Saint Anthony Mary Claret was a 19th century Archbishop of Santiago (Cuba) and founder of the Congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known today as the Claretians. Later in life he was also the personal confessor of the Spanish Queen Isabella II. Saint Anthony was known for his commitment to missionary preaching, and for being an exceptional administrator. He played a vital role in revitalizing the church in Cuba and Spain during the turmoil of the Carlist wars.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is dr Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we commemorate Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba and founder of Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Claretians
Saint Anthony was born in 1807 in Sallent, a town near Barcelona, Spain in a pious Christian family. He was the fifth of eleven children. Young Anthony was a pious boy, and at an early age he expressed his desire to be a priest. His parents thus enrolled him in Latin classes. Unfortunately, the school he was enrolled in was shut down soon after, so his father instead sent him to Barcelona to work in the family loom. Anthony turned out to be very talented in this business, and especially in the process of programming the mechanical looms. He enjoyed this work to the point of obsession, but recognised that his preoccupation on this business was causing his religious fervour to cool. We quote from his autobiography:
During those first three years in Barcelona, the fervor that I had had at home began to cool. 40
True, I received the sacraments frequently during the year. I attended Mass on all feasts and holy days of
obligation and daily prayed the rosary to Mary and kept up my other devotions, but with none of my
former fervor. My only goal and all my anxieties were about manufacturing. I can't overstate it--my
obsession approached delirium. Who can say? Perhaps the very intensity of my inclination was the
means God used to take away my love for manufacturing.
67. Toward the end of my third year in Barcelona, obsessed as I was, whenever I was at Mass on
holy days, I experienced the greatest difficulty in overcoming the thoughts that came to me. It is true that I loved to think and dwell on my projects, but during the Mass and my other devotions I did not want to and I tried to put them out of my mind. I told myself that I'd think about them later but that for the present I only wanted to think on what I was doing and pray. My efforts seemed useless, like trying to bring a swiftly rotating wheel to a sudden stop. I was tormented during Mass with new ideas,
discoveries, etc. There seemed to be more machines in my head than saints on the altar. 41
68. In the midst of this whirligig of ideas, while I was at Mass one day, I remembered reading as a
small boy those words of the Gospel: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer
the loss of his soul?" This phrase impressed me deeply and went like an arrow to my heart. I tried to
think and reason what to do, but to no avail.
69. I was like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I was in need of an Ananias to tell me what to do.
I went to the house of the Fathers of St. Philip Neri, walked through the cloisters, saw an open door,
knocked and entered. There I met a Brother Paul, who was very fervent and devout, and I told him
simply about my resolves. The good brother patiently and charitably heard me out, and then he told me
in all humility, "Sir, I'm only a poor lay brother; I'm not the one to counsel you. I'll take you to a very
wise and virtuous priest who will tell you what you should do." He took me to Father Amigo, who
listened to me, approved of my decision, and counseled me to study Latin. 42 I obeyed him.
70. The warmth of piety and devotion reawakened in me. I opened my eyes and recognized the
dangers to soul and body that I had been passing through. 43 I
Saint Anthony ultimately decides to leave the family business and become a priest and a monk, desiring to join the Carthusian order. He entered a seminary in the town of Vic at the age of 22. He fell ill after being caught in a terrible storm, and felt that in this illness God was telling him to abandon his plans to live a secluded life as a Carthusian monk. He continues his education in the Vic seminary, is ordained a priest and spends a few years in his hometown parish of Sallent. Eventually, he felt that God was calling him to be a missionary. So he left Spain and made a difficult journey to Rome, where he would offer his services as a missionary priest to be sent anywhere in the world. When he reaches Rome, he reaches out to the Jesuit Order (also known as the Company of Jesus). The Jesuits then, and now are actively engaged in foreign missions. Saint Anthony then enrols as a Jesuit novice. Here is his recollection of his first encounter with the Jesuits:
With this in mind, I went to visit one of the fathers of the professed house of the Company of
Jesus. 92 He praised my idea of making the exercises and gave me a copy of St. Ignatius' Book of
Exercises, which I was to follow in making them. After some advice that he thought I needed, I began
the Exercises. On the days he appointed, I gave him an account of my spirit, and during the closing days
he remarked, "Since God our Lord is calling you to the foreign missions, it would be better for you to
join the Company of Jesus because it would be the means whereby you could both be sent and
accompanied by others. For it is a very dangerous business going it alone." I answered, "As for me, I
know well enough that it would be better, but what could I do that the Company would admit me?"
