SAINT ANTHONY MARY CLARET, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION
FIRST YEARS (1807-1829)
Anthony Claret y Clará was born in Sallent, Barcelona, Spain on 23 December 1807. He was the fifth of eleven children of John Claret and Josephine Clará. He was baptised on Christmas Day. The delicate condition of his mother caused him to be placed under the care of a wet-nurse in Santa María de Oló. One night that Anthony stayed at his parents’ house, the wet nurse’s house collapsed and everyone in the house died in the accident. For Claret that always was a sign of divine Providence.
Claret’s cradle was constantly shaken by the rattling of the wooden looms his father had in the ground floor of the house. From a very tender age Anthony gave signs of a sharp intelligence and a soft heart. At age five, “Toñín” thought about eternity: sitting on the bed at night, he was deeply touched by that “forever, forever, forever.” Later on, when he became an Archbishop, he would recall: “This idea of an eternity of torment made such a deep impression on me, either because of the tender age when it began, or because of the many times I thought about it, that it is surely the thing that to this day I remember best. The power of this idea has made me work in the past, still makes me work, and will make me work as long as I live, in converting sinners” (Aut n.9).
The people’s war against Napoleon vividly affected the ambience of that epoch. His soldiers often passed by the town between 1808 and 1814. Even the priests of the town had joined the battle. In 1812 the new Constitution was promulgated.
Meanwhile, Anthony played, studied, grew… Two loves were already outstanding in little Claret: the Eucharist and the Blessed Virgin. He attentively attended Mass, made frequent visits to the Most Blessed Sacrament, often went with his sister Rose to the shrine of Fusimanya and daily recited the rosary.
Books were Anthony’s weakness. Few things contributed to Anthony’s holiness as much as his readings, the first readings of his childhood, because his readings were selected. But as early as that age, Anthony had a dream: to become a priest and an apostle. However his vocation would follow a different itinerary yet.
Among the Looms
Anthony spent his entire adolescence at his father‘s workshop. He soon became master in the textile craft. In order to improve his craftsmanship, he asked his father to let him go to Barcelona, where the textile industry was attracting many young people. There he enrolled in the School of Arts and Trades of “La Lonja.” He worked during the day and studied at night. Although he continued being a good Christian, his heart was centred on his work. Thanks to his tenacity and ingenuity, he soon was able to surpass in quality and beauty the samples that came from abroad. A group of businessmen, admiring his competence, proposed to him an alluring plan: to start a textile company in which they would take responsibility for the financing and set-up of the factory. But inexplicably, Anthony refused. God was involved. There were events that made him more sensitive to the voice of God. These are some of these events: he ran into a partner who ended up in prison, his friend’s wife set up a tempting trap for him, he came out miraculously unscathed from the sea where a gigantic wave had carried him, etc. Lastly, he was deeply impressed by the words of the Gospel: “What will one gain by winning the whole world if he destroys himself?” (Mt 16:26). The looms suddenly stopped, and Anthony went to consult with the Oratorians of St. Philip Neri. At last he resolved to become a Carthusian and informed his father of his plan. His decision to become a priest reached the Bishop of Vic, Msgr. Paul of Jesus Corcuera, who wished to meet him. Anthony left Barcelona about the beginning of September 1829 on his way to Sallent and Vic. He was 21 and was decided to become a priest.
PRIEST, APOSTOLIC MISSIONARY AND FOUNDER (1829-1850)
In the Seminary
In the seminary of Vic, forge of apostles, Claret was formed as an extern seminarian, living as a famulus (helper) of Don Fortián Bres, the Steward of the bishop’s palace. Soon he stood out for his piety and his industriousness. He chose Fr. Peter Bach of the Oratory as his confessor and director. After a year, the time arrived to carry out his decision to enter the Carthusian monastery of Montealegre. He left for the monastery, but he ran into a summer storm that ruined his plans. Perhaps God did not want him a Carthusian. He took a half turn and went back to Vic. The following year he passed the acid test of chastity in a temptation that came up to him a day that he was lying sick in bed. He saw the Blessed Virgin appear to him and, showing him a crown, she said to him: “Anthony, this crown will be yours if you overcome.” Suddenly, all obsessive images vanished.
