St. Francis Caracciolo is a patron saint for Italian cooks (and for all of us who love pasta and pizza!).
Francis Caracciolo was born on October 13, 1563, in the Kingdom of Naples (present-day Italy). His parents, Ferrante Caracciolo and Isabella Baratucci, had him baptized with the name Ascanio. By the time he was two years old, Ascanio was already developing a reputation as a “special” child due to a natural kindness and gentleness
As he grew, he largely did not take interest in normal childhood things. Instead, there was an enhanced spiritual quality that Ascanio displayed. His primary focus seemed to be spending as much time as he could in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Also, during his pre-teen years, he was already doing his best to distribute food and clothing to the poor. He did share in his family’s generous hosting of hunting banquets, for which the palace cooks were widely renowned. (It’s this bit of trivia that accounts for his being made the patron saint of Italian cooks — an odd connection for one who spent much of his life fasting!)
When Ascanio was in his early 20s, a severe skin condition attacked his body. Diagnosed as a “leper,” his disease became so grave that Ascanio appeared to be near death. The young man prayed to God and vowed that if he recovered, he would spend the rest of his life in His service and that of his neighbors, no matter who they might be. Incredibly, Ascanio seemed to recover so quickly that his cure was considered miraculous.
Ascanio, faithful to his promise, gave up all of his properties and noble titles. Eventually, he was ordained a priest and became a member of the Bianchi della Guistizia (The White Robes of Justice), whose ministry was to assist prisoners condemned to death with the opportunity to confess and receive Extreme Unction and Holy Viaticum.
In 1587, while still with the White Robes of Justice, Father Ascanio mistakenly received a letter meant to go to Father Fabrizio Caracciolo, who was the Abbot of St. Mary Major in Naples. Father Francis learned that Father Adomo of Genoa was planning to start a religious order that combined both the contemplative and active life. Having such a deep love of the Blessed Sacrament, Father Ascanio immediately contacted Father Adorno. He asked if he could join them and all three joined forces to form the new Order.
The three men formulated the Rule of the new Order and, on foot, headed to Rome to present them to the pope.
On July 1, 1588, Pope Sixtus V granted their petition, and so began the Order know as Clerics Regular Minor. The three priests made their Religious Profession in the chapel of the White Servants of Justice on April 9, 1589. Ascanio took the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. They took the motto Ad Majorem Resurgentis Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of the Risen Christ).
The new congregation of Clerics Regular Minor had harsh rules. Daily penance was required; each day one brother had to fast on bread and water only, one would wear the ‘hair’ shirt, and everyone had to spend a minimum of an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. The very first community lived and carried out their work at the Church of Mercy in Naples.
The primary founder of the Order, Father Adomo, died in 1593. The choice to replace him was Father Francis. He pleaded with the Order to allow someone else to take the position, but his request was ignored. On March 9, 1593, with the full blessings of Pope Sixtus V, Father Francis Caracciolo took over as Superior General of the Order and they became headquartered at St. Mary Major of Pietrasanta in Naples.
Father Francis, filled with the Holy Spirit and able to prophesy and read hearts, spent many hours in the confessional. Although he was Superior General, he walked the streets, begging for the poor and distributing his meager possessions. But he is most noted for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He would often spend the entire night in adoration, catching snippets of sleep on the altar steps.
On the Vigil of Corpus Christi, June 4, 1608, Father Francis Carraciolo, sickly since his youth, appeared to be absorbed in prayer. An hour before sunset, he cried out, “Let us go, let us go to heaven.” Then he closed his eyes and died. He was 44 years old.
He was canonized a saint by Pope Pius VII on May 24, 1807. His feast day is June 4 and he is the Patron Saint of Naples and of Italian cooks.
St. Francis Caracciolo, please pray for us.