The Pallottine fathers have served both our school and the parish in Clerkenwell for more than fifty years. Situated in the Islington Deanery, the Parish of Clerkenwell was founded in 1842 and the church was built in 1847.
Vincent Pallotti: a very modern saint
Considered by many today as the forerunner of Catholic Action, Vincent Pallotti was a very modern saint who organised many remarkable pastoral programs. A visionary man with great ideas and inspiration, his many accomplishments include the founding of the Pallottine Fathers and the Pallottine Missionary Sisters. But his accolades far exceed this and his legacy left behind schools, guilds, and institutes that carried the Catholic mission into the very heart of contemporary society.
Born in Rome in 1795, Pallotti began studies for the priesthood very early. Ordained as a priest at twenty-three, he earned a doctorate in theology soon afterward. Awarded an assistant professorship at the Sapienza University, he resigned soon after to devote himself to pastoral work. On the 4th of April 1835 he founded the Union of Catholic Apostolate, bringing together lay people, women and men, and priests united as a faith community for the common purpose of living and spreading the word of God.
Pallotti gave special emphasis to the fact that every Christian has received a special share in the mission of Christ for the Church and the world. Pallotti was aware that bishops, priests and religious leaders could not carry the total responsibility for evangelisation. Lay people, too, had the right to actively participate in the mission of the Church.
Soon his zeal was known all over Rome. He was tirelessly dedicating schools and lessons for shoemakers, tailors, coachmen, carpenters, and gardeners so that they could develop skills and better work at their trade, as well as evening classes for young farmers and unskilled workers. Pallotti was also known to give away his possessions, books, and even clothes to the poor.
He died at the age of fifty-five and was canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1963. Pope Paul VI said that Pallotti teaches us ‘to respect the vocation of lay Christians by providing adequate opportunity for its mature development’. The Pallotines today are part of the Union of Catholic Apostolate and are present in forty five countries across six continents. Members work as everyday missionaries to ‘renew faith and rekindle love’. They work to fulfil the mission of their founder in the modern world. The Pallottines today have major houses in Britain, Germany, New York, Poland, India, Ireland and several other locations around the world.
Saint Josephine Margaret Bakhita was born around 1869 in the village of Olgossa in the Darfur region of Sudan. She was a member of the Daju people and her uncle was a tribal chief. Due to her family lineage, she grew up happy and relatively prosperous, saying that as a child, she did not know suffering.
Historians believe that sometime in February 1877, Josephine was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. Although she was just a child, she was forced to walk barefoot over 600 miles to a slave market in El Obeid. She was bought and sold at least twice during the grueling journey.
For the next 12 years she would be bought, sold and given away over a dozen times. She spent so much time in captivity that she forgot her original name.
As a slave, her experiences varied from fair treatment to cruel. Her first owner, a wealthy Arab, gave her to his daughters as a maid. The assignment was easy until she offended her owner’s son, possibly for the crime of breaking a vase. As punishment, she was beaten so severely she was incapacitated for a month. After that, she was sold.
One of her owners was a Turkish general who gave her to his wife and mother-in-law who both beat her daily. Josephine wrote that as soon as one wound would heal, they would inflict another.
She told about how the general’s wife ordered her to be scarred. As her mistress watched, ready with a whip, another woman drew patterns on her skin with flour, then cut into her flesh with a blade. She rubbed the wounds with salt to make the scars permanent. She would suffer a total of 114 scars from this abuse.
In 1883, the Turkish general sold her to the Italian Vice Consul, Callisto Legani. He was a much kinder master and he did not beat her. When it was time for him to return to Italy, she begged to be taken with him, and he agreed.
After a long and dangerous journey across Sudan, the Red Sea, and the Mediterranean, they arrived in Italy. She was given away to another family as a gift and she served them as a nanny.
Her new family also had dealings in Sudan had when her mistress decided to travel to Sudan without Josephine, she placed her in the custody of the Canossian Sisters in Venice.
