A Revered Master, Always in Pursuit of the Lord's Will
Feast Day : September 22
A surprising vocation story!
When, in early May 1716, the up-and-coming diocesan priest, Father Laurence Maurice Belvisotti knocked on the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor friary door at Chieri and asked to be admitted as a novice, it came as a big shock to everyone who heard the news. He was already well known as a preacher of retreats and missions and a promising career awaited him in the Diocese. His family were angry that he seemed to be squandering the good education they had provided him with and the faithful of the diocese were rather disgruntled to lose such a good a pastor. So what could have possessed Father Belvisotti to make such a move? This was precisely the question that the Provincial Minister had asked Father Belviscotti., and, in laying bare his heartfelt wish to join the Order, Father Belvisotti answered this question, saying: "Up until now I have done my own will. but a voice within me tells me that I must follow obedience if I am to do the Lord's will." And so on the 24th of May 1716, the noble Father Belvisotti put on the coarse clothes of probation worn by Capuchin novices and from then on would be called by a new name - Brother Ignatius of Santhià.
Saint Ignatius of Santhià's baptismal name was Laurence Maurice and he was born on the 5th June 1686 at Santhià in the Vercelli region of northern Italy. He was the fourth of six children born to Paul Belvisotti and his wife Mary Elizabeth Balocco. When, at seven years of age, he lost his father, his mother entrusted his education to the care of Father Bartholomew Quallio, a devout priest who was a relative of hers. Feeling drawn to the life of a churchman, Laurence Maurice, having completed his primary course of studies, left for Vercelli in order to learn philosophy and theology. Ordained priest in the Autumn of 1710, he remained on at Vercelli to act as household chaplain and as tutor to the noble Avogadro family.
During these first years of priestly ministry, he also helped out the Jesuits, participating in the their apostolate, especially that of preaching popular missions and retreats. This is how he came to have a Jesuit, Father Cacciamala, as his spiritual director.
His Capuchin vocation
His hometown of Santhià, desiring to claim the by now well-known Father Belvisotti as its own, nominated him as Canon Rector of the town's famous collegiate church. But the Avogadro family in turn named him parish priest of the parish of Casanova Elvo since they exercised administrative rights over that parish. But now approaching thirty, he himself was seeking after something else. On the 24th of May 1716, having refused both appointments, and desiring to later go on on the foreign missions, he entered the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor at Turin's Chieri Novitiate and there took the religious name 'Ignatius'.
His firm will to reach for perfection and his complete spontaneous and joyous observance of the Capuchin way of life soon drew admiration from even the eldest Brothers in the novitiate fraternity. After his Capuchin formative years at Saluzzo, Chieri and the Mount of the Capuchins(Monte dei Cappuccini) in Turin, he was sent to Mondovi and appointed Master of Novices in accordance with the decision of the Provincial Chapter.
A Loving Master of Novices
While faithfully exercising the office of Novice Master for 13 years, by his unique teaching and example, he furnished the Piedmont Capuchin Province with some 121 new Brothers, some of whom lived very saintly lives.
We can grasp something of his delicate teaching methods in various 'Fioretti-like', fond reminiscences and stories.
A novice in the sweltering heat of the sun asked "Brother Master, may I go to the fountain and drink a sip of water?" but Brother Ignatius just asked him "Whose feast day is it today?" And the novice said "That of Saint Lawrence the Martyr"(who was roasted to death on a gridiron). And when the novice answered, "That of Saint Lawrence the Martyr"(who was martyred by being roasted on a gridiron), he said, "Ah yes! He must surely have been thirsty lying on that gridiron!" The novice, who intuitively grasped the meaning of these words, resolved to put up with his thirst.
