Patron of Catechists
St. Charles Borromeo
By Sem. Paul Yu Jacome
It was almost summer and the school year was about to close.
I found myself walking along the corridors of a building we called the Major Seminary, from the vantage point of a graduating minor seminarian aspiring to climb to the next ladder of formation.
It was during our entrance examinations that I first learned about St. Charles Borromeo. Little did I know that after “meeting” him, life would never be the same again.
Alumni and major seminarians studying in San Carlos Seminary were known to embrace St. Charles’ famous motto: Humilitas.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Humility was often portrayed as the doorway to all other virtues.
It is because of this humility that St. Charles was able to champion reforms to the troubled Church of the 16th century. While his life story was not an extraordinary one, the quality by which it was lived brought inspiration to a Church that was battered by the corruption of truth and denial of sin.
THE SAN CARLOS LEGACY
Although St. Charles lived a relatively short life, his legacy remains meaningful to this day.
Here are 25 interesting facts about San Carlos:
1. St. Charles actually belonged to the nobility and was a count.
2. Even as a young nobleman, his heart already reached out to the poor
At the age of 12, the young count Charles Borromeo dedicated himself to a life of service to the Church. His uncle gave to him the family income from the Benedictine Abbey of Saints Gratinian and Felinus but he was explicit in telling his father that he would only keep the money required for his education and to prepare him for service to the Church; all other funds belonged to the poor of the Church and were to be passed along to them. Even in his youth, his integrity was obvious.
3. He was speech impaired
The young count suffered from a speech impediment that made him appear slow to those who did not know him. Despite this challenge, however, he performed well and impressed his teachers. He attended the University of Pavia and learned Latin. He was praised because he was hardworking and thorough.
4. He was resilient and a hardworking student
In 1554 his father passed away. Although Charles was only a teenager, responsibility for his household fell to him. Yet Charles continued in his studies and earned a doctorate in canon and civil law.
5. He is the nephew of Pope Pius IV
His uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Medici became Pope Pius IV on December 25, 1559.
6. He is one of the youngest cardinals ever appointed by the Church.
Pope Pius IV appointed the young Charles as cardinal-deacon to assist him full-time. A month later, the young Charles was appointed cardinal, with the duties of supervising the Papal States, the Knights of Malta, the Franciscans, and the Carmelites. He was only 23 years old.
7. He established a literary academy at the Vatican and authored Noctes Vaticanae, which includes lessons and lectures from his role as a leader in the Vatican.
8. Even in grief, he embraced his Vocation.
In 1562 his brother died and his family urged him to leave the service of the church to preserve the family name. However, Borromeo refused. Instead, he became more insistent on becoming a good bishop and in compelling others to lead exemplary lives of clerical service.
9. He was a reformer
In 1566, Archbishop Borromeo's benefactor and uncle, Pope Pius IV died. Borromeo had already developed a reputation as a young, idealistic reformer in Rome, and he continued that mission in Milan. At the time, Milan was the largest diocese in the Catholic Church.
10. He fought against corruption in the Church
The Protestant Reformation was spreading throughout northern Europe and constantly threatened to move south. The greatest defense against Protestant doctrinal errors and claims against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church was reform and the restoration of integrity to the Catholic Church. Therefore driving out corruption was a critical matter during Borromeo's time. Archbishop Borromeo saw this clearly and he made this his mission.
11. He believed in the power of knowledge and education
His strategy was to provide education to many clergy who appeared ignorant. He founded schools and seminaries and colleges for clergy.
12. He was a music lover.
Among other things attributed to Charles was his remarkable love for Church music. Among his duties was the commissioning of composers to write music.
13. He was also known for founding Sunday schools
He founded the Confraternity of Christian doctrine, with its Sunday schools which are reported to have reached 740 Sunday schools in total.
14. He walked the talk
The effectivity of Charles lies in his own observance of what he preaches. His days were filled with duties and cares; at night he would take off his bishop’s robe and pass the evening with study and prayer. He lived as simply as possible.
15. He ended the selling of indulgences
He ended the selling of indulgences, a form of simony (Catholic Catechism #2120) and ordered monasteries to reform themselves.
16. He made surprise visits to Churches
He made a lot of visits to various locations to inspect for himself. He ordered the simplification of church interiors, which was a major point of contention between some Catholics and Protestants. The complex and busy interiors were claimed to be a distraction from the worship of God. This danger was acknowledged during the Council of Trent which Archbishop Borromeo enforced. Even tombs belonging to his own relatives were cleared of inappropriate ornaments and embellishments.
17. There was an assassination attempt on him
His work of “cleaning up” the Church also gained him enemies. On one occasion a member of a small, decrepit order known as the "Humiliati" attempted to assassinate him with a pistol but thankfully missed. Many of his subordinates and secular officials complained about the Archbishop throughout his career. However, the existence of these enemies only emboldened Borromeo and served as confirmation that his efforts to eradicate corruption were working.
18. He stayed in Milan in spite of a plague to help victims
In 1576 a famine struck Milan followed by the plague. Many of the wealthy and powerful fled the city but Archbishop Borromeo remained. He used his own fortune to feed the starving people. When that money was spent, he took out loans and went deep into debt. He is said to have fed as much as 70,000 persons per day. Eventually, the Archbishop convinced the local governor to return to his post and care for the people.
19. He was a committed pastor who climbed mountains to evangelize
The almost inaccessible Alpine valleys lying in the northern part of the diocese of Milan had been virtually abandoned by the clergy. The bishop did not hesitate to undertake journeys to those remote valleys and mountain tops
20. He founded the Collegium Helveticum to fight heresy
In 1583, Archbishop Borromeo traveled to Switzerland and began work suppressing heresy there. Protestant heresies, along with witchcraft and sorcery had been widely reported. He founded the Collegium Helveticum to serve and educate Swiss Catholics.
21. He died young
Eventually, the Archbishop's life of work and toil began to take its toll. In 1584, he became ill with a fever. He returned to Milan where his conditioned worsened. When it became obvious he would die, he was given his last Sacraments. He died on November 3 at the age of 46.
22. He is the patron saint for various persons in all walks of life.
Although he passed away on November 3, St. Charles Borromeo's feast day is celebrated on November 4. He is the patron of seminarians, catechists, bishops, cardinals, and spiritual leaders. He is also the patron saint of Lombardy, Italy, Monterey, California, and Sao Carlos in Brazil.
23. You can find a beautiful shrine devoted to St. Charles at the Milan Cathedral
St. Charles Borromeo has a beautiful shrine in the Milan Cathedral and is often depicted in art wearing his robes, barefoot, carrying the cross with a rope around his neck and his arm raised in blessing.
24. At least 2 Popes have paid tribute to St. Charles
In the past two centuries, two popes in particular have kept the memory of St. Charles alive. They are Pius X and Pope John XXIII, also known to be popes of renewal.
25. The San Carlos Seminary is named after St. Charles Borromeo.
**Paul Yu Jacome is a Theology 3 seminarian at San Carlos Seminary.