Blessed Bernard Mary of Jesus, born Caesar Silvestrelli, a priest and religious of the Passionist Congregation, hailed as the ‘Second Founder’, born on November 7, 1831 in Rome, Italy; died December 9, 1911 at Moricone, Italy. Beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.
Caesar Peter Silvestrelli was born in Rome on November 7 1831 and baptized the same day. His mother died when he was 15 years old. He was a student of the Jesuit-run Collegio Romano and thereafter continued his studies in private. He was attracted to the Passionist Congregation and entered the novitiate at Monte Argentario on 25 March 1854 at the age of 22 where he took the name Aloysius of the Sacred Heart of Mary. A month later he was forced to leave the novitiate owing to ill health, but continued living with the Passionists on Monte Argentario where he studied theology.
In the course of his studies he was ordained priest on December 22, 1852. The following April he was given permission to begin another novitiate, this time at Morrovalle where he took the new name Brother Bernard Mary of Jesus. Here he was the classmate of another novice Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows who was canonized in 1920. Father Bernard Mary made his profession of vows on 28 April 1857. Thereafter he pursued studies for preaching, and then was assigned to the office of director and novice master. Later, in 1869, he was appointed Rector of the Passionist monastery of Scala Santa, near the Basilica of S. Giovanni Laterno in Rome. It was here that on September 19 1870 Pope Pius XI visited the sacred steps from which the monastery took its name. The Pope was making his last visit to the sacred sites of Rome before the city was besieged by the invading Italian army. Father Bernard supported the Pope by the arm as they both climbed the sacred steps weeping bitterly.
In 1876 Father Bernard Mary was elected to the role of first provincial consultor of the Roman province, later he became vice-provincial and in the General Chapter of the Passionist Congregation of 1878 he was elected Superior General of the Congregation. As Superior General Father Bernard Mary work hard to reconcile the rival factions in the Congregation. He founded new houses abroad (in Mexico and Latin America, as well as advancing the Bulgarian mission) and reformed the regulations of the Congregation, being particularly firm in the conviction that a return to the original spirit and Rule of the founder, Saint Paul of the Cross could be the only formula for reviving the spirit of the Congregation. He was re-elected Superior General in 1884 and resigned the post in 1889. In 1893 a vision of Saint Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows convinced Father Bernard Mary to attend the General Chapter and he was then re-elected Superior General, a post he was re-elected to again in 1899 and 1905. He established an international house of studies for Passionist students at SS John and Paul in Rome and visited every Passionist province in the world. He resigned again in 1905 but was elected ‘honorary General’ for life. In 1911 he retired to the Passionist community at Moricone and died there in the December of that year.