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Saint of the week

The priest whose preaching was like a ‘spiritual earthquake’

St Gaspar del Bufalo (December 28)

By on Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Church of the Gesù, where St Gaspar prayed to St Francis Xavier

The Church of the Gesù, where St Gaspar prayed to St Francis Xavier

Gaspar del Bufalo (1786-1837) developed a special devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus and founded a Congregation of Missionaries in that name.

He was born in Rome on January 6, the son of Antonio Quarterione, cook to the Altieri family, whose palace was close to the Church of the Gesù. His birthday being the feast of Epiphany he was named after all three Magi; Gaspar, however, prevailed.

Through his mother Annunziata, the boy became fascinated by St Francis Xavier, “the Apostle of the Indies”, whose relics are displayed in the church of the Gesù. At seven he ran away from school with the ambition of being martyred while converting the heathen.

Instead he studied at the Collegio Romano. A minor seminarian at 12, he began to organise works of spiritual and material relief to the poor.

This charity was extended after Gaspar was ordained in 1808, when he began to concentrate his care upon the carters and peasants in the Campagna Romana.

The Roman church of S Nicola in Carcere possessed a piece of cloth supposedly from the cloak of the Roman centurion who had pierced Christ’s side while He was on the Cross. 

In 1808 one of Gaspar’s friends, Francesco Albertini, made this fragment of cloth, with its blood stains, the object of his special devotion. Gaspar became swept up in Francesco’s enthusiasm, and from that time the Precious Blood became the guiding inspiration of his life.

After Napoleon’s troops entered Rome in 1809, and Pope Pius VII was deported, Gaspar refused to take the oath of allegiance to the new regime. For four years he was imprisoned.

After Napoleon’s fall, Gaspar made his way back to Rome and placed himself at the service of the Pope. Pius VII delegated to him the not inconsiderable task of restoring religion and morality to Italy. It was after a preaching mission in Giano, near Spoleto, that Gaspar formed his Congregation of missionary priests, which would be formally approved by Pope Pius VII in 1815.

The Congregation was at first based on the church of St Felice at Giano. A second foundation was created in 1819, and a third soon afterwards at Albano, near Rome. Gaspar wanted a house in every diocese in Italy.

The Pope asked him to give especial attention to the Kingdom of Naples and the Papal States, where brigands were rife. As time passed, however, Gaspard made an enormous impression throughout Italy. 

His preaching was described as “a spiritual earthquake”, which brought multitudes of conversions, not least among Freemasons. He also helped to inspire Blessed Mary de Mattias to found a parallel Congregation for women. 

After his death the fame of Gaspard del Bufalo spread beyond Italy, especially among the ultramontanists in France. He was canonised in 1954.    

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