Blessed James Alberione

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Times of greater grace: vocation to the priesthood
He had times of greater grace that determined his vocation and particular mission.
The first [was] his vocation to the priesthood; the second, the special direction his life was taking; the third, the move from the idea of an organization of Catholics to that of an organization of religious. Deo gratias et Mariæ!
He recalls a day in the 1890-18912 school year. [Miss] Cardona,3 truly a Rose of God, who was so good and tactful in her duty as a teacher, questioned some of her 80 pupils on what they thought of doing in the future, in later life. He was the second boy to be questioned. He thought it over and then, as if enlightened, and to the amazement of his classmates, responded in a resolute voice: I shall become a priest. She encouraged him and helped him a great deal. It was the first clear light. Hitherto there had been an inclination, albeit indefinable, deep within him, but without any practical outcome. From that day on, his companions and at times his brothers started to call him priest. Sometimes this was to make fun of him; at other times to call him to his duty... The upshot of this was that he geared his studies, his piety and his behavior, even his recreation periods, toward this goal.
At home, too, the family began to show him respect and to organize whatever concerned him in view of that goal. Such care saved him from so many dangers.
From that day on everything strengthened him in his decision.
He maintains that it was the result of the prayers of his mother,4 who always took particular care of him; as well as [those] of that quite devout teacher, who always prayed to the Lord for some of her pupils to become priests.
Contrary to the custom of the times he made his First Communion earlier than other children [his age].5
Later, his pastor,6 a priest of great wit, intelligence and intuition, always helped him and guided him through to ordination. Afterwards he gave his blessing to the Pauline Family’s early projects.
Night of light: the particular mission
The night that divided the last century from the present one7 was crucial for the specific mission and particular spirit in which his future Apostolate would come to light and be lived out. After the solemn midnight Mass in the Cathedral of Alba, exposition and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament followed.8 The seminarians in Philosophy and Theology were free to remain for as long as they liked.
Not long before there had been a congress (the first he had attended). He had fully grasped Toniolo’s9 calm but profound and fascinating speech. He had read Leo XIII’s10 invitation to pray for the coming century. Both spoke of the Church’s needs, of the new means of evil, of the duty to combat the press with the press, organization with organization, of the need to get the gospel [message] across to the people, of social issues…
Particular enlightenment came from the Host and a greater understanding of that invitation of Jesus venite ad me omnes;11 he seemed to fathom the heart of the great Pope, the Church’s call [for help], and the Priest’s true mission. What Toniolo said about the duty of being Apostles today and of using the means exploited by the opposition made sense to him. He felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the Lord and for the women and men of the new century with whom he would spend his life.
He had a clear grasp of his own nothingness, while concurrently he experienced in the Eucharist vobiscum sum usque ad consummationem sæculi,12 and that he could count on the Host, on Jesus, for light, nourishment, consolation and victory over evil.
Projecting himself mentally into the future he felt that in the new century generous people would experience what he was feeling; and that teamed up into an organization they could bring about what Toniolo kept on repeating: Unite; if the enemy finds us alone he will defeat us one by one.13
He already had the trust of fellow clerics; he with them and they with him, all of them drawing from the Tabernacle.
His prayer lasted four hours after the High Mass: [it was] for the century to be born in Christ, in the Eucharist; for new apostles to reform the law, education, literature, the press, morals; for the Church to give fresh impetus to mission; for good use to be made of the new means of apostolate; for society to welcome the great teachings of Leo XIII’s encyclicals – explained to the clerics by Canon Chiesa14 – especially with regard to social questions and Church freedom.
His mind and heart became so fixed on the Eucharist, the Gospel, the Pope, the new century, the new means, on Count Paganuzzi’s15 thinking regarding the Church and the need for a new band of apostles, that from then on these things always dominated his thoughts, his prayer, his spiritual work and his yearnings. He felt an obligation to serve the Church, the women and men of the new age, and to work with others in an organized way.
At ten that morning he must have let slip something of his inner feelings, because a cleric (later Canon Giordano),16 meeting him, expressed his astonishment. – From then on these thoughts were the inspiration of his reading, his study, his prayer and the whole of his formation. This idea of his, which at first was quite confused, became clearer and with the passing of time became more specific.
His overriding thought was that in view of one’s own salvation and in view of a more fruitful apostolate one needs to develop the whole human personality: mind, will and heart; this was the meaning of the inscription that he placed on the tomb of his friend Borello (1904).17
