We celebrate today the memory of Blessed Stephen Bellesini, a man who lived during a difficult period of the Church's history at the turn of 19th Century Italy. His vocation as an Augustinian religious was severely tried by strong anticlerical government regulations. Nevertheless, he did not withdraw in shame, nor did he become embittered by external challenges. Rather, he redoubled his commitment and persevered in his resolved, giving himself generously in the service of others, most especially the poor, the disadvantaged and the infirm.
Luigi Bellesini was born in Trent, Italy, on November 25, 1774. He entered the Order at the monastery of San Marco in his native city, taking the name Stephen, and making his profession on May 31, 1794. Following studies in Rome and Bologna, he was forced to return to Trent during the government suppression of religious houses and there completed his theological education. He was ordained priest in 1797. After several years of ministry, principally as a preacher as well as a teacher in the local schools, the monastery in Trent was also ordered closed and Stephen was forced to return to his family home. There he dedicated his energies to teaching the poor children of the city with such remarkable results that his work won the respect of the local authorities, who appointed him Director and Superintendent of all schools of the district. However, when the opportunity presented itself, he resigned from these offices and secretly made his way to Rome in order to resume his religious life. He was appointed novice master first in Rome, then in Umbria and lastly at Genazzano. The closing years of his life were spent as pastor at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, where he died while ministering to the victims of an epidemic, a martyr of charity, on February 2, 1840. Stephen was beatified by Pius X on December 27, 1904. His remains are venerated in a special chapel dedicated to him at the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel, Genazzano.
Blessed Stephen is an extraordinary example of fidelity in the face of trials: fidelity to his vocation as an Augustinian and fidelity to the service of God's people, especially the poor and the infirm. His ministry as educator, formator and pastor recommend him in a special way to Augustinians today who share his religious vocation and ministry in challenging times.