On August 30th, as a Church we joyfully celebrate the liturgical memorial of a great but largely unknown pastor of the Church, Blessed Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster OSB (1880-1954).
This remarkable priest, who gave his life for the flock entrusted to him by Jesus, the Divine Pastor, was born on January 18th, 1880, in the eternal city, Rome. From his father’s side, Alfredo was of Germanic descent: Giovanni (Johann) Schuster, was a Bavarian tailor and double widower. Whereas his mother, Maria Anna Tutzer, was an Italian from Bolzano. Her deeply religious and hardworking spirit must have left a large impact on her children. In fact, Giulia, Alfredo’s sister, became a nun of the Congregation of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul.
His health was always frail. Indeed, he himself later recounted that there was a circumstance when his health was so poor that his Mum ran to the Church of St Augustine and, in her grief, entrusted her young Alfredo to the Virgin Mary. Mary heard the prayer of that distressed woman. From then on the Cardinal would say that he never had a serious illness.
Alfredo finished his secondary-level studies with school attached to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in November 1891, and, after a period of discernment, on November 13th, 1898, he entered the Benedictine Order, completing his novitiate at the monastery community of the same basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, being given the religious name of Ildefonso. Alfredo professed his monastic vows two years to the day later, on 13th November 1900. On June 14 1903 he obtained a Doctorate in Philosophy, and another doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Atheneum of St Anselm in Rome.
On St Joseph’s feast of March 19, 1904, he was ordained a priest at the patriarchal Lateran Basilica in Rome at the hands of Cardinal Pietro Respighi, its archpriest, and Vicar general of Rome. In the same year he went back to the Saint Paul Outside the Walls’ Basilica to become Master of novices in 1908. On April 6th, 1918, he was elected abbot-ordinary of the abbey.
On 26th of June, 1929, Dom Alfredo Schuster was elected Archbishop of Milan, and on the 13th of July, he took the oath of loyalty to the Italian state in the presence of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy. Monsignor Schuster was the first Italian bishop to do so, as the recently implemented (February 11th, 1929) Lateran Treaty required.
It was Pope Pius XI who, on July 15th, 1929, created him Cardinal priest of the titular church of Santi Silvestro e Martino ai Monti on 18th of July 1929. His eminence Cardinal Schuster was consecrated on 21st July 1929 in the Sistine Chapel by Pope Pius XI himself. As Cardinal of the Church, Cardinal Schuster served as a papal legate in many circumstances. On the 15th August 1932 – solemnity of the Assumption! – he was designated as legate to the celebration of Our Lady of Caravaggio. Then, on 21st of March 1934, to the millennial anniversary of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland. Furthermore, on 15th of September 1937, to the inauguration of the new facade of the cathedral of Desio. Finally, on 2 August 1951, to the National Eucharistic Conference in Assisi. We need to remember that Blessed Alfredo Schuster took part in that historic papal conclave during those dramatic events of the eve of World War II, in 1939, which elected Pope Pius XII.
As the process of his beatification went on, rumours were spread that Cardinal Schuster endorsed Italian Fascism. Objectively speaking, although Schuster had shown some sympathy for Italy’s military ambitions, there is a clear evidence that he was totally against, and in fact, utterly condemned, the anti-Christian element of Fascist philosophy. Schuster was bold enough to reject the invitation to take part in ceremonies concerning Mussolini. Not only this but Cardinal Schuster went far as to openly denounce the racist legislation that ruled the Fascist era.
Schuster was a keen defender of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. History has it that he made it resemble the Crusades, regarding it as a possible origin of converts. On 28th of October 1935, as he was celebrating Mass in the Cathedral of Milan, he prayed to God to safeguard the Italian troops as they open the door of Ethiopia to the Catholic faith and Roman civilisation. Then, he blessed the banners of the departing troops.
