This 15th-century saint worked as a diplomat for the pope before he even had a chance to be ordained a priest.
Gaetano del Conti di Thiene was born in the Veneto region of northeast Italy on October 1, 1480. He was the second son of Gaspar, the Lord of Thienna, and Maria Porta, who dedicated her son to the Blessed Mother immediately after his birth. Cajetan, as we know him, is an Anglicized version of Gaetano.
Cajetan’s father died when he was only two, but as the boy grew, it was apparent he had a pious and humble way about him. He took great delight in praying and gave whatever he could to the poor. In fact, while he was still a child, some began calling him the “Little Saint.” As a grown man, he would become known as “the hunter of souls.”
Cajetan proved to be an excellent student and while in Padua earned his doctorate degree in Civil and Canon Law. Because of his knowledge of the law he was offered prominent positions in government, but Cajetan had no interest in that. He wanted to be a priest and did his best to live in obscurity.
Unfortunately for Cajetan, his abilities had become well known, and Pope Julius II asked him to be a Vatican diplomat. Of course, Cajetan acceded to the Holy Father’s wishes and worked alongside the pope until Julius died in 1513. That is when he was able to leave the Papal Court and complete his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1516 when he was 36 years old.
Father Cajetan was recalled to Vicenza when his mother died in 1522. He inherited a goodly sum of money and immediately put it to work for the poor. He built a hospital for those with incurable diseases in Vicenza and another in Venice. He built another for the poorest of the poor where no one could be turned away if they needed help.
His interest was more devoted to spiritual healing, and he joined the Oratory of Divine Love located in Rome. He was determined to combine the spiritual and physical together in an active ministry of helping those in need. Usury (loan-sharking) was a big problem among the poor, and they were always being taken advantage of by the moneylenders.
Cajetan founded a bank, probably the very first credit union, so the poor would be able to borrow money and be treated fairly. That bank led to the Banco de Napoli, among the oldest banks in the world.
He played a game with his parishioners where he would bet them that he would do something for them. The bets would consist of prayers, Rosaries, lighting devotional candles, and things like that. If he fulfilled his promise the parishioner(s) would have to say the prayer or whatever other spiritual gift the payback consisted of. Of course, he always fulfilled his promise. The people loved him for this and his “gambling” with them kept them praying all year long.
In the spirit of clerical renewal, Father Cajetan and three of his friends received approval from Pope Clement VII to begin a new order. Officially known as the Congregation of the Clerks Regular, it became known as the Theatines. Their focus was on preaching, administering the sacraments, and following the rubrics of the Church to their fullest. Father Cajetan was also the first person to introduce 40 Hours’ Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He did this to combat the ongoing heresy of Calvinism.
Father Cajetan Thiene had a great devotion to Our Lady. It is reported that one Christmas Eve she appeared to him with the baby Jesus in her arms. She placed Jesus in his arms and let him hold the Infant. On his death bed, the Blessed Virgin came to him again, accompanied by angels. She said to him, “Cajetan, receive the blessing of my Son, and know that I am here as a reward for the sincerity of your love, and to lead you to paradise. Let us go in peace.”
Father Cajetan was canonized a saint by Pope Clement X in 1671. He is the patron saint of the unemployed, workers, bankers, and job seekers. He is also the patron saint of many countries around the world.
St. Cajetan Thiene, please pray for us.