Saint Ignazio da Santhià, A Wise Companion for Holiness

September 22nd is the feast day of Saint Ignazio da Santhià. Who was this Capuchin saint?

Ignazio Bevisotti was born in Santhià (Vercelli) on 5 June 1686. When he was baptized he was named Lorenzo Maurizio. The little boy attended the diocesan seminary. After much preparation he was ordained as a diocesan priest at the age of 24 after which he had a difficult decision to make: either follow the wish of Santhià’s citizens and become a canon rector of the prestigious church of Santhià; or fulfill the Avogadro family’s wish of being a parish priest of the parish of Casanova Elso wherein they had the right of patronage (or ius patronatus). What did Fr Lorenzo do?  He chose neither. Instead, he opted for the Capuchin life, so much so that early one morning he simply fled to Turin to follow his dream, and with permission from the Capuchin provincial minister, became a novice.

The beginning of Capuchin life was not easy at all. Rightly so the provincial minister had to overcome some objections in order to discern if Fr Lorenzo truly had a vocation to the Capuchins. He told him: But why destroy such a good and spiritually fruitful career? To this objection the brave Fr Lorenzo replied to him: Father, my heart finds no repose in these successes. I heard a voice repeat in the depth of my heart, ‘If you want to find peace, you must do the will of God through obedience.’ Thus, Fr Lorenzo then became Br Ignazio da Santhià. He started his Capuchin life journey in the novitiate at Chieri on 24 May 1716. He wanted to let God sanctify him through the Capuchin life. For him obedience was everything. Hence, in every word and deed he tried to conform it to this very important virtue. The oldest friars of the novitiate house were deeply touched by his zealous observance.

When he completed his novitiate in Chieri (1716-1717) as well as the time of simple vows (1717-1721) Ignazio was put among the novices in Chieri, and in 1727, completed a brief course in theology. Other offices that were given to him were the head sacristan as well as confessor of the seculars. As a result of the provincial chapter of 31 August 1731, Br Ignazio was chosen as vicar and novice master at Mondoví. During his tenure as novice master, Br Ignazio managed to sign the profession of some hundred and twenty-one novices. As the story went on a certain number of these would be famous for their virtuous and holy life. What stands clear is the impressive testimony these friars gave of the exemplary life of their novice master. Br Ignazio was endowed with the gift of interiorising in each candidate that heartfelt love for a passion for the observance of the Rule and constitutions. Br Ignazio managed to unite the various aspects of the Capuchin life under the sweet yoke of love, a yoke not without its rigours. The novice master was strong on the principle of abneget semetipsum ( “Let him deny himself”. Cf Mt 16:24).

Having said that, his teaching left a deep imprint on those around him. Br Ignazio had the gift of knowing how to raise the enthusiasm of the young in the pursuit of virtue as well as sacrifice. Br Ignazio was never ready to enforce a rigorous penance if first it did not enter what he used to term as ‘gioco d’amore’. In simple words, Br Ignazio said that nothing is to be enforced if before it was not inspired by love. Coupling with this splendid idea, he used absolute prudence together with ‘maternal’ kindness to send his message. The ending result of such a tact was that he won the greatest respect.

The educational skills with which God endowed him simply fascinated his novices. One of his novices, Bernardino da Vezza, went to the mission in Congo. Unfortunately, due to a threatening ophthalmia he could not keep carrying out his apostolic activity. Upon seeing this, Br Ignazio felt within himself to give him his own glasses. In this way he carried the sickness of his novice. Fortunately the missionary recovered but the novice master went from bad to worse up to the point that he had to give up his office “to the great sorrow of the entire family of friars”. As time passed Br Ignazio was even happier to offer his glasses even if that meant for him being violently struck down by the illness. Now that he was released from the office of novice master, Br Ignazio resumed working energetically at Monte di Torino instructing the friars.

Even if he was not appointed to exert the office of preacher, however, when obedience called him, Br Ignazio spent his Sundays teaching the lay brothers catechism. Then he would preach the retreat to the Monte di Torino fraternity. His word was much welcomed that his superiors, theology professors and preachers were so looking forward for his catechism classes. One of the two annual retreats was always reserved for him and, due to his charisma, it was the most attended of the two. The other friars who happened to attend the other retreat greatly desired to attend the retreat he was giving. This is because they were attracted by the spirit that spoke in him. He spoke to everyone with evangelical freedom and without flattery, joining truth and respect with superiors, whom he considered maestri. Br Ignazio’s down-to-earth suggestions so hit the mark that they cured wounds without making them worse, but with pleasure and profit to everyone. Once, someone made the subsequent remark to him that his words concerning the duties of superiors were, in fact, a bit too clear. To this observation Br Ignazio simply retorted with much dignity as well as certainty: I speak about everyone and no one. What I say I read in the Crucifix. These words were just small flickers coming from the great fire which burned within his soul and led him to live what he preached first himself. By living what he preached Br Ignazio became great in the kingdom of God, who first do, and then teach.

Hence, for more than twenty uninterrupted years, in all silent humility, Br Ignazio was that lamp … on a stand, … [that] gives light to all in the house (Matt 5:15) which the Matthean Jesus so clearly speaks about. He did that at Monte di Torino. Here, Br Ignazio was surely a lamp that gave the light of teaching and inflamed more the fire of charity. He kept working for God’s Kingdom till the end, and continued preaching until he was eighty-two years old And when in 1744 he was released from the office of novice master he worked arduously in Piemonte in the war against France as well as the ward against the plague.