In those days, new novices on being received into the Order had to receive a tonsure. For the new entrants, who in the world had fussed about their hair style, this tonsuring ceremony was usually somewhat shocking. When Brother Ignatius asked one novice, "Do you mind losing your beautiful hair?", he answered that he did not mind at all. Whereupon the brother Ignatius said, "Go away and pray about it some more!" Twice more after that Ignatius asked the novice the same question, and twice more he heard the same answer. Again and again he sent the novice out to think it over and pray about it again. By doing this, he opened the novices eyes to the importance of "consulting the Lord" when making an important decision.
When Brother Ignatius caught sight of the half-hearted manner with which two of the novices were standing during prayer time, he ordered them to sit down for prayer instead.
He instructed one novice, who was ever maneuvering to get out to the city, to wait by the front door and a senior Brother to accompany him there. But though the novice waited there for hours, he was unable to meet up with his companion.
He instructed, a novice paralyzed a morbid fear of death, to go down to the crypt chapel where the Brothers were buried and pray. When the disciple asked the rason, Brother Ignatius give him this answer. "We have come here to learn not only how to live well but also how to die well."
His Sublimated Vocation to the Foreign Missions :
In 1744, Brother Ignatius heard that news that Brother Bernardine Ignatius of Vezza d'Asti, a novice of his who had gone on the foreign missions to the Congo contracted a grave eye disease and was in danger of of not being able to do missionary work any more. Hearing that the missionary requested his prayers, he prostrated himself before the Eucharisitic Tabernacle and prayed like this: "Lord, if you will that this disease should pass from this worker of yours and befall me who am good for nothing, then let it be so. I freely accept this for the sake of your greater glory." Wherefore the missionary's eye disease got better and he was soon able to exercise missionary activities again. However, at around the same time, Brother Ignatius's eyes grew dim, and since he was not able to recover properly, he had to give up his duties as Novice Master.
A Tender Army Chaplain
With willing obedience to the Ministers(Superiors) of the Order, Brother Ignatius of Santhià took on the pastoral ministry of head military chaplain to the forces of Charles Immanuel III, King of Sardinia, during his war with Franco-Spanish allied forces from 1745 to 1746. He took care of soldiers wounded in war or suffering from contagious disease at the hospitals of Asti, Alessandria and Vinovo. At that time the situation there was so dire, that the torn bodies of soldiers were piled up in the wards. In the midst of this world of terrible suffering Brother Ignatius seemed like an angel of consolation. One witness describing his service stated in his documentation that "he ran from ward to ward, from bed to bed, driven by a love that was unflagging.”
"The Saint of the Mount"
When the war was over in 1747, he returned to the Fraternity on the Mount of Capuchins, there to spend the remainder of his days. With unsparing generosity and great humility and also with an intense love, he was faithful to his pastoral ministry in the fraternity as well as in the city. Heedless of his own illness, he went on preaching and would make his way down the hill, on which the Friary was built, to wander the city streets, going from house to house, to visit the poor and the sick who eagerly waited his consolation and his blessing.
He loved silence, recollection and prolonged vigils before the Eucharistic Tabernacle, but he also knew how to roll up his sleeves to be of service to the sick or more unfortunate members of his fraternity. He was wont to repeat that "Paradise is not for lazybones! So let's get down to work." Around this time many miracles were worked so that the ordinary people began to call him "the Little Saint of the Mount(Santino del Monte)". At the same time the veneration accorded to Brother Ignatius by such great personages of Piedmont, as the Royal Family, the Archbishop of Turin John Baptist Roero, the Cardinal Vitctorius Delle Lanze and the Grand Chancellor Charles Caisotti of Santa Vittoria.
Brother Ignatius was unrivalled as far as humility was concerned. Humility was engraved deeply in his very heart, and came alive in his actions and his amner of speaking. Like Saint Francis of Assisi, who would pray over and over "Who are You, my dearest Lord? And who am I but a most vile worm and Your most unprofitable servant?", Brother Ignatius of Santhià too knew that true humility proceeds from right knowledge of the Lord and of oneself. Because of this, he studied and admired God's goodness and greatness so as to deepen his sense of his own littleness, and he tried his best never to neglect this. Up until his final years of his life, he devoted himself to the humblest tasks of fraternal living every single day.
