Francia, Annibale Maria di, Bl.
FRANCIA, ANNIBALE MARIA DI, BL.
Founder of the Rogationist Fathers of the Heart of Jesus and the Daughters of Divine Zeal, known as "the father of orphans and the poor"; b. July 5, 1851, Messina, Sicily, Italy; d. there, June 1, 1927.
Annibale was the son of a noble family headed by Francis di Francia, Marquis of Santa Catarina, and his wife Anna Toscano. When Annibale was two, his father, who was papal vice-counsel to Pius IX, died. Stories about Annibale's days in a Cistercian boarding school (1858–66) describe acts of the heroic compassion which characterized his entire life. When the school was closed during the Revolution of 1866, the Sicilian poet Felice Bisazza tutored him. Annibale used his writing skills to compose articles for his uncle's periodical, La Parola Catolica, poetry (The Hymns of July First ), prayers, and pamphlets.
At 18 Annibale recognized his call to the priesthood. A month before his ordination (March 16, 1878), he encountered a blind youth, Francis Zancone, who introduced him to the need for charity. Thereafter he joyfully dedicated himself to the spiritual and temporal relief of the most neglected, beginning in the neighborhood of Avignone in Messina. He established evening and boarding schools for boys, a kindergarten for girls, and orphanages dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua (to whom Annibale later built a shrine in Messina). Like others who heroically give of themselves he encountered opposition, but received the support of his archbishop, Giacomo Cusmano, and John Bosco. For the physically poor, especially children in the Anthonian orphanages, he begged from door to door. For the spiritually poor he prayed "to the harvest master to send workers to the field" (Mt. 9:38).
For the purpose of praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life and for caring for needy children and the poor, Francia formed the Rogationists Fathers and Daughters of Divine Zeal. Melanie Calvat, one of the visionaries of La Salette, spent a year at the female institute (1897–98) helping Francia firmly establish it following some setbacks. Orphanages run by the sisters multiplied quickly after 1902 to meet each new crisis in Italy (e.g., earthquake, cholera, war). The Rogationists have expanded beyond the borders of Italy to other countries in Europe, Argentina, Brazil, India, the Philippines, Rwanda, and the United States. Additionally, to invite others to unite spiritually to pray for vocations, he established a Holy Alliance for bishops, prelates, and priests, as well as the Pious Union of Evangelical Prayer for laity.
For many years Annibale was the spiritual director for the writings of the Luisa Piccarreta (1865–1947; cause opened February 1994), who recorded private revelations on the Divine Will. Among the 19 volumes to which he gave the nihil obstat were The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom of the Divine Will and The Hours of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout his life Blessed Annibale conscientiously fulfilled his priestly obligations, showed Christ–like love to the most vulnerable, and trusted completely in Divine Providence. In beatifying Annibale di Francia on Oct. 7, 1990, Pope John Paul II held him up to the Church as the "authentic precursor and zealous teacher of the modern pastoral ministry of vocations."
Feast: May 31 (Rogationists).
Bibliography: l. piccarreta, The Clock of Passion, ed. a. di francia (Oria, Italy 1921). f. vitale, Il canonico Annibale Maria di Francia nella vita e nelle opere (Messina 1939). l. alessandrÀ, La Madonna negli scritti e nell'opera del can. Di Francia (Rome 1972). p. borzomati, ed., Annibale di Francia: la chiesa e la povertà (Rome 1992), v. 18 of Religione e società, includes bibliographical references. n. clemente, Io l'amo i miei bambini (Padua 1973). a. scelzo, Padre Annibale M. di Francia: una vita copiata dal Vangelo (Rome 1990). Insegnamenti 13, no. 2 (1990):830. L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., no. 28 (1997): 9; no. 31 (1997): 1.
[k. i. rabenstein]