140. I had formed such a high and overblown opinion of the Company that I would never have
dreamed of their admitting me. I thought of all those fathers as giants of virtue and learning and of
myself as a pigmy in both--and so I told the priest who was directing me. But he encouraged me and told
me that he would write a memorandum to the Father General, who lived in that same professed house. 93
141. He did as he said, and on the day after he had received the request, the General asked to see
me. I went, and as I arrived at his door, the Father Provincial was leaving. 94 The General spoke to me for
some time and then said, "That father who was leaving as you entered was the Father Provincial, and he
lives at Saint Andrea de Monte Cavallo. Go there and tell him that I'm sending you, and that whatever he
may do for you I will consider a favor. I went there directly, was very well received, and on November 2
was already living in the novitiate, so that I found myself a Jesuit overnight. 95 When: contemplated
myself dressed in the holy habit of the Company, I could hardly believe my eyes; it all seemed a dream
142. As I had just finished making the Exercises, I was full of fervor. With all eagerness I was bent
on aspiring to perfection. And since I saw so many good things in the novitiate, everything attracted my
attention. I liked everything and it was engraved on my heart. I had something to learn from everyone,
and in truth I learned it, with the help of God's grace. I was deeply embarrassed at seeing everyone else
so advanced in virtue and myself so backward.
However, once again ill health scuttled his plans to be a Jesuit. One day he felt a stabbing pain in his right leg, and the affliction became so serious that he could not walk. The Father General of the Jesuits decided it would be best if Saint Anthony returned to Spain, and served in a parish in Viladrau, where he recovered from his illness. It was at Viladrau that Saint Anthony’s gifts as a healer and a preacher started to manifest. There was political unrest in Spain between the liberals and the Carlist factions, and Viladrau suffered as a result. Saint Anthony’s presence was a big help to the town.
Again, from his autobiography:
After I had settled in the parish of Viladrau as regent, I did my best to care for the spiritual
welfare of the people. On Sundays and feast days I explained the Gospel in the morning at the main
Mass, and in the evening I taught catechism to children and adults of both sexes. I visited the sick daily.
As Viladrau was not a fortified town, the opposing political factions seized control of it from time to
time. Because doctors are usually public figures of some note, they were so harassed by both factions
that they were eventually forced to move, and so the town was left without a single doctor.
171. Thus I had to become not only the spiritual but also the bodily physician of the people, on the
basis of my general knowledge and consultation of the medical books I procured. 110 When some doubtful
case arose, I would look it up in my books, and the Lord so blessed my remedies that none of those I
visited died. And so the word got around that I was healing people, and the sick came in from various
172. I started giving missions in the parish of Viladrau on August 15, 1840, while I was conducting
a novena in honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Next I gave another in the parish of
Espinelvas, an hour away from Viladrau. Then I went to the parish of Seva. The mission here was more
sensational than the others. A large number of people underwent conversion and made general
confessions. This was the start of my fame as a missionary.
. During November I held an All Souls' novena in Igualada and Santa Colona de Queralt, and it
was enthusiastically received. Thus I remained in Viladrau for eight months, going out on missions and
returning. But I couldn't continue in this way any longer. As I have said, when I was in town, I visited
the sick daily and they all got better. The only time any sick person died was while I was away. When I
returned from a mission, the relatives of the deceased would come up to me saying, as Martha and Mary
did to our Savior, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."111 and because, unlike Jesus,
I couldn't raise them from the dead, they stayed dead. I was terribly upset at seeing the tears of the
people and listening to all the reasons they gave why I shouldn't leave the parish to go preaching.
174. This forced me to ask my superior to relieve me of my duty as regent and free me from any
parish obligations. I asked him to let me know his decision soon so that I could go and preach missions
wherever he chose. This he did, and I left Viladrau with deep feelings on the part of the people for the
cures our Lord had worked through me, which I know were more than merely natural. I didn't offer to
heal people for money or any other kind of gain, for I never accepted anything for what I did; I did it
only because of the people’s need, out of charity.
