Although he was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1989, Father Lorenzo is scarcely known, even within the Passionist Congregation. Yet his profound spirituality is evident almost everywhere in the Generalte of the Passionists. He decorated the walls of our major gathering places with wax figures of the Infant Jesus and designed and executed a painting of the newborn Christ asleep on the Cross. In short, Blessed Lorenzo Maria exhibited a tangible and mystical devotion to the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus as a prologue to his suffering and death.
Born in 1782 in the city of Rome, he was highly affected by the Jesuit education which he received in grammar school, high school and the famous Jesuit Collegio Romano. Through Saint Vincent Strambi, whose preaching he admired, he entered the Congregation of the Passion in 1801. He spent a year at the Saint Joseph Novitiate at Monte Argentario where he was impressed by the beauty of Port ‘Ercolie below. The novitiate was crowded and he had to share a room with two others. He was professed on November 20, 1802, the date when Saint Paul of the Cross had received the habit, thus beginning the institution of the Passionist Congregation. Anxious to immerse himself in the spirituality of the Holy Founder, he took every occasion to place himself in the company of the First Companions of Saint Paul. He assiduously read and studied Vincent Strambi’s Life of Saint Paul of the Cross. Lorenzo was ordained in 1805. He took the usual course of sacred eloquence, or formal preaching, and by 1807 he began the traditional work of the Passionists, the preaching of missions and retreats.
However by 1819, Napoleon had invaded the Papal States and suppressed all religious communities. Many of the Passionists were arrested; others were sent into exile. Lorenzo fled to family members and hid under the noses of the occupying forces. It was during this time of relative inactivity that he received the grace of insight into the unification of the mystery of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. He produced a proliferation of writing in the form of booklets through which he invites the faithful to experience for themselves the spiritual childhood of Jesus. “Nor should it seem strange to anyone to be wholeheartedly devoted to the infancy of Jesus Christ. If, in fact, the zeal of many fervent ecclesiastics and religious in promoting the continual memory of the Passion and Death of Jesus among the people as praiseworthy, why should they not also be encouraged to make memory of his birth at the cave in Bethlehem? For it is there that the Word Incarnate inaugurated the first school of all the virtues.”
Father Lorenzo returned to his Community in 1815 when it was formally and finally reestablished by Pope Pius VII. He served as Superior principally at the Motherhouse of Saints John and Paul and became a stabilizing influence in the formation of young religious who emerged out of the chaotic years of Napoleon. His Vicar (Assistant Superior) was Blessed Dominic Barberi who taught theology at the same time. Dominic eventually moved to England where he established the Congregation and received John Henry Newman into the Roman Catholic Church. The General Superiors refuses any and all requests to move Father Lorenzo from Rome. They deemed him a source of stability, consistency and genuine devotion to the Passionist Liturgy. He died on June 12, 1856 at Capranica, near Viterbo. The cause of his death seems to have been congestive heart failure. He is buried in the Retreat of Saint Angelo, the favorite house of Saint Paul of the Cross.
Lord God, Almighty Father, you raised your servant Lorenzo Salvi to a simple life during which you granted him mystical grace and insight into the unity of the Most Blessed Trinity through the dual vision of Jesus’ birth and death. Grant that we may embrace a similar spirituality that we too are your children, born into the suffering of human existence and may we truly rejoice in our Christian identity. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
- Father Jerome Vereb, C.P.