Saint Benedict Menni
Founder of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Benedict Menni, who is being raised to the altars today, was a faithful follower of Saint John of God and, through his words and deeds, was a Herald of the Gospel of Mercy and a new Prophet of Hospitality.
His origins and his Hospitaller vocation
The city of Milan was his cradle: he was born there on 11 March 1841 and baptized the same day. He was named Angelo Ercole, almost as a portent of the Herculean spirit and strength that was to characterize his whole personality.
He was the fifth of 15 children born to Luigi Menni and Luisa Figini. His warm and hospitable home gave him the support and stimulus he needed to develop his intellectual powers and his personality. God’s call came early on: faithful to his conscience, he gave up a good position in a bank, and with his selfless attitude to the suffering he volunteered to work as a stretcher-bearer to assist the soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Magenta, near Milan.
Attracted by the spirit of dedication and self-denial which he discovered in the Brothers of St John of God, at the age of 19 he applied to enter the Hospitaller Order. He began his Religious life taking the name Benedict, and consecrated himself to God and to the care of the sick. And today we venerate him with the same name: Saint Benedict Menni.
His Hospitaller formation and mission
It was during his nursing and priestly studies that his Religious Hospitaller personality was gradually fashioned, which he placed at the disposal of his Superiors, embracing the cause of helping the most needy members of society, so many of whom were sick.
At that time Spain, the cradle of the Hospitaller Order, was embroiled in political strife, with open hostility to all the Religious Orders, and the work of St John of God was practically dead. It needed a new lease of life, and Benedict Menni was to be the man of providence to bring it about.
He was sent to Spain in 1867, and it was there that he performed his two great works: he restored the Order of St John of God and founded the Congregation of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Thanks to his magnanimous spirit, his great capabilities and state of mind, he overcame many difficulties and did so much good to help the sick, providing them with comprehensive care.
The Restorer of the Hospitaller Order
Sent to Spain by the Prior General of the Order, Fr Giovanni M. Alfieri, who always supported him, and with the blessing of Pope Visitor and Prior General of the Order Pius IX, even before he left Rome Benedict Menni demonstrated a will of iron and a determined spirit. Only a few months after his arrival in Spain he set up his first children’s hospital in Barcelona (1867), marking the beginning of his extraordinary work of restoration, which he was to carry through over the next 36 years.
From the first moment, thanks to his commitment to his vocation, numerous generous followers rallied around him, and it was through them that he was able to guarantee continuity to his new Hospitaller institutions that were springing up in Spain, Portugal and Mexico, to spread subsequently throughout the New World.
The Founder of the Hospitaller Sisters
When he arrived in Granada (1878), Benedict Menni came in contact with two young women, Maria Josefa Recio and Maria Angtistias Gimenez, who set up a new women’s hospital specifically to provide psychiatric care in 1881.
It was at Ciempozuelos, Madrid, that the Mother House of the “Congregation of the Hospitaller Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” was founded, receiving the approval of the Holy See in 1901. Six words summarize their identity in the Hospitaller service: “pray, work, endure, suffer, a love God and silence”.
The new Institution soon spread its wings of merciful charity by becoming established in several countries in Europe and Latin America, and later on in Africa and Asia. At the present time, as the Congregation celebrates the canonization of its founder, Benedict Menni, the Sisters are present in 24 countries, with over 100 Hospitaller Centres.
Benedict Menni, their Founder and spiritual Father, imbued them with his own charismatic spirit of St John of God and for over 30 years continued to provide them with his guidance and formation in Hospitaller ascetics.
Visitor and Prior General of the Order
The opera magna wrought by Benedict Menni as a Restorer and Founder spread, at the request of the Holy See, to the whole Order when he was appointed Apostolic Visitor (1909-1911) and subsequently Prior General (1911), which he had to resign one year later as a result of misunderstandings, and for health reasons.
He spent the last two years of his life in humility and purification, and died a holy death at Dinan, France, on 24 April 1914. His mortal remains were taken by the Spanish Brothers to Ciempozuelos, and today are venerated under the high altar in the Founders’ Chapel in the Hospitaller Sisters’ Mother House there.
In the glory of the saints
The process to acknowledge his holiness opened in the diocese of Madrid where he is buried, in 1945-1947, and his virtues were recognized as heroic by the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints on 11 May 1982, so that he was able to be called ” Venerable”. After official acceptance of the miraculous healing of Asuncion Cacho thanks to his intercession, he was proclaimed “Blessed” in St Peter’s Basilica on June 23, 1985 and « Saint » on November 21, 1999 by Pope John Paul II.
His message of Hospitality
In addition to his total dedication which bore such fruit, his holy and sanctifying conduct, his life offered entirely to God and to the sick with total generosity, the witness borne by Benedict Menni has regained all its topical relevance today with his canonization, which is offering him to the universal Church as a model and an example to be followed, particularly by those working in health care.
Humanization and evangelization are challenges to the new millennium. St Benedict Menni recalls to us and enlightens the words of our Lord, “I was sick and you visited me… Come, O blessed of my Father”.
Health care uses the benefits brought by scientific and technological progress, but frequently it is the “heart” which is missing in patient care. Health care is often concerned more with the sickness than the sick, who are often viewed as numbers or clinical cases rather than as brothers and sisters to be cared for and ministered to, as persons made in the image of a suffering God.
(SOURCE: – Libreria Editrice Vaticana)