Friday, August 27, 2004

Blessed Dominic Barbieri

Today is the memorial day of Blessed Dominic Barbieri.

Littlemore, October 8th, 1845.
I am this night expecting Father Dominic, the Passionist, who, from his youth, has been led to have distinct and direct thoughts, first of the countries of the North, then of England. After thirty years' (almost) waiting, he was without his own act sent here. But he has had little to do with conversions. I saw him here for a few minutes on St. John Baptist's day last year. He is a simple, holy man; and withal gifted with remarkable powers. He does not know of my intention; but I mean to ask of him admission into the one Fold of Christ.

[Ven. John Henry Newman, from one of many near-identical letters he wrote to his friends and relatives that evening]

Dominic Barbieri was a ordinary pious Italian farm kid. Worked hard, played hard. Also prayed hard. His family sheltered a small group of Passionist fathers when their monastery was closed down by Napoleon, and Dominic served for them and gained an appreciation for the Passionist way of life.

He also had a nagging dream/vision/urge/premonition that he was supposed to re-evangelize northern Europe, and especially England. But he just sat on it.

When his name appeared on the local draft lottery list to go fight for Napoleon's army, he promised God he'd become a religious if only his number didn't come up. It didn't. He breathed a sigh of relief and tried to forget all about it. But he couldn't; his vision still bugged him. His parents arranged a fine marriage for him with a well-placed and pretty bride, and just before the wedding he ran off to join the Passionists. [My mom used to say this was why churches have transcept doors, so brides and grooms with third thoughts could escape their weddings! But Dominic wasn't quite that radical, he ran the day before, not out of church.]

Dominic grew in faith as a Passionist, eventually got ordained, had a good reputation. But that vision about England still haunted him, even though the Passionists were strictly an Italian community.

But, in due time, the Passionist superiors decided to open a house outside of Italy, in Belgium, and Father Dominic was sent to lead it. With lots of hard work, that community was firmly established, and extended itself to mission work --- in northern Europe and England. Father Dominic himself went to England as a missionary.

An Anglican gentleman from Oxford, JB Dalgairns, wrote a short article for a European newspaper, Father Dominic wrote a response, and they came to be good friends. They visited each other for long discussions, eventually Dalgairns became a Catholic, they stayed friends. One fateful October day, Father Dominic travelled to visit Dalgairns again.

Father Dominic arrived late at night, dripping-wet because he had been sitting on the top of the coach [the cheap seats] exposed to the continual rain. When he got to the house he went at once to the fireplace to dry himself. The door opened quietly and John Henry Newman entered. In a moment he was at Father Dominic's feet, praying for admission into the Catholic Church. That very night he began his confession.

"What a spectacle it was for me to see Newman at my feet! All that I have suffered since I left Italy has been well compensated by this event. I hope the effects of such a conversion may be great," Dominic wrote to his superior in Rome.

On the following Sunday Newman and four companions went to the Catholic Chapel of St. Clement's at Oxford for Mass. All England soon knew that they were now Roman Catholics.

This wasn't the end of Father Dominic's story, though, because he kept on working as a missionary in England until he died there, still working, at a ripe old age.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The lovely shrine of Blessed Dominic Barbieri is at the church of St Ann and Bl.Dominic Barbieri in the town of St Helens, Lancashire, England.