Scalabrini, Giovanni Battista, Bl.

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Bishop of Piacenza, "father of migrants," founder of the Congregation of the Missionaries of Saint Charles (Scalabrinians) and the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo; b. July 8, 1839, at Fino Mornasco (near Como), northern Italy; d. June 1, 1905, at Piacenza, Italy.

On the Feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran (November 9) 1997, the pope's cathedral church, John Paul II beatified Scalabrini and recalled his repeated saying: "Would that I could sanctify myself and all the souls entrusted to me!"

He was the third of the eight sons of Luigi Scalabrini, a wine merchant, and his wife, Colomba Trombetta, a religious couple of modest means. After ordination (May 30, 1863) he was a professor of History and Greek at St. Abundius Seminary in Como (where he had studied), and then rector (186770).

As pastor of one of the largest parishes in Como (San Bartolomeo) he was distinguished for his solicitude for the working class as well as for his forward thinking on political, social, and economic matters. His published conferences on Vatican Council I brought him to the attention of Pius IX, who named him bishop of Piacenza (1875). As bishop he distinguished himself by frequent visitations of all 365 parishes and diocesan synods. In his eagerness to reorganize catechetical teaching throughout Italy, he instituted the first National Catechetical Congress at Piacenza. Pius IX referred to him as the "Apostle of the Catechism."

Unlike many churchmen, he was open-minded on the roman question, which dominated the relations between church and state in Italy in the last part of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. It asked: "should the lands of central Italy remain under the political control of the Church as they had since the Middle Ages, or should they become part of a united Italy?" At Leo XIII's request he outlined possible approaches and solutions to the Roman Question in a memorandum which labeled as ruinous the policy of urging Catholics to refrain from participating in secular politics in protest against the Italian government's confiscation of the papal states.

To assist the huge number of Italians emigrating to various parts of the world, he founded the Scalabrinians (Nov. 28, 1887) with Fr. Joseph and Mother Assunta Marchetti, and promoted the work of the congregation by journeying in 1901 and 1904 to North and South America. With the same aim, he convinced St. Frances Xavier cabrini to travel to America (1889), founded (Oct. 25, 1895) the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo, and co-founded the Missionary Zelatrices of the Sacred Heart. To provide material and social aid to emigrants he established (1889) the lay Society of St. Raphael. Among his other charitable activities, he founded an institute to help mutual aid societies, rural banks, cooperatives and women who were hearing and speech impaired.

He encouraged frequent Communion and Perpetual Adoration. He also had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother that he expressed in homilies and Marian pilgrimages. His heroic charity was demonstrated during a cholera epidemic and the fact that he sold everything he had, including his horse and pectoral cross to care for the poor.

He died on the Solemnity of the Ascension saying: "Lord, I am ready. Let us go." His mortal remains are venerated in the cathedral of Piacenza. Scalabrini's cause for beatification was introduced by Bishop Menzani at Piacenza in June 1936. On March 16, 1987, Pope John Paul II promulgated a decree recognizing him as venerable, the first step to sainthood. The required miracle was approved July 7, 1997, permitting the Nov. 9, 1997 beatification.

Feast: June 1.

Bibliography: Sources for the study of Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini: For the Love of Immigrants: Migration Writings and Letters of Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini, ed. by s. m. tomasi (New York 1999). La Societá italiana di fronte alle prime migrazioni di massa (New York 1975). Records of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St. Charles (Scalabrians), v. 8 of A Guide to the Archives, ed. n. falco (New York 1988). Literature about Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, no. 46 (1997): 13. m. caliaro and m. francesconi, John Baptist Scalabrini, Apostle to Emigrants, tr. a. i. zizzamia (New York 1977). i. felici, Father to the Immigrants, the Servant of God, tr. c. della chieso (New York 1955). m. francesconi, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini, vescovo di Piacenzae degli emigrati (Rome 1985); Giovanni Battista Scalabrini. Spiritualità d'incarnazione (Rome 1989). f. gregori, La vitae l'opera di un grande vescovo, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini (Turin 1934). g. landi, Un vescovoe la legge sull'emigrazione (Milan 1986). t. de rosa, Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini, Father to the Migrants (Darien, Conn. 1987). g. saraggi, Giovanni Battista Scalabrini. Vescovo insignee padre degli emigrati (Cinisello Balsamo 1986). l. m. signor, John Baptist Scalabrini and Italian Migration: A Socio-Pastoral Project (New York 1994).

[l. sabatini]