The foundation project:from an organization to religious, community life
His initial idea was for a Catholic organization of writers, technical people, booksellers and retailers; Catholics to whom18 he would give direction, work and a spirit of apostolate...
Toward 1910 he took a definitive step. It became much clearer that the writers, technical personnel and promoters [would have to be] religious men and women. On the one hand, [this would] lead people to the loftiest perfection – the perfection of those who also practice the evangelical counsels – and to the rewards of the apostolic life. On the other hand, [it would] give more cohesion, stability and continuity, [not to mention] a more supernatural sense to the apostolate. [He was] to form an organization, an organization of religious. Here efforts would coalesce, dedication would be total and the doctrine purer. A society of people who would love God with all their mind, all their strength and all their heart;19 people who would offer to work for the Church, happy with the wages God pays: You will receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.20 He rejoiced then at the thought that some of these people would belong to the militia of the Church on earth and some to the Church triumphant in heaven.
In the prayer that he offered every morning to the Lord with the chalice his first thought was for the area of the Cooperators that is at present (December 1953) still limited: for [their] intellectual, spiritual and financial cooperation. His second thought was the Pauline Family. These are intentions that Jesus the Master listens favorably to every day.
About 1922, as soon as he entered the first house he had built,21 he began to experience the pain more and more. He had a dream.22 He saw and noted the number 200; but he did not understand. Then he heard the words: Love everyone, there will be many generous people. Still, you will suffer because of deviations and defections. Don’t give up; you will receive even better ones. The two hundred had no connection to what he heard.
Nonetheless this suffering persisted like a thorn embedded in his side.23
God’s action and the twofold obedience
God showered many riches on the Pauline Family: divitias gratiæ.24 Some seemed to come more as a natural result of events; others more from the good example of enlightened and holy people who supervised the period of the preparation, birth and early life of the Pauline Family. [But] other riches were more clearly the work of God’s action.
At times the Lord constrained him in a paternal way to accept gifts for which he felt a natural repugnance. The same was true for certain promptings to push ahead. Ordinarily nature and grace worked together in such a way that one could not distinguish between them but [it was] always in the same direction.
For greater tranquility and trust he has to say:
1) That both the beginning and the continuation of the Pauline Family always proceeded in a twofold obedience: [to] inspirations received from the Lord in the Eucharist and corroborated by his Spiritual Director,25 together with the express will of his ecclesiastical superiors.
When the time came to start, the Bishop26 struck the hour of God (he27 was waiting for the bell stroke) charging him to devote himself to the diocesan press.28 This opened the way for the apostolate. So, too, when the time came to expand, for when he saw how things were going, he consented to his request to give up his duties in the service of the diocese: We shall leave you free and make do in some other way; devote yourself completely to the work you have started.
2) That without the Rosary he felt incapable of giving even an admonition. At the same time he is convinced that he could have done many other things with a little more effort and a little less faintheartedness.29
3) That the members of the Institute30 and people from outside made up for his many deficiencies. Moreover, that while having to keep matters a secret, the Pauline Family had many clear signs of being willed by the Lord and of the supernatural intervention of his wisdom and goodness.
First appraisal: relations among the Pauline Families31
It pleased the Lord for us to have four Congregations; but we can say: Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor… Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur, ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.32
There is a kinship bond among them, because all of them issued from the Tabernacle. [There is] a sole spirit: to live Jesus Christ and to serve the Church. [There are] those who represent everyone in their prayers of intercession at the Tabernacle; those who spread, as from above, the doctrine of Jesus Christ; and those who are in direct person-to-person contact.
There is close-knit collaboration among them [on the] spiritual, intellectual, moral and economic [levels].
As regards government and administration there is separation; but the altrice of the other three Congregations is the Pious Society of Saint Paul.33
There is separation, but there is, too, a deep-rooted bond of charity that is more noble than blood ties.
They are independent of one another, but there is an exchange of prayers and help in many ways. There is a separation of activities, but there is a sharing of joys and sorrows, and of the eternal reward.34

1 The paragraph marked n. 8 in the 1971 edition, and placed here by Giuseppe Barbero, is now to be found in its original place, after n. 46.