Under the wise guide of Bishop Corcuera, the atmosphere of the seminary was optimal. There he made friends with James Balmes, who would be ordained Deacon in the same ceremony that Claret was ordained Subdeacon. It was in this epoch that Claret entered into a deep contact with the Bible, which would impel him unto an insatiable apostolic and missionary spirit.
At age 27, on 13 June 1835, the Bishop of Solsona, Fr. John Joseph de Tejada, former General of the Mercedarians, conferred upon him the sacred order of the Priesthood. He celebrated his first Mass in the parish of Sallent on 21 June, with great satisfaction and joy on the part of his family. His first assignment was precisely Sallent, his hometown.
At the death of Ferdinand VII the Spanish political situation had worsened. The constitutionalists, imitators of the French revolution, had taken over the power. In the Parliament of 1835 the suppression of all religious Institutes was approved. The possessions of the Church were confiscated and auctioned, and the people were instigated to burn the convents and kill the priests. The Provinces of Navarre, Catalonia and the Basque country soon revolted against this disorder and the war broke out between Carlists and Isabellines.
But Claret was not a politician. He was an apostle. So he dedicated himself, body and soul, to the priestly tasks, despite the enormous difficulties he encountered due to the hostile ambience of his hometown. His charity had no bounds. Therefore, the horizons of a parish did not satisfy Claret’s apostolic zeal. He consulted and decided to go to Rome to enrol in the Propaga-tion of the Faith, with the intention of going to preach the Gospel in pagan lands. It was the month of September 1839. He was 31.
In Rome he Seeks his Missionary Identity
With a little bundle of things and without money, a young priest crossed the Pyrenees, bound for the eternal city. When he arrived in Marseilles, he took a ship for Rome. In the eternal city, Claret made the Spiritual Exercises with a priest from the Society of Jesus. He felt called to enter as a Jesuit novice. He had gone to Rome in order to offer himself as a missionary of the world, but God seemed not to want him either as a missionary ad gentes nor as a Jesuit. A malady, a stabbing pain in his right leg, made him understand that his mission was in Spain. After three months he left the noviciate on the advice of Fr. Roothaan.
Back in Spain, he was temporarily assigned to Viladrau, a small woodmen town at the time, in the province of Gerona. In his capacity as Regent, since the Pastor was an elderly and disabled man, he set about the ministry with great zeal. He also acted as a physician, because there was none in the town or its environs.
Apostolic Missionary in Catalonia
Since Claret had not been born to remain in just one parish, his spirit pushed him on towards wider horizons. In July 1841, when he was 33, he received from Rome the title of Apostolic Missionary. At last, he was someone destined to the ministry of the Word, in the style of the apostles. This type of missionaries had disappeared since the time of Saint John of Avila. From that moment on, giving missions was his work. Vic was to be his residence. Claret walked always on foot, with an oilcloth map, his small bundle of things and his Breviary, through the snow or in the midst of storms, sunken between ravines and mudholes. He joined muleteers and merchants, talked to them about the Reign of God and they were converted. His footsteps were left imprinted on all the roads. The cathedrals of Solsona, Gerona, Tarragona, Lérida, Barcelona and the churches of other cities filled up with people when Padre Claret spoke.
Once, as he was walking toward Golmes, they invited him to rest, because he was perspiring; he answered in jest: “I am like the dogs: they stick their tongue out but they never get tired.”
“Father, hear my ass’ confession,” a muleteer told him mockingly. “You are the one who needs to confess, -Claret answered- you have not done it in seven years and you need it indeed.” And the man confessed.
