve as the first home of the future congregation. A small house was built and Fr Errico resided there with a lay brother who maintained the Church. From such humble beginnings, he proceeded to reach out, welcoming priests to come for retreat, hoping to inspire within their hearts a desire to commit themselves to the missions and religious life.
Upon completion of the Church and house, Fr Gaetano commissioned Francesco Verzella, a famous Neapolitan sculptor, to create an image of Our Lady of Sorrows. It has been said that the sculptor had to redo the statue several times. The vision of her face of sorrow was clear in Fr Errico’s mind. Finally, the sculptor got it right and Fr Errico exclaimed, “It is so!” The statue arrived in Secondigliano in May of 1835 and from then on drew an unending number of pilgrims.
The following year, again while Fr Errico was on retreat in Pagani, God revealed to him that the new congregation to be founded must be in honour of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Fr Errico already possessed within himself a most abiding devotion to the Sacred Hearts. Now he became even more ardent in sharing this love through all his apostolic and missionary activity. The love of the Sacred Hearts urged him to seek sinners and bring them back to God, to give of himself tirelessly. With a burning drive within his heart, he especially searched out the most vulnerable, those in danger, the sick, the abandoned and shunned and the spiritually bereft. He wanted everyone to feel the touch of a loving father who was ever ready to forgive and slow to anger.
He gained approval for the new congregation and its statutes on 14 March 1836 and in October of that year opened a novitiate with eight novices. He sought papal approval in May 1838. On 30 June the Congregation of Bishops and Regulars issued the decree. In order to strengthen his Congregation, he sought royal approval which was granted on 13 May 1840. In April 1846, he once again went to Rome to ask for final approval. The Congregation by now had grown, the number of its members had increased and new houses had been opened in southern Italy. On 7 August1846, Blessed Pius IX issued the Apostolic Brief of Approbation. Gaetano was unanimously elected Superior General.
Fr Gaetano was truly a man of God, a man with a mission, a man on fire with an unquenchable love of Jesus and Mary. The first secret of his holiness was prayer. Ever on his knees, his small room in the house in Secondigliano bears the indentations on the floor where, kneeling, he found refuge and strength. Penance further sustained his holiness. He fasted continuously, often only taking bread and water in order to give his share of food to the poor. Self-flagellation was part of his penance, offered humbly for the many sins that wounded the Heart of Jesus. He was never too tired to travel on, preaching, hearing confessions, encouraging the reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. His comfort and caring presence reminded all of the love of God the Father… leading many in the small towns and villages to call him a saint.
Fr Errico died on 29 October 1860 at 10:00 AM at the age of 69. His last testament to his missionaries was… “Love one another and be very observant of our Rules.”
“A saint is dead.,” the townspeople of Secondigliano affirmed upon hearing the news of his death. It still echoes today. Gaetano Errico, affectionately known by all who knew him as “O Superiore” (The Superior), continues to be an example, a reference point, an intercessor, showing the way to God as lived out in the example of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.
In December 1876, Pope Leo XIII declared him Venerable and Pope Paul VI declared the heroism of his virtues with an apostolic decree on 4 October 1974. St Pope John Paul II on 24 April 2001, signed the Decree of Beatification after approving a miracle attributed to the sole intercession of Ven Gaetano Errico. The process for the investigation of the miracle required for canonisation opened in Naples on 10 November 2004 and concluded its business on 10 October 2005 prior to it being validated in 2006. It received the papal approval of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 in which he acknowledged the 2003 healing of Anna Russo. On 12 October 2008 he was proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict XVI.