Saint of the Day – 12 October – St Serafino of Montegranaro OFM Cap (1540-1604) Franciscan Capuchin Lay Friar, Confessor, gifted with the charism of prophecy, mystic, Apostle of the poor, spiritual advisor, devoted to the Blessed Sacrament, the Holy Rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary, wonder-worker . Born as Felice Rapagnano in1540 at Montegranaro, Italy and died on 12 October 1604 at Ascoli Piceno, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Serafino of Ascoli Piceno, Serafinus, Seraphim, Seraphin. Felix, Felice.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Ascoli, St Seraphinus, Confessor, of the Order of Minorite Capuchins, distinguished by holiness of life and humility. Hre was enrolled among the Saints by the Sovereign Pontiff Clement XIII.”
Born Felice (Felix) Rapagnano at Montegranaro, then in the March of Fermo, he was the second of four children of poor but pious parents, Gerolamo Rapagnano and Teodora Giovannuzzi. His father was a mason. Because of their poverty, the family depended on the productivity of all of its members. The eldest son, Silenzio, followed in his father’s footsteps as a mason. The slighter and less manually adept Felix, was hired out to a local farmer as a shepherd. Felix enjoyed shepherding since it afforded him time for prayer. Even at an early age, he had an inclination toward silence, seclusion and prayer. When their father died, however, he was summoned home. His brother understood that Felix lacked the skills of a mason but hoped to use him as an unskilled laborer. All attempts proved futile. Felix could not even learn how to slake lime. He did learn, however, to put up with the physical and emotional abuse heaped upon him by his irascible brother.
Felix kept in mind stories he had heard about the desert ascetics and of their fasting and penances and dreamed of becoming like them. He confided in a friend, Luisa Vannucci from Loro Piceno, who encouraged him to enter religious life. She specifically mentioned the Capuchins because she was familiar with these Friars and with their reputation for virtue. Immediately, he left for Tolentino and presented himself to the Capuchin Provincial, expecting to be admitted that very day. But such was not the Capuchin custom. Instead, he was sent home, in all likelihood because of his age, he was just eighteen and fragile condition. In 1556, he repeated his request to the Prior Provincial, who this time accepted him and sent him to the Novitiate of the Province at Jesi.
After he completed a year of probation, Felix received the religious name of Serafino (meaning “seraph” or “celestial being or the burning one”). Upon entering the Order, he remarked, “I have nothing, just a Crucifix and a Rosary but with these, I hope to benefit the Friars and become a Saint.” Serafino was distinguished from the first, by his unaffected simplicity, mortification and obedience, as well as a great charity towards the poor. He had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Blessed Virgin. He was assigned to serve variously as a porter or questor at various Friaries throughout the March but most of his religious life was spent at Ascoli Piceno.
Serafino’s physical appearance was described as that of a peasant – hair always rumpled, clumsy at manual tasks and mainly illiterate. But his holiness was recognised by many. At times, he was discouraged by the ridicule of his Capuchin brothers. He would regain his composure through prayer. He explained, “When I entered religious life I was a poor, unskilled labourer, lacking both talent and potential. I remained as I was and this caused so many humiliations and rebukes, which the devil used as opportunities to tempt me to leave religious life and retreat to some desert, withdrawing into myself. I entrusted myself to the Lord and, one night I heard a voice coming from the Tabernacle say, ‘To serve God you must die to yourself and accept adversity, of whatever type.’ So I accepted them and resolved to recite a Rosary for anyone who caused me trouble. Then I heard the voice from the Tabernacle say, ‘Your prayers for those who mortify you are very pleasing to me. In exchange, I am ready to grant you many graces.‘”
A Capuchin custom was to keep rooms near the Porter’s Office available for the use of travelLers and pilgrims. At whatever hour of the night, Serafino would answer the door. Many recounted that, after the City gates had been closed for the night, they had sought refuge at the Capuchin Friary, which were usually located outside the City walls and that they had been welcomed warmly by Serafino. He spent entire nights in Church. Friars testified that, after everyone else had gone to bed, they would often hear him walking toward the Church to spend the night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. There he was heard praying, “Peace, Lord, I ask peace for so-and-so.” He once confided that the reason he spent so much of the night before the Tabernacle was because, in his room, he was greatly tempted against chastity, even in his old age.
Memories agree, that Serafino was endowed with the gift of reading the secrets of hearts and with that of miracles and prophecy. Although unlettered, Serafino’s advice was sought by secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries. His reputation reached as far as the Dukes of Bavaria and Parma, the nobles of Bologna and Cardinal Ottavio Bandini. The Bishop of Ascoli, the eminent theologian Cardinal Girolamo Bernerio, also sought out his advice.
Serafino was austere in his person. Only once in his life did he accept a new religious habit and then, only out of obedience. For forty continuous years, he ate only soup or salad. In keeping with the spirituality prevalent at the time, Serafino had a personal devotion of serving as many Masses as possible. To avoid having people kiss his hand or tunic to show their respect, he would carry a Crucifix with him, offering it for them to kiss instead.
However, Serafino was also endowed with a great sense of humour. Once, a woman asked him if she would give birth to a boy or a girl. He attempted to avoid answering. But the woman insisted, saying, “How shall I know what name to choose?” Chuckling, Serafino responded, “As far as that goes, choose Ursula and Companions,” indicating that throughout her life the woman would give birth to a succession of girls.
Even before Serafino’s burial in 1604, his first biographer put pen to paper. He was Canonised by Pope Clement XIII on 16 July 1767. Pope Clement Canonised Serafino together with John Cantius, Joseph Calasanz, Joseph of Cupertino, Jerome Emiliani and Jane Frances de Chantal. In the Papal Bull of Canonisation, the illiterate and physically clumsy Capuchin was acclaimed as a person who “knew how to read and understand the great book of life which is our Saviour, Jesus Christ. For that reason, he deserves to be listed among Christ’s principal disciples.”
Serafino’s tomb is in the Capuchin friary at Ascoli Piceno. A Church at San Lorenzo Nuovo is dedicated to him.
Serafino was in love with the mystery of Christ and of Our Lady. He was enthralled to meditate on them and would go into ecstasy. He would have liked to be in the fraternity at Loreto or in Rome to be able to serve as many Masses as possible each day. This was the source of his zeal – to work with Christ to save souls. He was remembered and venerated – for his brief and penetrating spiritual exhortations; for his extremely fruitful vocational apostolate; for his veneration for priests; for his compassion for the sick, the troubled and the poor; for his courageous commitment to make peace in society and in families; for his missionary enthusiasm and his desire for martyrdom. Although he was almost illiterate he could speak about the things of God with extraordinary ability and unction. When he was obliged, by obedience, to give a sermon in the refectory, his words in commenting on the psalm Qui habitat in adiutorio Altissimi, or the sequence Stabat Mater dolorosa were so full of feeling that he used to reduce everyone to tears. Dear holy Saint Serafino, pray for us all!