Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo
Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo was born in 1786 at Bra in Piedmont, Italy. As a secular priest in Turin, he showed a special concern for the sick poor, receiving them into a small house. This Little House of Divine Providence, the Piccola Casa, as he called it, was the beginning of an entire city of more than 7,000 poor persons, orphans, sick and lame, retarded, penitents, served by several religious Orders. These were distinguished by their names and their religious habits, each group being dedicated to a specific work they were assigned to do. And of this Piccola Casa, as it is still called, one can say what Saint Gregory Nazienzen said in his funeral eulogy of his friend Saint Basil’s large hospital: Go a little way outside the city and se, in this new city storehouses of piety, the common treasure of the owners, where a surplus of wealth has been laid up, where sickness is borne with patience, misfortune is considered happiness, and compassion is efficaciously practiced.
For this ever more pressing work, the Saint founded fourteen religious communities which today are still very widespread, especially in Italy. Among them were some which were purely contemplative; the life of prayer its members led was destined to draw down upon the others the blessing of heaven, thus completing by a spiritual work of mercy the corporal works exercised there. These religious prayed in particular for those who have the greatest need of assistance, the dying and the deceased. The Saint trusted totally in the infinite kindness of God, and as one of his friends said, he had more confidence in God than did the entire city of Turin. When he was asked about the source of his revenues, he answered, Providence sends me everything.
Confidence in God did not, however, cause him to cross his arms and observe. He slept only a few hours, often on a chair or bench, and then returned to his daily labor, work and prayer. But Saint Joseph Benedict was exhausting his strength. In 1842, the doctors decided that he should go to visit his brother in Chieri. When he entered the carriage, one of the Sisters cried out in tears: Father, you are sick; what will become of us? Be at peace, he answered. When I am in heaven, where one can do everything, I will help you more than now I do. I will hold to the cloak of the Mother of God and keep my eyes fixed on you. Do not forget what I, a poor old man, say to you today! A few days later, on April 30, 1842, death came. The final word of this great Saint was that of the Psalm: I rejoiced when it was said unto me, Let us go unto the House of the Lord! Saint Joseph Benedict was canonized by Pope Pius XI, March 19, 1934.
Le vrai visage des Saints, by W. Schamoni (Desclée De Brouwer: Bruges, 1955).