On this, the Feast Day of St Annibale, we reflect a little on our founder’s life.
Annibale Maria di Francia (5 July 1851, Messina – +1 June 1927) was still young when he was given intuition of the need of the prayer for vocations. Once ordained priest (16 March 1878), he was committed to the moral of the poorest area of Messina. He founded the Anthonian Orphanages (1833 – 1887) and two religious congregations: Daughters of Divine Zeal (19 March 1887) and the Rogationist of the Heart of Jesus (16 May 1897). He left no stone unturned in spreading the Lord’s divine command: “The harvest is large but the labourers are few. Pray, therefore the harvest’s Master to send workers into his harvest.” (Mt 9:38; Lk 10:2). He worked with untiring zeal for this prayer to become “universal.” His holy inspiration became reality with the institution of the World Day of Prayer for Vocations (1964) by Pope Paul VI. He is unanimously renown as the “Father of the Orphans and of the Poor” and as “Authentic anticipator and zealous teacher of the modern pastoral care for vocations.” Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Blessed on 7 October 1990 and on 16 May 2004 was Canonised Saint by the same Pope John Paul II.
St Annibale’s call to the priesthood was a clear “experience of the spirit”:
“My vocation was not truly ordinary, there was something supernatural,” he confided one day to Fr Vitale.
In another disclosure, he said to Fr Tusino, “My vocation had three qualities:
- It was first of all a sudden one … I didn’t think about ecclesial life, suddenly the Lord sent me his light;
- It was irresistible. I felt that I could not subtract myself from the work of grace, I had to absolutely surrender;
- It was sure. After that light, I was absolutely sure that God had called me, I was not able anymore to doubt that the Lord wanted me for that way.”