Living Hope Newsletter – September 2021
St. Anthony Mary Claret
The early years and priesthood
The life and legacy of Anthony Mary Claret is perhaps less known among the saints, but rich in story and example. The 19th-century saint was a missionary, a religious founder, an organizer of the lay apostolate, a social reformer, a queen’s chaplain, a writer and publisher, an Archbishop, and a promoter of devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Claret was born in 1807, the fifth of eleven children, in the village of Sallent in Catalonia, Spain. As a child he was remarkable for his spiritual awareness, and from early on he wanted to be a priest. The family weaving business involved him in his early years, and while it was engaging, he also found the many details of his work a distraction from higher things and God. He was often at his loom with a Latin book propped up to learn the language he would need for the seminary, which he went on to complete with ordination in 1835 at the age of 28.
His first appointment was in Sallent. He felt called to work in foreign missions, and as a start toward that goal, within a few years Claret was appointed an Apostolic Missionary to all of Catalonia, with its 13 cities and 400 towns.
Founding of the Claretian Missionaries
Throughout Claret’s lifetime, Spain was plagued by strife. Riots, revolutions, and general privation made government and life itself precarious. Christian living was difficult, and this ultimately endangered Claret’s life. His bishop sent him to the Canary Islands, a Spanish possession off the coast of West Africa, where he worked briefly. The need for his return to Spain took him back there a year later. The political climate had shifted to allow for greater religious freedom, and the time was ripe for the realization of Claret’s hope of founding a religious congregation to join him in his vast work. In 1849, when he was 42, Claret founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in collaboration with five diocesan priests.
Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba
Almost immediately, in 1850, Claret was appointed Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba. He considered this an honor, but also an inconvenience to the fledgling work of his publishing house and newly formed congregation.
In addition to preaching all over the island in rough terrian, Claret addressed the social needs of the people by starting family-run working farms, a credit union–style banking system for the people to save and borrow, and a community to provide shelter, education, and trade for the many orphans there.
In his six years of ministry in Cuba, he restored the languishing Archdiocese of Santiago. He doubled the number of parishes; re-established the diocesan seminary from which no priest had been ordained in 30 years; and helped establish a number religious communities, which had formerly been suppressed by law.
Chaplain to the Queen
Though he found it a distraction, Claret was sought by Queen Isabella to be her chaplain in 1857. He returned from Cuba and obediently took up this work, but he was also able to engage other ministries, including major projects constructing seminaries, churches, colleges, and hospitals in Spain.
The Religious Publishing House
Claret continued with his colleagues to expand the Religious Publishing House. This was the start of the Claretian publishing mission, which continues to thrive throughout the world today. Claret’s was the major Catholic publishing venture in Spain at a time when the secular press was fiercely assaulting the faith. By 1866 the organization had published 4 million copies of its 140 spiritual pamphlets and books.
In 1868 there was yet another bloody revolution in Spain that left the Queen exiled to France, along with Claret. Claret preached among the Spaniards in France until his own ailments took him to Fontfroide, a remote mountain monastery, where he died on October 24, 1870.
In 1899 Pope Leo XIII declared Claret Venerable. In 1934 Pope Pius XI pronounced Claret Blessed. And on May 7, 1950, Pope Pius XII declared Anthony Mary Claret a Saint.
The dynamic energy of Claret’s life lives on among some 3,000 Claretian Missionaries throughout the world today. Claretians make a difference in the many communities where they live and work. They evangelize young adults in Hispanic communities, reach out to immigrants and refugees, and assist those dealing with family issues through parishes, ministerial and secular programs, and publishing. Devotion to St. Jude in the United States is among the meaningful ministries of the Claretians here. Together with their community, they built and founded the National Shrine of St. Jude in Chicago in 1929, and have since grown the national devotion to serve people in the mission of prayer, healing, and hope.