Caracciolo, Francis, St.

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Cofounder of the Congregation of Clerks Regular Minor; b. Villa Santa Maria, Abruzzi, Italy, Oct. 13, 1563; d. Agnone, Italy, June 4, 1608. The early life of Francis (baptized Ascanio) Caracciolo del Leone o Pisquizi was exemplary, and after being miraculously cured of a kind of elephantiasis, then called leprosy, the 22-year-old youth vowed himself to an ecclesiastical life. He quietly slipped off to Naples and in 1587 was ordained there. He joined the Confraternity of the White Robes of Justice, organized to give spiritual assistance to condemned criminals. In 1588 he mistakenly received a letter addressed to an uncle also named Ascanio Caracciolo. Father John Augustine Adorno, former Genoese ambassador to Spain, and Father Fabricius Caracciolo Marsicovetere of the Church of St. Mary Major in Naples were begging Ascanio's participation in the founding of a new religious institute. Young Ascanio accepted the invitation as providentially meant for himself and helped to formulate the rules of the Clerks Regular Minor approved by Sixtus V (July 1, 1588) and confirmed by Gregory XIV (February 18, 1591) and Clement VIII (June 1, 1592). The members of the congregation took a fourth vow not to aspire to ecclesiastical dignities. Their ministry comprised numerous works of charity, and one of their distinctive characteristics was their practice of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The original intention was to honor the Mother of God with the title of Clerks Regular Marian, but Sixtus V, a Friar Minor, preferred Clerks Regular Minor, and so the name remained.

At his profession Ascanio took the name of Francis. Adorno had been superior of the new community, but upon his death in 1591, the office devolved on Francis. He remained rector general until 1598. During his administration, the Clerks Regular Minor became established in Rome and in Spain. He personally founded the house and Church of St. Joseph in Madrid and of the Annunciation in Valladolid, as well as a house of studies near the University of Alcalá. As rector general, then as novice master, local superior, and vicar-general in Italy, Francis was distinguished for humility, mortification, unflagging toil, purity, and devotion to the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. In 1607 Francis was finally relieved of administrative offices. He begged for an obscure room under a staircase, and there he devoted himself anew to contemplation and redoubtable penances. He interrupted his retirement to negotiate with the Oratorians for the transfer of one of their houses in Agnone to the Clerks Regular Minor. He went to Agnone by way of Loretto, where he spent an entire night in prayer, seemingly with a premonition of his end. After a brief illness he died at Agnone. His body had to be transferred secretly to Naples because the popular cult of Francis Caracciolo had already begun.

Caracciolo's extant writings include some letters and a work of devotion, Le sette stazioni sopra la Passione di N.S. Gesu Christo (Rome 1710). He was beatified by Clement XIV in 1769 and canonized by Pius VII on May 24, 1807. In 1838 St. Francis Caracciolo was chosen patron of the city of Naples; and in 1925 patron of Eucharistic Congresses held in Abruzzi. The Pia Unione Famiglia Caracciolo was organized in 1925. Comprising representatives of all the branches of the ancient noble Caraccioli, the union serves as a lay auxiliary organization of the Clerks Regular Minor; propagates devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to St. Francis Caracciolo; and sponsors the review 'S. Francesco Caracciolo,' which appears several times during the year.

Feast: June 4.

Bibliography: a. b. frassoni, La gente e la famiglia di S. Francesco Caracciolo (Rome 1943). g. rossi, Il precursore dell'adorazione perpetua (4th ed. Rome 1951). i. felici, Il principe mendicante (Rome 1959). a. butler, The Lives of the Saints, ed. h. thurston and d. attwater (New York 1956) 2:470472.

[m. p. trauth]