BIOGRAPHICAL PROFILE OF THE FR. JAMES ALBERIONE
To draw a profile of a man, although in shortened form and starting from essential biographical data, remains always a difficult task. Nonetheless, we do have an advantage. The Fr. James Alberione (1884-1971) himself offers us a precious key for reading and interpretation of the itinerary that the Lord made him to live.
The "dual" story of a man of God
In fact, in 1953, at age 70, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Society of St. Paul’s foundation, he would raise the veil over his human and spiritual journey. He thus writes: "Were he to comply with your request and tell you something of what he still remembers and that you consider useful for the Pauline Family, he would have to recount a twofold story: [first] the story of God’s Mercy so as to sing a marvelous ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo et in terra pax hominibus.’ And then, the humiliating story of his lack of conformity to the overabundance of divine love and [his need] to compose a new and sorrowful ‘Miserere’ ‘pro innumerabilibus negligentiis, peccatis et offensionibus’ " (AD 1).
His "twofold story" began in San Lorenzo di Fossano (Cuneo) in North Italy where James Alberione was born on 4 April 1884 in the farmhouse of "Nuove Peschiere". He received the Sacrament of Baptism on the next day, 5 April in the chapel dedicated to St. Laurence. The Alberione family was headed by Michele, the father, and warmly guided by Teresa Alocco, the mother. When he was born, his brothers Giovenale, Francesco, Giovanni already lived as would follow him a sister who would die within a year and the youngest brother, Tomasso. His was a family of poor farmers, profoundly Christian and industrious, that handed down to children, through faith, a strong work education and an unassailable faith in Providence.
God’s plan for James began being manifested early: during his first grade in school, asked by his teacher Rosa Cardona what he would want to be when grown, he decidedly said, "I want to become a priest!"
He spent his years of adolescence geared towards this direction.
In the family’s new residence in the vicinity of Cherasco, the parish of San Martino of the diocese of Alba, the parish priest, Fr. Montersino, helped the young man to become aware of and to positively respond to the Lord’s call. At age 16, James entered the Alba Seminary and immediately, he met him who would be father, guide, friend, counselor for forty-six years: Canon Francesco Chiesa.
To do "something" for the Lord and for the men of the new century
At the close of the Holy Year 1900, already strongly called for by Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical "Tametsi futura," James welcomed the powerful invitation of divine grace: on the night of 31 December 1900, that divided the two centuries, he stayed for four hours in adoration before the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed in the Cathedral of Alba. A "particular enlightenment", as he would witness later, came to him from the Host and from then on he "felt deeply obliged to prepare himself to do something for the women and men of the new century," "feeling obligated to serve the Church," with new means of communication offered by human ingenuity.
It is after such an experience that Fr. Alberione would endlessly remind all his sons and daughters: "You were all born of the Eucharist, from the Tabernacle!"
The young Alberione’s growth intensely went on during his years in the study of philosophy and theology. On 29 June 1907, he was ordained priest. Immediately after, he had a brief but decisive pastoral experience in Narzole (Cuneo), as assistant parish priest, at the parish of San Bernardo. During the first months of direct pastoral apostolate, he would meet the young Giuseppe Giaccardo who would be to him who was Timothy for the Apostle Paul. It was in Narzole, too, that Fr. Alberione’s greater understanding of what woman could do when involved in the apostolate.
The following years he would spend in the Seminary of Alba where he would assume the role of the major and minor seminarians’ Spiritual Director as well as teacher of various subject matters.
The very young priest prayed much, studied, put himself at the service of preaching, catechesis, and conferences in the diocese’s parishes. He as well gave much time to the study and concentrating especially on texts that enlightened and updated him regarding the state of civil and Church society of his time and on the needs of man today: "Where does this humanity lead to?".
The Lord, however, wanted him and guided him for a new mission, rich in variety of means and structures, in order to preach the Gospel to all peoples in the spirit of the Apostle Paul: to bring mankind to God and God to mankind through the use of the modern means of communication. Two books of notable importance are testimony to this: "Appunti di teologia pastorale" ("Notes in pastoral theology" (1912) and "La donna associata allo zelo sacerdotale" ("Woman associated with the priestly zeal") (begun in 1911 and published in 1915).
A greater light and greater understanding of the new step to take took place in 1910 when Fr. Alberione became aware that the mission of giving Jesus Christ to the world must be assumed and achieved by consecrated persons: "The works of God are performed by persons of God," he loved to often say.
The mission turns concrete: to evangelize through modern means
In obedience to God and the Church, on 20 August 1914, when the holy pontiff Pius X died, Fr. Alberione gave life in Alba to the "Pauline Family" with the foundation of the Pious Society of St. Paul. Everything took place simply and mutedly: Fr. Alberione felt he was God’s instrument, moved by the divine pedagogy that loves "to begin always from the Christmas crib," in silence and in hiddenness..
