" Brother Silence "
Feast Day : 8 June
Silence was the Secret of his Sanctity
"Hush! Brother Nicholas is praying." That is what passengers on the Cagliari tram would whisper when the old Capuchin got on and took his seat. So impressive was the silence of Brother Nicolas that the citizenry often simply called him "Brother Silence"! His sanctity was 'silence'. His silent prayer was his thanksgiving to those who gave to him, his reproach to those who did not give to him as much as they could have done and his answer to useless questions that required no answer. He broke this silence only to remind someone of the will of God. His was a particular silence - a way to express himself, a way of being of being freed of the superfluous, a way to concentrate on what is essential without distractions. To Brother Nicholas silence was a destination rather than a departure point. Brother Lawrence of Sàrdica, his companion on the quest, described Brother Nicholas’s silence with these words. "His silence never appeared to me to be something negative; he would listen to the Word of God and keep It; and, if perchance he did utter a word, it was never an interiorly barren one." Silence, deep interior silence, then was Brother Nicholas’s special road to holiness, a holiness that had been noticeable from his early teenage years.
He had been born on the 4th of August 1882 in the Sardinian country village of Gesturi, the second youngest of seven children born to the farm worker John Medda and his wife Priama Cogoni Zedda.He was baptized John Angelus Salvator the next day in the Parish Church of Saint Teresa of Avila. On the 2nd of June 1886, John received the sacrament of confirmation and, not long after, both his parents died. John was raised by his older sister and her husband. After graduating primary school, he was went to work on his sister’s well-off father-in-law’s farm. He was not paid, but food and lodging were provided free of charge. Young John spent his days working the fields and taking care of the livestock. After his sister’s father-in-law died, he went on working for his sister and brother-in-law under the same conditions. John had always been a well-behaved child but there was nothing that special about him. When, however, he received First Holy Communion on the 18th of December 1896, his whole life seemed to change. He began to pray a lot, received Holy Communion frequently and mortified himself with penitential practices. He safeguarded his spiritual life by keeping away from all worldly attractions. and his love of nature endowed him with a certain nobility of soul and fine sense of spiritual beauty. He also had a good sense of judgement and in his relationships with people he was affectively and morally mature. He had little interest in worldly possessions and bequeathed his parental inheritance to his siblings. He worked hard for his brother-in-law, but that seldom prevented him from attending daily morning Mass and evening Devotions in his Parish Church.
Cooking was not his Forte
It was no surprise then for those who knew him, that John Medda was considering a vocation to religious life. He had toyed with the idea of becoming a priest, but, perhaps due to lack of finance and a poor education standard, he changed his mind and thought instead about being a lay religious. But his was a calling that had to slowly mature. It was only after recovering from by an painful rheumatic illness, that he felt spurred on to explore his vocation in earnest. And so, in March 1911, twenty-nine year old John Medda knocked at the door of the Buoncammino Capuchin Friary in Cagliari and asked to be accepted as a Capuchin Lay Brother. He allowed to live in the Friary but only as a Third Order Brother. It was only two years later that the Capuchins decided to receive John Medda into the Order as a Novice. He was clothed in the Capuchin habit on the 30th of October 1913 and was given the religious name of ‘Brother Nicholas of Gesturi’. He spent the first eight months of his novitiate at the Cagliari Friary before being transferred with his fellow novices to a new Novitiate Friary at Sanluri. He made Temporary Profession on the 1st of November, 1914, and his Perpetual Profession on February the 16th, 1919. His first assignments were to the Friaries of Sassari, Oristano and Sanluri and his ministry was that of cooking. But Brother Nicholas was not cut out to be a cook and his Brothers started about the standard of cooking and the competence of the cook. At Oristano, he worked as gardener in the large Friary garden there, but despite his farming background he was no more successful at this work than he was at cooking. Despite his lack of success, he was always willing and obedient. In the end, it took ten years before he finally found his niche, or rather his Ministers found it for him. He was assigned to the large Friary at Buoncamino, Cagliari, as questor on the 25th of January 1924. This was Brother Nicholas’s last assignment and he was destined to remain in that Friary until his death in 1958.
'Preach the Gospel Always and if Necessary Use Words!'
