Memorial to St Benedict Menni

24 April

BENEDICT MENNI, who is being raised today to the honours of the altar was a faithful follower of St John of God; his words and his deeds therefore made him a herald of the Gospel of Mercy and a new prophet of hospitality.

His background and Hospitaller vocation

He was born and baptised the same day, on March 11, 1841, in the city of his birth, Milan. He was named Angelo Hercules, almost as if to predict the spirit and strength that would subsequently characterise his personality.

He was the fifth of fifteen children born to Luigi Menni and Luisa Figini. In their warm, hospitable home, he found the support and encouragement he needed to develop his intellectual powers and his personality.

God called him quite early on: faithfully responding to his conscience, he gave up the security of a job with a bank, and volunteered his services as a stretcher-bearer to carry soldiers wounded on the Magenta battlefield near Milan.

Deeply impressed by the spirit of dedication and self-denial that he discovered among the Brothers of St John of God, at the age of 19 he applied to enter the Hospitaller Order.

He began the Religious Life with the name Benedict, consecrating himself to God and to nursing the sick, and today we venerate him as St Benedict Menni.

His formation and Hospitaller mission

It was his nursing studies and training for the priesthood that gradually shaped his Hospitaller/Religious personality which he placed at the disposal of his Superiors, embracing the cause of the neediest section of society, made up of so many sick people.

Spain, the cradle of the Hospitaller Order, was embroiled in the throes of political struggles, and open hostility towards the Religious Orders, and the work of St John of God was gradually being pushed to the verge of extinction. It needed to be renewed, and Benedict Menni would be the providential person to undertake this task.

In 1867 he was sent to Spain, and there he completed his greatest achievements: the restoration of the Order of St John of God, and the foundation of the Congregation of the “Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus" for women.

His magnanimous spirit, his great capacity and his courage helped him to overcome many difficulties and to embark on particularly important initiatives on behalf of the sick, and provide them with comprehensive care.

The Restorer of the Hospitaller Order

He was sent to Spain by the Prior General of the Order at the time, Fr Giovanni M. Alfieri, who supported him throughout his life, and with the blessing of Pope Pius IX. But even before he left Rome, Benedict Menni demonstrated his strength of will and his decisiveness. Within a few months after his arrival, he opened Spain’s first Children’s Hospital in Barcelona (1867), marking the beginning of his extraordinary work of restoration which he would carry forward for the next 36 years.

From the outset, thanks to his commitment to his vocation, he attracted numerous generous followers to join him, enabling him to guarantee the continuity of the new Hospitaller institutions that were spreading far and wide in Spain, Portugal and Mexico, and subsequently throughout the whole of the New World.

Founder of the Sisters Hospitallers

When he arrived in Granada (1878) Benedict Menni came into contact with two young women, María Josefa Recio e María Angustias Giménez, who, in 1881, would sow the seed of a new women’s health care institution dedicated specifically to the provision of psychiatric care.

It was founded at Ciempozuelos, Madrid, where the Mother House of the “Congregation of the Sisters Hospitallers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” was established, receiving the approbation of the Holy See in 1901.

The crux of their identity in the service of Hospitality is summed up in six words and: “pray, work, endure, suffer, love God and be silent.”

This new Institution rapidly spread its wings of merciful charity, with foundations in different parts of Europe and Latin America, and subsequently in Africa and Asia. As its founder, Benedict Menni, is canonised, the Sisters are presently ministering in 24 countries, through more than 100 Hospitaller Centres and facilities.

Benedict Menni, as their Founder and spiritual Father, infused into than his own John-of-God spirit and continued to provide them with spiritual direction and ascetical/Hospitaller formation for more than 30 years.

Visitor and Prior General of the Order

Benedict Menni’s magnum opus as Restorer and Founder was extended, at the request of the Holy See, to the benefit of the whole of his Order with his appointment as Apostolic Visitor (1909-1911) and subsequently Prior General (1911), from which post he was forced to resign one year later as a result not only of his frail health, but also of misunderstandings.

He spent the last two years of his earthly life in humility and purification, dying a holy death at Dinan, France, on April 24, 1914.


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