However, in 1938, Blessed Alfredo’s ideas took a diametrically opposite turn due to the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany as well as the introduction of German racial doctrines into Italy and the creation of the Italian Racial Laws. A case in point is his homily, delivered on November 13, 1938, in the Cathedral, where bravely Cardinal Schuster declared: A kind of heresy was born abroad and is spreading everywhere. It not only attacks the supernatural foundations of the Catholic Church, but materializes in human blood the spiritual concepts of the individual, of the Nation and of the Homeland, denying to humanity all spiritual value, and thus constitutes an international danger no less than that of Bolshevism itself. It is so-called racism.
As World War II descended into its mayhem, Cardinal Schuster became the target of the Fascist and Nazi propaganda machine, but his flock kept loving and respecting him. In the World War II aftermath, Cardinal Schuster regularly highlighted the grave risk of totalitarianism either directly coming from Fascism or Communism.
As a man of God, Cardinal Schuster, in a meeting on April 25th, 1945, tried to persuade Mussolini to reconcile himself with God and his people. Unfortunately the deposed Italian dictator rejected with disdain the offer, and he and his mistress were killed by an angry mob with the week as he tried to flee the country.
Cardinal Schuster died on the 30th of August 1954 in the Archiepiscopal Seminary Pio XI close to Milan. Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (the future Pope Saint John XXIII) conducted his funeral service. He was buried on the 2nd of September 1954 in the metropolitan cathedral of Milan, near his two immediate predecessors. The Order of the Holy Sepulchre honoured this zealous pastor for God and his people.
On the 30th of August 1957 Archbishop Giovanni Battista Montini (the eventual Pope Saint Paul VI) initiated the diocesan process of his cause for sainthood, which was completed on October 31st, 1963. Following the opening of his tomb on 28 January 1985, his body was found intact. He was officially declared Venerable on 26 March 1994 by St Pope John Paul II and Beatified on 12 May 1996. The miracle attributed to his intercession was that of the unexplainable curing of an eye disease.
Blessed Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster helps us to deeply appreciate the liturgy and thus participate in it with faith and dignity it justly entails. In his The Sacramentary, volume 1, he writes:
The Church’s Liturgy may…be considered as a sacred poem, in the framing of which both heaven and earth have taken part and by which our humanity, redeemed in the blood of the Lamb without spot, rises on the wings of the Spirit even unto the throne of God Himself. This is more than a mere aspiration, for the Sacred Liturgy not only shows forth and expresses the ineffable and the divine but also, by means of the sacraments and of its forms of prayer, develops and fulfils the supernatural in the souls of the faithful, to whom it communicates the grace of redemption. It may even be said, that the very source of holiness of the Church is fully contained in her Liturgy; for, without the holy sacraments, the Passion of our Lord, in the existing dispensation instituted by almighty God, we would have no efficacy in us, since there would be no channels capable of conveying its treasure to our souls.
To the Milanese seminarians he emphasized the essential point, much at the heart of the Benedictine tradition, that priestly ministry without personal holiness is fruitless:
I have no memento to give you apart from an invitation to holiness. It would seem that people are no longer convinced by our preaching; but faced with holiness, they still believe, they still fall to their knees and pray. People seem to live ignorant of supernatural realities, indifferent to the problems of salvation. But when an authentic saint, living or dead passes by, all run to be there. Do not forget that the devil is not afraid of our [parish] sports fields and of our movie halls: he is afraid, on the other hand, of our holiness.
Father, origin and source of all good,
we praise you and thank you
because in the blessed cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster
you have given us and made known
a gentle and tireless pastor,
witness to the peace that only you can give.
Lord Jesus, Son of God,
you have been for the cardinal Schuster model of life:
for your love he was a passionate servant of all,
consuming every day of its existence
because everyone could find you,
Lord of life, peace and joy.
His example stimulates us
and his prayer accompany us,
because we also give life
at the service of every human being.
Spirit of love, that makes us saints,
grant us to collect
his constant invitation to holiness.
Make us capable, as he was,
to love the poor, the forgotten, the persecuted;
give us the strength to dialogue with everyone,
with the confidence to discover in every heart
the seed of every human being.