Saint of the Day – 6 April – Blessed Zefirino Agostini (1813-1896) Priest, Apostle of the Poor and Founder of the Pious Union of Sisters Devoted to Saint Angela Merici and the Ursuline Sisters of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate of which orders he is the Patron.
Blessed Zefirino Agostini was born in Verona, Italy on 24 September 1813. He was the oldest son of his parents, his father was a physician, who died when Zefirino was very young.
Blessed Zefirino commenced his studies for the priesthood at the age of eighteen and was Ordained on 11 March 1837. He was then and was assigned to a very poor parish in Verona. There he established an after-school programs for girls, religious education for mothers and education for women.
He began a devotion to Saint Angela Merici for the female parishioners and founded the Pious Union of Sisters Devoted to Saint Angela Merici whose rule was approved by Bishop Ricabona in 1856.
On All Souls Day of that same year, he opened his first charitable school of poor girls. In 1860, local women who worked in the school chose community life and Father Agostini prepared the first rule for the community and on 24 September 1869, the first 12 Ursulines made their profession. On 18 November 1869, they founded the Congregation of Ursulines, Daughters of Mary Immaculate.
Father Agostini died on 6 April 1869 in Verona, Italy of natural causes. His order received diocesan approval on 24 June 1923 while the papal decree of praise of Pope Pius XI was issued on 14 March 1932 and full papal approval for the institute came on 3 April 1940 from Pope Pius XII during World War II. The order now operates in places such as Switzerland and Benin and as of 2005 has 628 religious in 78 houses.
He was Beatified on 25 October 1998 by St Pope John Paul II, after approval of the required miracle. At the Beatification St John Paul said:
“The Lord stood by me and gave me strength” (2 Tm 4:17).
“These words of the Apostle to Timothy certainly apply to Fr Zefirino Agostino, who never lost heart despite countless difficulties. He stands before us today as a humble, steadfast witness to the Gospel in the latter half of the 19th century, a fruitful period for the Church in Verona. His faith was steadfast, his charitable work effective and ardent was the priestly spirit that distinguished him.
The love of the Lord spurred him in his apostolate to the poor, especially in the Christian education of girls, particularly the most needy. He understood well the important role women play in the rehabilitation of society by teaching the values of freedom, honesty and charity.
He advised the Ursulines, his spiritual daughters: “Poor girls, let them be the favourite object of your care and attention. Awaken their minds, teach their hearts virtue and save their souls from malignant contact with the wicked world” (Scritti alle Orsoline, 289). May his example strongly encourage those who honour him today as blessed and invoke him as their protector.”