Another time he got a poor smuggler out of a jam by changing a tobacco bale into beans when some revenue guards stopped them. Upon arrival home, the good man was greatly surprised when he saw that the beans had turned again into tobacco. These are some of the “Claretian little flowers” of that epoch.
Other miraculous facts are being told about Claret but, above all, his power to penetrate the conscience of people was outstanding. He had enemies who slandered him and strove to thwart his missionary activity, so that the Archbishop of Tarragona had to come out in his defence. But he had a steel temper. He withstood it all and came out unscathed from all the ambushes they laid for him.
In addition to preaching, Fr. Claret devoted himself to giving Spiritual Exercises to the clergy and to religious women, especially during summer. In 1844, for example, he gave a Retreat to the Carmelite Sisters of Charity of Vic, in which St. Joaquina Vedruna participated.
During this time he also published numerous pamphlets and books. Among them we can highlight the “The Straight Path,” published for the first time in 1843, which would become the most read pious book of the XIX century. He was then 35 years old.
In 1847, together with his friend and future Bishop of Seo D’Urgel, Joseph Caixal and Antonio Palau, he founded the Religious Press. That same year he founded the Archconfraternity of the Heart of Mary and wrote the statutes of the Fraternity of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary and Friends of Humankind, made up of priests and lay men and women.
The list of disciples and companions he had in this epoch is long and worth noting, men who would remain engraved in the Catalonian church history: Stephen Sala, Manuel Subirana, Blessed Francis Coll, Manuel Vilaró, Dominic Fábregas…
Apostle of the Canaries
On 6 March 1848 he left for Madrid and Cadiz, on his way to the Canaries, together with the newly elected Bishop Msgr. Bonaventure Codina. He was 40. The reason was that, after the recent armed rebellion of 1847, it was no longer possible to preach missions in Catalonia. The persuasive voice of Claret resounded from the Puerto de la Luz of Grand Canary to the rugged sandy spots of Lanzarote. He evangelised Telde, Agüimes, Arucas, Gáldar, Guía, Firgas, Teror… The miracle of Catalonia repeated itself. Claret had to preach in the plazas, on platforms, in the open air, amid multitudes that hemmed him in. Despite a pneumonia, he never stopped in his intensive work. In Lanzarote he gave missions in Teguise and Arrecife.
He spent 15 months of his life in the Canary Islands, leaving behind conversions and miracles, prophecies and legends. With tears in their eyes the Canarians saw their Padrito leave one day and they bade him farewell with nostalgia. It was towards the end of May 1849. His memory still lingers.
Founder of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary
Shortly after his return to Catalonia, on 16 July 1849, at three o’clock in the afternoon, in a cell of the seminary of Vic, he founded the Congregation of the Missionaries, Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an idea he had been thinking about for quite some time. He was 41 years old. Cofounders were Frs. Stephen Sala, Joseph Xifré, Manuel Vilaró, Dominic Fábregas and James Clotet.
“Today a great work begins,” Fr. Claret said.
Claret was no pseudo-charismatic who liked to speak in his own name, rather he felt impelled by God. And God revealed three things to him: first, that the Congregation would spread throughout the whole world; second, that it would last till the end of time; third, that all those who should die in the Congregation would be saved.
ARCHBISHOP OF CUBA
An extremely important fact soon endangered his newly founded Institute. Fr. Claret was appointed Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba. After several attempts to resign, he finally accepted the position on 4 October 1849 and he was consecrated Bishop in the Cathedral of Vic on 6 October 1850. He was 42. The motto he chose for his Archbishop’s coat of arms was a veritable life project: “Charitas Christi urget nos” (the love of Christ urges us on). He went to Madrid to receive the pallium and the great cross of Isabella the Catholic. Before he embarked for Cuba, he paid three visits: to Our Lady of the Pillar in Zaragoza, to Our Lady of Montserrat in Barcelona and to Our Lady of Fusimanya in Sallent, his hometown. And he still had time, before his departure, to conceive a new foundation, the Religious Women in their Houses, or the Daughters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, now called Cordimarian Filiation. In the port of Barcelona an immense crowd bade farewell to Archbishop Claret with a huge manifestation.