2 In 1890-1891 the six-year-old James Alberione was in the lower first class elementary at Cherasco (Cuneo).

3 Rosina Cardona, who was born in Turin and moved to Cherasco as a young woman, spent her life in the elementary school of this little town. She died, in her sixties, in March 1917 (cf. Gazzetta d’Alba, 24.3.1917). In the following school year (1891-1892) James Alberione was in the upper first class elementary. There were 88 pupils enrolled. James Alberione was the third in alphabetical order.

4 His mother’s name was Teresa Rosa Allocco (Alocco-Olocco). She was born at Bra on 7.6.1850 and married Michele Alberione (Albrione) on 11.2.1873. She became a widow on 26.11.1904 and died at Bra on 13.6.1923.

5 James Alberione made his first Holy Communion in the Cherasco parish church of San Martino within the walls, probably before Easter of 1892 (which that year fell on 17 April). He was confirmed by Giuseppe Francesco Re, Bishop of Alba (1848-1933) on 15.11.1893.

6 His pastor was Giovanni Battista Montersino (1842-1912). He became archpriest of San Martino in Cherasco in 1874. – James Alberione was born in San Lorenzo di Fossano (Cuneo) on 4.4.1884 and baptized on the following day. Shortly afterward his family moved to the Cherasco area (diocese of Alba). It was in Cherasco, too, that James attended first year high school (1895-1896). He then moved on to the nearby archdiocesan seminary of Bra (diocese of Turin), where he frequented years two to five (1896-1900). In the fall of 1900, he entered the seminary of Alba and undertook his studies of Philosophy and Theology. His clothing ceremony was on 8.12.1902. He was ordained priest by Bishop Giuseppe Francesco Re in the Cathedral of Alba on 29.6.1907.

7 This is the night between 31.12.1900 and 1.1.1901.

8 The Eucharistic Adoration was under the patronage of the Nocturnal Adoration Society, which had made a request to the Pope to this end. – Cf. A.F. DA SILVA, Il cammino degli Esercizi Spirituali nel pensiero di Don G. Alberione, Center of Pauline Spirituality, Ariccia 1981, p. 42f; and R.F. ESPOSITO, “Il Giubileo secolare del 1900-1901 e l’enciclica ‘Tametsi futura’ ”, in Palestra del Clero, March-April 1996, 169-196.

9 Giuseppe Toniolo, Catholic sociologist and economist (b. Treviso 7.3.1845 – d. Pisa 7.10.1918) was a leading light in the field of Christian social thought, an animator of the Opera dei Congressi and the first national president of the Unione Popolare (cf. AD 60ff).

10 Leo XIII, Gioacchino Vincenzo Pecci (1810-1903), was elected Pope on 20.2.1878. He issued his encyclical letter Tametsi futura prospicientibus (in Acta, 20, 294-314) on 1 November 1900, two months before the “night” mentioned above (cf. R.F. ESPOSITO, art. cit.).

11 “Come to me, all of you” (Mt 11:28). These words were engraved on the Tabernacle door in front of which James made his long adoration.

12 “I am with you always” (Mt 28:20). The complete quotation is: “Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem sæculi.”

13 Recall the cry of Karl Marx (1818-1883) who stirred up workers in view of class struggle: “Workers of the world. Unite!” (Communist Manifesto, 1848). Colleague and opponent of Marx in the Berlin Parliament was the famous Bishop of Mainz, Wilhelm von Ketteler (1811-1877), a deputy of the Christian Social Center. His calls for the unity of Catholics were taken up by Christian sociologists – one of whom was Toniolo – who came under the leadership of the “Volksverein” and the Union of Fribourg. – Bishop von Ketteler was well known to early Paulines for his words: “If Saint Paul were alive today, he would be a journalist.”

