Saint of the Day – 11 October – Saint Alexander Sauli CRSP (1534-1592) Bishop “The Apostle of Corsica,” Clerk Regular of the Congregation of Saint Paul (The Barnabites) – St Alexander is referred to as “The Second Founder,” Missionary, Writer, Teacher of philosophy and theology at the University of Pavia, Reformer, Evangeliser, Confessor, Superior-General of the Barnabites in 1565. In addition, St Alexander Sauli was both friend, advisor and spiritual comfort to St Charles Borromeo, who held him in very high esteem. Born as Alessandro Sauli on 15 February in 1534 at Milan, Italy and died on 11 October 1592 at Pavia, Italy of natural causes. Patronages – Corsica, Barnabite Seminarians. He was appointed by St Pope Pius V to the ancient see of Aleria, Corsica, where he rebuilt churches, founded colleges and seminaries and, despite the depredations of the Corsairs, placed the Church in a flourishing condition.
In 1591, he was made Bishop of Pavia and died at Calozza the following year. He left a number of works, chiefly catechetical. He was Beatified by Pope Benedict XIV on 23 April 1742 and Canonised by St Pope Pius X on 11 December 1904.
Alexander was born of a wealthy and highly regarded family of Lombard on 15 February 1534. His father, Dominic, was the Marquis of Pozzuolo and assistant to Duke Francesco II of Sforza. Tommasina Spinola, his mother, also came from an ancient and noble family.
His parents provided a superior education for him at Pavia. This enabled him to become a page in the court of Emperor Charles V in Milan when he turned 17. This ended quickly when he sought to enter the Barnabite order, resisting his family and friends who urged him to enter a well-established order such as the Franciscans or Dominicans.
The Barnabites imposed a harsh test on the youth before they would accept him. On 17 May, 1551, the Vigil of Pentecost, he had to carry a heavy cross through the streets dressed as a page and preach on the love of God. That evening he was received as a postulant.
Three months later Alexander received the habit on 15 August. Yet at the next chapter meeting, he received much criticism for being tepid, possessing a superior attitude and being incompetent. A year later, Alexander participated in the sessions on the Constitutions for the Order and then was permitted to continue his theological studies at the Franciscan Friary of St Mary of Peace. Finally, he professed his vows on 29 September 1554. He was Ordained a Subdeacon on 22 December 1954 and a Deacon on 8 June 1555. Having received a special dispensation for his youth — he was 22 years old — he was Ordained on 21 March 1556 and then was assigned to the community library.
When a nobleman miraculously recovered his health, his family built a Church in Pavia in thanksgiving. The Barnabites were given the Church and sent Fr Sauli to be the Parish Priest. Like most saints, he did much more than dispense the Sacraments.
Although possessing no degree, he established study groups for both college students and seminarians. He promoted frequent Holy Communion and the Forty Hours devotion. His classes were well attended with lively debates, and instruction was geared to students’ ability rather than to deadlines.
He introduced innovations such as teaching geometry to instill discipline and law so students could protect themselves in a society rife with disputes. He encouraged the organisation of Church law.
After receiving an honourary bachelor’s degree, he was offered a position at the university but his superiors declined saying it was not in accord with humility. Providence changed that when a substitute was needed and Sauli was called. In 1562 because he was such an excellent teacher, he was given a permanent position at the university.
Fr Sauli, although given little time to prepare to discuss the “unity of the creating principle,” passed his doctoral exams even under the demands of an elite board of examiners. He received the degree on 28 May 1563. As a member of the College of Professors of Theology, he taught theology and philosophy while also serving the parish where he taught the Epistles of St Paul. In both places he drew large audiences with his wisdom and eloquence.
Despite his overwhelming success as a preacher and being the dean at the university, he wanted to focus on the running of the private school of the Barnabites. All this was interrupted when Bishop Ippolito de’ Rossi of Pavia called Fr Sauli to his service. He appointed Fr Sauli to be his theologian, lector for cases of conscience, examiner of clergy and planner for pastoral visits. Fr Sauli also published many books and republished some in accordance with the documents of the Council of Trent.
Being a humble man, he had no fear of losing positions and easily made way for others to take over his work and assignments — frequently to develop and encourage more men to serve God’s sheep.
In 1567 he was elected Superior General of the Order at the young age of 33. He proceeded to practice the rule with great diligence, proving his dedication and commitment to the order. Soon Attilio Gritti schemed to take over the church given to the Barnabites but Fr Sauli appealed to Archbishop Cardinal Charles Borromeo, who settled the dispute in a meeting with the Pope.
As superior, Sauli ensured that the Order followed the proclamations of the Council of Trent. Then he called for a Special Chapter to adopt the new Breviary published by Pope Pius V in 1568. In addition, he wrote updated guidelines for the curriculum and the seminary, gave conferences to religious orders, kept up with his voluminous correspondence and settled disputes. Under his leadership the fervour of the order was rekindled, so successfully, that he is credited with being the Second Founder.
