Blessed James Alberione

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There were factors that seemed to counsel further delay before opening the first house: the many tasks he already had, the spiritual direction of 180 clerics and young people, management and administration of the diocesan weekly newspaper, thirteen hours of class every week,1 ministry and various commitments in the diocese, the storm clouds that were gathering and foretelling the imminent catstrophe of 1914.
On top of this his poor health: You won’t save him; TB2 is taking him from you, [the doctors] told the Bishop. – He then inquired: I am afraid of being gravely imprudent: summoning people for a mission, with the grave danger of abandoning them halfway down the road.3 The reply was: The Lord thinks and makes provision better than you; go ahead with faith.4 He had no further doubt after that.
For all that, [was it] an illusion? This was his spiritual torment for some years.
One day, while praying, he had a kind of enlightenment: You can err, but I do not. Vocations come not from you but only from me: this is the external sign that I am with the Pauline Family.
To Rome: an opening to the world
First a house of formation was opened in Rome;5 ten years later he too moved to Rome.6 From Alba, the aim was Italy; from Rome, in a special way, the nations overseas.
The reasons that determined this are clear: we are in Rome in order to experience better the fact that the Pauline Family is at the service of the Holy See; to draw our doctrine, spirit, and apostolic action in a more direct way from the Source, the Papacy. Rome is the world’s teacher; all the same she holds open her doors to humanity; from Rome go forth those who are sent in all directions.
This thought was fixed in his heart from the time he went to Rome to represent the diocese for the Unione Popolare7 Congress and he was able to stop and pray at Saint Paul’s tomb.
Notion of expansion
[This notion] issues from a catholic spirit and from the divine mandate: Go and preach to the whole creation [cf Mk 16:15]; it is instilled in Confirmation and develops with Holy Orders. Saint Paul is a great traveler.
At eight years of age he was acquainted with and inclined toward the Sodality of the Holy Childhood,8 which was celebrated every year on the feast of the Epiphany with collections and prayers among the children.
From age twelve to sixteen he read the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith and of the Holy Chilhood almost every day;9 later on, [he read] the missionary publications of the Salesians, the White Fathers,10 the Institute of the Consolata11 and the Foreign Missions of Milan.12
In his second year of high school13 he enrolled in the Society for the Propagation of the Faith,14 and the Holy Childhood, paying the respective dues. The lives of the great missionaries, of which he read many, touched him deeply.15
Once ordained, he collected offerings, helped [to promote] missionary vocations, preached on the missions on special occasions, and consulted with people who were involved in the great work of the evangelization of pagan peoples.
Asia and Africa struck him the most; the less a person is concerned with self, the more deeply and fully does she or he experience the needs of these unfortunates who lack the divine gifts that Jesus Christ brought to humanity from heaven. The greater one’s intimacy with the Lord16 the more lively is this sensation.
The gift and treasure of the Cooperators
The Bishop of Alba,17 [himself] a Dominican tertiary, had appointed him director of the diocesan Dominican Tertiaries. In this guise he had numerous contacts with the Dominican Fathers, and read books and periodicals of the Order. In the twelve annual talks he gave to them and in contact with individual tertiaries, he noticed that many were making a strong and practical effort to improve their lives. But awareness of an apostolate directed to others, typical of Saint Dominic, was missing. He tried to add this, and saw that a good number grasped and took it up. It was the right path.
In 1916 and subsequently, following the start of the Pious Society of Saint Paul, he felt he had to add a kind of Third Order. [It would consist of] persons who wanted to improve their Christian life, in harmony with the Pauline spirit, by linking it to an apostolate carried out by means of prayer, works and offerings: Unione18 Cooperatori apostolato edizioni. Many people responded in a generous way; the Holy See enriched [the Union] with indulgences.
