Servant of God (SG) Joseph Picco, SJ
Born: July 4, 1867
Died: August 31, 1946
Joseph Picco was born at Nole Canavese, near Turin, in northern Italy and was the third of ten children. He received his early education from his uncle, the parish priest and enrolled at the apostolic school of Canon Ortalda in Turin when he was eleven. At thirteen, he transferred to the Salesian school at Lanzo, where he often served at St John Bosco’s Masses. He entered the archdiocesan seminary at Chieri in October 1883. After two years of study, and after completing the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius while making a retreat at the Jesuit retreat house, Casa di Sant Antonio, near the seminary, he decided to be a Jesuit. He entered the novitiate at Chieri on September 22, 1885. His younger brother Julius who followed him into the Society seven years later once asked him why he decided to be a Jesuit instead of a Salesian as he was educated by Salesians and had known Don Bosco, Joseph’s reply was: “That was not my way.”
After taking his vows in 1887, Joseph continued at Chieri for two more years studying the humanities. He then taught at Turin’s Social Institute and at St Thomas College in Cuneo. It was at Cuneo that he came down with pleurisy, the effects of which affected him throughout his life. After his philosophy, Joseph was attracted to the Alaskan missions and requested to be sent there but his request was rejected because of his poor health. Joseph had great concern and love for the sick and while doing his theology in 1898, he spent seven months, when he was not in class, nursing, bathing and caring for Fr Romuald Fumagalli who was in his last stages of cancer. After Fr Fumagalli’s death in July 1899, Joseph was looking forward to his ordination but as a result of sacrificing for the dying priest, Joseph’s health broke and his ordination was postponed. He was sent to Monaco to recuperate. His ordination took place only in April 8, 1901.
From 1901 to 1912, Fr Picco took on a variety of duties, ranging from confessor at the major seminary in Turin and parish duties in Genoa, spiritual father at Cuneo to assistant pastor at San Remo. In October 1912, he was appointed assistant director of the retreat house in Gozzano, near Novara where he remained for the remainder of his life. There he gave Spiritual Exercises, preached missions and novenas in the villages and taught catechism each Sunday to the children. He promoted the League of Perseverance and served as confessor to several communities of nuns and the clergy. He was particularly devoted to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and so highly did he honour the priesthood that in 1901 he offered himself as a victim for priests who were unfaithful in their calling. During World War I, Fr Picco was sent to Cuneo as chaplain to the soldiers.
Fr Picco’s health was always fragile and often suffered from pulmonary trouble and the only remedy was to spend the summers in the mountains to regain his strength. During these summers, he did not idle but busied himself in the local apostolate, hearing confessions of the summer pilgrims who came to the shrine of St Chiaffredo. He sought out the sick and brought them Communion and consolation. He taught catechism in the surrounding hamlets and initiated the daily recitation of the evening rosary. Over forty-three years, Fr Picco made his summer home at Crissolo, and the people loved him as much as he loved them.
As the years progressed, Fr Picco slowed down but did not stop until April 11, 1946 when he had the first intimation that death was near. He celebrated his seventy-ninth birthday on July 4 with a Mass and told an acquaintance that he would die on the feast of St Raymond Nonnatus, that is on August 31. When his brother Julius visited him on August 30, Fr Picco asked him to take his Mass the following day, but Julius did not attach any importance to that request. Early on Saturday August 31, Julius went to the sacristy for Mass, but when he did not find his brother there, he went to his room and looked in. The light was on and Fr Picco was prostrate on the floor. When the doctor arrived to certify the death, he uttered words that were on everyone’s mind: “We are not standing before the body of a man, but the relics of a saint.”
Lines of people came to bid him farewell, to touch him, and to request his intercession in heaven in the small chapel in the retreat house. He was buried on September 2, 1946. Fr Picco’s cause was introduced in Rome on December 10, 1973
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