August 1st the feast day of St Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, proclaimed the ‘Doctor of the Church,’ the founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer or the ‘Redemptorists’ was also an Italian Bishop, theologian, spiritual writer, moralist, missionary and a great propagator for Mariology.
Born, Alphonsus Mary Antony John Cosmas Damian Michael Gaspard de' Liguori on September 27th, 1696 in Marianella near Naples, St Alphonsus was the first born of seven children belonging to a Neapolitan nobility (however, his family’s line of decent became impoverished.)
Like most of us, St Alphonsus got caught up in the rat race of his day. He took pride in his profession as a successful lawyer and was spoilt by the success and popularity which it brought. Not surprisingly he often neglected prayer and the practices of piety and instead took pleasure in the attention he received. ‘Banquets, entertainments, theatres,’ he wrote later on—‘these are the pleasures of the world, but pleasures which are filled with the bitterness of gall and sharp thorns. Believe me who have experienced it, and now weep over it.’
I suppose, God in his mysterious ways had a bigger plan for St Alphonsus, and at age 27 he faced the largest upset in his law career. After losing an expensive lawsuit. After some time away St Alphonsus ‘began to see that his humiliation had been sent him by God to break down his pride and wean him from the world.’ It was then, to his own father’s dismay, decided to not return to his profession; ‘My friend, our profession is too full of difficulties and dangers; we lead an unhappy life and run risk of dying an unhappy death. For myself, I will quit this career, which does not suit me; for I wish to secure the salvation of my soul.’ He later spent his days in prayer, seeking to know God’s will.
On the 21st December, 1726 at the age of thirty, St Alphonsus was ordained a priest. For the first few years as a priest, he laboured in and around Naples working with Naples’ Lazzaroni (the homeless, marginalised youths and beggars.) He thus founded a sort of confraternity called the ‘Association of the Chapels or Evening Chapels,’ which currently still exists. It is usually run by the young people themselves, the chapels or centres of prayer and piety, preaching, community, social activities, and education.
On 9th November, 1732 the ‘Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer,’ or ‘of the Most Holy Saviour,’ as it was known at that time was founded, both for men, led by St Alphonsus and women, led by Sr. Maria Celeste.
The primary goal for the Redemptorists was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places. The formation of the congregation was not a simple one, with persecution from the Holy See and the Neapolitan government, the suppression and forced destruction and being cut off from his own order by the Pope, it was not until six years after the death of St Alphonsus, in 1793 that the Neapolitan Government finally recognised the original Rule and was reunited under one head.
In 1762, to the disapproval of St Alphonsus, was consecrated Bishop of Sant’Agata dei Goti, which was a very small Neapolitan diocese a few miles from Naples. During this time, he had often begged pope after pope to resign from this post, citing his un-usefulness to the diocese often dismissed he often wept and prayed spending his days and nights in unremitting labour for thirteen years. During this time he began to write sermons, books, and articles to encourage devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1775 he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani where he died on August 1, 1787.
St Alphonsus died aged 91. He was declared ‘Venerable’, on 4th May, 1796; he was beatified in 1816, and then canonized in 1839. It was not until 1871, that he was declared a ‘Doctor of the Church'.