Fathers of the Poor

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July 31, 2013 by lucieromarin

Inferior priests make roadkill. They break hearts and lose souls; we all know that, and we can all think of half-a-dozen ways in which this is so. So, it pays to know about the lives and works of good priests. I mean this as strategy, not piety. I like knowing that if the priests in my life suddenly get mown down and I find myself in a pastoral-care wasteland (where lots of people are), I’ll still have Fathers to pray to and by whom to be inspired, even if it’s at a distance. And…oh, I don’t know about you, but I just feel sick of brouhaha about clerical failings sometimes, and I want to think about good people. So, this is the first of a few themed lists of priests of the twentieth century who were true to their vocations and who have gone largely unnoticed for it, and certainly unthanked.

These are all 20th century priests. They haven’t all been canonised – they’re probably not even all holy – but this isn’t just about the holiest of priests. It’s about seeing a fuller and better picture of priesthood than that which many of us have, and that includes not only the saints, but those who did the best they could, despite their natural shortcomings.

So here’s today’s list – Fathers of the poor!

Father Ray Brennan, a Redemptorist priest, was sent to Pattaya, Thailand, in 1972, as a temporary replacement for the parish priest. He expected the assignment to last one or two years. Soon after his arrival, a baby was left on his doorstep. Shortly thereafter, another baby was left there. By 1978 he had not left Pattaya, and instead had 58 children and an orphanage. Thirty years later, he was still in Pattaya and the orphanage cared for 750 children. He also established a school for the deaf and blind, a safe house for children rescued from prostitution, a drop-in centre for children who live on the street, and a vocational school for the disabled.

Blessed John Calabria founded, with pontifical approval, the Congregation of the Poor Servants, Verona, dedicated to founding hospitals and institutes for the poor and the elderly. This was followed by an order for women, the Poor Women Servants of Divine Providence.

St Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, a Jesuit, founded in Chile a shelter for homeless children, followed by homes for homeless women, and men. The homes expanded to include rehabilitation centres and trade centres. He also founded the Chilean Trade Union Association (ASICH.)

Blessed Jacques Ghazir Haddad was a priest known as the ‘Apostle of Lebanon.’ His works included founding the order of the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Cross of Lebanon to care for the sick and the poor, establishing: a psychiatric hospital; an asylum for the chronically ill; a hospital for the aged, the ill, and the paralysed; houses in Beirut for beggars and homeless men and women; several schools, and an orphanage for over 200 girls. He continued this work till the end of his life, even when stricken with blindness and leukemia.

Father Matthew Kadalikkattil: After seeing, at age 7, his father crippled in an accident, Matthew resolved to do all he could to relieve suffering. He spent 24 years as a priest in Kerala ministering to the destitute, and founded – amidst plenty of trials – the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who were likewise charged with serving destitute widows, orphans, and the sick. He died a few hours before papal approbation of his order was given, and was found to have no possessions other than a handful of coins.

Father Joseph Maier, another Redemptorist priest, spent over thirty years in the slum of Klong Toey, Bangkok, an area known as the Bangkok Slaughterhouse. With Sister Maria Chantavarodom, of the Daughters of the Queenship of Mary Immaculate, he established 29 kindergartens, the first outreach health clinic in the area, a hospice for women and children – especially those abandoned by their families – a home for children who live on the street, a shelter for adults, and a homecare programme. They also organised legal protection for children rescued from abuse, domestic violence and prostitution, and organised the rebuilding of the slums every time they burnt down.

St Luigi Orione achieved so much and worked so hard on behalf of the poor that he was, in fact, nicknamed, ‘Father of the Poor.’ He founded four religious congregations, each with their own mission of service to the poor, and one of which was the first religious order in the Church founded specifically for blind women.

Father Aloysius Schwartz, in his youth, visited the shrine of the Virgin of the Poor in Banneux and dedicated his life to serving the poorest of the poor. He founded two religious orders to care for the orphans of Korea and eventually founded Children’s Villages in Pusan and Seoul (South Korea), in Manila, Talisay and Silang, (the Philippines) and in Chalco (Mexico).

Blessed Augustine Thevarparampil dedicated his life to the Dalits – that is, to the ‘untouchables’ of India, and was buried amongst them.

Blessed Luigi Variara, a Salesian priest, founded the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to care for leprosy patients in Colombia. His religious order was revolutionary – it was for women who were themselves stricken with leprosy. The Congregation is currently present in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Italy, the Dominican Republic and Equatorial Guinea.

Father Clemente Vismara, P.I.M.E was a soldier so repelled by the sufferings he witnessed during the First World War that he left the army and embraced the consecrated life. As a priest, he dedicated sixty-five years to the orphans of Myanmar, and brought the Sisters of the Holy Child Mary to Myanmar also, to extend this work to widows and to the sick poor.

Next up – the great priests of the Second World War – and, no, I’m not going to start with the obvious one

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