In January 1841, Saint Anthony moved back to Vic. He receives the title fo Apostolic missionary, and preaches all over the Diocese. From 1843-1848 he travels all over Catalonia, preaching the gospel. His work is disrupted by the Second Carlist War, and in 1849 he is sent to the Canary Islands, away from the conflict.
It is in 1849 as well that he founds the order of the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, also known today as the Claretians. Saint Anthony started the order with 5 priests, today the order currently has thousands, spread all over the world. Here is a brief account of the order’s formation, from the website of the Claretian order:
With the words “Today a great work begins,” pronounced by Mosén Antonio Claret, gathered with five young priests in a small room of the Seminary of Vic, on July 16, 1849, the life of the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary takes off.
Claret’s initiative was not improvised. For a long time he had been thinking about the convenience, first of all, of preparing priests for the preaching of the Gospel, and then, of getting together with those who were animated “by his own spirit,” to do with them, what he could not do alone. His experience as an itinerant missionary throughout Catalonia and the Canaries had carried him to the conviction that the people needed to be evangelized and that there were not enough priests prepared and zealous for this mission. However, as Claret himself recognized, it was not his own idea, but a divine inspiration that led him to set in motion an enterprise as risky as it was fragile: “how important could it be, since we were so young and so few?” Manuel Vilaró exclaimed, one of the priests gathered in the Seminary of Vic.
Surely Saint Anthony was excited to lead his new order, but once again the will of God forced him to change his plans. Only 20 days after the official formation of the Claretian order, Saint Anthony was appointed Archbishop of Santiago in Cuba. Saint Anthony was resistant, concerned not just for his new order, but also for a religious library that he just started. He is compelled by obedience to accept this position, and delegated the leadership of his new order to one of his followers, Esteban Sala.
The Diocese of Santiago was in an awful state when Saint Anthony took over, and he quickly revitalized the Christian faith in Cuba We read an account of his time as Archbishop, from the website of the Claretian order:
The situation on the island of Cuba is deplorable: exploitation and slavery, public immorality, family insecurity, disaffection for the Church and especially progressive dechristianization. Upon arrival, the new archbishop understands that what is most needed is to undertake some renovation work in the Christian life and promotes a series of missionary campaigns, in which he participates, bringing the Word of God to all villages. He gives his episcopal ministry a missionary significance. In six years he toured most of his vast diocese three times. He feels concerned about the spiritual and pastoral renewal of the clergy and the founding of religious communities. For youth education and care of welfare institutions he manages to have the Escolapios, the Jesuits and the Daughters of Charity established on the island; along with M. Antonia Paris he founded the convent of Sisters of Mary Immaculate or Claretian Missionaries on August 27, 1855. He fights against slavery, creates a farm school for poor children, sets up a savings bank with a marked social character, founds Popular libraries, writes two books on agriculture, etc. Such an intense and diverse activity involves confrontation, slander, persecution and attacks on his person. He suffers one attack in Holguin, on February 1, 1856, that almost costs him his life. It brings him the joy of martyrs who shed their blood for Christ.
Queen Isabel of Spain summoned Saint Athony to Madrid to be her personal confessor, yet another post he was not happy with but was compelled to accept. We read an account of his time in Madrid from a pamphlet published by the Claretians, St. Anthony Claret- Restless Apostle
Queen Isabella II recalled Archbishop Claret from Cuba because she desired a wise and holy confessor. She believed Archbishop Claret would be the ideal one, but to him the idea of a court post was appalling. He disliked the worldliness, the intrigue and the idleness of court life. He agreed, however, to accept the counsel of the Papal Nuncio to Spain and that of his personal advisers. They urged him, for the good of the Church, to accept. He set three conditions: He was to reside away from the palace, and need come only to hear the queen's confession or instruct her children; he was to be exempted from attending court functions and from abiding by court ceremony; he was to be free to preach, to visit hospitals and jails, and to attend to his apostolic projects. The queen gladly agreed. Archbishop Claret entered upon his duties by reuniting the royal pair and by suggesting a plan of life to the queen. First, he directed her to make a spiritual retreat with the ladies of the court, which became an annual event. To prolong the influence of their retreat he presented the group with copies of a prayer book he had written and published entitled The Right Road.
