ST. ANTHONY MARY CLARET
Claret realized his personal vocation in the Church, animated by a strong ecclesial sensitivity, and apostolic spirit, and an ardent love for Mary, whose maternal love directs the evangelizing work of our Congregation.
With an acute sensitivity to the timely, urgent and effective, and a clear option for the poor, the least, and the consecrated, he responded to the urgent needs of the Church, and the world of his time:
- as a Preacher of the Word of God in popular missions in Spain;
- as Founder, he took together men and women to share in missionary work;
- as Missionary Bishop of Cuba, he promoted spiritual and social improvements.
- He was the writer and publisher of many religious books, pamphlets, and other publications.
- As Confessor of Queen Isabel of Spain, he helped realise a fruitful Church-state relationship, always guided by a deep love for the Church and for the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
SUMMARY OF HIS LIFE
- 1807 – December 2nd: He is born in Sallent (Barcelona), Spain.
- 1835 – June 13rd: He is ordained Priest.
- 1849 – July 16th: He founds the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
- 1850 – October 6th: He is consecrated Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba.
- 1857 – He is nominated Confessor of the Queen of Spain.
- 1869 – 1870: He takes part in the First Vatican Council.
- 1870 – October 24th: He dies in Fontfroide, France.
- 1934 – February 25th: He is proclaimed Blessed by Pope Pius XI.
- 1950 – May 7th: He is declared Saint by Pope Pius XII.
LIFE OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY CLARET
St. Anthony Mary Claret was born in a town called Sallent on December 23rd, 1807. His father owned a small textile factory, but was not rich. Anthony grew up in a Christian environment, and at a very early age had a strong sense of the eternal life that Christ wanted all men and women to enjoy. He wanted to spare sinners eternal unhappiness, and felt moved to work for their salvation. When he was about eleven years old, a bishop visited his school and asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Without hesitation he responded: “A priest.”
As soon as Anthony was old enough, he began working as an apprentice weaver. When he turned 17, his father sent him to Barcelona to study the latest techniques in textile manufacturing. He did so well in the textile design school that he began receiving offers from large textile companies. Even though he had the talent to succeed, he turned down the offer and returned home after experiencing the emptiness of worldly achievements.
The words of the Gospel kept resounding in his heart: “what good is it for man to win the world if he loses his soul?” He began to study Latin to prepare to enter the Seminary. When he was 21 years old he entered the seminary.
He was ordained a priest at 27 years of age and was assigned to his hometown parish. The town soon became too small for his missionary zeal, and the political situation, hostile to the Church, limited his apostolic activity. He decided to go to Rome to offer himself to serve in foreign missions. Things did not work out as expected, and he decided to join the Jesuits to pursue his missionary dream. While in the Jesuit Novitiate, he developed a strange illness, which led his superiors to think that God may have other plans for him. Once again, he had to return home to keep searching for God’s will in his life.
“Apostolic Missionary” in Catalonia and Canary Islands
Back in a parish of Catalonia, Claret began preaching popular missions everywhere. He travelled on foot, attracting large crowds with his sermons. Some days he preached up to seven sermons in a day and spent 10 hours listening to confessions.
The secret of his missionary success was love. In his words: «Love is the most necessary of all virtues. Love in the person who preaches the word of God is like fire in a musket. If a person were to throw a bullet with his hands, he would hardly make a dent in anything; but if a person takes the same bullet and ignites some gunpowder behind it, it can kill. It is much the same with the Word of God. If it is spoken by someone who is filled with the fire of charity, the fire of the love of God and neighbour, it will work wonders. ‘ (Autobiography 438-439).
His popularity spread; people sought him for spiritual and physical healing. By the end of 1842, the Pope gave him the title of “apostolic missionary.” Aware of the power of the press, in 1847, he organized, with other priests, a Religious Press. Claret began writing books and pamphlets, making the message of God accessible to all social groups. The increasing political restlessness in Spain continued to endanger his life and curtail his apostolic activities. So, he accepted an offer to preach in the Canary Islands, where he spent 14 months. In spite of his great success there too, he decided to return to Catalonia to carry out one of his dreams: the organization of an order of missionaries to share in his work.
Founder and Archbishop of Cuba
On July 1849, he gathered a group of priests who shared his dream. This is the beginning of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, today also known as Claretian Missionaries. Days later, he received a new assignment: he was named Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. He had to leave the newly founded community to the call of God. After two months of travel, he reached the Island of Cuba and began his episcopal ministry by dedicating it to Mary. He visited the church where the image of Our Lady of Charity, patroness of Cuba was venerated. Soon he realized the urgent need for human and christian formation, especially among the poor. He was concerned for all aspects of human development and applied his great creativity to improving the conditions of the people under his pastoral care.
Among his great initiatives were: trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods. He visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. The expected reaction came soon. He began to experience persecution, and finally when preaching in the city of Holguín, a man stabbed him on the cheek in an attempt to kill him. For Claret this was a great cause of joy. He writes in his Autobiography: “I can´t describe the pleasure, delight, and joy I felt in my soul on realizing that I had reached the long-desired goal of shedding my blood for the love of Jesus and Mary and of sealing the truths of the gospel with the very blood of my veins.” (Aut. 577). During his 6 years in Cuba he visited the extensive Archdiocese three times…town by town.
Confessor to the Queen of Spain
Claret was called back to Spain in 1857 to serve as confessor to the Queen of Spain, Isabella II. He had a natural dislike for aristocratic life. He loved poverty and the simplest lifestyle. He accepted in obedience, but requested to be allowed to continue some missionary work. Whenever he had to travel with the Queen, he used the opportunity to preach in different towns throughout Spain.
The eleven years he spent as confessor to the Queen of Spain were particularly painful, because the enemies of the Church directed toward him all kinds of slanders and personal ridicule. In 1868 a new revolution dethroned the Queen and sent her with her family into exile. Claret’s life was also in danger, so he accompanied her to France. This gave him the opportunity to preach the Gospel in Paris. He stayed with them for a while, then went to Rome where he was received by Pope Pius IX in a private audience.
First Vatican Council
On December 8th, 1869, seven hundred bishops from all over the world gathered in Rome for the First Vatican Council. Claret was one of the Council Fathers. His presence became noticeable when the subject of papal infallibility was discussed, which Claret defended vehemently. The Italian revolution interrupted the process of the Council, which was never concluded. Claret’s health was deteriorating, so he returned to France.
Last Days in Exile
In France, Claret joined his missionaries who were also in exile. Soon he found out, that there was a warrant for his arrest. He decided to go into hiding in a Cistercian Monastery in the French southern town of Fontfroide. There he died on October 24th, 1870 at the age of 62. As his last request, he dictated to his missionaries the words that were to appear on his tombstone: “I have loved justice and hated iniquity; therefore, I die in exile.” His remains are venerated in Vic. Claret was beatified in 1934 and in 1950 canonized.