The Saint of Providence and Founder of the Theatines
By Isabel Orellana Vilches
MADRID, 07 August 2013 (ZENIT)
He signed his letters “Cajetan, miserable priest,” such was his self-appraisal. He belonged to the aristocracy, the last child of Count Gaspar of Thiene and of Maria di Porto, he came from a noble family of Vicenza where he was born in 1480. He was given the name Cajetan in honor of an uncle who was a canon and professor of Law at the University of Padua, who had died. The Saint followed his footsteps at the academic level. He was 2 years old when his father died at Velletri, most likely of malaria, while engaged in a war. His mother, an admirable woman who was a Dominican Tertiary, was an example of piety for him and his two brothers, who grew up in an environment suffused with the essential values for life. When he went to the University of Padua to study, he was already in the habit of prayer. He was very intelligent and, in 1504, obtained a double doctorate in Civil and Canon Law. His brief stays in the family’s properties at Rampazzo bore fruit. He instructed the peasants spiritually and built with one of his brothers a chapel dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalen.
His mother wanted him to have a certain standing among his own, because she already saw in him a man of great worth. However, Cajetan limited himself to helping them without taking another burden upon himself and left for Vicenza with the office of senator, although his sights were set on the priesthood. With the firm conviction that he was destined by God to carry out a great mission, in 1506 he went to Rome. At the time, the city was not commendable for youth, but it did not extinguish his vocation. Pope Julius II appointed him proto-notary. On the Pope’s death, which occurred in 1513, he saw the opportunity to focus on his formation to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Around 1516 he founded the Oratory of Divine Love and together with priests and laymen who were pursuing sanctity and evangelization, he worked for the sick. Spiritually, they had prayer and reception of the sacraments as their base. He was ordained priest the following year at 33, in the midst of personal unease as he felt unworthy of that grace. During his first Mass, celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major on January 6, 1517, he had a vision. The Virgin Mary who was carrying the Child Jesus, placed Him in Cajetan’s arms. Then he was sent to the parish of Saint Mary of Malo, and looked after the shrines that marked Mount Soratte.
In 1518, he returned to Vicenza to help his mother who was very ill. The Oratory of Saint Jerome was in the city. Among its objectives was care of the poor with the added richness of the presence of laymen. Cajetan attached himself to it. His decision was not well received by those around him. They could not understand how someone of his high social position could enroll in such a venture. However, that flame of love, so often misunderstood, was what illumined his life, because he did not seek honors or glory, although he could easily have had them. He was guided by this religious conviction, shared with other companions: “At the Oratory we render to God the homage of adoration, at the hospital we meet Him personally.” He opened another Oratory at Verona and, in 1520, his mother died. That year he went to Venice, at the suggestion of his confessor, the Dominican Juan Bautista of Crema, where he founded the hospital for incurables. In addition to serving the poor, he sought out expressly those suffering from very serious ailments, patients that many would have run away from because of the repulsive character of their illness, and helped them financially. In the course of the three years he was there, he introduced Benediction with the Most Blessed Sacrament. It was a time when it was not usual to receive the Eucharist frequently. He worked to have this immense gift valued so that people would benefit from it. He said: “I will not be satisfied until I see Christians approaching the heavenly banquet with the simplicity of hungry and joyful children, and not full of fear and false shame.”
When his dream was about to be forged of bringing to ecclesial reform the figure of the cleric regular, knowing the important role of the priest, he wrote to his family: “For some time Christ has been calling me and inviting me, because of his kindness, to take part in his kingdom. And he makes me see more clearly every day that we cannot serve two masters, the world and Christ. I see Christ poor, and myself rich, He is mocked and I am a guest of honor, He is suffering, and I am delighting. I am dying to take a step towards meeting Him.” An insistent prayer arose from the depth of his being: that God would grant him the grace of finding three or four persons prepared to live the Gospel’s radicalism to introduce the reform the Church needed at that time. And he received the answer in the persons of Caraffa (later Pope Paul IV), Boniface of Colle and Paul Consiglieri. They were the first members of his foundation born with the evangelical spirit: “seek first of all the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all the rest will be given to you in great measure.” Approved by Clement VII in 1524, it had in Caraffa its first superior general.
In 1527 the House was devastated by Charles V’s troops and they were detained and tortured in the Clock Tower. Then they were released by a Spanish soldier, who took pity on them. They were sent to Venice. In 1530 Cajetan was elected superior general, until three year later when Caraffa was again his superior and sent him to Verona, where he suffered the opposition of a great part of the clergy and the faithful. From there he went to Naples in 1533 and founded another House. His charity, fervor and apostolic ardor, sealed by his devotion to Mary worked countless conversions. He founded the Hills of Piety to help the poor, created hospices and opened hospitals. He was given the grace of working miracles. He died at Naples on August 7, 1547 and that same day the war ceased, which had been unleashed in the city. Urban VIII beatified him on October 8, 1629. Clement X canonized him on April 12, 1671.