Francis of Geronimo, St.
FRANCIS OF GERONIMO, ST.
Jesuit preacher and social worker; b. Grottaglie, near Taranto (Apulia), Italy, Dec. 17, 1642; d. Naples, May 11, 1716. He was the eldest of 11 children, and spent his boyhood in a residence of secular priests who lived in a community. In 1658 he entered the Jesuit college at Taranto and later attended the Gesù Vecchio, Naples, where he was ordained March 18, 1666. After a year as prefect at the Collegio dei Nobili, he entered the society in July 1670. Following his novitiate, he spent a year with an experienced missionary preaching in the Province of Otranto. He then returned to Naples, completed his studies at the Gesù Nuovo in 1675, and was solemnly professed.
After his profession he asked to be assigned to the mission in Japan, but was told that his mission was to be Naples. He was appointed regular preacher at the church of the Gesù Nuovo and began a lifetime of preaching to the Neapolitans and the people of the surrounding countryside. Three great interests consumed his life: his Oratorio delle Missioni; the organization of a citywide "family Communion" on the third Sunday of each month; and his numerous sermons, often preached outdoors and to those unaccustomed to frequenting churches.
To further his preaching work, he organized an auxiliary whose primary purpose was to support the missionaries. The organization, which he called Oratorio delle Missioni, was made up of ordinary workmen whom he himself enlisted. At first they aimed only at material aid for the missions; they raised money, prepared altars, vestments, etc., and arranged for the sermons. But before long the members entered into the spirit of the apostolate and rivaled one another in enrolling an audience for the sermons. Francesco formed the auxiliary into a sort of cooperative that gave financial assistance to its sick members and also provided funeral expenses.
The absorbing interest of his life was his preaching. His sermons were always well planned, short, and energetic. He scorned no means that would help his hearers; for example, he might hold a skull aloft for them to look at, or he might bare his shoulders and apply the discipline. Every Sunday he preached in the city several times. On Tuesdays, unfailingly he preached on Our Lady in the church of S. Maria. Other days he preached generally in towns outside the city, and some days it is recorded that he preached as many as 40 times. This seems less an exaggeration when it is realized that it was his custom to preach wherever he could find listeners. He went where he would find sinners to convert. If a section of the city developed a bad reputation, he went there and preached. He preached on street corners, in dark alleys, in the public squares, on the city docks, on the decks of prison ships in the harbor. The Jesuit archives contain the voluminous outlines of his sermons, each minutely developed, and in view of his tireless zeal their estimated number of 10,000 does not seem too large.
Francesco became interested in social agencies to aid in the permanent reclamation of his many converts. Two refuges for reformed women are credited to him in Naples, as well as an asylum for deserted children. Nothing was beyond his interest, and he formed charitable groups to prepare for his own work among the convicts and even among the slaves on the Turkish ships that put into the Bay of Naples.
Francesco published nothing, apart from a record of outstanding events in his preaching career, which he wrote at the behest of his superiors (cf. Boero, 67–181).
His obsequies were said to surpass the homage that Naples gave its kings, but the Neapolitan rulers never had the hold over the hearts of their subjects this apostle still has. He was canonized in 1839. His body lies in his native Taranto, but he is one of the patron saints of the city of Naples.
Feast: May 11.
Bibliography: f. van ortroy, The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. c. g. herbermann, 16 v. (New York 1907–14; suppl. 1922) 6:218–219. c. sommervogel, Bibliotèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, 11 v. (Brussels-Paris 1890–1932) 3:1358; 11:1462–69. g. boero, S. Francesco di Girolamo e le sue missioni dentro e fuori di Napoli (Florence 1882).
[p. f. mulhern]