As a sign of gratitude, the Society of Saint Paul celebrates 2400 Masses every year for all its Cooperators. Those registered (worldwide) certainly exceed one million today.19
There was always this prayer intention: that all those who do good to the Pauline Family through prayers, deeds, offerings, sending vocations and so on, may be saved, and that on their death they may, at once or as soon as possible, contemplate, possess, love and enjoy God for ever.
He thanks the Lord for coming from a deeply Christian and very hardworking farm family; this [family] feature was proverbial among acquaintances and neighbors.
From a tender age the children grew up in fear of God, and all had little or big jobs, depending on their strength: from taking care of the chickens to the heavier work in the fields.20
Studies cost him considerable sacrifice, even in primary school.21
Summer vacations and winter rest were things unknown.
Even later on (from age 11 to 23), recreation consisted mostly in changing jobs. For instance: as he was crossing the fields on his return home from the seminary, [he found] the rake already there prepared to collect the hay; and, without going home, he took off his jacket and shoes and joined in with his brothers, until the time for the evening meal. Prayer, study and work: this was the way he passed his vacation period, during which he studied and read more than during the school year.22
In the seminary23 cleaning up left a lot to be desired. So the clerics and young boys set up the Child Jesus Group; those enrolled pledged to clean up a locale: the chapel, the corridor, the study hall, the dormitory, the stairways and so on. All this during recreation and vacation time.24
Already during his student years, and later on especially, he meditated on the great mystery of Jesus’ toil-filled life in Nazareth. A God who redeemed the world with household virtues and hard work up to the age of thirty.
Redemptive work, apostolic work, tiring work. To expend in God’s active service the whole of our strength, even our physical activity: is not this the way of perfection? Is not God pure Act? Are we not talking here of true religious poverty, that of Jesus Christ? Is it not work that pays homage to Jesus the Worker? Is there no obligation, even more so for religious, to comply with the duty to earn one’s living? Was not this a rule that Saint Paul imposed on himself? Is it not only by fulfilling this social duty that the apostle can stand up to preach? Does this not make us humble? Is not the pen in the hand and the pen of the machine essential for the apostolate of the Pauline families? Is not work [synonymous with] well-being? Does it not save [us] from laziness and many [other] temptations? Is it not better that beneficence and donations be only for new initiatives (for example, a church, an apostolic implement, or to earmark them for the poor and for vocations)? If Jesus Christ chose this path, was it not because it was one of the first points to be restored? Is not work a means of merit? If the Family works, does it not root its life in Christ under a basic point?25
He reflected more deeply on these ideas and principles after a visit to Bruxelles, and especially to the J.O.C. (Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique).26
Hence the abundance of work introduced into the Pauline congregations. To vary one’s occupations is itself a rest. Everyone to work! moral, intellectual, apostolic, spiritual [work].
There are articles in the Constitutions that do not allow the Pauline Family to grow old or to become useless in society: it suffices to interpret them properly or to make them operative: there will always be new activities in view of our one apostolate and based on it.
From 1914 up to 1944 there was always a kind of internal travail over the basic issue of how to retain unity of spirit and, at the same time, administrative and managerial independence among the four Pauline Congregations.27 A good priest, Fr Rossi,28 had raised the issue with him in 1916. He wavered a good deal between the organization and [the style of] government of Saint John Bosco and the [style of] government and organization given by Saint Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo to their respective institutions;29 he ended up borrowing from both saints.