The human family – after which Fr. Alberione draws inspiration – is made up of... brothers and sisters. Fr. Alberione was well aware of the important role that women exercise "in doing good" for the glory of God and for the salvation of brethren. The first woman who followed Fr. Alberione was a 20-year-old young woman from Castagnito, a small town in Cuneo: Teresa Merlo. With her cooperation, Fr. Alberione began the Congregation of Daughters of St. Paul 1915). Slowly but decisively, amidst difficulties of every kind, the "Family" developed, male and female vocations started pouring in and the apostolate assumed its specific feature and takes concrete forms.
On December 1918, the first moving onwards (how many more would follow?) of "daughters" towards Susa took place: a history rich in faith and youthful enthusiasm would begin. This would also generate a characteristic style called, "the Pauline style".
To trace the chronology of these years is quite easy: so much journey, so much progress! God’s presence was felt and it gave evident signs that it was He alone who wanted the Pauline Family.
On July 1923, however, a dark cloud seemed to cut down all his dreams as they dawned. Fr. Alberione became serious ill; and the diagnosis of the doctors did not offer much hope. Surprisingly, however, contrary to all expectations, Fr. Alberione miraculously recovers. "It was St. Paul who cured me," he would say later. Since then, in Pauline chapels, would appear the words that, during a dream or in revelation of the Divine Master, were told Fr. Alberione: "Do not be afraid – I am with you – From here I want to enlighten – Be sorry for sins."
In 1924, the second congregation for women was born: the Pious Disciples of the Divine Master for the Eucharistic, priestly, and liturgical apostolate. To guide them in the new vocation, Fr. Alberione would call the young Orsola Rivata.
Meanwhile, Fr. Alberione, ever
burning with "zeal" for souls, tried to identify the speediest forms to bring
the Gospel message to every person, above all those who are far away and the
masses. Having the intuition that, side by side with books, the publication of
periodicals would be most effective, he put himself to this form of
apostolate. In 1915, the magazine
Vita Pastorale (Pastoral Life) aimed at parish priests and with the goal of "letting every pastor become a Pastor Bonus, modeled after Christ…" was born. In 1931, Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Home), a weekly magazine aimed at nourishing Christian life in homes, was begun. Other magazines would follow: La Madre di Dio (Mother of God), "in order to reveal to souls the beauty and grandeur of Mary"; Pastor Bonus (Good Shepherd) monthly magazine published in Latin where problems of pastoral care were dealt with and offered profound biblical-theological meditations; Via, Verità e Vita (Way, Truth and Life)(1952), monthly magazine for the spread and teaching of Christian doctrine: La Vita in Cristo e nella Chiesa (Life in Christ and in the Church) (1952), with the goal of letting "known the treasures of Liturgy, propagate everything that is useful to Liturgy, in order to live Liturgy according to the Church…" Fr. Alberione also showed concern for children: for them he had Il Giornalino (Little Newspaper).
He as well ventured into the building of the grandiose Church of St. Paul, the first church dedicated to one of the fundamental devotions of the Pauline Family. Two other Churches would follow: the Churches of the Divine Master (Alba and Rome) and the Sanctuary of the Queen of the Apostles (Rome).
Fr. Alberione showed concern over the guidance, formation, and orientation of brothers and sisters by preceding them in life – vocation – and Pauline mission.
From Alba to the world: Like Paul, always on the road
In 1926, the foundation of the first "branch" House took place in Rome, followed during the succeeding years by numerous foundations in Italy and abroad..
Meanwhile the spiritual edifice kept on growing: a greater understanding and hence easier teaching of the "Primo Maestro" on the "fundamental and qualifying devotion to "Jesus Master and Shepherd, Way and Truth and Life," on the devotion to Mary, Mother, Teacher and Queen of the Apostles; and on the devotion to St. Paul which specifies us in the Church and for which we are called "Paulines".
The goal the Founder has indicated to all and wanted that it be taken up as the first "commitment" is the full conformation with Christ: to assume Christ Way, Truth and Life with all one’s person, mind, will, heart, physical energies. It is an orientation codified in a small book written during the thirty’s and to which he sets the title, "Donec formetur Christus in vobis"
On October, 1938, Fr. Alberione founded the third congregation for women: the Sisters of Jesus Good Shepherd or "Pastorelle" meant for direct pastoral apostolate in direct assistance to Pastors.
World War II (1940-1945) marked an enforced pause; the Primo Maestro, however, forcibly staying in Rome, did not stop his spiritual journey. While waiting for the return of better times for working, he kept on gathering in an ever radical degree God’s light in an atmosphere of adoration and contemplation, ever growing each day.
