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Saint Anthony Mary Claret was born in the year 1807 in the village of Sallent, Catalonia, Spain. He was the fifth of 11 children. He and his family often made pilgrimages to a nearby Marian shrine, and his parents taught him to pray the Rosary.
From a young age, he felt called to be a priest, but young Anthony was trained in the family business of weaving. And when he was 17 years old, his family sent him to Barcelona to further study the craft of weaving at a large textile mill.
In his free time, Anthony would study Latin and French, as well as engraving and printing. He went on to the seminary and was ordained a priest at the age of 28.
For several years after his ordination, Fr. Anthony Claret was a popular preacher in Catalonia. He was given the official title of "apostolic missionary." He preached about devotion to Our Lord's real presence in the Holy Eucharist as well as devotion to the immaculate heart of Mary.
Eventually, Anthony was sent to do further missionary work in the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa. He arrived there in March of 1848. Besides preaching and leading spiritual retreats, he published Catholic books and pamphlets for the people of the islands, using his knowledge of printing from his younger years.
After 13 very fruitful months of priestly ministry, he returned to Spain and founded a religious institute of missionaries. The new order was called the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Claretians. At the time, the order was comprised of Anthony and the five other priests who joined in his holy endeavor. The order's "constitutions," the document that establishes how the order is supposed to function, would be approved by the pope many years later, just months before Anthony's death.
Anthony was consecrated bishop in 1850 and subsequently appointed archbishop of Santiago, Cuba. The saint did not like this new appointment because it would take him far away from the business of founding and governing his new religious order. He accepted it, however, in humble obedience.
When he arrived in Cuba, he found that the archdiocese of Santiago was in a state of spiritual neglect. Hoping to bring about a spiritual renewal, he began preaching and hearing confessions. The saintly archbishop required every parish to offer a public Rosary at least on Sundays and feast days.
Under the saintly bishop's watch, large numbers of people in Cuba received the sacrament of confirmation, regularized their marriages with the Church and returned to the sacrament of confession. He was diligent in watching over the parishes of his archdiocese, making sure to visit all the parishes in the archdiocese once every 18 months.
Saint Anthony reopened the seminary of priestly formation, which had not ordained a priest in thirty years. He also doubled the number of parishes in the archdiocese of Santiago, boosted the morale of his clergy and oversaw the establishment of several religious communities in Cuba.
But the archbishop also faced a lot of opposition in Cuba for doing things like speaking out against concubinage, catechizing the African slaves and giving a lot of helpful advice to poor farmers. These things irritated some very wealthy and powerful people in Cuba. The archbishop faced assassination attempts. There were as many as 14 attempts on his life.
During a sermon in March of 1857, a man came up to the archbishop and delivered an urgent message: Queen Isabella II of Spain was summoning him back to Europe to be her spiritual director and confessor. The saint did not like the idea of having to abandon his current work in service to the Church, but just like before, he acted in obedience. He departed Cuba a few weeks later, sailing back to Spain.
Claret's last words to the people of Cuba were, "Goodbye, children. Until we meet in Heaven."
Although the saint agreed to be the queen's spiritual director, he did so only under several conditions. He required, for instance, that he would not live at the queen's palace and that he would not be required to be present at the royal court. These and other requirements he made distanced him from the wealth and luxury of the ruling class.
When he wasn't tending to the soul of Queen Isabella, Claret returned to the work of establishing his religious order in Spain. In 1869, Anthony got special permission to go to Rome, where he obtained further approval of his religious order.
The pope at the time, Pope Pius IX, invited Claret to attend the First Vatican Council. He was invited to take part in both the preparatory meetings and the council itself. On May 3, 1870, Claret gave a brief but powerful argument in favor of defining the doctrine of papal infallibility.
Saint Claret died in a Cistercian monastery in southern France on Oct. 24, 1870. He was canonized on May 7, 1950, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
Claret is remembered as a great promoter of the Rosary. Father Donald Calloway showcases the saint's devotion in his book Champions of the Rosary.
The book highlights three important quotes from St. Claret regarding the importance of the Rosary:
Over the course of his life, the saint devoted himself to Holy Mother Church and the salvation of souls. His calling took him all over the world, oftentimes against his own personal preferences. Because of his extensive writings and his use of the printing press, he is sometimes called an apostle of the modern press and other similar titles. He also helped revitalize the Catalan language.
The order he founded, the Claretians, are still active today.
Saint Anthony Mary Claret, pray for us!