During the trip to Havana he took the opportunity to preach a mission aboard the ship for all passengers, officers and crew. And at last… Cuba. Six years was Claret to spend in the diocese of Santiago de Cuba, tirelessly working, giving missions, sowing love and justice in that island where racial discrimination and social injustice reigned everywhere.
He confronted the foremen, snatched the whip away from their hands. One day he reprimanded a rich landowner who was ill-treating some coloured natives who were working in his property. Seeing that the man was not inclined to change his behaviour, the Archbishop wanted to give him a lesson. He took two pieces of paper, one white and the other black, he set fire to them and pulverised the ashes in the palm of his hand. Then he said: “Sir, could you tell the difference between the ashes of these two papers? Well now, in just the same way, people are equal before God.”
Fr. Claret had an inventive capacity that indicated an uncommon ingenuity. In Holguín some popular celebrations were organised. The main attraction was the launching of a manned globe. This aerostatic contrivance was among the first tried out in those times. It was a failure; it began to rise, but the pilot lost control and fell in a small ravine. The Archbishop studied the problem and one day he surprised everyone. “Today I have hit upon the globe direction system.” And he showed them a sketch that is kept until today.
He was a practical man. In all parishes he established religious and social institutions for children and adults; created technical and agricultural schools; established and propagated Savings Banks all throughout Cuba. He founded orphanages; visited four times all the cities, towns and settlements of his immense diocese. He always went on foot or on horseback. He was also able to surround himself with an enviable team of great missionaries such as Frs. Adoaín, Lobo, Sanmartí and Subirana.
One of the most important works Fr. Claret carried out in Cuba was the foundation, together with Mother Antonia París, of the Religious Sisters of Mary Immaculate, Claretian Missionary Sisters. This took place, after many difficulties, on 27 August 1855, with the profession of the Foundress.
But not even in Cuba did his enemies leave him in peace. The storm of attempts reached its climax at Holguín, where he was seriously wounded when he was leaving the Church, by a hired assassin, paid by his enemies, whom Claret himself had earlier got out of prison. Fr. Claret asked that the criminal be pardoned. Despite all this, his enemies continued keeping him in sight.
After six years in Cuba, one day an urgent message was brought to him from the Field Marshall of Havana, in which he was informed that Her Majesty Queen Isabel II summoned him to Madrid. It was 18 March 1857.
APOSTLE IN MADRID
The Queen’s Confessor and Missionary in the Court of Spain
When he arrived in Madrid, he learned that he had definitively been appointed the Queen’s confessor. Upset, he accepted but put three conditions: that he should not live in the palace, that he should not be involved in politics, and that he should not be made to wait in line to be received, and should have freedom for apostolic action. He was 49 when he returned from Cuba. In the 11 years that he stayed in Madrid, his apostolic activity in the court was intense and unceasing. Few were the churches and convents where his voice was not heard, forceful and convincing. From the church of the Italians, situated in the present enlargement of the Parliament and from the Montserrat church, where the Monumental Theatre is now located, he developed an unstoppable activity. He was especially outstanding for his popular missions and his retreats to the clergy.
While he accompanied the Queen in her trips throughout Spain, he also seized the occasion to carry out an intense apostolate. Towards the beginning of June 1858 the royal entourage rolled along the plains of La Mancha, Alicante, Albacete, Valencia… Then to the Northwest of Spain: Leon, the mining coal field of Mieres and Oviedo, Galicia, Balearic Islands, Catalonia, Aragon and Andalusia. The sojourn in the South was full of enthusiasm and the royal confessor used it to preach missions everywhere; sometimes he managed to preach no less than 14 sermons in one day: Cordoba, Seville, Cadiz, Granada, Malaga, Cartagena and Murcia. Later on, again in the North: the Basque country, Old Castile and Estremadura. God’s Kingdom was being announced and the people responded generously.