For thirty-four years he tramped the streets of Caliari begging for alms for the Brothers. As day by day he went about the streets begging, his obvious holiness, humility and silence began to make a deep impression on the citizens. Soon he did not have to ask for anything, people just came forward to give him alms spontaneously. He simply made his rounds in silence and recollection, with his head bowed and his limpid eyes cast down. His holiness was so attractive, that soon people from every social class came to him to ask for prayers, to seek out his spiritual advice, or simply just to touch his habit and cord. His only response to the gift of alms was the typical Sardinian expression of thanks "May God reward your charity!" Mothers would send their children running towards him to give him an offering and receive back a smile or a caress which they always considered a blessing. Soon he was being called to the bedsides of the sick to pray for them. and often these prayers were answered in extraordinary and inexplicable ways. Extraordinary cures took place and it was widely understood that the hand of God worked through this humble Brother. Saint Francis is reported to have said to his Brothers "Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words!" and Brother Nicolas of Gesturi’s very life, his manner of walking and the way he presented himself were for everyone an invitation to conversion, to prayer, and to the love and service of God and neighbour.
He Heard the Word of God in Silence and, in Silence, He Responded!
Brother Nicholas of Gesturi love of God was expressed above all by his almost continual silent prayer. At night he would spend hours silently praying before the Blessed Sacrament or in the Chapel of Mary Immaculate. His prayer life was nourished by solid spiritual reading. Besides the Gospels, his favorite spiritual reading included the writings of the Franciscan Tertiary Blessed Angela of Foligno. "I have read them many times," he said "but when I come to the end I like to start again from the beginning. They are really beautiful." Brother Nicholas’s own literary output was rather sparse, limited as it was to a few brief spiritual exhortations and short one-line prayers he scribbled here and there on scraps of paper.
The Beggar who Gave More than He Received
The spiritual and material welfare of the people of Cagliari were never far from Brother Nicholas’s prayers and practical activities. When the bombed out city was evacuated during World War Two, he and three other Brothers remained behind in the near deserted Friary of Buoncamino to comfort, feed and clothe the poorest of the poor and the abandoned who had been left behind to fend for themselves. Not only did he collect food and clothing for them but, during bombardments, he took refuge with them in the caves beneath the hill on which the Friary was built. He always remained just outside the cave entrance, sheltering from the elements beneath a rocky ledge. He would sit on a rock there and pray the rosary while invite the refugees to pray with him and urging to have hope and be at peace amidst the bombs which were dropping all around. Only once did he actually go inside the cave where the people were hiding. He pushed others back from the entrance, as he rushed inside. And then a huge bomb dropped right on the spot where he had been sitting, destroying the rocky ledge he seltered under, but leaving the refugees unscathed. Once the bombing raids died down he was one of the first to run to the rubble to rescue the those who were trapped or injured and to help bury those who had been killed. In the post-War years, his charity was directed towards helping the citizens rebuild their shattered lives.
"I cannot do more."
And the citizens responded in kind to Brother Nicholas. There esteem for him is evidenced by the throng of sixty thousand who accompanied him to his grave in 1958. A few days before he had gone to his Guardian and said "I cannot do more." And for eight days he devoted himself to prayer as he prepared to meet his God in the Friar’s infirmary. He had an emergency operation to rectify a hernia but it came too late. Frequently he would say to those who cared for him, "Let us pray! Let us pray!" On the evening of the 7th of June, he lay on his death bed holding a crucifix in his hands surrounded by his confreres’ tearful prayers. And at 15 minutes past midnight on the 8th of June 1958 Brother Nicholas of Gesturi breathed his last. City officials and clergy vied to carry his coffin to the grave and the press reported the amazing numbers that came to the Friary to pay their last respects. On the 10th of June he was buried in the public cemetery. Over his grave, which soon became a place of pilgrimage was a headstone with the simple inscription 'Brother Nicholas – Capuchin: 1882-1958'.
Buoncamino Friary – the Factory of Saints !
Brother Nicholas was beatified by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1999. His body had already been exhumed in 1980 and laid to rest in the Friary Church’s Chapel of Mary Immaculate. His neighbour in that chapel is another saintly Lay Brother Questor of that Caglairi – Saint Ignatius of Laconi – whose virtues and lifestyle Blessed Nicholas had always tried to emulate. In 1992 his former grave at the Bonaria cemetery was occupied by his successor as Capuchin Questor of Cagliari the Servant of God Brother Nazarene of Pula, whose cause for beatification and canonization is already in progress! The Buoncamino Friary of Cagliari seems to have become, as it were, 'a factory of saints!
"Let us pray to the Lord that He may show mercy to us. We already see the shape of our life in these days of the Memorial of His Passion and Death; then comes the Resurrection - all the more comforting if we but pray that He give us the grace of imitating Him in carrying the Cross for love of him. Let us pray and trust in God to see each other in Paradise. Praised be Jesus and Mary!" – Blessed Nicholas of Gesturi