Francis Caracciolo


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Filippo Neri (1515—1595)


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Founder of Minor Clerks Regular, (1563–1608).

Born of a noble family in southern Italy, he developed a severe skin disease which was mistakenly diagnosed as leprosy. In this crisis he vowed that if he recovered, he would consecrate his life to God. This he did, after ordination, in a confraternity called Bianchi della Giustizia which cared for prisoners, especially those facing the death sentence. A misdirected letter led to a change of plan: he joined his cousin Adorno in founding the Order of Minor Clerks Regular at Naples.

Like other Counter-Reformation Orders they had a strict regime. They took it in turns to fast, take the discipline, wear a hairshirt, and adore the Blessed Sacrament. The two founders went to Spain, where however they were not welcome: on their return journey they were shipwrecked and reached Naples eventually half-dead. In their absence more priests had joined the Order, which now was allocated the church of S. Maria Maggiore in Naples. From this centre some worked as missionaries, others in hospitals and prisons, while others retired into hermitages. They took an extra vow never to seek office inside or outside the Order.

Adorno died at forty and Francis, although unwell, was chosen to succeed him. He refused to take precedence and insisted on performing the ordinary chores of sweeping, dishwashing, and bedmaking. Frequently he gave away his food and clothes, slept on a table or the altar steps and was available for confessions every morning. Again he visited Spain: this time he made three foundations there. He remained superior general for seven years, but found it difficult both for his temperament and his health. So he resigned but became novice-master and prior of S. Maria Maggiore. In 1607 however he was relieved of all administration and prepared for death, often sleeping under a staircase.

Meanwhile Philip Neri had offered them a house in the Abruzzi for the novitiate and Francis was sent to help start it. He died soon after writing a letter to his Order urging fidelity to the Rule. His Order formerly flourished but now has only a few communities in Italy. He was canonized in 1807. Feast: 4 June.

Bibl. SS., v. 1197–1201;B.L.S., vi. 38–40;Life by G. Rossi (1926)

Subjects: Christianity.

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