The Catholic Defender: Saint Francesco Antonio Fasani’s Story
Born in 1681 at Lucera, southeastern Italy, Saint Francis Anthony Fasani was the son of very poor peasants; but he was a bright lad, and received a good education from the Conventual Franciscans in his native town.
Born in Lucera, Francesco entered the Conventual Franciscans in 1695. After his ordination 10 years later, he taught philosophy to younger friars, served as guardian of his friary, and later became provincial minister. When his term of office ended, Francesco became master of novices and finally pastor in his hometown.
In his various ministries, he was loving, devout, and penitential. He was a sought-after confessor and preacher. One witness at the canonical hearings regarding Francesco’s holiness testified, “In his preaching he spoke in a familiar way, filled as he was with the love of God and neighbor; fired by the Spirit, he made use of the word and deed of holy Scripture, stirring his listeners and moving them to do penance.” Francesco showed himself a loyal friend of the poor, never hesitating to seek from benefactors what was needed.
At his death in Lucera, children ran through the streets crying out, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!” Francesco was canonized in 1986.
Saint Francis Anthony Fasani was promoted successively to regent of studies, guardian, and provincial, which latter office he held from 1721 to 1723. After that he served as master of novices, and then as pastor of the church of St Francis in Lucera. A bishopric was offered to him, but he declined it.
From the process of beatification we learn that Francis Anthony was diligent in study, fervent in piety, prompt in his obedience to his superiors, devout in meditation, and most exact in the fulfillment of all his duties.
He was also mortified and given to the exercises of penance even to bloodshed. From his youth he was an "angel in the flesh, more an angel than a man."
Fr. Fasani through a type of preaching based on the scriptures that was well prepared, persuasive, and had the particular purpose, as one witness recalled, "of rooting out vices and sins and planting in their place goodness and the exercise of virtue."
Antonio Giovanni Fasani was born in Lucera, in the Puglia region in southeast Italy, on August 6, 1681. His parents were of humble station—his father earned his living as a day laborer.
The Fasani family, poor in material goods, was rich in faith.
Every evening, the Rosary was recited before an image of Mary Immaculate. From his mother, Anthony obtained the roots of his profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
In 1695, at the age of fourteen, the young man entered the Conventual Franciscans. The following year, he pronounced his vows under the name of Brother Francis Anthony, at the monastery of Monte Sant'Angelo.
The young friar had a lively and ardent nature, tempered by humble restraint. He became a friar in order to become perfect.
From 1696 to 1709, Brother Francis Anthony pursued studies in theology, which he completed in Assisi with the reception of a master's degree, which earned him the name His affection and veneration for the Immaculata continued to grow and, in his humility, he even defined himself as a poor sinner redeemed by the intercession of Mary Immaculate.
In Lent of 1707, Father Fasani was unexpectedly sent to preach in Palazzo, not far from Assisi. His youth, the soundness of his theological knowledge, the warmth of his voice, the ascetic look in his face which showed a deep interior life, as well as the conviction which propelled him, produced enthusiasm and moral improvement in the people. He preached with a palpable fervor, such that he imprinted on the souls of his listeners the truths which he announced... He spoke of the Holy Mother of God with such rapturous devotion, such tenderness and such a loving expression on his face, that it seemed that he had a conversation with Her face-to-face.
His preaching, based on the Word of God, left no room for the rhetorical ornamentation which was all the fashion in his day.
Father Fasani showed indescribable horror and displeasure when he saw God offended or when people told him about sinful actions. This horror of sin, shared by all the Saints, is by no means exaggerated.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises,—recommended time and again by the Church—invites the retreatant to ask the Blessed Virgin for the grace to know one's sins with an intimate knowledge and to feel horrified by them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, «To the eyes of faith no evil is graver than sin and nothing has worse consequences for sinners themselves, for the Church, and for the whole world» (no. 1488). Indeed, for the sinner, the consequence of mortal sin (sin of a serious nature, which is committed with full knowledge and full consent) is the loss of sanctifying grace, and, if he dies in this state, the deprivation of eternal life. Saint Paul warns the Corinthians against it: Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
And to those who feel entitled to God's kindness and thus remain in sin and assure themselves of their eternal destiny, Saint Paul replies, Or do you hold His priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance? By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, Who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness (Rom. 2:4-8).
In the pulpit, Saint Francis Anthony spoke passionately against vices and public scandals. From then on he was showered with reactions of anger and insults. He was called an hysteric and a boor, but in the end, people came just the same to confess to him. Every day, he spent many hours in the confessional, receiving all sorts of people with the greatest patience and a joyful face.
His words often inspired the sinner to repent, and gave the will to mend one's ways. This ministry eventually consumed the best part of his time. His joy was great when he could bring about the conversion of persons of dissolute or scandalous morals, or inveterate sinners.
In his fight against sin, the saint had recourse to Mary Immaculate. He emphasized that if the Mother of God was immaculate, it was so as to be the refuge of sinners. Her purity wipes away our stains and renders us pure; Her brightness drives away our darkness. After Adam and Eve's sin, God said to the serpent (that is, to the devil): I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers; She will crush your head, and you will lie in wait for her heel (Gn. 3: 15).
The Fathers of the Church saw this prophecy fulfilled in the Immaculate Virgin, the new Eve, Who in a singular fashion assisted Her Divine Son, the new Adam, in His fight against evil. To sinners who wished to convert, Father Fasani ceaselessly repeated that Mary, the enemy of sin, was at the same time the Mother of mercy and the door to Heaven because She encourages us to pray, to regularly go to the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist, to listen to Her Divine Son and to follow Him.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, two centuries later, would go so far as to say that the Immaculate is the personification of Divine Mercy. She adds nothing to the mercy of God which comes to us through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but, in accordance with His Father's wishes, Jesus desires that mercy be distributed through Mary's hands.
In the Immaculate Conception, Saint Francis Anthony saw first of all the positive reality, the sublimity of grace which from the first moment elevates the person of Mary, perfectly sanctified in light of Her mission as Mother of God.
He brought out, in contrast to the grandeur of the divine gift, the Virgin's humility as a creature. Her sublimity came to Her exclusively from God—it was not a conquest of human nature. Father Fasani also emphasized that after this dazzling beginning, the life of Our Lady was marked by constant spiritual growth in free conformity to graces from God.
When going to preach, the saint generously distributed, especially to children, little pictures of the Immaculate Virgin, on the reverse side of which were written a pious recommendation, a short prayer or a noble thought. The spiritual fruits of this quite simple practice were numerous. The Blessed Virgin even deigned to perform miraculous cures by the touching of these pictures.
In his various ministries, he was loving, devout, and penitential. He was a sought-after confessor and preacher.
One witness at the canonical hearings regarding Francesco’s holiness testified,
“In his preaching he spoke in a familiar way, filled as he was with the love of God and neighbor; fired by the Spirit, he made use of the word and deed of holy Scripture, stirring his listeners and moving them to do penance.” Francesco showed himself a loyal friend of the poor, never hesitating to seek from benefactors what was needed.
At his death in Lucera, children ran through the streets crying out, “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!” Francesco was canonized in 1986. Francis Anthony Fasani (1681-1742)