Saint of the Day: St. Joseph Cafasso
He was born on January 15, 1811 at Castelnuovo d’Asti, now Castelnuovo Don Bosco, in the Province of Piedmont about twenty miles from Turin.
Joseph Cafasso was the third child of a family of four. His parents, who were known for their charity to the poor, were small farmers who had to supplement their scanty income by working on neighboring farms.
Joseph was a saint from his infancy; his sanctity was the result of victories gained over himself and it increased with his years. Although he was born with a deformed spine, he did not allow this defect to influence his need to do penance. Even in his childhood he had certain days set apart for mortification, and he fasted every Saturday in honor of Our Blessed Lady. He also attended daily Mass, at which he often served. He was gifted with a keen intellect and a good memory, and was first in his class at school.
He was ordained a priest in 1833 at the age of twenty-two. After Ordination, he was selected to be an assistant professor of moral theology at ecclesiastical college in Turin. He was a brilliant lecturer. His fame soon spread and attracted students not only from Turin but from the surrounding dioceses.
Jansenism was rampant at the time. A large number of the clergy were tainted with it; they held rigorous views and deterred people from approaching the sacraments, but their lives were far from virtuous. Don Cafasso was the apostle of hope and confidence and advocated frequent and even daily Communion. By correct explanation of the principles of moral theology, by preaching the mercy of God, and by training the young priests to work with him in the prisons among men considered by the Jansenists as unworthy of the Sacraments, he fortified them against the errors of that heresy.
When the College Rector became old and infirm, Don Cafasso took charge and was appointed as his successor when he died. There was a church dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi attached to the college, of which the Rector was Pastor. Don Cafasso had charge of the Church and spent long hours each day hearing Confessions in it.
Besides performing all his duties as Professor and Pastor, he found time for other forms of apostolate in Turin, the chief of which were teaching catechism to poor children, visiting the sick and the various prisons of the city, and giving missions and retreats.
The prisons in Don Cafasso’s time were gloomy places infested with vermin. Don Cafasso visited each prison at least once a week, and some of them once a day, and spent long hours there, usually four or five hours at a time. He returned home each night bringing with him on his person, the vermin of the prison, which he jocularly called “living silver and moving riches.”
He instructed the prisoners in the truths of religion, and not being in any hurry to leave, he did that work thoroughly. He prepared them for the Sacraments and heard their Confessions. There is no case on record in which he failed to convert even the most hardened sinners among them.
Don Cafasso was friend and spiritual advisor to St. John Bosco, who gave the homily at his funeral.
St. Joseph Cafasso died on June 23, 1860 at Turin, Italy. He was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII. He is the patron saint of prisoners.
“We are born to love, we live to love, and we will die to love still more.”
~Saint Joseph Cafasso