President of the Escorial Monastery
The Queen appointed him President of the Royal Monastery of the Escorial for its restoration, because of the lamentable condition it was in, since the law of sale of Church lands and closure of convents of 1835. He held this position from 1859 to 1868. Not a long time, but enough to demonstrate his organising talent. He repaired the towers and wings of the building and of the great basilica. He restored the choir loft and the altars, installed two organs, acquired scientific material for the Physics and Chemistry laboratories, restored the dilapidated library and set up a new one; he landscaped the gardens, planted a great many fruit and garden trees. With all this, the Archbishop managed to turn over yearly to the Queen a considerable surplus. It seemed a miracle.
Together with the material restoration, he undertook the spiritual one. He created a true ecclesiastical University, with the studies of humanities and the classics, modern languages, natural sciences, archaeology, schola cantorum and music band. He also set up studies of Philosophy and Theology, with patristics, Moral Liturgy and biblical sciences, as well as the Chaldean, Hebrew and Arabic languages, etc. With the inestimable help of his collaborator from Cuba, Don Dionisio González de Mendoza, he made of this monastery one of the best centres of Spain. And thanks to his zeal, the eighth wonder of the world recovered its former splendour.
Apostle of the Press
He felt as if Christ and the Blessed Virgin were telling him, “Write, Anthony!” Like an enormous and sensitive radar screen, Claret continuously scrutinised the signs of the times: “Experience has taught me that one of the most powerful forces for good is the press, -he said- just as it is one of the most potent weapons for evil, when abused.” He himself wrote some 96 works (15 books and 81 booklets) and edited 27 others, annotated and, at times, translated by him. Only by taking into account his extreme industriousness and the strength God gave him can one understand the fact that he wrote so much while exercising such an intense dedication to the apostolic ministry. Claret was not only a writer. He was a propagandist. He profusely disseminated his books and loose leaflets. As for this diffusion, he reached truly large quantities. He never claimed any amount from the edition and sale of his books; on the contrary, he invested great sums of money in it. Where did he get this money from? From what he received for his office and from donations. “Books –he used to say- are the best alms.”
In 1848, as we have already said, he had founded the Religious Press together with Dr. Caixal, future bishop of Seo de Urgel. Before that, he established the Spiritual Fraternity of good books which, during the years it was under Claret’s direction until his departure for Cuba, printed great quantity of books, booklets and leaflets, with a yearly average of more than half a million printed materials. In the first decade of its foundation he received a personal congratulation from Pope Pius IX. When he was still a priest, he had founded the Fraternity of the Most Holy and Immaculate Heart of Mary. The aim of this fraternity was to maintain permanently the diffusion of books, which constituted one of his first attempts of active lay apostolate, since it was composed of priests and lay men and women.
One of his most brilliant works was the foundation of the Academy of St. Michael (1858). He wanted to gather in it the living forces of plastic arts, journalism and Catholic organisations: artists, writers and propagandists from all over Spain for the cause of the Lord. In nine years, many books were given away, many more were lent, and an incalculable number of leaflets were distributed. Here are some names of the members of the Academy, according to his main biographer, Fr. Christopher Fernández, minister Lorenzo Arrazola, journalists Carbonero y So and Ojero de la Cruz, Professor Vincent Lafuente. Its influence reached even writers of the stature of Ayala and Hartzenbusch.
He also founded popular libraries in Cuba and in Spain, where more than one hundred were functioning in the last years of his life. Fr. Claret deserves indeed the title of Apostle of the press.
Spiritual Director and Cofounder
Fr. Claret’s most significant work was the foundation of the Congregation of Missionaries, Sons of the Heart of Mary. But in the splendid flowering of new religious institutes that took place in the XIX century, the royal confessor was the most decided collaborator that almost all founders and foundresses of his time could find.
