In the monastery chapel of the Passionists in Jamaica, there are several stain-glass windows. One window prominently displays St. Vincent Mary Strambi, Passionist and Bishop (1745-1824). Though he had poor health, St. Vincent had the inner strength to stand up to oppression and persecution in the time of Napoleon. His final heroic act would be to offer his life for the Pope; “Greater love than this no one has than to give one’s life for one’s friend”.
St. Vincent was introduced to the Passionists rather late. Initially he entered the seminary to study for the priesthood in the diocese. He was a fine student. To prepare for his ordination in 1767, Vincent made a retreat with the Passionists. Their founder, St Paul of the Cross, was living there. Vincent was so impressed with the life of the Passionists, that he asked to join the Community. St. Paul felt that the Passionist life would be too demanding for his frail constitution, and so Vincent was refused. Vincent returned home to be ordained. But time and again he asked to be accepted. Finally in 1769, St. Vincent became a Passionist.
“You will do great things. You will do great good”. These were the dying words of St. Paul of the Cross to St. Vincent. They were prophetic words. Vincent preach mission and retreats- the focal point of the Passionist charism-and drew large crowds. He promoted community life as seminary formation director, and then as local and provincial Superior. Laity and clergy alike came to him as an outstanding spiritual director and guide. St. Vincent wrote many devotional books, including the noted biography of St. Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Passionists.
In 1801, St. Vincent became the first Passionist Bishop. His world was a world convulsed by Napoleon’s dream of world conquest and a society increasingly influenced by the Enlightenment. The world of Bishop Vincent knew war, confusion, famine, sickness and change. This affected his church, his community, his diocese, and the people he served in Macerata.
The episcopate of Bishop Vincent was marked by a concern for the poor, and even begged on their behalf. He took great care in the education of the diocesan priests and paid close attention to teaching standards in diocesan seminaries. His charitable works included the establishment of orphanages and homes for the aged. He still practiced the frugality of the Passionists as it applied to living and eating habits.
Napoleon issued a decree annexing Macerata as part of the French empire. The French ordered that this decree be read in all the Churches. Bishop Vincent refused to do so. He also refused to provide the French with a list of those suitable for service in the armed forces. In 1808, Bishop Vincent was arrested and sent into exile in Milan. He returned from exile in 1814, with a large crowd assembled to greet him. Pope Pius V11 said of Bishop Vincent: “This holy man overwhelms me”.
In 1817 the French returned to Macerata to use as headquarters against the Austrians. The French were defeated. The people feared what the French might do to the city after their defeat, since Macerata favored the Austrians. They turned to Bishop Vincent. After a period of prayer, Bishop Vincent first went out to the French General and received the assurance that the French would not sack the city as they retreated. Bishop Vincent then took a carriage and drove out to the field of battle to receive the assurance from the Austrian General that they would not slaughter the French. The courage of Bishop Vincent saved the day and saved many lives. People attributed the success to Bishop Vincent, but he attributed it to God and Our Lady.
Bishop Vincent asked to retire. In 1823 Pope Leo XII accepted his resignation with the request that Bishop Vincent live in the Papal residence and act as the Pope’s confidential adviser.
Shortly after he became pope, Pope Leo XII became gravely ill. St. Vincent offered his life for the Holy Father. The Pope soon recovered and Vincent suffered a stroke. St. Vincent died on his birthday, January I, I824. He was 79. “Greater love than this no one has that one give his life for his friend”.
St Vincent Strambi, C.P., lived a heroic life. He endured exile at the hands of Napoleon. He stood between two armies, and saved a people, their town and the lives of many soldiers. He prayed for and offered his life for the Pope. St. Vincent was the Good Shepherd who cared for and offered himself for the People of God.
In I950, Pope Pius XII canonized St. Vincent Strambi, Passionist.
Fr. Theodore Walsh, C.P.