While she was in the custody of the sisters, she came to learn about God. According to Josephine, she had always known about God, who created all things, but she did not know who He was. The sisters answered her questions. She was deeply moved by her time with the sisters and discerned a call to follow Christ.
When her mistress returned from Sudan, Josephine refused to leave. Her mistress spent three days trying to persuade her to leave the sisters, but Josephine remained steadfast. This caused the superior of the institute for baptismal candidates among the sisters to complain to Italian authorities on Josephine’s behalf.
The case went to court, and the court found that slavery had been outlawed in Sudan before Josephine was born, so she could not be lawfully made slave. She was declared free.
For the first time in her life, Josephine was free and could choose what to do with her life. She chose to remain with the Canossian Sisters.
She was baptized on January 9, 1890 and took the name Josephine Margaret and Fortunata. (Fortunata is the Latin translation for her Arabic name, Bakhita). She also received the sacraments of her first holy communion and confirmation on the same day. These three sacraments are the sacraments of initiation into the Church and were always given together in the early Church. The Archbishop who gave her the sacraments was none other than Giusseppe Sarto, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, who would later become Pope Pius X.
Josephine became a novice with the Canossianv Daughters of Charity religious order on December 7, 1893, and took her final vows on December 8, 1896. She was eventually assigned to a convent in Schio, Vicenza.
For the next 42 years of her life, she worked as a cook and a doorkeeper at the convent. She also travelled and visited other convents telling her story to other sisters and preparing them for work in Africa.
She was known for her gentle voice and smile. She was gentle and charismatic, and was often referred to lovingly as the “little brown sister” or honourably as the “black mother.”
When speaking of her enslavement, she often professed she would thank her kidnappers. For had she not been kidnapped, she might never have come to know Jesus Christ and entered His Church.
During World War II, the people of the village of Schio regarded her as their protector. And although bombs fell on their village, not one citizen died.
In her later years, she began to suffer physical pain and was forced to use a wheelchair. But she always remained cheerful. If anyone asked her how she was, she would reply, “As the master desires.”
On the evening of February 8, 1947, Josephine spoke her last words, “Our Lady, Our Lady!” She then died. Her body lay on display for three days afterwards.
In 1958, the process of canonization began for Josephine under Pope John XXIII. On December 1st, 1978, Pope John Paul II declared her venerable. Sadly, the news of her beatification in 1992 was censored in Sudan. But just nine months later, Pope John Paul II visited Sudan and honoured her publicly. He canonized her on October 1, 2000.
Saint Josephine Bakhita is the patron saint of Sudan and her feast day is celebrated on February 8.
St Mother Teresa
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, the future Mother Teresa, was born on 26 August 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, to Albanian heritage. Her father, a well-respected local businessman, died when she was eight years old, leaving her mother, a devoutly religious woman, to open an embroidery and cloth business to support the family. After spending her adolescence deeply involved in parish activities, Agnes left home in September 1928, for the Loreto Convent in Rathfarnam (Dublin), Ireland, where she was admitted as a postulant on October 12 and received the name of Teresa, after her patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux.
Agnes was sent by the Loreto order to India and arrived in Calcutta on 6 January 1929. Upon her arrival, she joined the Loreto novitiate in Darjeeling. She made her final profession as a Loreto nun on 24 May 1937, and hereafter was called Mother Teresa. While living in Calcutta during the 1930s and ’40s, she taught in St. Mary’s Bengali Medium School.
On 10 September 1946, on a train journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa received what she termed the “call within a call,” which was to give rise to the Missionaries of Charity family of Sisters,
Brothers, Fathers, and Co-Workers. The content of this inspiration is revealed in the aim and mission she would give to her new institute: “to quench the infinite thirst of Jesus on the cross for love and souls” by “labouring at the salvation and sanctification of the poorest of the poor.” On October 7, 1950, the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially erected as a religious institute for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Mother Teresa expanded the work of the Missionaries of Charity both within Calcutta and throughout India. On 1 February 1965, Pope Paul VI granted the Decree of Praise to the Congregation, raising it to pontifical right. The first foundation outside India opened in Cocorote, Venezuela, in 1965. The Society expanded to Europe (the Tor Fiscale suburb of Rome) and Africa (Tabora, Tanzania) in 1968.
