Francis di Girolamo


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Jesuit priest. Born at Grottaglie, near Taranto, the first of eleven children, he was educated by Theatines (founded by St Cajetan), studied law at Naples University, and was ordained priest in 1666. He taught at the Jesuit College for four years before joining that Society. He was then sent to work on missions to the peasants of Otranto.

At this time, after the martyrdoms of Japanese Christians, there was much talk of sending out other missionaries there. Girolamo ardently desired to go, but he was firmly told that his India and Japan must be Naples. So for forty years he laboured assiduously in Naples and its surrounding countryside. His preaching attracted large audiences; many men and women were reconciled to the Church through him; he worked not only in hospitals but also in prisons and in the galleys. Here he is said to have converted twenty Turkish prisoners. He would go into the most dangerous parts of the town, where he sometimes suffered physical violence. This greeted his impromptu sermons in the streets. But on one occasion a prostitute heard him from her window and came to confession the next day. Another woman directed by him was French, Marie Alvira Cassier, who served in the Spanish army, disguised as a man. This was after she had committed murder. Under his direction she became repentant and eventually holy.

An equally valuable element of his apostolate was the training of foreign missionaries. This helped to sublimate his own desire to go to the Far East and spread Christianity there. This wish would never be realized. Towards the end of his life he experienced much illness and attributed to St Cyr the cures which others thought were due to him. He died on 11 May, aged seventy-four, and was buried in the Jesuit church at Naples. His tomb can still be visited there, but his relics were translated to Grottaglie after the Second World War. He was canonized in 1839.

J. N. Tylenda, Jesuit Saints and Martyrs (1983), pp. 120–2; B.L.S., v. 61. Life by A. M. Clarke (1891).

Subjects: Christianity.

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