[He had] to comply with the 191730 [Code of] Canon Law then in force and to pursue spiritual unity in Jesus Christ the Divine Master. There was a long period of experimentation and wavering, not without its suffering.31
[There was] like anguish over administration and the means of livelihood, so as to give the Pauline Family an economic base; Saint [Giuseppe] Cottolengo, Saint [John] Bosco and Saint Giuseppe Cafasso32 each had a different outlook on this point. Here, too, he steered a middle course: work as a means of education, as an apostolate, and as a natural means of livelihood; and beneficence for new initiatives and the houses, especially for the churches under construction. Following the trend of the times he also set up a Credit Fund [Piccolo Credito],33 which gave a breathing space for large payments.
Trust in God, steady work and orderly and balanced administration would assure the flow of Divine Providence.
The Pauline Congregations have separate apostolates: but these are sufficient for the life and the development of each one and for the growth of their works.34
The Gospel
There was a time (the 1906-1907 school year) when he received further enlightenment about a great treasure that the Lord willed to grant to the Pauline Family. [This was] the distribution of the Gospel. To date, this work has spread to about twenty or so countries in various ways, especially by means of Gospel Days.
Pius X had made the study of Scripture obligatory for clerics.35
In August 1907, he organized three Bible Sundays. He explained [the Bible] in a catechetical fashion and with catechetical applications.36
In those days the Gospel was rarely read and only by a few people, just as few people received Communion. There was a peculiar kind of conviction that the Gospel could not be given to the people, much less the Bible. The reading of the Gospel was almost the exclusive right of non-Catholics who gave it a private interpretation.
There was a threefold need:
a) For the Gospel to enter every household together with the Catechism. The Gospel had to be interpreted according to the mind of the Church: thus [supplemented] with notes of the complete Catechism: faith, morals, worship. – Since people no longer attended Sunday Vespers there was a need to explain the Gospel every Sunday during Mass. This is what he did in the Cathedral of Alba, as soon as he was ordained. Many parishes then took up this custom. Out of this came the Gospel with catechetical notes.
b) For the book of the Gospel to become the model and inspiration of every Catholic publication.
c) For the Gospel to be honored and properly venerated. Preaching must be more Gospel-centered and Gospel-modelled: above all, [one must] live the Gospel in one’s mind, heart and actions.
Hence the thirty adorations made much later at Saint Paul’s37 [that were] preached and written (and later published) on Scripture in general and the Gospel in particular.38
Every year on Saint Cecilia’s day he stopped [to reflect] on the words Virgo Christi Evangelium semper gerebat in pectore.39
The Gospel [that he] carried on his person for thirty-two years40 was a truly effective prayer.
Thus in 1903 the work of distributing the Bible (the Mondovì edition, then among the best) and the much wider distribution of the Gospel (Vatican edition)41 was begun by the clerics of Alba. This aroused great fervor among the clerics and the first Gospel Days were held.
Personality development
Personality development; natural, supernatural, apostolic.
In the Pauline Family there are well-defined goals, as well as detailed and copious means. [There is] especially the time during the hour of adoration when the soul enters into communication with God. [Here the soul] develops, assimilates and applies what it has learned. Directives are finely balanced with freedom and a spirit of initiative.
In general: those who took advantage of it advanced a great deal: in the spirit, in the administrative dimension, in study, in the apostolate, and in [their] formation in general.
Perhaps there was too much freedom and some misused it, with all the consequences deriving from this.
This way, it is true, demands deep belief, that is, instruction and profound convictions. [The] use of the sacraments, spiritual direction, and reflection on the Last Things keep people on the right path or, if they stray, call them back. It is a more demanding and longer way, but one that is more useful.
The purpose of education is to train human beings to use their freedom properly: in view of this world and in view of eternity.