From the late 1960s until 1980, the Missionaries of Charity expanded both in their reach across the globe and in their number of members. Mother Teresa opened houses in Australia, the Middle East, and North America, and the first novitiate outside Calcutta in London. In 1979 Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By that same year there were 158 Missionaries of Charity foundations.
The Missionaries of Charity reached Communist countries in 1979 with a house in Zagreb, Croatia, and in 1980 with a house in East Berlin, and continued to expand through the 1980s and 1990s with houses in almost all Communist nations, including 15 foundations in the former Soviet Union. Despite repeated efforts, however, Mother Teresa was never able to open a foundation in China.
Mother Teresa spoke at the fortieth anniversary of the United Nations General Assembly in October 1985. On Christmas Eve of that year, Mother Teresa opened “Gift of Love” in New York, her first house for AIDS patients. In the coming years, this home would be followed by others, in the United States and elsewhere, devoted specifically for those with AIDS.
From the late 1980s through the 1990s, despite increasing health problems, Mother Teresa traveled across the world for the profession of novices, opening of new houses, and service to the poor and disaster-stricken. New communities were founded in South Africa, Albania, Cuba, and war-torn Iraq. By 1997, the Sisters numbered nearly 4,000 members, and were established in almost 600 foundations in 123 countries of the world.
After a summer of traveling to Rome, New York, and Washington, in a weak state of health, Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta in July 1997. At 9:30 PM, on 5 September, Mother Teresa died at the Motherhouse.
Her body was transferred to St Thomas’s Church, next to the Loreto convent where she had first arrived nearly 69 years earlier. Hundreds of thousands of people from all classes and all religions, from India and abroad, paid their respects. She received a state funeral on 13 September, her body being taken in procession – on a gun carriage that had also borne the bodies of Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru – through the streets of Calcutta. Presidents, prime ministers, queens, and special envoys were present on behalf of countries from all over the world.
St John Southworth
Saint John Southworth came from a Lancashire family, the principal members of which seemed to have lived at Samlesbury Hall. He is thought to have been born in 1592 and was martyred at Tyburn on 28 June 1654.
In 1618, John Southworth was ordained a priest at the English College, Douai (Douay) in Northern France. After returning to England, he was arrested and condemned to death in Lancashire in 1626, and imprisoned first in Lancaster Castle, and afterwards in the Clink Prison, London. On 11 April, 1630, he and some other priests were delivered to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad, but, in 1636, he was reported to have been released from the Gatehouse, Westminster, and was living at Clerkenwell. From there it seems he frequently visited the plague-stricken dwellings of Westminster to administer the sacraments and comfort the sick and the dying. In 1637, he appears to have been based in Westminster, where he was arrested on 28 November, before being again sent to the Gatehouse. From there he was transferred to the Clink and, in 1640, was brought before the Commissioners for Causes Ecclesiastical, who sent him back there.
On 16 July, John Southworth was again freed, but by 2 December he was once more imprisoned in the Gatehouse. After his final apprehension on 19 June 1654, he was tried at the Old Bailey, where he insisted on pleading guilty to being a priest. He was reluctantly condemned to be hung, drawn and quartered. On the day of his martyrdom, he was allowed to make a long speech at the gallows.
The Spanish ambassador bought his body from the executioner and, in 1655, returned it to Douai after the corpse had been sewn together and embalmed. In 1656 the recovery of Francis Howard, fifth son of the Earl of Arundel, was attributed to St John Southworth’s relics. When England and France went to war in 1793 St John Southworth’s body was buried in an unmarked grave below the college for its protection. The grave was discovered in 1927 and his remains were returned to England. In 1930, his major relics – the only complete body of a Reformation martyr – were brought to Westminster Cathedral, where a shrine was prepared for them.
He was beatified in 1929 and was canonised in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.