Saint of the Day – 2 February – Blessed Stephen Luigi Giuseppe Bellesini OSA (1774-1840) Priest and Friar of the Hermits of St Augustine, teacher, mentor to the youth, Parish Priest, guardian of the poor and sick. Born on 25 November 1774 at Trent, Italy as Aloysius Bellesini and died on 2 February 1840 of Typhus and an infection that developed from a cut on his leg received by an accidental fall while visiting the sick at Genazzano, Italy. Also known as – Aloysius Bellesini, Stefano Bellesini. Additional Memorial – 3 February (Augustinians). Beatified on 27 December 1904 by Pope Pius X.
We celebrate today the memory of Blessed Stephen Bellesini, a man who lived during a difficult period of the Church’s history at the turn of 19th Century Italy. His vocation as an Augustinian Religious was severely tried by strong anticlerical government regulations. Nevertheless, he did not withdraw in shame, nor did he become embittered by external challenges and persecutions. Rather, he redoubled his commitment and persevered in his resolve, giving himself generously in the service of others, most especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the infirm.
Luigi Bellesini was born in Trent, Italy, on 25 November 1774. He entered the Order at the Monastery of San Marco in his native City, taking the name Stephen and making his profession on 31 May 1794. Following studies in Rome and Bologna, aged just 22, he was forced to return to Trent during the government suppression of religious houses and there completed his theological education. He was Ordained to the Priesthood in 1797.
After several years of service, principally as a preacher as well as a teacher in the local schools, the Monastery in Trent, after 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 was forced to return to his family home. He founded, in his home, a free school for the poor children of the area, who otherwise would not have access to education. He gave food and clothing to the poorest of his students and offered encouragement and friendship to all of them. He dedicated his energies with such remarkable results that his work won the respect of the materialistic local authorities, who appointed him Director and Superintendent of all schools of the district.
However, when the opportunity presented itself, he resigned from these offices and secretly made his way to Rome, in order to resume his religious life. He was appointed Novice Master first in Rome, then in Bologna, Umbria and lastly at Genazzano.
Political leaders in Trent begged Stephen to return to his work in the schools there, offering to increase his salary. 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.”
The closing years of his life were spent as Parish Priest at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel,. 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, during the Typhus epidemic which was raging in the area at the time, 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 remained. It is believed that he had contracted Cholera and in his weakened state, he could not fight the desease. He died, a Martyr of Charity, on 2 February 1840.
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 artwork created by G Toeschi in 1905, depicting a usual but crowning moment and possibly one of the last, of Stephen’s life.
He stands close to the bedside of an ill man, administering perhaps the last Sacrament or simply offering him some spiritual 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.
Stephen was Beatified by St Pius X on 27 December 1904. His remains are venerated in a special Chapel dedicated to him at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, Genazzano.
“Why is Blessed Stephen, who was Beatified in 1904, not yet a saint?
Certainly his sanctity is not at issue. 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 speaks loudly to Augustinians of today. The Postulator of Causes will tell us that Stephen needs to obtain a miracle!
And so we might be inclined to leave the question at Stephen’s own feet … and wait. But, to borrow an opinion expressed in another context, “how will they call on him if they have not heard of him?”
In Stephen Bellesini we Augustinians have a powerful witness to show forth, a Religious and Priest who has a great deal to say to so many categories of people in need today: the sick, the young, Religious and Priests, to those who fight injustice and religious persecution. This is a small attempt to make him better known. Can you help us in this effort?” (Augustinian.org)