Sacred Heart Church, Manville NJ
The Redemptorists-Sacred Heart Church in Manville, NJ
Saint Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787)

The founder of the Redemptorists, St. Alphonsus was born near Naples on September 27, 1696. Alphonsus studied in the University of Naples and graduated as a Doctor of Civil and Church Law. He practiced with outstanding The Redemptorists-Sacred Heart Church in Manville, NJ success in the Neapolitan courts for ten years but he abandoned his legal career owing to a grievous disappointment over an important case that he lost, probably due to a bribed judge.

He fell into a depression and, at his recovery, he spent his time caring for prisoners and the incurably sick. During one hospital visit, he had a profound religious experience that led to his decision to become a priest. While still a seminarian, he became a member of a society of secular priests and seminarians dedicated to preaching missions (revivals) in parishes. After his ordination he continued this work andalso began to form small communities of laity in the poorest districts of Naples who regularly gathered for mutual spiritual support.

At the earnest request of his spiritual director, Bishop Tommaso
Falcoia, Alphonsus helped and encouraged Sister Maria Celeste Crostarosa and the other nuns of a convent in Scala (a town overlooking the Amalfi coast) in inaugurating the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer, an institute of contemplative nuns devoted to the perfect following of Christ the Redeemer. This Order has grown to 48 convents throughout the world.

In his work with the nuns he began to feel a call to gather a group of men to bring the Gospel message to the neglected peasants in the hills of southern Italy. On November 9, 1732 with five companions and under
Falcoia as Director, he established, also at Scala, the Congregation of the Most Holy Savior. When the pope approved the group in 1749 as a new religious order, the title was changed to Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists). The new Institute, devoted to the care
of the most neglected, pursued its objectives by means of founding its residences in unchurched areas from which the members could spend most of the year conducting missions and catechetical programs throughout wide regions where the poor folk were spiritually abandoned.

In spite of his reluctance, Alphonsus was ordained Bishop of Sant'Agata dei Goti, a poor diocese in the hills of southern Italy where poverty and famine made physical care of the people as necessary as spiritual. From 1768 a disabling illness made pastoral work extremely difficult, but it was not until 1775 that the Holy See accepted his resignation from the bishopric.

The closing years of his life were clouded by great sorrow in addition
to his illness. In an attempt to gain royal approbation for the Congregation he found his community presented by the court of Naples with a revised rule that Alphonsus accepted, either because he did not understand it because of his age and illness or because he considered it an empty formality since the Congregation would continue following the papal rule. But the Holy See, which was in conflict with the King over its rights, reacted by rejecting the revision. It divided the institute, placing the houses in the Papal States under an autonomous major superior and withdrawing its recognition from the houses in the Kingdom of Naples where Alphonsus lived. Alphonsus was greatly wounded by this political action and died in Pagani near Salerno on August 1, 1787 before the Congregation he had founded could be reunited.

Though he wrote much about prayer and union with God with an assurance that could only have come from personal experience, Alphonsus has been honored principally for his pastoral spirit. His own life and that of his Congregation were dedicated to bringing to the poor the redemption won by Christ. To that he devoted a long life of extraordinary activity. In addition to his duties as leader of the Redemptorists for almost forty-five years and to the care of his diocese, he was actively engaged in missions for thirty-four years, and consecrated his outstanding literary, artistic, and musical skills to the same pastoral purpose. His hymn Tu scendi dalle stelle is to Italy what Silent Night is to an American Christmas.

It is impossible to give a full account of his enormous literary production. Between 1728 and 1778 he published no fewer than 111 works. A researcher in 1933 identified 4110 editions of his original texts and 12,925 editions of translations in 61 languages. Since that date the numbers have continued to increase.

The most important of his writings is his textbook Theologia Moralis
(Moral Theology), the first edition of which appeared in 1748. Nine editions appeared in his lifetime.

Alphonsus developed an approach to conscience and to moral decision-making that successfully avoids the extremes of rigor and laxity. It is an excellent expression of his pastoral prudence, a compassionate understanding of the redeemed person as he or she actual lives. This work led to his being declared a Doctor of the Church (1871) and the Patron of Confessors and Moral Theologians (1950).

His understanding of God's mercy and human dependence on it made him the inexorable foe of Jansenism, a movement toward moral rigorism that was prevalent in the Church of his time. These themes are elaborated in his spiritual writings. He taught that with the help of grace, given especially in answer to prayer, anyone could attain to a love of God that results in conformity to the Divine Will.

Alphonsus was the most decisive influence on the development of Catholic moral theology in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His views on the primacy of conscience have led to the renewal of moral theology in the post-Vatican II era. In other fields, too, he has left his mark: in the theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the treatment of papal authority, in the appreciation of the interaction of prayer and grace, and in spiritual guidance. Many of his works, notably The Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, the Glories of Mary, and Prayer, the Great Means of Salvation, are classics of Catholic spirituality. Back to Redemptorist Saints