A fruit of such worshipful attitude are the writings that the Founder continued to give as gifts to his sons, writings that all have great importance for the Pauline Family. Let us just remember the "Via humanitatis" (1947), a most lofty rereading of humanity’s journey from the Marian point of view ("per Mariam, in Christo et in Ecclesia"), as well as his unfinished dream: the "Project of an encyclopedia on Jesus Master" (1959).
For Fr. Alberione, full activity would be taken up towards the end of 1945, with the long trips around the world with the purpose of meeting and confirming brothers and sisters. He remained "stricken" by the Orient (India, China, Philippines...): the masses, the millions of persons... How many of them knew Jesus? "I thrust forward! Think not of what has been achieved but what remains to get done."
The years 1950-1960 are the golden years of the Pauline Family’s consolidation: everything blooms with vocations, foundations, publications, multiple initiatives, dedication to formation, studies and poverty.
In 1954 the fortieth anniversary of foundation, the occasion was documented by the publication of a book: "Mi protendo in avanti." It was exactly on this occasion that Fr. Alberione wins over his natural reticence for speaking of himself and entrusts to his children a piece of writing that would eventually be published with the title, "Abundantes divitiae gratiae suae."
With the foundation of the fourth congregation for women, the Institute of the Queen of Apostles for vocation ("Apostoline") dedicated to the vocation apostolate (1959) and of the Aggregated Institutes – Institute of St. Gabriel, Archangel, Our Lady of the Annunciation, Jesus Priest, Holy Family – the great "tree" of the Pauline Family conceived and willed by God, was completed.
By now, Fr. Alberione was the guide of about ten thousand persons, including as well the Pauline Cooperators, united among them by the same ideal of holiness and of apostolate: the coming of Christ, Way, Truth and Life, in souls and in the world through the media of social communications.
From the Church of the Council to the Church of Heaven
During the years 1962-1965, the Primo Maestro was a silent but very attentive protagonist at the Vatican Council II, during the four "sessions" in which he daily participated actively. A day of special jubilation was 4 December 1962 during which the Council’s decree, "Inter Mirifica" on the media of social communications as means of evangelization. Fr. Alberione thus commented: "Now you have no more reason to doubt. The Church has spoken." Furthermore: "I have given you the best. Had I found something else better, I would have given it to you now. However, I have not found it."
Meanwhile, tribulations and sufferings did not spare the Family’s father. Among the more painful was the death of his first sons and daughters. On 24 January 1948, Fr. Timoteo Giaccardo, whom he considered as "the most faithful among the faithful," returned to the Father’s house. Then, on 5 February 1964, Fr. Alberione suffered another blow, another deep sorrow for the death of the Prima Maestra Tecla (Teresa Merlo), the woman who never doubted and who saw in Fr. Alberione the Man who transmitted the Will of God. On that occasion, Fr. Alberione did not attempt to hide his tears.
Now that he was towards the end of his earthly journey, it could be affirmed that the Fr. Alberione’s secret behind his multiform activities was his interior life with which he achieved the total adherence to the Will of God and accomplished in himself the words of the Apostle Paul: "My life is Christ." Christ Jesus, especially Christ Eucharist was the greatest, the only passion of Fr. Alberione: "In the first place, our piety is Eucharistic. Everything is born, as from the spring of life, from the Divine Master. Thus the Pauline Family was born of the Tabernacle, nourishes with it, works and is sanctified in the same manner. From the Mass, from Communion, from the Visit—everything: holiness and apostolate."
The Venerable Fr. James Alberione lived till age 87 years old. Having accomplished the mission entrusted to him by the Heavenly Father, on 27 November, he left this earth to take his place in the Father’s House. Fr. Alberione’s final hours saw the comfort of Pope Paul VI’s visit and veneration for him. To every member of the Pauline Family the testimony that Pope Paul VI wanted to leave during the memorable Audience granted to the Primo Maestro and a big representation of the members of the Pauline Family on 29 June 1969 (Primo Maestro was 85 years old), remains to be dear:
"Here he is: humble, silent, tireless, always vigilant, ever recollected in his thoughts that run from prayer to work, ever attentive to the ‘signs of the times,’ that is, the most ingenious forms of reaching souls, our Fr. Alberione has given the Church new instruments to express herself, new means to add vigor and breadth to her apostolate, a new capability and new awareness of the validity and of the possibilities of her mission in the modern world and with modern means. Fr. Alberione, allow the Pope to rejoice in this long, faithful and untiring labor and in the fruits produced by it for God’s glory and the good of the Church."
On 25 June 1996, the Holy Father John Paul II signed the Decree that recognizes the heroic virtues and the consequent title of Venerable to attribute to Fr. James Alberione.
Fr. Luigi (Gino) Valtorta, ssp
Go back Home