May 27, 2014

⛪ Blessed Joseph of Igualada

A Beardless Capuchin !

For many modern clean-shaven Capuchins, the 2010 Beatification of Brother Joseph of Igualada may have come as somewhat of a a relief. They now have their own heavenly model confrere in the person of their beardless confrere, Joseph of Igualada, a. k. a. Blessed Joseph Tous i Soler. While the present-day Capuchin Constitutions declare that growing one’s beard is optional, up until 1967, the ancient and universal custom of growing the beard was legislatively enforced in the Order of Capuchin Friars Minor since its earliest days. The 1528 Papal Bull, “Religionis Zelus”, which sanctioned the Capuchin Reform, speaks of the beard as a Camaldolese ‘privilege’ bestowed on the Capuchin Brothers. The Albacina Statutes of 1529 forbade even the trimming of beards, while, in the Order’s first Constitutions of 1536, the following spiritual reasons are given for enforcing this prohibition. “After the example of Christ most holy and all our early saints, let the beard be worn because it is something manly and natural, rough, worthless and austere.” Subsequent Capuchin legislation, right up until the revision of the Constitutions following the Second Vatican Council, retained this shaving ban. But contemporary photographs of the newly beatified Catalan Capuchin show him clean-shaven and beardless! This distinguishing feature of Brother Joseph, as well as his dress and the widespread use of his secular name, Joseph Tous i Soler, points to the fact that for most of his Capuchin life in anti-clerical 19th century Spain he was prevented from living a as a normal Capuchin but forced to minister as a secular priest in Barcelona’s diocesan parishes that were short of pastors at the time. Yet despite being forced to live outside the Order’s institutions, Brother Joseph of Igualada never neglected to live out the Capuchin charism and, according to witnesses, he lived poorly and austerely, while cultivating humility, a love for silence and faithfulness to a life of prayer and at the same time devoting himself to the relief of the material and spiritual needs of all whom he met.  

Barcelona – the Cradle of Brother Joseph’s Human Life and of His Capuchin Life

Brother Joseph’s life as a Capuchin began in Barcelona where, for economic reasons, his family had moved from Igualada when Joseph was nine years old. It was in that city that Joseph first came in contact with Capuchin Brothers and it was there that he asked the to be received into the Order at the age of 15. He was received as a Novice at the nearby Novitiate Friary of SarriΓ‘ on the 18th of February 1827. From then on within the Order he would called Brother Joseph of Igualada, but it was by his secular name “Joseph Tous i Soler” that he would come to be better known and loved by the citizens of Barcelona. The future Capuchin Blessed, Joseph Tous i Soler was born at Igualada near Barcelona the capital city of Catalonia, Spain, on the 31st of March, 1811. He was the ninth of eleven children born to the well-to-do, Christian couple, Nicolas Tous i Carrera and Frances Soler i Ferrer. When he was baptized ‘Joseph Nicolas James’ the following day in his parish church, his older brother Nicolas, who himself went on to one of Catalonia’s most famous industrialists, acted as godfather. Joseph, who had learned the basic truths of the Catholic faith from his family, was confirmed in 1817 and received his first Holy Communion in 1818.  After completing his Novitiate and making Profession as a Capuchin Brother in 1828, Brother Joseph of Igualada spent the next few years studying at various Friaries in Catalonia before being ordained a priest in 1833.  

Driven into Exile

But within a short time the Spanish government suppressed Religious Orders and confiscated their properties. Brother Joseph, together with some confreres, was arrested in 1835 and jailed for eighteen days in a Barcelona fortress. After being freed, he was exiled and spent the next few months wandering along the French Mediterranean coastline to northern Italy before returning to France in 1836. There, at Grenoble near Marseilles, he found refuge in a Monastery of Benedictine Sisters, for whom he acted as chaplain, while pursuing studies in moral theology, before being given the faculties of preacher. By the time he left there to definitively return to Spain in 1843, he had gained not only the Sisters’ affection, but also the local Bishop’s heartfelt respect. 

Hidden Capuchin Ministry After Returning Home

Back home in Barcelona, Brother Joseph could not live in a Friary or wear his Capuchin habit since such outward signs of religious life were banned by anti-Catholic legislation. Instead he lived in his own family home and, dressed as a diocesan cleric, he ministered as a curate to the people of the Parish of Esparragure, Barcelona. In 1848 he was moved to the parish of San Francisco de Paola in another part of the city and engaged wholeheartedly in the same kind of pastoral ministry. Always concerned with the plight of the city’s youth, he founded the Capuchin Sisters of the Mother of the Divine Shepherd in 1850 to care for their education and wellbeing. With the help of these teaching Sisters, he established a network of schools through out the region and promoted children’s welfare. Among his advisors in this project was Saint Anthony Mary Claret, the founder of the Claretian Missionaries. The Sisters followed the Rule of Saint Clare and the adapted Capuchin Poor Clare Constitutions of Blessed Mary Angela Astorch.  These Sisters devoted themselves to the Christian education of poor children and reaching out to their families. All the while, Brother Joseph lived a Capuchin life of poverty, humility silence and prayer, albeit in his own home. He had particular devotion to the Crucified Christ, to the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and to Mary, the Mother of the Divine Shepherd. He promoted these devotions also among the faithful of his parishes and encouraged his Sisters to live a ‘mixed life’, that combined a life of prayer and contemplation with the active ministry of educating needy children. 

"Faithful to God and Faithful to Human Beings"

As well as devoting himself to parish ministry, he continued to serve as spiritual director to the Capuchin Sisters of the Mother of the Divine Shepherd.  And, indeed, it was while saying Mass for these Sisters in their College chapel in Barcelona that he died on the 27th of February 1874. The location and the circumstances of Blessed Joseph’s death serve to highlight and encapsulate the core of his Capuchin life – love of the Eucharist, devotion to Mary, the Mother of the Divine Shepherd and readiness to reach out to the Crucified Christ in the neediest of his brothers and sisters, and especially the uneducated children of Barcelona. 

"Pour into the tender hearts of children the holy thoughts and devout affections which God passed on to you in prayer.", "Teach more with the love of mothers than the strictness of school mistresses.", "ven when all is darkness, we must be faithful to God and faithful to human beings." - Blessed Joseph of Igualada

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