About 1569 Fr Sauli went to Milan where he served St Charles Borromeo. He participated in the first Synod of the Archdiocese of Milan, while continuing to serve as Superior General, helping to improve the stature of the Barnabites in Venice — they had been expelled in 1552. St Charles Borromeo recognised a great homilist in Fr Sauli, inviting him to speak at the Cathedral in Milan. Likewise, Pope Gregory XIV also appreciated the prudence and wisdom of Fr Sauli who participated in several Synods and Councils.
When Fr Sauli was sent to hear Borromeo’s general Confession, the cardinal remarked that it had changed his life. Then Borromeo made a miraculous escape from enemies and asked Fr Sauli for advice to which he replied, “Humble yourself and reflect if God has allowed it, in punishment for some of your defects.” Once a month, Borromeo found refuge at the House of St Barnabas. Moreover, he spent the whole Holy Week with the Community. At first he used Sauli for delicate and secret missions, such as peace among spouses and families and delicate cases of conscience. He immediately noticed his prudence and common sense.
In 1571, Pope Pius V appointed Fr Sauli to Aleria on Corsica — a place where the Church was in a wretched state. In Milan the news caused great unrest among the Barnabites who protested, “We have no-one who equals him. We have few among us, whom either age does not qualify for active duty, or youth in consequence of their want of experience, does not render unfit for the government of others.”
They sought Cardinal Borromeo’s help to avert such a disaster. He wrote to his man in Rome, Msgr. Ormaneto: “Having notified the Superior of St Barnabas about the decision of Our Lord to give him the care of the Church of Aleria in Corsica, he, for the humble esteem of himself, has stated not to be qualified: which I do not agree with, as I know very well his qualifications…. Meanwhile I cannot avoid to present to His Holiness the great worry of the old Fathers of this Congregation, whom I have notified about it…. because of the great damage coming to their Congregation with the loss of this man, as it relies on his prudent government with great help from his knowledge, in which, truthfully, there is no equal; … Then, I know too how the city at large will suffer because of it, since the Superior is very useful to it in so many ways, such as conferences and confessions , and other spiritual services , and his prudent counsel, of which I avail myself regularly. If, then, Our Lord believes that he will render greater service to God in his new vocation, he is a son of obedience.”
To prepare himself to follow God’s will, together with St Charles, Fr Sauli went to the Carthusian Abbey in Carignano for a retreat. Writing to his father, Alexander stated: “The effort I have endured here as Superior General seems to me like roses in comparison with what I am starting to experience as a Bishop.”
The ceremony took place in the Cathedral of Milan on 12 March. Sauli was Consecrated bishop by his friend, Cardinal Borromeo of Milan, with Ippolito de Rossi, Bishop of Pavia, and Federico Comer, Bishop of Bergamo, as concelebrants. St Charles provided and donated to him all the Episcopal vestments
Since Corsica had not had a Bishop for 70 years, the Diocese needed much work. Of the 12 priests he was advised to take with him, only four were available. On 18 May 1570 he wrote to Borromeo about the devastation in Corsica after years of guerrilla warfare, famine and lack of pastoral leadership. The priests did not know Latin and had to be trained how to administer the sacraments. He established himself in precarious and humble dwellings and started immediately the visitation of the whole Diocese, entailing great and severe sacrifices, to bring to all the Word of God “like a beneficial rain that the good Lord sends on a field for long time arid and destroyed.” By the end of August he was able to hold a Synod with 150 Priests present to set up rules and regulations. He built a Seminary and a Cathedral and he defused many vendettas. After twenty years, he had revitalized the Church and the Corsicans had come to love and respect their Bishop.
Thus, when he was called to become Bishop of Pavia they grieved deeply. The people of Pavia were thrilled to learn that Sauli was returning and gave him a great welcome. He arrived on 19 October 1591 and began to enkindle a deeper faith in the people, who were also suffering famine. Although for some time he had been sick on and off with fever, toward the end of September 1592, Sauli began the pastoral visit of his new diocese.
After presiding at the Ordinations in Bursignano, he reached Colosso d’Asti on 1 October, where he spent the day in preaching, catechesis, confirmations, and personal meetings. That night he became sick with fever and gout. Not wanting to disturb the local Parish Priest, he decided to accept the invitation of his friend, Count Ercole Roero, to stay at his castle. He died on Sunday, 11 October 1592. A few days before he had said: “Don’t think that I am dying because of the efforts of this pastoral visit; be convinced that this is the hour fixed by God. If I should start all over what I have done, I would do it over again.”
His body was brought to Pavia on 14 October and, the next day, the solemn funeral took place. His universal fame as a saint spread immediately and grew steadily. The unanimous consensus and great devotion, especially in Pavia, led, in 1623, to the initiation of the canonical process. He was Beatified by Pope Benedict XIV, on 23 April 1742 and Canonised by St Pope Pius X, 11 December 1904. St Alexander Sauli is the Patron of Barnabite Seminarians and of Corsica.
O God, in the holy bishop Alexander Sauli
you have given to Your Church
a model of faithful religious observance
and of tireless pastoral dedication.
Grant, we pray, that Your people
may always be led by worthy pastors.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.