Together with Mother París, he had already founded in Cuba in 1855 the Institute of Religious of Mary Immaculate, called Claretian Missionary Sisters, for the education of girls.
Under his spiritual direction we must include St. Michaela of the Most Blessed Sacrament, foundress of the Sisters Adorers, and St. Joaquina de Vedruna, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters of Charity.
He directly or indirectly intervened in other foundations. He had contacts with Joachim Masmitjà, founder of the Missionary Sisters “Immaculate Heart;” with Mark and Gertrude Castañer, founders of the Sisters of St. Philip Neri; with Mary of the Heart of Jesus, foundress of the Handmaids of Jesus of Charity; with Blessed Mary Ann Mogas, foundress of the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Divine Shepherd. We find him with the Blessed Francis Coll, founder of the Dominican Sisters of the Annunciata. He also had something to do with the foundation of the Missionary Handmaids of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, of Mother Maria Esperanza González. And we should also add his influence in the Teresian Sisters, Daughters of Christ the King, etc.
All these institutions were born or sprouted under the influence of Fr. Claret.
A Saintly Man
The lavishness of the Court did not prevent Fr. Claret from living as the most observant of religious. Everyday he dedicated much time to prayer. His austerity was proverbial and his sobriety in eating and drinking, admirable.
This was his timetable: He rose at three o’clock in the morning after scarcely six hours’ sleep; by the time the others rose, he had already spent two hours in prayer and reading of the Bible, and then one more hour together with them. After that, he celebrated the Eucharist and attended another one in thanksgiving. From breakfast till ten o’clock he heard confessions and, after that, he wrote. What he disliked most was the hour dedicated to audiences towards twelve noon. Afternoons he preached, visited hospitals, prisons, schools and convents.
He was a model of poverty. One day he had a shock when he put his hand into his pocket. He thought he had felt a coin, but soon he was relieved when he saw it was not a coin but a medal. On another occasion that he had nothing to help a poor man, he pawned his Archbishop’s pectoral cross.
Claret was a true mystic. Several times he was seen in a state of deep reverie before the Lord. One Christmas Day, in the church of the Sisters Adorers of Madrid, he said he received the Child Jesus in his arms.
He received a unique privilege, to wit, the conservation of the sacramental species from one communion to the next for nine years. He wrote in his Autobiography: “On August 26, 1861, at 7:00 in the evening, while I was at prayer in the church of the Rosary at La Granja, the Lord granted me the great grace of keeping the sacramental species intact within me and of having the Blessed Sacrament always present, day and night, in my breast.”
This almost sensible presence of Jesus within him must have been so great that he went to the extent of exclaiming: “Nowhere do I find myself as recollected as amidst the crowds.”
A Persecuted Man
It is not surprising that a man as influential as Fr. Claret, who drew the crowds after him, should also attract the fury of the enemies of the Church. But all their threats and attempts were being frustrated one by one, because Divine Providence watched over him who, in turn, rejoiced in persecutions. In his life he underwent numerous personal attempts. Most of them were frustrated by the conversion of the would-be assassins.
Nevertheless, a much worse defamatory campaign was organised on a large scale throughout the whole of Spain in order to discredit him before the simple people. He was accused of interfering with politics; of belonging to the famous camarilla or clique of the Queen with Sor Patrocinio, Marfori and others; of being of little intelligence, obscene in his writings, referring especially to his book “The Golden Key;” of being ambitious and even a thief. But Claret knew how to keep silent, happy to suffer something for Christ.
Facing the Recognition of the Kingdom of Italy
On July 15, 1865, the Government held a full meeting in La Granja de San Ildefonso in order to extort from the Queen her signature about the recognition of the Kingdom of Italy, which was tantamount to approving the pillaging of the Pontifical Estates.
Fr. Claret had already warned the Queen that the approval of this outrage was, in his opinion, a grave crime, and he threatened to leave her, should she sign it. The Queen was deceived and signed. Claret did not want to be an accomplice by remaining in the Court. He prayed before the Christ of Pardon in the church of La Granja, and he heard these words: “Anthony, leave.”
