Saint of the Day – 27 August – Blessed Dominic Barberi of the Mother of God C.P. (1792-1849) Apostle to England – Passionist Priest, Theologian, Confessor, Teacher, Spiritual Direcotor, Writer, Missionary, Evangelist – born on 22 June 1792 at Viterbo, Italy and died at 3pm on 27 August 1849 at Reading, Berkshire, England of a heart attack. Patronage – England. St Dominic was an Italian, a member of the Passionist Congregation and was extremely prominent in spreading Catholicism in England. He was a very positive influence on and instrumental in, the conversion of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-1890). Dominic was born to a poor family of Italian farmers in 1792. He was orphaned at the tender age of eight and an uncle and aunt raised him in the town of Merlano. Young Dominic was not sent to school but instead was taught to shepherd sheep. But the child always found time to pray as he tended the sheep and he also diligently taught himself to read and write.
When Napoleon closed all the religious houses in Italy, Dominic became acquainted with several Passionists living in exile near his town. During this time, Dominic experienced a divine message to join the Passionists and one day go to England.
Dominic had promised God that if he were not drafted, he would become a Passionist. Dominic’s uncle and aunt had also planned a marriage for him. But just before the arranged marriage was to take place, he slipped away and instead entered the nearby Passionist monastery at Vetralla. Dominic studied eagerly, for he had a brilliant mind. He was ordained in Rome on 1 March 1821. For the next nineteen years he shared the life and ministries of the Passionists in Italy but his heart was in England.
Mission in England
In 1833, Dominic became a delegate to the General Chapter. In this capacity, he was able to plant the seed to send missionaries to England. By the time of the 1839 General Chapter, changes in the Congregation were afoot. The new General Superior was the charismatic Father Anthony Testa. By April of 1840, Father Testa decided that Dominic should go to England, though he worried for Dominic’s failing health. He sent him with three companions to Belgium to make a foundation in that country with the hope that from Belgium the mission to England could be realised. Dominic established the first Passionist monastery outside of Italy in 1840, at Ere in Belgium.
Finally, the time came to establish the first Passionist residence in England. Father Dominic and a companion went to England and obtained a house at Aston Hall in Staffordshire. One of his first ministries was the celebration of the 1842 Holy Week services.
While in Italy and later in Belgium, Barberi had always kept up a keen interest in the Oxford Movement. In 1841 a letter by John Dobree Dalgairns appeared in L’Univers explaining the position of the Anglican High Church party. Barberi decided to respond to this letter in the mistaken belief that it represented the views of the entire faculty of Oxford University. (Dalgairns was an undergraduate when he wrote the letter.) Barberi’s “Letter to University Professors at Oxford” describes his long hopes for the conversion of England and his belief that the men of Oxford would be instrumental in such a conversion. The letter, through the help of Ignatius Spencer, eventually ended up in the hands of Dalgairns, who was residing with John Henry Newman at Littlemore. Barberi repudiated the Anglican claim that the 39 Articles could be interpreted in a Catholic light. In their continued correspondence Dalgairns and Barberi debated the Catholic position and Dalgairns requested copies of the Passionist Rule and Dominic’s ‘The Lament of England’. Eventually Dalgairns was received into the Catholic Church by Barberi at Aston in September 1845.
In October of that same year Barberi visited Littlemore, where Newman made his confession to him. Newman relates in his “Apologia” how Barberi arrived soaked from the rain and as was drying himself by the fire when Newman knelt and asked to be received into the Catholic Church. This event is marked by a sculpture in the Catholic Church of Blessed Dominic Barberi at Littlemore. Two of Newman’s companions at Littlemore were also received, and Barberi celebrated Mass for them the following morning. Subsequently, Newman and Barberi always took note of each other’s careers.
Dominic felt immensely blessed to have received the famous Anglican into the Catholic Church. “What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great.”
English vocations were few but Dominic was deeply consoled by the arrival of Father George Spencer who received the habit on 5 January 1847. Spencer was a convert of some years and already ordained, when Dominic came to England in 1841. Now as a fellow Passionist, he proved a great comfort to Dominic and the Passionists. A little note of interest – Venerable Ignatius Spencer of St Paul (1799-1864) born as Hon George Spencer, was a son of the Second Earl Spencer. He converted from Anglicanism to the Roman Catholic Church, entered the Passionist Order in 1841 at the age of 31, scandalising some in the Victorian society and spent his life working for the conversion of England to the Catholic faith. He is also known as the ‘Apostle of Prayer for England’ and the great-great uncle of Princess Diana (died 1997).
In August, 1849, Dominic was returning to Aston Hall from London. About five miles from Reading, Dominic got desperately sick. He was taken off the train to be attended by a doctor but there was not a room for him at the small station of Pangbourne. Father Louis put him back on the train for Reading. He died there from a heart attack at 3:00 p.m., 27 August 1849.
In the tradition of Blessed Dominic (he was beatified by Pope Paul VI in 1963), Passionists would be aware that ecumenism is an essential part of their heritage. At the time of the Second Vatican Council, Passionists accepted with joy the call to engage in ecumenical ministries. The “renewal” of the Congregation in the spirit of Vatican II would challenge the modern Passionist to this ecumenical mission.
In his years in England Dominic established three churches and several chapels, preached innumerable missions and received hundreds of converts, not only Newman but others such as Spencer and Dalgairns and many unknown by name.