Living Hope Newsletter – February 2017
An acquaintance recommended him to the Bishop of Vic, a city north of Barcelona, and the bishop invited him to enter the diocesan seminary there. Claret was an exemplary seminarian and was ordained on June 13, 1835. His first appointment was as assistant to the pastor of his hometown, Sallent. His work there was productive, but he felt called to work in the foreign missions. In 1842 Claret was appointed an Apostolic Missionary to all of Catalonia, with its 13 cities and 400 towns. Claret traveled from mission to mission as the poorest of men. His baggage was light and usually included half a loaf of bread. He never carried money and he always walked—often by back roads, trails, and across the mountainous country in all weather.
Throughout the lifetime of St. Anthony Claret, Spain was plagued by strife. Christian living was difficult, and so was the work of a traveling missionary. This endangered his life at times. He was not troubled about that, but his bishop was and sent his active missionary to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession off the coast of West Africa. Claret reached the Canary Islands in March of 1848 and took up the same missionary work he had pursued in Catalonia. He wrote books and pamphlets throughout his time on the islands. His work was successful, but his colleagues were anxious for him to return to Spain.
Upon his return, Claret decided the time was right for founding of a religious congregation to preach the word of God by all possible means especially to those most in danger of losing their faith. He had already helped several other founders in starting their congregations and was familiar with the canon law and the practical difficulties involved. Five young priests—aged 27 to 32—heard of his intentions and sought to join him. With the bishop’s permission they assembled in a room in the Seminary of Vic on July 16, 1849. As the Immaculate Heart of Mary was so powerful a help in his own mission work, he proposed as Article I of their Constitutions: “This Congregation . . . shall be named the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and it shall have her as its Patroness.”
Shortly after, Claret was summoned to report to the bishop, who gave him a paper from Queen Isabella II appointing him Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba. This was definitely an honor, but a most inconvenient one. His heart and his hopes lay with the newborn Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. In this, as in all matters, he prayed and wanted to act under holy obedience, not according to his own preference.
On October 6, 1850 in the Cathedral of Vic, Anthony Mary Claret was consecrated Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba. The following February he arrived in Cuba. Claret believed his new post required him to be every bit as much a missionary as ever. Accordingly he completed a visit of his entire archdiocese—half of the island of Cuba—once every 18 months.
In his first two years he confirmed 100,000 people and was instrumental in bringing 300,000 to the confessional. He also established a credit union system to promote an awareness of savings and to enable people to save or borrow in order to acquire family farms or other small businesses. These banks proved a success and were still operating years after Claret left.
So that the spirit of Christ might burn brighter in the Archdiocese of Santiago, Claret ordered that at least on Sundays and feast days the rosary should be recited publicly in all the churches; he closely inspected this practice during his pastoral visitations. On his long journeys through his archdiocese, usually by horseback, the rosary was never out of his hands. In the missions he instructed people everywhere, how to say the rosary and urged them to say it often.
On March 18, 1857 in the midst of a sermon, a courier gave him a letter from Havana marked “Urgent.” It read, “It is the Queen’s pleasure that you depart immediately for Madrid. I believe you are to be made Archbishop of Toledo.” Claret’s last words to the Cubans before departing by ship on April 12, 1857 were: “Good-bye, children. Until we meet in heaven.”
In his six years there he had restored the languishing Archdiocese of Santiago. He had more than doubled the number of parishes, re-established the diocesan seminary from which no priest had been ordained in 30 years, lifted the morale and zeal of the clergy, obtained an increase in their salaries, and helped establish a number of communities of religious, where formerly they had been suppressed and prohibited by law.
Queen Isabella II, who had called him to Madrid, was an unhappy woman. Though pious, generous, and charming, she was politically ignorant and the pawn of self-interested hangers-on. What this queen wished for was a wise and holy confessor. She believed Claret would be the ideal one. But there were those who doubted Claret’s political neutrality and also those who just detested his Catholic piety. From then until his death, Claret underwent a barrage of the ugliest attacks both in print and by word of mouth. He persisted in his preaching, working with charities, and respecting assignments from the queen.
Claret carried on many other apostolic works he felt were necessary. Early in 1869 he was granted a leave of absence to go to Rome. He visited Pius IX, who praised his work. Claret also obtained more permanent recognition for his Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and strove to win Vatican approval. In June of 1869, when Pope Pius IX issued his convocation for the First Vatican Council, Claret was invited to participate both in the preparatory meetings and in the sessions of the Council.
On May 31, 1870, Claret delivered a short, moving testimony in favor of defining the doctrine: “I carry marks on my body of the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ, and would that I might in defense of the infallibility of the pope make the complete sacrifice of my life.” Claret’s words awed the assembly and were considered influential in the Council’s defining papal infallibility two months later. Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore came to know Claret at the Council and said of him, “There goes a true saint.” Pope Pius IX was of the same opinion, stating “Claret is a man of God. He is a saint.”
Claret suffered a stroke later during the Council and never recovered. He was brought from Rome to Prades, in French Catalonia. There—with the community of his Claretians who were exiled from Spain for political reasons—it was hoped he might recover his health. He died on October 24, 1870. In 1899 Pope Leo XIII declared him Venerable. In 1934 Pope Pius XI pronounced him Blessed. And on May 7, 1950 Pope Pius XII declared Anthony Mary Claret a saint.