A boundless zeal for the conversion of sinners and a tender love for the poor, the sick and the oppressed were the outstanding characteristics of St. Francis Di Girolamo, the eloquent Jesuit missionary, who is referred to as the “Apostle of Naples”.
Francis was born near Taranto, Italy in 1642, the oldest of 11 children. After he had made his first Communion, at the age of 12, he was received into a house of secular priests in the neighborhood who lived a community life. The priests were aware of his intellectual ability and educated him and gave him responsibilities. They promoted him from being left in charge of the church to teaching catechism to receiving the tonsure when he was barely 16. In 1666, at the age of 24, he became an ordained priest.
For four years, Francis taught in the Jesuit Collegio dei Nobili. He then joined the Society of Jesus at age 28. After successfully completing a difficult year in the novitiate, his superiors sent him to help the celebrated preacher Father Agnello Bruno in his mission work among the peasants of Otranto. After three years of diligent work, Francis was sent to Naples to finish his theological studies and complete his profession as a Jesuit.
From the outset, his preaching attracted such huge crowds that he was sent to train other missionaries. Wherever he went, men and women hung on his every word and crowded into the confessionals. It was thought that at least 400 hardened sinners were annually reclaimed through his efforts. He visited the prisons, the hospitals, and even the galleys. On one Spanish ship, he is said to have converted 20 Turkish prisoners.
One of his most notable penitents was a French woman, Mary Alvira Cassier, who had murdered her father and served in the Spanish army, impersonating a man. Under the direction of Francis, she not only repented, but became very holy.
In addition to his missionary work, Francis rescued many children from dangerous surroundings, opened a charitable pawnshop, and organized an association of working men to help the Jesuit fathers in their work.
Francis had a reputation as a wonder-worker and was credited with working many miracles, but he humbly attributed the cures to the intercession of Saint Cyrus, for whom he had a special devotion. After much physical suffering from an illness, he died in 1716 at the age of 74. He was canonized in 1839.
~ Excerpted, in part, from Butler’s Lives of the Saints