LETTER TO THE STIGMATINE LAITY – FOR JUNE, 2015

Stigmatines – St. Joseph’s Hall
554 Lexington Street
Waltham MA 02452

Pentecost – May 24, 2015

Dear Stigmatine Lay Member,

Let us begin with a note from St. Gaspar Bertoni’s personal spiritual diary:

For the examination of conscience one should choose a Saint of the same vocation as a mirror. In this way one finds matter for confession every day. Whatever falls short of that Saint’s perfection is faulty. [An excerpt from his spiritual diary, July 30, 1808]

Fr. Gaspar Bertoni founded the Stigmatines almost 200 years ago – at a time when the Jesuits had been suppressed. St. Gaspar made of us a small ‘copy’ of the Society – and a number of the early men had asked the Bishop if they could leave the Diocese and join the re-established Jesuits – and, of course, the Bishop said ‘no’, to meet plus VII’s appeal for Church renewal. St. Gaspar thought he could fill this void in Verona, with diocesan priests who might apply.

The Stigmatine Congregation owes its numerical strength and spiritual prosperity to this young priest who, in an era that spawned more dictators and persecutors than even today, braved intolerance and opposition and started a movement to reclaim the souls of the youth of this city – work for vocations – and contribute to the reformation of the Diocesan seminary.

Gaspar Louis Dennis Bertoni, born in Verona, Italy, on October 9th, 1777, entered its Seminary at the age of 18. Ordained in September 1800, not quite 23 years of age, he was assigned to one of the city’s larger parishes where he witnessed a society ravaged by the French Revolution and Napoleon’s takeover of Verona. The suffering and neglect – including the dissolution of schools and suppression of religious orders – caused him deep concern, and he decided to combat the evils of his time.

Fr. Bertoni organized his priest and brother associates into a society dedicated to assisting Bishops in any field of the Word of God whatsoever, but particularly in sharing God’s Word [Euntes Docete – Mt 28] – through caring for the education of youth, retreats and parish missions, and developing religious and priestly vocations. On November 4, 1816 – secretly, and without the use of a particular habit – the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata of our Lord Jesus Christ, knows as the “Stigmatines”, came into being. The name, representing the Five Wounds of Christ, was chose to reflect their willingness to undertake any work, no matter how difficult, for the salvation of souls.

Within two years of Gaspar Bertoni’s death [† June 12, 1853], the small community he had founded was given its initial approval by the Holy See – and in 1856 was formally erected as a Religious Congregation.

In the early 20th Century, the Stigmatines answered the call for priests and religious to serve the Italians who had sought a new life in the Americas, uniquely through offering local parochial assistance. In 1905, they followed the emigrants to the United States – and in 1910 to South America [Brazil]. At the request of the Holy See, some eventually undertook the special vocation of spreading the faith in the Far East of China.
From the humble beginning of two priests and one Brother, the Stigmatine Fathers and Brothers have spread significantly in their Apostolic Mission – Italy, United States, Canada, England, Germany, Brazil, Chile, the Ivory Coast, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand – conducting missions and retreats, teaching in schools, colleges and seminaries, promoting religious and priestly vocations.

Fr. Bertoni was beatified by Pope Paul VIth, at St. Peter’s in Rome, on November 1, 1975 [a Holy Year] – and exactly 14 years later, Fr. Bertoni was canonized by Pope John Paul II – and now, may rightfully he called “Saint Gaspar Bertoni”.

While not perfectly, this spirit of his was entrusted to his Stigmatine community – we have received another life-long challenge, also from the Spiritual Diary. We still pray that God’s good work which has only began in us will be completed in His Mercy! [cf. Ph 1:6]

We must make in ourselves a portrait of Jesus Christ… [Feb. 26, 1809]

A Stigmatine Calendar was compiled between 1966 – 1967 – under the direction of the late Fr. Gino Benaglia, CSS, based on St. Gaspar’s writings and spirit and our early history.

The parameters are 1777 – 1911, with the election of the first Fr. General in the 20th century, Very Rev. John B. Tomasi, CSS – whom I had the privilege to know during my student years in Rome [1952 – 1956]. I assisted at his last Holy Mass, which he was celebrating on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, December 27, 1953, right after Christmas. In prayer, I was present the night if his death, in early January 1954.

As will be evident to Stigmatines, the source material has been the Founder’s own Spiritual Diary – his Letters – and the early Chronicles of the Stigmatine Community – Fr. Lenotti’s 18 year Chronicle deserves a special mention.

In all my community studies, one fact above all has touched my heart: the Stigmatine Community has only experienced the Sacred Stigmata in its nearly 200 year history: the “Sorrowful” Good Friday aspect, ion the enormous sufferings the Community has endured – the many pre-mature losses of dear and competent men – and the failures of some apostolic resurrection, and the extraordinary commitment to the Apostolic Mission, living out in practice the words of Jesus on Easter night, when He manifested His Sacred Stigmata in the Cenacle room with this Apostolic Mandate: As the Father has sent me, I now send you! [cf. Jn 20:19, ff.]

Please come and join us for his Feast Day Mass on June 12, 2015 [Mass at 4:15 p.m., followed by Dinner] the 162th anniversary of his death. This year it is also the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.

Rev. Joseph Henchey, CSS
Acting Spiritual Director

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