Saint Ignatius and his "Good Mamma"
Saint Ignatius of Santhià is sometimes depicted with a rosary beads in his hands and, in fact, he harboured a deep devotion to Our Lady and prayed Her Rosary often. When he spoke of Our Holy Mother, Mary, he described her as being his Mamma and Queen, his Advocate and Source of Inspiration. On such occasions, he became eloquent, overflowing with energy and gushing with jubilation and warmth. Furthermore he urged her devotees to imitate her virtues, instead of remaining at the level of sterile sentimentalism. In 1750 he was able to gratify his Marian devotion by making a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine of Loreto. There he laid before her his needs and those of his Brothers, as well as the needs of the whole People of God. He would admonish those who came to turn to him for advice or a blessing,, saying: "Go to the Madonna. Entrust yourselves to her, follow her example, say the Rosary.... She will console you and save you.”
Final Years of Suffering and Joy
Brother Ignatius spent the last years of his life in the local fraternity's infirmary. There too he blesses and to heard the confessions of those who came to see him, nor did he he spare himself in counselling them. Furthermore, he was so enthralled by contemplation of the Crucified Christ and reading the Gospel, that he was consumed with a burning desire for God.
Meanwhile, he was seemed to be so transformed into that Crucifix on which he gazed ceaselessly, throughout his whole life, that in August 1770 about one month before his death, a certain Brother happened to witness Brother Ignatius, kneeling at prayer before the Crucifix on the altar of the infirmary chapel. His arms were as if they were outstretched on the cross and his body was motionless, raised above the floor. But for those who knew Brother Ignatius well this was no great surprise. Often he would be so absorbed in prayer or contemplation, that more than once or twice novices or some other Brothers would have to shake him gently to rouse him and bring him back to his senses.
One characteristic of the fruit of his heavenly conversations and mortified lifestyle was a joy that would spring up from the very depths of his heart, manifesting itself in a broad smile. Those who saw him could only say "This Brother's face shone with heavenly joy." Brother Hyacinth of Pinerolo, who had been one of Ignatius's novices, gave the following testimony about him: “To him this vale of tears seemed transformed into a garden of delights because he willingly suffered for the One he loved so much.”
Furthermore. Brother Ignatius would exhort those who were too sorrowful or suffering from scruples with these words, trying to instill in them a spirit of genuine Franciscan of joy: “Laetare et benefacere(i. e. rejoice and be glad)… and let the sparrows(i. e. the scruples?) sing!”
Ignatius Obedient unto Death
Even in his final agony, he was filled with overflowing joy. Concerning this, he confided this worry to the Brother Guardian . “Father Guardian, it is read of certain saints that they trembled when faced with death. I instead feel so calm that I am afraid I trust too much. Please give me the charity of you counsel!” When on the night of the 22nd of September 1770, the Guardian heard that Brother Ignatius was about to die, he said to the Brothers, "There is no need to rush! He was so obedient in this life that he would not dare depart it without an obedience.", and set out at a leisurely pace. As midnight approached, Brother Ignatius heard his reassuring voice. After the "Depart, o Christian soul……. Amen" prayer had been completed, the Guardian bade Brother Ignatius one last farewell, saying "Have a good trip!" Only then did Brother Ignatius of Santhià calmly entrust his soul to God.
News of his death spread rapidly and such was the overwhelming crowds who rushed to pay respects to his remains, that the Guardian of the Local Fraternity had to hastily celebrate Brother Ignatius's funeral earlier than scheduled, in case the situation be came impossible to control. Thanks to the fame of his sanctity and the numerous miracles attributed to his intercession, the Process of his Canonization progressed quickly. It began in 1782 but because of the turmoil of the French Revolution and subsequent suppressions of Religious Orders, it took a long time. It was only after some 180 years, that in 1966, on the 17th of April, he was beatified by Pope Paul VI. He was canonized on the 19th of May 2002 by Pope John Paul II.