Saint Gaspar Bertoni

GASPAR BERTONI born October 9, 1777 in Verona, Italy, was the son of Francis and Brunora Ravelli Bertoni.

The Bertoni family belonged by ancient tradition to the notary profession. Gaspar's mother and his uncle molded a strong faith in little Gaspar, and helped to inspire confidence in God and trust in His Providence, despite the dysfunction of the Bertoni home life, largely attributable to the tension created by his father's unsuccessful business ventures which brought the family to the brink of bankruptcy.Young Gaspar experienced significant losses early in life starting when, his priest-uncle, Father James Giacomo, a major influence and example, died.The next year, when Gaspar was nine, his younger sister, Matilda, a big joy in his life, succumbed to small pox. Endowed with a lively intellect, Gaspar attended the School of St. Sebastian, where several priests of the disbanded Jesuits were teaching.The day of his First Communion, at age 11, was anxiously awaited. Later writings reflect the significance St. Gaspar attached to this event, comparing it to his deepest mystical experience of the presence of God. The year after Gaspar's First Holy Communion marked the start of the French Revolution, an event which years later prompt Gaspar to embrace youth ministry and to establishthe first Marian Oratory, a precursor of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). During his youth, Gaspar visited sick or lonely people after enrolling and enthusiastically participating in the activities of the "Marian Congregation," a youth apostolate association. Daily, he nourished a tender devotion to Mary and entrusted his actions to her protection. He also cultivated self-discipline and spiritual sacrifice by putting little stones in his bed so that he wouldn't sleep too comfortably. At age 15, he was already studying the work of the great minds of the Church, such as St. Thomas Aquinas.He began each page of his lessons with the initials, "LDS" for Laus Deo Semper, or Praise God Always.

When St. Gaspar finished his courses at St. Sebastian in the fall of 1794,he was 17, and of an age to make decisions about his future. His father encouraged the pursuit of medical studies, but Gaspar remained uncertain about a path to follow, so he decided to continue a second year of philosophy in Verona. He spent long hours on the bank of the Adige, the beautiful river running through the city, reading and reflecting on the book Tract on Logic. Engulfed by it, St. Gaspar learned the book almost by heart! During this time, his pastor at St. Paul's Parish, Fr. Francis Girardi approached the distracted teen and lovingly chided Gasparino for not responding to his true calling from God to a priestly vocation. Fr. Girardi told the uncertain Bertoni, "Face up to it! Begin your studies for the priesthood right away and stop all this foolishness!"At age 18, while living at home, as was the custom of the day,St. Gaspar began studying Theology at the Verona Seminary. Seven months later, Napoleon and his troops stormed Verona and occupied the defenseless city. It was a time of reprisals and punitive repressions. The city was ravaged by destruction and killing and other violent and inhumane atrocities.His ordination on September 20, 1800, just weeks before his 23rd birthday, required two dispensations from both the Bishop and Pope Pius VII because of Gaspar's young age. As a newly-ordained priest, Father Bertoni was appointed "missionary to youth." His first responsibility was to prepare children for First Communion.Father Bertoni started a very successful youth program, developing the Marian Oratory, half a century before St. John Bosco began his well-known youth apostolate. The Marian Oratory began with the adolescent boys who had recently received Holy Communion, but it quickly expanded to provide spiritual, recreational and vocational programs for younger boys, girls and workmen. Many of the youth had been left orphaned or abandoned in the wake of the Napoleonic conquests to Verona.In October, 1812, Father Bertoni became fatally ill with tuberculosis. After dictating his will, he lingered near death for days until finally his fever broke and his health was restored. But, the incident was a foreshadowing of a heavy cross which was in store for him.A mission at St. Firmus in early May of 1816 inspired Father Bertoni to found his Congregation. At first, he wanted to call the Congregation,"Apostolic Missionaries at the Service of the Bishops" a title reflecting the urgency and problems frequently present in ecclesial life. While writing the constitutions for his congregation many years later, Father Bertoni emulated the model of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits. "Going everywhere into the diocese and the world" became the congregation's motto.

At about the time of the Mission, St. Gaspar suffered a physical relapse and sickness continued as a constant companion until his death. Shortly after, on July 27, 1816, the "Stimmate", a small private chapel, with several rooms attached, named after the Stigmata of St. Francis, was bequeathed to a priest in Verona. Just a few months later, the Stimmate was given to Father Bertoni with the stipulation that he continue to teach the youth.Fr. Bertoni and confreres, Fr. Mariani and layman, Paul Zanolli move into the Stimmate on November 4, 1816 resolving, "never again to leave," thus establishing the new religious community. Suspicion lingered about all religious groups after the French Revolution and the Napoleonic conquest of Verona, but since the school was a very visible reason for the men to be together at the Stimmate, the authorities did not object. In 1833, Father Bertoni had 180 young people in his care. The Oratory, which remained quiet during the period of repression, flowered into a beautiful movement blossoming admiration from visitors throughout Italy. It was a powerful instrument for God.Father Bertoni was asked regularly to pray and to intercede for the sick. Many people recovered for whom he prayed. He always acknowledged that thanks were due to the Madonna, or Saint Joseph, or St. Zeno (patron of Verona).Over the years following his first illness,Father Bertoni endured over 300 operations, all without anesthesia, to lacerate leg ulcers and to remove gangrene which invaded his right leg. At age 61, St. Gaspar was confined to his bedroom "between his bed and wheelchair." He spent the remaining 14 years of his life in that bare room with empty walls, adorned only by his beloved Crucifix.Father Gaspar died saintly in June 12th, 1853.He has been canonized by Pope John Paul II, in November 1, 1989, the liturgical feast of All Saints.