SAINT ANTHONY MARIA ZACCARIA (1502-1539), priest and founder
At the same time that Martin Luther was attacking abuses in the Catholic Church, a reformation within the Church itself was already taking place. Among the early movers of the Counter-Reformation was Father Anthony Maria Zaccaria. And it is He whom the Church honors as today’s saint.
Anthony was born in 1502 into an aristocratic family in the province of Cremona in northern Italy. His father died when he was only two years of age, and his mother devoted herself to the raising of her son. He was a bright student and, upon coming of age, he entered the University of Padua to study philosophy. Upon completion of his studies, he entered medical school in Padua, and became a doctor at the age of twenty-two and devoted himself to working among the poor in his native Cremona.
It was in the course of his work that he recognized his calling to the priesthood. He bequeathed his inheritance to his mother and began studying theology while continuing to treat the poor in the hospitals and on the streets, and he was ordained at the age of twenty-six. Legend tells us that when he celebrated his first Mass, Heavenly angels surrounded the altar.
Father Anthony continued to work in Cremona, becoming famous as a preacher and excellent administrator. Following advice to seek a larger city for his apostolic work, he traveled to Milan where he met two priests, with whom he co-founded a congregation for secular priests called the Society of Clerics of Saint Paul, also known as the Barnabites, and this new Society was officially sanctioned by Pope Clement VII in 1533.
With his brother priests, he instilled in the faithful a deeper devotion to the Sacraments and encouraged the practice of frequent reception of Holy Communion, all the while continuing his untiring service to the poor and sick. His personal sanctity moved many to reform their lives but, as with all saints, it also moved many to oppose him. Twice, his community had to undergo official religious investigation, and twice he was exonerated.
Worn out by his efforts, Father Anthony caught fever during one of his missions and, knowing he was at the end of his life, asked to be taken back to his mother’s house in Cremona, where he died peacefully at the age of thirty-seven on July 5, 1539. Tradition tells us that, in his last moments, he had a vision of Saint Paul the Apostle. Father Anthony’s body was found in an incorrupt state 27 years after his death.
Father Anthony Maria Zaccaria was canonized a saint on May 27, 1897 by Pope Leo XIII. His remains are interred in Saint Paul’s Convent of the Angelics in Milan, Italy.
We commemorate his feastday on July 5.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Anthony Maria Zaccaria)
“Lord, enable us to grasp, in the spirit of Saint Paul, the sublime wisdom of Jesus Christ, the wisdom which inspired Saint Anthony Zaccaria to preach the message of salvation in Your Church.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”