There were many assassination attempts on Father Anthony, a reflection of the great political instability in Spain at the time, but also a reflection of the great power of masonic societies in Spain who consdered St Anthony an enemy. On one occasion, St Anthony pleaded that the death penalty for one of his assassins be reduced to a prison term, a request that was granted. We read again from the pamphlet:
This persecution by the enemies of the Church was one of the greatest glories of the holy missionary. He thereby proved the greatness of his moral personality and the triumphs of his ministry, something which the Masonic organizations abhorred. The words which he himself wrote to encourage those who suffer persecution for justice' sake, may be applied to the servant of God. "Have you ever seen a fig-tree laden with figs, and many birds coming to eat them? Do you wish to know which are the best figs? The birds will tell you. The best ones are those that have been picked at most. This agrees with the Gospel. Our Divine Master, Jesus Christ, has said: 'If you were of the world, the world would love you. But since you are not of the world, the world abhors you.'"
The life of Blessed Anthony was interwoven with persecutions, intrigues, and threats. The world laid snares of death in his path, and God frustrated them from Heaven's heights. This is the historical truth. Fourteen attempts, like fourteen crowns that impiety placed at the feet of Father Claret were made on his life; poisonings, incendiaries, assaults, knife and dagger thrusts; in the house, on the streets, in fields, but above all in the church and the confessional. Defeat was always the result: the poisons were ineffective, the knife thrusts deviated, the daggers discovered. The assassins either converted or died shortly thereafter. Blessed Anthony's attitude toward all these persecutors was that of Jesus before his enemies, – silence. "Let them alone," said Father Claret, "they are the builders of my soul. Let them alone. I know what is good for me. Poor creatures! If my enemies knew how much good they do me, they surely would not do it."
Saint Anthony’s role of the Queen’s confessor gave him a lot of influence in Madrid, which he uses to great effect. He is involved in the artistic and intellectual life of the city including by running a publishing house. He is engaged in the management of church and hospitals, and he continues his work of preaching and outreach in the city, paying special attention to those who are poor and in prison.
Palace standards do meet neither the time nor the apostolic spirit of Archbishop Claret: he exerts an intense activity in the city, he preaches and confesses, writes books, visits prisons and hospitals. He takes advantage of the royal traveling with the Kings by Spain to preach everywhere. He promotes the Academy of San Miguel, a project aiming to bring together intellectuals and artists to “associate to promote the sciences and the arts under the religious aspect, combining their efforts to combat errors, spread good books and good doctrines. ”
In 1859 the Queen appoints him Protector of the church and hospital of Montserrat, Madrid, and Chairman of the monastery of El Escorial. His management of this institution cannot be more effective and wider: restoration of the building, recovery of productive fields for financing, equipping the church, establishment of a Chaplains corporation, an inter-diocesan seminary, a college of secondary education and the first courses at a university.
One of his biggest concerns will be to endow Spain with suitable bishops fully dedicated to their mission and protect and promote the consecrated life; in this regard, he influences spiritually several founders and helps many new religious congregations to regularize their civil and ecclesiastical situation.
In 1868 Queen Isabella II was deposed, and Saint Anthony followed her to Paris, where she lived in exile. He also spent some time in Rome, where he was a participant of the first Vatican council in 1869. He would pass away in a French monastery in October 24 1870, hiding from the Spanish enemies who had sent him and his queen into exile. On May 7, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared Anthony Mary Claret a saint, with a feast day in October 24
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Here is a resolution included in Saint Anthony Maria Claret’s autobiography
As a homage to the Blessed Trinity and the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the month of May, I offer
each and every thing I may do. The impelling cause will be the love of God.
The intentional cause will be God's greater glory. The end cause will be the will of God. I will be
very intent and most careful, doing everything in fully conscious imitation of Mary. I will do each
particular thing well, even the commonest and most ordinary.
Not only will I remember what Jesus suffered every hour of his life, but in everything I do I will
recall what Jesus did and how He did it, so that I may imitate Him both as to the intention He had in
acting and the perfection with which He carried it out.
On waking in the morning, I will remember how Jesus awoke and offered Himself to the eternal
Father. I will get up promptly and offer myself and all my works to God. At prayer I will think of how
Jesus used to pray.