14 Francesco Chiesa (1874-1946), priest, professor in the seminary of Alba and rector of the downtown San Damiano parish, was declared Venerable on 11.12.1987. – Cf. A. VIGOLUNGO, “Nova et vetera”, Can. Francesco Chiesa, Edizioni Paoline, Alba 1961; L.M. ROLFO, Il buon Soldato di Cristo..., Edizioni Paoline, Alba 1978; E. FORNASARI, “Ho dato tutto”..., Edizioni San Paolo, Cinisello B. 1993.

15 Giovanni Battista Paganuzzi (Venice, 1841-1923), count, lawyer, president of the Opera dei Congressi.

16 Luigi Giordano, priest: born in Cortemilia (Cuneo) in 1878, ordained priest on 28.6.1903 and died on 30.12.1939.

17 This paragraph is a handwritten addition to ds. – Agostino Borello was born at Canove di Govone on 20.10.1883 and died on 2.6.1902. Alberione, still a cleric, gave a moving funeral eulogy in his honor. Cf. “Sono creato per amare Dio” (Diario e scritti giovanili), (ed.) G. Barbero, pp. 73-85.

18 The Italian text notes here that the conjunction “and” stands for the pronoun “to whom”.

19 Cf. Mk 12:30. In keeping with his “mind-will-heart” outline, the Author changes Mark’s quotation and moves “to love with all their heart” from first to third place.

20 Cf. Mt 19:29.

21 The transfer from the rented house in via Vernazza to their own place in the first wing of the Casa San Paolo took place on 10.8.1921.

22 Cf. AD 151ff.

23 This “suffering”, “like a thorn embedded in his side” (cf. 2 Cor 12:7), makes more sense in the light of a parallel 1938 story: “When we were thinking of buying this land, the boys came to play in this place: I was looking up and down... reflecting on whether it was God’s will to undertake such expenditure... and it seemed as if for a moment I slumbered: the sun was shining while the houses were being built; then the sun clouded over, and I saw that the greatest suffering came from those called by God, who would then abandon their vocation…” (MV 138). We note here the handwritten addition by the Author which excludes any connection with the number “200”.

24 Cf. Eph 2:7. See above, AD 4 and relevant notes.

25 A reference to Francesco Chiesa.

26 This was Bishop Giuseppe Francesco Re, already mentioned several times in the notes. Born on 2.12.1848, he became Bishop of Alba on 30.12.1889, and died on 17.1.1933.

27 The “he” referred to in parenthesis is of course Fr Alberione.

28 The “diocesan press”, or the newspaper to which the Author alludes, is the Gazzetta d’Alba, a weekly founded in 1882 by the previous bishop, Lorenzo Pampirio (bishop from 1879 to 1889). Fr Alberione took over the management of the weekly on the evening of 8 September 1913.

29 “A little less faintheartedness”: the Author’s handwritten addition to ds.

30 The Institute means all the institutions that he went on to found.

31 The expression “Pauline Families” (plural, which will soon give way to the singular, indicating the sum total of the institutions) is immediately modified by the term “Congregations”. At the end of 1953 these were the four listed. Still to come were the Apostoline Sisters and all the aggregated Institutes.

32 “The love of Christ has brought us all together... Thus united we form one body. Let us avoid having any division among us” (Roman Missal, Holy Thursday, the Lord’s Supper).

33 Altrice (from àlere = to nourish): a woman who nurtures. – Cf. F. PIERINI, “Ruolo della Società San Paolo ‘altrice’ della Famiglia Paolina secondo Don Alberione”, in Il ministero dell’unità nella F.P., Ed. Archivio Storico Generale della F.P., Rome 1987, pp. 135ff.

34 “And of the eternal reward”: handwritten addition.