King Carlo Emanuele III, who was the king of Sardegna, wanted us Capuchins to serve as military chaplains. Immediately Br Ignazio volunteered himself. He went to Asti, Alessandria and Vinovo. The military hospital was moved to where the battlefield was. In a period of more than two years, this good Samaritan risked his life comforting the wounded as well as curing their wounds.

After that the battle against the enemies and the plagues was over, in 1746, Br Ignazio returned to the Monte dei Cappuccini. Here, for practically the last twenty five years of his earthly life, he resumed his serene and holy battle. In Monte dei Cappuccini we see a combination of his heroic virtues, hand-in-hand with the tremendous consequences of his blessings. The poor as well as the sick instantly knew the enormous heart this holy Capuchin had for them. Br Ignazio made himself available to them by going round the streets of the city and they fearlessly went to meet him on the street. After making their needs known to him he would knock at the rich’s doors and get all the help he needed to give it to the poor. Hence, thanks to the aid he received from the ministers of divine Providence (the rich), Br Ignazio was able to be a real brother to the poor by keeping alive the Capuchin tradition of charity and alms giving at Monte di Torino.  Moreover, the Capuchin’s blessings had a wonderful healing effect on the suffering ones, particularly the sick who assembled at the midday Angelus bell.

Br Ignatius was a great confessor, and many wanted to confess to him. One of his penitents, the marquis Roero di Cortanze, labelled him as the rascal hunter. Others would join in and say of him that he was the refuge of rascals. But those who were caught into his net were the ones who would experience God’s merciful embrace. He had the admiration of great prelates in the Church like Cardinal Carlo Vittorio Amadeo delle Lanze and the Archbishop of Turin, Giovanni Battista Roero. Having said that Br Ignazio chose to remain with the poor. In his cubby hole, that is the little room where he heard confessions of men, Br Ignazio shared God’s mercy with many priests, religious and Capuchins too of the Monte. Many would comment: Whoever wants to be helped well should approach Father Ignazio’s penitents.

Even in his time at the infirmary from 1768 till 1770, Br Ignazio did not waste time but kept blessing, hearing confessions and giving advice to all those who went to him. His holy life was already consumed and transformed into Christ Crucified. His gaze was only on Him. Such was his intense relationship with Jesus that, in August 1770, Br Ignazio found himself with his motionless arms stretched out in the shape of the cross and his body was elevated above the floor.  Sometimes the brothers as well as the novices would kindly shake him so that he could come into his senses.

The immediate and lifelong fruit of his close communion with God, as lived in his penitential life, was the great joy he had in his heart, which simply sang with joy, on his face such a beautiful smile. Those who met him said: The joy of heaven shines out from this friar’s face! Br Ignazio’s life was one complete hymn of God’s joy which, in turn, was the result of his penance. The more time passed this heavenly joy grew in him more and more. Br Giacinto da Pinerolo, was of his past novices, said: To him this vale of tears seemed transformed into a garden of delights because he willingly suffered for the One he loved so much. This genuine evangelical Franciscan joy was also infecting those more attracted to tears as well as the scrupulous souls. He used to tell them: Laetare et benefacere (rejoice and do good!) … and let the sparrows sing!

Agony itself found him so full of joy! Br Ignazio confessed on his deathbed: Father Guardian, it is read of certain saints that they trembled when faced with death. I instead feel so calm that I am afraid I trust too much. Please give me the charity of your counsel! At midnight of 22 September 1770, at the invitation of Father Guardian, Depart, O Christian soul …. Amen, Br Ignazio left for his final journey to Heaven for his eternal reward in Heaven.

Thanks to his powerful intercession the canonisation process started in 1782. On 17 March 1827 Pope Leo XII solemnly proclaimed the heroism of Br Ignazio’s virtue. Pope Saint Pope Paul VI beatified him on 17 April 1966, and Pope Saint John Paul II added him to the list of the saints on 19 May 2002.

Let us be encouraged now from this beautiful meditation on the cross as our salvation, which Saint Ignazio da Santhià wrote in his letters:

Resolve, then, to carry your cross with Christ, shunning anything that could deprive you of its merits; and like Christ, submitting and resigning yourself humbly to the divine will, so that by bearing it in this way as a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, it may serve as a rapid and sure ladder for you to reach the glory that God has prepared for those who carry His cross in this way. By reflecting on these things your spirit will draw strength, courage and pride as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

Let me repeat: the Lord, who has saved us through the cross, arranges that we too should be saved by means of crosses. He goes around distributing them in every household and among every class of person as He sees fit, for His own glory and our good. How blessed are those who know how to carry them with wisdom and with Christian resignation, because they will serve as so many steps by which we can climb up to greater glory in heaven. The Lord God has given you a portion of that glory.

I will keep praying for your patience and resignation to grow even more, so that you will be able to reach that sublime glory which He has prepared for you in heaven, where you will thank Him for having favoured you like this with a share of His cross.

If the Supreme Pontiff sent you from Rome a relic of the Holy Cross, you would receive it with the greatest reverence and devotion, you would thank him for so great an honour and favour. Well, Jesus Christ, our High Priest, has sent you a part of His cross from heaven: it is made up of the evils of which you are the victim. Carry it out of love for Him, bear it with resignation, or rather, thank Him for so great a favour, which His love reserves only for specially chosen souls.

Almighty, everlasting God, to restore human nature you willed to repair through obedience what had been lost by pride: grant in your mercy that the prayers and example of the priest Ignatius may make us prompt to obey your will, the beginning of our salvation. 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.


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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.