1 “Thirteen hours of class every week”: handwritten addition replacing “various classes”.

2 Tubercolosis, then considered an incurable malady.

3 In the ms we read that Fr Alberione posed the question “as a final objection, to his Spiritual Director” (he then cancelled the sentence).

4 In the ms we read: “The Lord will make more provision for them than you; you will live long enough to complete the work [...].”

5 The house was started by Fr G. Timoteo Giaccardo and Sr Amalia Peyrolo (1899-1980) in January 1926, in Via Ostiense 75/E. Later on the group moved to makeshift accommodation and finally into the new house in Via Grottaperfetta, now Alessandro Severo.

6 Fr Alberione moved to Rome in the summer of 1936.

7 The circumstances of this are unclear. The trip probably took place in 1911. But we cannot discount the fact that it may have taken place between 1918 and 1920, when the Diocesan Councils of the Unione Popolare held three national congresses in Rome.

8 Founded in 1843 by Bishop Forbin-Janson (1785-1844) and approved by the Holy See on 18.7.1846.

9 The Annals of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith started in Lyons, France, in 1828. The Italian edition of the Annals of the Holy Childhood Sodality was first published in Genoa in 1853. From 1924 onwards it was published with the title Santa Infanzia [Holy Childhood].

10 The African Missionaries, called White Fathers because of the color of their habit, were founded by Charles Martial Lavigerie (1825-1892). Archbishop of Algiers, he was created a Cardinal in 1882 and appointed Archbishop of Carthage and Primate of Africa in 1884. In his fourth year of high school, James Alberione and a fellow seminarian at Bra, Pietro Valetti (d. 18.2.1970), later a priest, decided to become missionaries. Since they did not know French they wrote in Latin to the Rector of the White Fathers’ seminary in Carthage. Alberione received a reply during his vacation in 1899 at Montecapriolo. The response from Carthage was that the two aspiring missionaries should write to the Procurator of the White Fathers in Rome. So far as we know, it seems that they did not do so.

11 The Turin-based Institute of the Consolata for the Foreign Missions, founded by Giuseppe Allamano (1851-1926). In June 1902 it began its missionary activity in English-speaking East Africa, now Kenya.

12 The Milan Pontifical Institute of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and of Saints Ambrose and Charles for the Foreign Missions, founded by Angelo Ramazzotti (1800-1861), on 31.7.1850.

13 His second year of high school coincided with his first year at the seminary in Bra: 1896-97.

14 In 1820, at Lyons in France, Pauline-Marie Jaricot (1799-1862) conceived the idea of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. Rome became its headquarters on 3 May 1922.

15 On 19.4.1982 Fr Roatta confirmed Fr Alberione’s interest in “missionary reading” in the following written testimony: “I asked him once how much truth there was in the stories that in his youth, especially during the time of his summer vacations, he had a formidable appetite for novels and other types of reading. He replied: ‘Yes, I read a lot, but not novels or other things. Instead, I used to read a long series of missionary stories that were published during those years’

" (Conoscere Don Alberione, I [1982] 41).

16 Fr Alberione’s missionary zeal later found an outlet in the various Pauline foundations in mission lands and, on the spiritual level, in numerous writings and prayers, among which is the chaplet to the Queen of Apostles (cf. Le preghiere mariane di Don Alberione, Storia e commento, Ed. Archivio Storico Generale della F.P., Rome 1988).

17 This was Bishop Giuseppe Francesco Re.

18 Called the “Good Press Cooperators Union”, it was approved by the Bishop of Alba on 30.6.1917. On 22.3.1937, the Union transferred its headquarters to Rome, following the deliberation of Cardinal Vicar Francesco Marchetti Selvaggiani (1871-1951). In this decree the name seems to have changed to “Pious Union of Press Apostolate Cooperators”. As yet there is no mention of “Publications Apostolate”. Since 1988, with the new Statute approved by the Holy See, the Cooperators Union is now known as the “Association of Pauline Cooperators”.

19 This figure refers to 1953.

20 The Alberione family worked at the Cascina Agricola, on the Cherasco plains, in Via Fraschette 25, in the district called Montecapriolo, from 1886 to 1910.

21 James Alberione attended primary school in the town of Cherasco from 1890 to 1895. Still in Cherasco, he attended the first year of high school. He then entered the minor archdiocesan seminary of Bra, where he continued his other high school courses from 1896 to April 1900.

22 From 1897 to 1907 James Alberione spent his summer vacations at the abovementioned Cascina Agricola. After his ordination to the priesthood (1907), it seems that, strictly speaking, he no longer took any vacations.

23 The reference here is to the seminary in Alba.

24 Regarding this matter, cf. A. VIGOLUNGO, “Nova et vetera”, Can. Francesco Chiesa, Edizioni Paoline, Alba 1961, p. 173.

25 Fr Alberione dedicated an entire booklet to this topic, Il lavoro nelle famiglie paoline, January 1954 (cf. CISP 1075-1096 and Il lavoro e la Provvidenza, [ed.] A. DAMINO, Rome 1987 - Extract).

