Ludovico of Casoria
Born on March 11, 1814 in Casoria, Italy, he was given the name Arcangelo Palmentieri. In order to gain career skills for his future, his father arranged for him to apprentice as a cabinet maker in his youth. In 1832, he entered the novitiate of the Order of Friars Minor at which time he took the name Ludovico. He was ordained a priest in 1837.
Soon after ordination, Ludovico became a teacher of philosophy and mathematics. In 1847 while praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the church of the Sacramentine Sisters in Naples he had a spiritual experience. According to Father Ludovico, this experience was a "rebirth" to a new life. The first people who understood the change in Father Ludovico were his students, who one day saw him entering the classroom wearing a habit made out of inexpensive fabric and rough sandals. He told his students, "I want to imitate Saint Francis." The reaction was one of surprise.
From that day on, Ludovico consecrated himself totally to the service of sick religious and the poorest and neediest people. He became involved in numerable social and cultural works. His contemporaries dubbed him, "Saint Francis of the 19th century".
Father Ludovico was a very enthusiastic champion of the poor. Ludovico soon began a lifetime of establishing works to care for the poor and needy in the Naples area of Italy. He commenced his work by establishing a dispensary in his friary and worked to provide care for the elderly members of his own Order. He also established orphanages. He then opened a school for the education of African boys and girls ransomed from slavery. His goal was to educate the freed slaves then allow them to return to their home country to help educate people in their country. In addition in 1871 he established a school for the deaf, mute, blind and those with multiple disabilities in Assisi. Visitors who go to Assisi can see one of the most modern institutes founded by Father Ludovico. The institute is just a few steps from the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Following the advice of his superiors to find others to whom he could entrust this many works, in 1859 he instituted a community of men as a religious congregation of the Franciscan Third Order Regular. They became known as the Gray Friars of Charity (Italian: Frati Bigi della Carità) on account of the traditional gray color of the Franciscan religious habit.
The friars received formal approval by the Vatican in 1877, by which time their work had spread to the United States, where they served the Italian-American community in New Jersey. The friars were disbanded in 1971 by the Holy See due to the few members of the congregation. A new group of men, dedicated to his vision, however, is currently in the process of forming.
Three years later, in 1862 he instituted a congregation of religious women, known as the Franciscan Sisters of St. Elizabeth (Suore Elisabettine Bigie), whom he placed under the protection of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, one of the first members of the Third Order of St. Francis and its patroness. With the establishment of the new religious community, the Franciscan Sisters of Saint Elizabeth, Father Ludovico moved to entrust the orphans and African girls to the new foundation. The Franciscan Sisters of Saint Elizabeth, faithful to the charism left to them by Father Ludovico, their founder, have continued their charitable work in more than 40 institutions in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
Ludovico of Casoria was a man ahead of his times. He encouraged the apostolate of the laity and dialogue with different cultures with the goal of enlivening society with the light of the Gospel. It is recorded that Father Ludovico had the charisma to attract people to his initiatives who were willing to work for God's Love. One day a friend asked him how many institutions and projects he had established about Naples. It is estimated that Ludovico started over 200 projects all dedicated to the service of the poor and needy. When companions were questioned about the number of institutions and projects, the response would be, there is neither the need nor the possibility to make a list of all the institutions of charity that Father Ludovico founded. It would be very tedious work to write a list of all of his institutions. In fact, it would be surely incomplete. Many of his institutions had brief lives because they were created to respond to particular needs of the present time, as they occurred. Eternity belongs only to God.
Father Ludovico was a practical man. He preferred concrete action in carrying out his apostolates. He would often repeat that he was just an old carpenter. His secret was his faith and conviction, and the belief that not by human reasoning--but with the help of Divine Providence--anything could be accomplished.
Nine years before Ludovico's death, he was attacked with a serious and painful illness, from which he never completely recovered. Sister Death came to him the morning of March 30, 1885 in Naples.
The cause for Ludovico's canonization was introduced in Rome within months of his death. He was beatified in 1993 by Pope John Paul II and will be canonized on November 23, 2014 by Pope Francis.
Father Ludovico, himself, wrote in his testament: "The love of Christ wounded my heart."
"St. Francis is the living image of Jesus Christ. It is necessary to imitate him in virtue, in poverty of spirit, in separating from the world and in the love for Jesus Christ." Blessed Ludovico of Casoria