The Good Parish Priest

Author: Giovangiuseppe Califano*

The Good Parish Priest

Giovangiuseppe Califano*

Beatification of Francesco Maria Greco in Cosenza, Italy

Posted by Fr. John Flynn on 16 June, 2016

A protagonist in the Church and Calabria in his day, Msgr Francesco Maria Greco (1857-1931) was an energetic priest, a model parish priest, founder of a new religious institute for women, and promoter of pastoral and social initiatives that were a positive influence in the development of the Christian and civil community in Acri, his place of birth. The founder of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts was beatified Saturday afternoon, 21 May [2016], in the San Vito public stadium in Cosenza by Cardinal Angelo Amato, SDB, Prefect of the Congregation of the Causes of Saints, as the representative of Pope Francis. Undertaking to follow the work of his father, the village pharmacist, in the years of his cultural formation in Naples, Francesco Maria sensed his vocation to the priesthood and the inspiration to “become a learned priest, so as to better fulfil the ministry”. He entrusted this resolution to the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii, whose image he gazed upon for the first time in 1876 on the occasion of its exposition on the first stone of the sanctuary.

The young man was not oblivious to the deplorable state of Calabrian society after the unification of Italy, the grave social and economic backwardness, the condescension of the “lords” toward the working class, the clerical compromises made with the rich and powerful, and the progressive nature of anti-clericalism. He was therefore convinced that a priest must obtain for himself a solid cultural formation so as to be able to influence social life to its benefit.

“The Virgin will help me to make me all things to all people,” he wrote in his diary. He was ordained a priest on 17 December 1881, and from 1888 until his death he was arch-parish priest of the church of San Nicola in the neighborhood of Castello di Acri. He immediately embarked on his specific mission, concerning himself in a singular manner with the spiritual welfare of the faithful and attending to the needs of the poorest. He was a spiritual contemplative but given to action, and intuited the need for a charitable and systematic, constant apostolic presence that operated in the local Church. Hence, after fruitless attempts to establish an institute already in existence in Acri, with the collaboration of the Servant of God Maria Teresa De Vinccnti (1872-1936) in 1893 he founded the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts. The new institute was “founded essentially on love and the practice of the interior life, on humility and love for our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the founder gave it the mission to cooperate in the growth of the Kingdom of God “by way of care for the children in nursery school, the youths in the study rooms, the sick in the hospitals”. The good parish priest of Acri had identified in utter clarity the social emergencies of his territory, first among them the educational mission for the little ones and young people. The day after the promulgation of Rerum novarum (1891) Msgr Greco did so much to render its pastoral action of human promotion efficacious, above all the formation of conscience, that the passing years gave new spiritual and pastoral vigour to the ecclcsial community.

As the little “laborers of the Kingdom of God,” his sisters managed to construct an institute that was one of a kind, composed of local vocations accustomed to the disadvantages and normal life in Calabria, and very close to the needs of the people. On account of their prerogative of poverty and simplicity the sisters were welcomed everywhere. They entered into places where for others it would have been nearly impossible. They opened nursery schools for infants and small children, study rooms and parish schools for catechesis. The founder also desired that in Greek-Albanian rite centres in Calabria the presence of religious be established, and so he set up within the congregation a special section of Italo-Albanian sisters of the Byzantine rite. For the priest the spiritual and devotional decision to call them the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary was meant to reinforce the apostolic action in the perfection of charity. This in turn would allow, according to the vision of the charism, “the renewal of all things in Christ”. With his evangelic testimony of life he influenced the spiritual and moral renewal of the clergy in no small way, who had a propensity to reap the benefits of their ministry.

Esteemed by his ordinaries, Msgr Greco was called to assume the responsibility of the diocese of San Marco-Bisignano as vicar and teacher of dogmatic theology and Sacred Scripture in the seminary at Bisignano where he was also rector for three years. His life on this earth came to its close in Acri on 13 January 1931.

*General Postulator of the Order of the Friars Minor

L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
27 May 2016, page 15

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