26 The correct title is Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne. Founded in 1925 by Belgian priest, later Cardinal, Joseph Cardijn (1882-1967), it is a Young Workers Movement.

27 Cf. AD 33-35.

28 Perhaps this is Giuseppe Rossi (1878-1941), the pastor of Macellai di Pocapaglia (Cuneo).

29 Both these holy Founders had “created” families of religious Congregations for men and for women. As regards the relationship among Institutes within the same Family, Don Bosco had stressed separation while Fr Cottolengo emphasized unity, including on the level of government. This included the subordination of the female component to the sole Superior General of the male branch.

30 The Codex Juris Canonici, promulgated by Pope Benedict XV on the day of Pentecost 1917 and which came into effect on the day of Pentecost the following year, excluded the dependence of any female Institute on a male Superior.

31 In this regard see the studies of Federico MUZZARELLI, “Ad pedes Petri” in “Mi protendo in avanti” Edizioni Paoline, Rome 1954, pp. 493-566; and of Giancarlo ROCCA, La formazione della Pia Società San Paolo (1914-1927), Rome 1982.

32 Saint Giuseppe Cafasso (1811-1860), canonized in 1947, was the Director of the Ecclesiastical College in Turin for almost twenty years.

33 Fr G.T. Giaccardo contributed to this initiative. Fr Alberione paid him a rather significant tribute: “...At that time, with the Institute in particular difficulty, recourse was had to setting up a Rural Fund, a Credit Fund. He [Giaccardo] was so successful in gaining people’s trust for the idea that the Institute immediately had an overflow of funds for development. Everyone knew that he was very precise in keeping accounts; they were able to trust him and they did so. The Credit Fund continued for as long as it was needed. When it had completed its mission, he met in full the needs and the interests of the creditors. There was a thanksgiving service to Providence, which had made use of so many good Cooperators, and it was the intention of these persons to thank Fr Giaccardo, give a demonstration of their affection for him and show their gratitude” (Prediche del Primo Maestro, Rome, 24 January 1953, p. 64).

34 Regarding this topic: cf. the handwritten text of Fr Alberione, dated 23.5.1954 and published in Carissimi in San Paolo (CISP) 137f, and Ut perfectus sit homo Dei (UPS) I, 371-382; III, 182-191; IV, 212-221.

35 Cf. PIUS X, Apostolic Letter, Quoniam in re biblica, 27.3.1906.

36 Comment added by hand to the ds by the Author.

37 That is, “in the Church of Saint Paul” in Alba.

38 The reference is to “Leggete le Ss. Scritture, esse vi parlano di Gesù Cristo” (Gv V,39). Dieci ore di adorazione sulla S. Bibbia, tenute dal M. G. Alberione, S.S.P., Alba-Rome, Pia Società Figlie di San Paolo [1933]; regarding this book, cf. A. DAMINO, Bibliografia di Don Giacomo Alberione, cit., pp. 36-38: these are “Ten Hours of Adoration”, each of which was subdivided into three points and later on into three chapters.

39 The liturgical text was: “Virgo gloriosa semper Evangelium Christi gerebat in pectore suo...”. “The glorious Virgin always bore the Gospel of Christ in her heart” (Breviarium Romanum, 22 November, Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Vespers, Magnificat antiphon). Fr Alberione probably also interpreted the words as meaning the act of physically carrying the Gospel on one’s person.

40 Since the Author wrote these words in 1953, the custom of carrying the Gospel with him goes back to 1921.

41 The two editions of the Gospel quoted here are: La Sacra Bibbia secondo la Volgata, translated into Italian with notes by Mons. A. MARTINI, Arc. di Firenze, Mondovì 1897; and Il Santo Vangelo di N.S. Gesù Cristo e gli Atti degli Apostoli, Pia Società di San Girolamo per la diffusione dei Santi Vangeli, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, Rome; in 1926 the latter work had reached its 50th reprinting.