Saint of the Day – 3 February – Blessed Stephen Bellesini OSA (1774-1840) Priest and Friar of the Augustinian Hermits, Teacher and mentor of the youth, Apostle of the poor, Parish Priest. Born as Luigi Giuseppe in 1774 in Trento, Italy and died on 2 February 1840 in Genazzano, Italy of natural causes. Also known as – Stefano and Luigi Belleni.
Stephen was born of the aristocracy in Trento on 25 November 1774. In 1790, aged just 16, despite his father’s opposition, he entered the Order of Saint Augustine at the Convent of Saint Mark of Trento. He completed his novitiate in Bologna, where he took his religious vows and the name of Stefano. He was then sent to Rome for his studies of philosophy and theology whereafter he returned to Bologna.
Fidelity in challenging circumstances was something Stephen had learned early on as an Augustinian. Just three years after his religious profession, and still only twenty-two years of age, he experienced the effects of a rising revolutionary campaign that forced him to leave the Monastery in Bologna where he was studying for the priesthood and return to his native City to continue his education under the guidance of tutors
In 1797 he was Ordained Priest in Trento. His years as a young priest were spent in the trying circumstances of a Church under siege by a government desirous of limiting the Church’s influence and eventually, putting an end to the religious way of life which Stephen had professed. Finally, after several years of tension and uncertainty, Stephen and his community were expelled from their Monastery for good, forbidden to wear any longer, the habit of their religious profession. They would never return. The Monastery would never re-open.
Stephen went to live with his brother and opened a school where he devotes himself to the education of poor children, providing free education and food and clothing where needed. Seven years later, the Priest Stephen, by now a successful and respected teacher who had championed the rights of poor and underprivileged children, won the admiration and love of the people. Even the materialistic local authorities came to respect his work. Eventually he was named Inspector of Schools in Trent.
However,, he missed religious life and in 1814,when he had the chance to return to community life, Stephen resigned his important post in Trent and went to join the Augustinian community in Bologna. Political leaders in Trent begged Stephen to return to his work in the schools there, offering to increase his pay. But Stephen refused, writing to them, “You would surely not ask me (to return to Trent) if you realised the unbreakable bond between a Friar and his God, who is the King of Kings. Before his altar, I have solemnly promised to be faithful to those vows.“
Stephen spent several years as Director of Novices, mentoring and teaching young Augustinians the principles of community life in the Order.
In his later years, Stephen served as Parish priest in Genazzano. There his ministry included a special emphasis on the needs of the poor and of children. In January, 1840, while answering a call to care for a sick parishioner, he tripped and fell. A cut on his leg became infected and he developed a high fever.
He tried to remain active for the next two days but the fever never went away., it is believed he might have contracted the Typhus after attending at many of the sick in his Parish. He died ON 2 February1840 in Genazzano. His remains are at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Genazzano.
Stephen’s sanctity was well-known and highly respect. Champion of youth, advocate for justice, comforter of the sick, guardian of the poor, his message is timely, his life is exemplary and his love for and commitment to religious life, are signposts to all religious and to the faithful. Pope Pius X Beatified Stephen on 27 December 1904. His cause continues, seeking a second miracle at his intercession – “how will they call on him, if they have not heard of him?” Blessed Stephen pray for us!
At the entrance to the Chapel of the General Curia in Rome there is a familiar painting of the Augustinian Blessed, Stephen Bellesini. It is a copy of an original work done by G Toeschi in 1905, depicting a crowning moment and possibly one of the last, of Stephen’s life. He stands close to the bedside of an infirm man, administering perhaps Extreme Unction or simply offering him some comfort, while the man’s wife presses her head to the bed, seemingly overcome with grief or exhaustion. Two young children look on anxiously. The artist touchingly captured here an important aspect of the ministry which occupied the latter part of Stephen’s life, as he visited the homes of the townspeople, bringing them the comfort of the Sacraments and oftentimes ,material assistance as well, during the typhus epidemic which struck Genazzano in the Spring of 1839. As we know, less than a year later, Stephen, himself, would fall victim to the pestilence and would succumb – a martyr of charity – faithful to the end.