Saint of the Day – 19 May – St Francisco Coll y Guitart OP (1812-1875) Spanish Priest of the Order of Preachers, (the Dominicans), Founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin, Confessor, Evangeliser, Missionary Preacher, Apostle of Charity especially to needy children, his Order focusing on young girls especially, who were ignored at that time. He was appointed by the Holy See Apostolic Missionary and was known as “The Apostle of Modern Times.” St Francisco is commonly called St Francisco Coll. Born on 18 May 1812 in Gombrèny, Catalonia, Spain and died on 2 April 1875 (aged 62) at Vic, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. His Feast day today, is celebrated on the date of his Baptism, not on the day of his entry into eternal life, as is usual. Patronage – Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St John Paul II Beatified him on 29 April 1979. In his Homily for Fr Coll’s Beatification, the Pope described him as “a transmitter of faith, a sower of hope, a preacher of love, peace and reconciliation among those whom passions, war and hatred keep divided”, and “a real man of God”, a “man of prayer”, who made his Priestly and Religious identity a source of inspiration, with the words, “I am a religious” constantly on his lips.
St Francisco Coll y Guitart was born on 18 May 1812 in the small village of Gombreny, in the Diocese of Vic, Catalonia. He was the 10th and last child of a wool carder.
At the age of 10 he was sent to the Minor Seminary in Vic in 1823. He completed his studies in 1830 and that same year entered the Convent of the Order of Preachers in Gerona, founded only about 35 years after St Dominic de Guzman’s death. He made his solemn profession and received the Diaconate in 1831.
Contemporaries of Fr Coll testify that he always behaved as a man of God and led an exemplary life. In 1835 religious orders in Spain were forcibly suppressed and Friar Francisco Coll, was obliged to abandon his convent and become a secularised Dominican. He was, nevertheless, Ordained a Priest on 28 May 1836 despite the risks involved.
Indeed, in spite of being unable, because of the new anti-clerical laws, to live in his convent or to wear his habit, he remained a Dominican all his life in all that he was and all that he did. Soon after his Ordination Francisco offered his services to his Bishop and for 40 years exercised his ministry as an itinerant Missionary in the Parishes of northeast Spain.
Impelled by an irresistible force, he started to preach as a new apostle, “the Apostle of Modern Times.” Like the Founder of his Order, he received no stipend nor would he accept donations, he was a preacher of popular missions. He prayed for long hours, studied and dedicated a great deal of time to preparing sermons for preaching the missions.
For more than thirty years he exercised his Missionary apostolate, first in the Parish of Artés and Moyá and later as a Missionary in various Dioceses of Catalonia. His fame as a preacher grew rapidly and his word mobilised crowds. His main concern was to carry the Word of God in a cordial, simple and understandable way to the people, to achieve a true interior conversion. To carry out the ministry of preaching, he preferred teamwork as it was capable of creating the most abundant fruit. Hence, his belief in the efficacy of collaboration and thus began with giving spiritual exercises to the Priests in the region. Thereafter, he collaborated with these same Diocesan Priests and with Jesuits, Claretians, Augustinians and fellow Dominicans. With his friend, St Anthony Mary Claret, he assisted in the founding of the “Apostolic Fellowship” for Evangelisation in 1846.
He preached to cloistered nuns and prisoners, visited the sick and imparted Catechesis to children, always encouraging devotion to the Virgin Mary. His evangelising activity included a great dedication to the Sacrament of Penance, a prominent emphasis on the Eucharist and a constant insistence on prayer.
His complete trust in God and his apostolic zeal motivated him to gather a group of young women who had already chosen to follow Jesus’ call. In 1850 he was appointed Director of the Secular Order of Dominican Tertiaries, which enabled him to found the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Anunciata in 1856 to solve the problem of the Christian formation of girls, then considered inferior to boys.
Although the beginnings of Fr Coll’s Order were difficult because of the lack of financial means, to the point that the Bishop suggested to Father Coll to close the institute and dismiss the ladies. But thanks to the perseverance of the Founder and also to the help of some religious (like his friend St Anthony María Claret) they were able to make progress. Soon he had the invaluable collaboration of a young teacher, Rosa Santaeugenia (1831-1889), who was the first Prioress General of the Congregation. Despite the difficult beginnings, the Congregation had an extraordinary growth, reaching 50 communities the year of the death of its Founder. From the beginning, Father Coll inserted the new Institute in the Order of Preachers, of Saint Dominic de Guzmán. The first communities of the Dominican Sisters of the Anunciata were located in the rural areas of Catalonia, often obtaining religious places in the public schools. However, as a result of the socio-political situation – the September 1868 revolution – some sisters were forced to leave these schools and the foundation of small private schools was expanded, many of them in the vicinity of textile factories.
When Fr Coll died, according to the Congregation he founded, there were already 300 sisters and 50 communities dedicated to the Christian education of children, mainly girls. Today the Congregation has about 1,039 members in Europe, America, Africa and Asia.
The mission of the Congregation, since its foundation in 1856, is oriented especially towards education and evangelisation, being present in the integral formation of children and youth, parish activity, missionary activity and also in the world of health.
Its objective is to “Announce the message of salvation to all, especially to children and youth,” in large and small towns and form a definitive option for the most needy.
Fr Coll lost his sight and was cared for by the nuns of his Congregation. He died in Vic on 2 April 1875 at the age of 62. His body was exposed in the Chapel of his religious and they buried him in the local cemetery. His mortal remains were later translated to the Chapel of the Mother House. … Vatican.va
Blessed Coll was Canonised on 11 October 2009, Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI. His words during the Canonisation homily:
“… Francisco Coll reached the hearts of others because he transmitted what he himself lived with passion within, what burned in his heart – the love of Christ , his surrender to Him. So that the seed of the Word of God found good land, Francisco founded the congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciation, in order to give a comprehensive education to children and young people, so that they could discover the unfathomable wealth that is Christ, that faithful friend who never abandons us or who tires of being by our side, encouraging our hope with His Word of life …”