(CSS, Official Catholic Directory #1280); the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata was founded by (Ven.) Gaspare Bertoni (1777–1853), a priest of the Diocese of Verona in northern Italy. His early years in the priesthood were divided between teaching in the seminary and working as a parish priest. Aware of the need to salvage youth from the moral breakdown of society, he began to devote his energies to education. Gradually other priests joined him, and on Nov. 4, 1816, the group adopted a rule of life under the leadership of Bertoni. This was the foundation of the Stigmatine Congregation, which took its name from their residence, Le Stimate, formerly owned by a pious confraternity but given to Bertoni for his work. Because of the name, it is sometimes assumed that the Stigmatines were connected with St. Francis or the Franciscans, but in fact the early rule was based on that of the Jesuits. Having been modified through the years, the rule no longer prescribes as lengthy a scholastic discipline as the Jesuits have. On Sept. 15, 1890, the congregation was approved by Leo XIII, and on Nov. 16, 1916, the rule and constitutions received approval from Benedict XV.
In Italy, the Stigmatines are known mainly as educators—staffing seminaries, schools, and boarding colleges—but they are engaged also in other forms of priestly work. On Jan. 5, 1910, the first group of Stigmatine missionaries to South America arrived in Brazil, and in 1925 the Stigmatines answered the call for missionaries to China, where they labored until the expulsion of all missionaries from that land.
During the first 15 or 20 years after their arrival in the U.S. (1905), a few Stigmatine priests were scattered from Massachusetts to the Midwest, rarely seeing one another and suffering loss of identification from lack of community life. In the early 1920s they decided to concentrate their forces and to labor in the more restricted area of Massachusetts and New York, and to establish a minor seminary for American candidates. This was inaugurated in 1924, in Waltham, MA, in the Archdiocese of Boston. Ten years later the first U.S. Stigmatine was ordained in Rome, Italy; all were ordained there before the outbreak of World War II. In September of 1940, a major house of studies was opened in Wellesley, MA, and the following year the community in the U.S. was established as a separate province by Pius XII.
The initial work in the U.S. was the care of Italian parishes, but it is no longer exclusively parochial activity nor is it restricted to Italians. The Stigmatines now educate youth in summer camps and engage in preaching and retreat work. The U.S. provincialate is in Waltham, MA; the generalate is in Rome.
[j. e. mullein/eds.]