On March 19, 1887, with the entrance to the novitiate of the first four young women, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia had started what would become his female Congregation. Then called “Little Poor of the Heart of Jesus,” he had designed for them an emblem with the Sacred Heart surrounded by the inscription: “Rogate Dominum messis”.
It is not uncommon that the Lord intends for founders many trials and some particular crosses, often long, always bitter, like that of incomprehension on the part of one’s bishops. It is one of the means chosen by Providence to hone their virtues.
Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, in fact, considered an atrocious suffering his not having obtained the confidence of his ordinary, Msgr. Letterio D’Arrigo Ramondini, successor to the Card. Giuseppe Guarino at the helm of the Roman
Catholic Archdiocese of Messina (1898-1922).
The year 1897 was the year of a very hard test. All his pastoral and charitable activity was going to be dissolved. Faith sustained him, but he had one regret: “In our undertakings, when everything should be in an uproar there remains no other comfort than the resignation to the Divine Will, that makes every thing good, although we don’t understand. But in my case there was a circumstance which rendered this cup even more bitter: namely, that I should resign myself to seeing dispersed the seed of an Institute dedicated to the blessed purpose of that heavenly mandate: Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam; the need to fold this holy banner in which shines the most tender expressions of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and to which the salvation of souls can be linked through the shortest and surest way.”
a. The Divine Idea
The year 1897 was a critical year and at the same time fruitful. It was the occasion of what will be a bright idea, but let us allow Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia to narrate it himself: “The present moment was increasingly becoming more difficult, intricate, daunting. And behold a divine idea, which we would call divine, flashed for a moment in the mind of the young priest: but it was itself the daughter of a great Word of the Gospel, of an idea still larger, more sublime, that the Spirit, which blows where he wants, seems to have inspired himself many years before the Pious Institute started, since the beginning of a spiritual youth. Let us call it evangelical revelation, divine idea (to attenuate it would not be humility), which anticipated and accompanied the poor young priest in the difficult undertaking, and that we have considered and consider as the basis on which stands the Pious Institute.”
This was the divine idea, daughter of the Rogate. But who could be interested?
Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia reasoned in these terms: “If there are people in the world to whom, above all, that divine Word: ‘Rogate ergo Dominum messis, ut mittat operarios in messem suam’, is of interest, they are the Bishops. By preference, they feel the need to have for themselves Priests. They have seminaries, where they gather the clerics, and they are immensely pressured that the clerics become elect Priests, and they can never become one if with all means that they use, all their labours, schools and industries, the incessant prayer commanded by Jesus Christ is not united. If such a prayer is neglected, if such a command is neglected, all the toil of the poor Bishops and Rectors of seminaries, generally, is reduced to a kind of artificial culture of priests.
The bishops, therefore must take to heart this Pious Institute; if I ask of them a very effective help, they cannot refuse it to me. But what help?
I will implore them to a purely spiritual contest of prayers and blessings in the most solemn act of our holy religion, namely the great Sacrifice of the Holy Mass.”
b. The Sacred Alliance
Having done that, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia sent a circular letter of invitation to various Bishops of Sicily.
The first to respond were the two Blandini brothers: Giovanni, Bishop of Noto, on November 22, 1897, and Gaetano, Bishop of Agrigento, on January 16, 1898. Therefore, the date November 22, 1897, was assumed as the beginning of what will be the Sacred Priestly Alliance.
Mons. Genuardi Gerlando, Bishop of Acireale, called this Mass, Apostolic Mass, definition which was very pleasing to Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia who wrote: “We adopt this beautiful name.” Having received the membership of twelve Bishops of Sicily, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia decided to extend the invitation for the Apostolic Mass to the Bishops of the peninsula and to the Cardinals. In addition, having recorded a good reception, he considered it useful to gather and publish their letters of accession in a pamphlet titled Precious Adhesions, with a long preface about the origin of the Institute and the motivations of the pious practice. It was October 14, 1900.
c. The Pious Union of the Evangelical Rogation
The Sacred Alliance was to draw the attention of the hierarchy and priests on the Divine Command of Jesus to pray for Vocations, but, for Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, it was also a “duty of every Christian,” especially with regard to the devout and pious souls, and consecrated souls. With this intent extended to all the faithful he founded the Pious Union of the Evangelical Rogation of the Heart of Jesus, erected with a decree of the Archbishop Msgr. Letterio D’Arrigo on December 8, 1900, with a Seat in Messina, in the oratory of the Motherhouse of the Rogationists.
Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, at this point, with the collaboration of his Institutions tried as much as possible to spread and promote it in various dioceses. The bishops, forceful with the approval of the Ordinary of Messina, did not have difficulty to introduce it in their dioceses, so that the Pious Union became widespread in Italy, in various parts of Europe and the Americas.
Today the Pious Union continues to welcome members as the Union of Prayer for Vocations.
The beautiful prayer “Lord Jesus, Master of the mystical Harvest, send workers to your Harvest,” and one of the most beautiful prayers composed by Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia: “Compassionate Heart of Jesus,” were translated into Polish by the noblewoman Mary Iastrzebska in 1896, and shortly thereafter in German by Fr. Stefano Leone Skibnierski. The whole booklet of prayers to obtain Vocations was translated into French “by a holy old man of the Cathedral of Amiens,” the Can. Joseph De Brandt, on the occasion of the Holy Year proclaimed in 1900.
Of course, Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia thought even of a leafet of propaganda and on June 26, 1908, feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, he launched the periodical God and Neighbor, as organ of the Pious Union of the Evangelical Rogation, of the Sacred Alliance, and St. Anthony’s Bread. This means of communication facilitated the establishment of branches of the Pious Union, creating the followers among the oblates and the readers.
Saint Hannibal Mary Di Francia, however, knew that to achieve real universality, it was necessary that the Supreme Pontiff proclaim the initiative with an official act and he began to work in this direction.
- Preziose Adesioni (ed. 1901), Preface, 8-9. Several excerpts from the Preface to the various editions of Preziose Adesioni, will be cited, especially those of 1901 and 1919.
- Thus how he identifi ed himself out of humility by expressing in third person.