Blessed Anthony Baldinucci, SJ
Born : June 19, 1665
Died : November 7, 1717
Beatified: March 25, 1893
Anthony Baldinucci was born in Florence, Italy and at the age of eleven, began his studies at the Jesuit school, San Giovannino. He thought of joining the Dominicans in the footsteps of his older brother Philip, but because of his delicate health, his father advised him to discern God’s will for himself and recommended Anthony to make the Spiritual Exercises under a Jesuit’s direction. The outcome of this retreat led Anthony to choose to follow St Ignatius and he entered the novitiate of Sant Andrea on April 21, 1681.
Anthony spent the next fourteen years in Jesuit training. He began his study of humanities at the Roman College in 1684 after he pronounced his three simple vows. Then he taught at Terni and Rome between 1687 and 1690. After being in the Society for nine years, he had requested on three occasions to serve foreign missions in India, China or Japan but each request was turned down due to his uncertain health. In God’s wisdom, Anthony was to be a missionary, not in any foreign country but in his own native land. God was already preparing him for this role during his years studying theology in Rome. During the three years, Anthony frequently spent Sunday afternoons in the Roman public squares encouraging those gathered round to hear him, to attend the missions then being held in the local Roman parishes. Little did he know that such missions would one day be his main preoccupation. He was ordained on October 28, 1695 and spent two more years completing his tertianship.
Fr Baldinucci’s first assignment in 1697 was as assistant parish priest in Frascati which was about twelve miles south of Rome and part of his work involved spending four months of the year giving missions in the surrounding cities, towns and villages. He did this for the next twenty years traveling between Frascati and Viterbo in the north of Rome. He walked barefoot regardless of the weather to each mission assignment, carrying his bag with notes and personal belongings over his back and a pilgrim’s staff in his hand. When asked why he walked barefoot, he replied:” That God may be moved by my sufferings to touch the hearts of my hearers.”
His missions lasted from eight to fourteen days depending on the needs of the parish and his sermons were always based on the meditations in St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
At every mission, Fr Baldinucci would include a penitential procession to help prepare the parishioners for confession and he would end each mission with a General Communion service when everyone would receive the Eucharist. When he was not preaching, Fr Baldinucci would be in the confessional or teaching catechism to children or visiting the sick. At the end of each mission, he would build a big bonfire outside the church in which playing cards, dice, worldly books and songs were fed to the flames. On one such occasion, he counted 240 daggers and small arms and 21 pistols laid at his feet. Fr Baldinucci’s preaching was simple, vivid and dramatic at times but always effective. During the twenty years between 1697 and 1717, he visited 30 dioceses and gave 448 missions, an average of 22 missions a year. He was a man of deep prayer and extraordinary penance and many of the people claimed to witness miracles from his intercession.
On Oct 18, 1717, Fr Baldinucci’s health started to deteriorate when he arrived at Pofi to begin another mission and he had to be confined to bed and although it improved after a few days, Fr Baldinucci knew that death was imminent. On Nov 5 he received Viaticum and the last anointing. The following day he grew more feeble and his speech became difficult in the afternoon but those near him could still make out his constant prayer: “Jesus and Mary, my hope.” He began to convulse through the night until the following morning and finally at 11.00 am on the morning of Nov 7, 1717, Fr Baldinucci who was only fifty-two surrendered his soul to his Saviour. The indefatigable priest at his death had served the Society for thirty-five years and spent twenty years as an active preacher in the Italian countryside.
Fr Baldinucci was beatified by Pope Leo XIII on March 25, 1893 and his memorial is liturgically celebrated on July 2.