Racked with sorrow at being forced to leave the Queen in such situation, he went to Rome. Pope Pius IX consoled him and ordered him to return again to the court. The royal family was immensely happy with his return. But a new storm of calumnies and attacks broke out against him. It can be said that Claret was one of the most persecuted public men of the XIX century.
HIS LAST YEARS (1868-1870)
By September 18, 1868, the revolution was already in progress and beyond control. Twenty-one cannon shots of the frigate Zaragoza, in the Cadiz Bay, announced the dethronement of Queen Isabel II. With the defeat of the Isabelline army in Alcolea, Madrid fell and the revolution spread throughout the whole of Spain like wildfire.
On the 30th, the royal family, with some supporters and the Queen’s confessor, left for their exile in France, first toward Pau and then Paris. Fr. Claret was 60 years old.
The outrages and burning of churches proliferated and another one of the prophecies of Fr. Claret was fulfilled: the Congregation will have its first martyr in this revolution. Fr. Francis Crusats was assassinated in La Selva del Campo.
On 30 March 1869 Claret definitively left the Queen and went to Rome.
Father of the First Vatican Council
On December 8, 1869, 700 bishops from the whole world, superiors of religious Orders, archbishops, primates, patriarchs and cardinals gathered in Rome. The First Ecumenical Vatican Council was beginning. Fr. Claret was there.
One of the most debated themes was the Papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals. Claret’s voice resounded, already with difficulty, in the Vatican basilica on 31 May 1870: “I bear in my body the marks of Christ’s passion, -he said, referring to the wounds at Holguín- would that I could shed all my blood once for all, confessing the infallibility of the Pope.”
He is the only Father present at that Council who has reached the altars.
The Decline of his Days
On 23 July 1870, Archbishop Claret arrived at Prades, in the French Pyrenees, accompanied by Fr. Joseph Xifré, Superior General of the Congregation. The community of missionaries in exile, mostly young students, received the Founder, already sick, with great joy. He knew that his death was imminent. But not even in the placid atmosphere of that retreat did his enemies leave him in peace. On August 5, a notice was received. They wanted to take the Archbishop into prison. Even sick and in exile, Fr. Claret was forced to flee. He took refuge in the neighbouring Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide. With great joy, the monks in that cloister, near Narbonne, admitted him.
His health was totally undermined. Fr. James Clotet never separated from his side and carefully took note of the incidents of his sickness. On October 4 he had a brain haemorrhage.
On the 8th he received the last sacraments and made his religious profession as a Son of the Heart of Mary, at the hands of Fr. Xifré.
The morning of the 24th of October came. All the religious were kneeling around his deathbed. Frs. Clotet and Puig were at his side. Amid prayers Claret gave up his spirit into the hands of the Creator. It was 8:45 in the morning, and he was 62 years old.
His body was laid in the monastic cemetery with an inscription of Gregory VII that said: “I loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.”
In 1897, Fr. Claret’s remains were transferred to Vic, where they are presently venerated. On 25 February 1934, the Church inscribed him in the catalogue of the Blessed. The humble missionary appeared in the glory of Bernini to be venerated by the entire world. The bells of the Vatican Basilica proclaimed his glory. And on May 7, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared him a SAINT. These were his words on that memorable day: “Saint Anthony Mary Claret was a great soul, born as it were to assemble contrasts: he could be of humble origin and glorious in the eyes of the world. Small in body, but giant in spirit. Modest in appearance, but very capable of imposing respect even to the great of the world. Strong in character, but possessing the soft gentleness of one who knows the restraint of austerity and penance. Always in God’s presence, while in the midst of his prodigious external activity. Slandered and admired, honoured and persecuted. And amidst so many wonders, like a soft light that illumines everything, his devotion to the Mother of God.”
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