Blessed Innocent of Berzo

Feast Day : 28 September

Earthly Failure, Heavenly Success

A Seesaw of Promotion and Demotion

Whatever job John Scalvinoni got he never seemed to keep it for long. After his ordination as a priest his bishop appointed him as Rector of the Diocesan Seminary, only to sack him a year later, because he was evidently not cut out to exercise authority. He returned to parochial pastoral work in his native Berzo, seemingly taking to it like the proverbial duck to water, only to leave the diocesan priesthood altogether a mere four years later and join the Capuchins in 1874 as Brother Innocent of Berzo. His first assignment after Perpetual Profession was that of Vice Novice Master at Bergamo’s Annunziata Novitiate Friary; but when the novitiate moved to Lovere a year later, Brother innocent was left behind with no particular job to do. In 1880, a year later, the Ministers thought they had at last found a niche for him, appointing him to the editorial board of the prestigious publication ‘Annali Francescani’. Within a few months, however, he had to be taken off that job and returned to obscurity of the Friary living. One thing Brother Innocent seemed to be excel at was living a life of holiness and the Ministers, wishing to make use of this, appointed him Provincial Retreat Master for his confreres‘s annual retreat in 1889 but he fell ill on the job and had to be rushed to the infirmary where he died on the 3rd of March 1890. Blessed Innocent’s body rests in the church of the Annunciata Friary.

The Widow’s Son Becomes a Zealous Priest

Born in his mother’s hometown of Niardo, Brescia, North Italy, on the 19th of March 1844, John Scalvinoni, the future Brother Innocent, was the son of Frances Poli and Peter Scalvinoni, a native of nearby Berzo. His father died when he was but a few months old and young John was brought up by his widowed mother, who had him educated the Lovere muncipal college in Bergamo where he excelled at studies. In 1861, he entered the Diocesan Seminary at Brescia and was ordained a priest in 1867. From his seminary days he began to write down “Spiritual Regulations”, guidelines for himself so as to make progress in the spiritual life. After his ordination his cultivation of the interior life only grew more intense. As a diocesan priest he was noted for his preaching, spiritual direction and ministry in the confessional. He was also noted for his generosity to the poor and his mother had to keep a close eye on him lest he gave away everything in the house to some poor person at the door!

A Humble and Cheerful Capuchin

After becoming a Capuchin of the Province of Lombardy, Brother Innocent of Berzo continued to deepen his intense life of prayer and to crown his deeply human fraternal and pastoral love of neighbour by cheerfully accepting whatever humiliations might come his way. In fact, cheerful humility was a hallmark of his life. As a Capcuhin, he would hours of amusement to his fellow novices by spending hours clumsily sowing clothes that had already been sown and repaired many times over. He had a remarkable intellectual grasp of philosophical and theological questions and sometimes could be prevailed upon by his Brothers to expound animatedly at length on some of these. A diocesan priest Don Girolamo Maccanelli once wrote that Brother Innocent “ was one of the best moral theologians in the valley.” But he also knew how to hide his learning, except when charity demanded he elucidate on some problem or other. His obedience was exemplary even when it came to the most trifling of matters. Though tortured interiorly with an almost physical horror of sin in others and worried often about his own eternal salvation, he always maintained an outward attitude of cheerfulness and joy.

The Secret of his Joy was Prayer

The secret of his joy was his intense life of prayer. He loved to spend long hours before the Blessed Sacrament, especially late at night. In fact his desire to live in the same house as Jesus had been a factor that influenced his decision to join the Capuchins in the first place. One day, when on a pastoral assignment, he ended up getting locked inside the church for the night by a forgetful parish priest. Next morning the priest found Brother Innocent rapt in prayer, his eyes wide open and his face radiant with happiness. The other great focus of his prayer life was the Passion of Christ. He performed the Way of the Cross several times daily and recommended the practice to his penitents in confession. The Eucharist and the Passion, as well sa devotion to Our Lady, were also the major themes of his preaching.

The Useless Servant Inherits the Kingdom of Heaven

Whenever his superiors gave him a minor assignment, he seemed to do it exceptionally well. But as soon as they assigned him greater responsibility, he ended up making a mess of things and had to be relieved of office. They never seemed to be able to find the right spot for him. But the fact that he was beatified by Blessed Pope John XXIII in 1961, just 71 years after his death, indicates that the Lord managed to find the right spot for him in Paradise saying to him - “Come, you, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.”

"Jesus is offended by everyone in the world: it is up to me to not leave Him alone in his affliction. The love of God does not consist in great sentiments but in great openness and patience for the sake of the Beloved God. There is no other better way for guarding the spirit than suffering, doing and keeping silent. I have a great desire to be subject to all and in horror to be preferred the least." - Blessed Innocent of Berzo

Related Post