September 8, 2017
Fr. Leo John Dehon: founder of the Priests of the Sacred Heart
Already in the early years of the Society [of the Priests of the Heart of Jesus], Fr. Dehon was thinking of establishing in Italy a school for our Congregation. According to his diary, Fr. Dehon looked for Italian boys when he spent some time in Rome in 1900.
One was Ottavio Gasparri. This young lad was only 15 years old when he met Fr. Dehon. His intelligence and disposition deeply impressed Fr. Dehon, who loved him and sent him to our seminary of St. Clement in Fayet [France]. Little did Fr. Founder realize then—or did he—that Ottavio would become one of the founders of his Society in Italy.
In 1906, Fr. Dehon had proposed his plans for a foundation in Albino [Italy] to Pope Pius X, who approved the plans right away. The next year, a school in Albino was opened [on September 8]. That very same year Ottavio was ordained a priest. Three years later, Fr. Gasparri became superior of Albino. From then on until his death, the life of Fr. Gasparri was bound up with the administration of the Italian Province as Superior, Consultor, Provincial, and General Consultor to the Holy See.
During the summer of 1912, Fr. Dehon obtained permission from the archbishop of Bologna to open a Scholasticate there. In 1914, Fr. Gasparri became its first superior. He began to work zealously to spread our Association of Reparation. He also worked hard during World War I for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart in homes.
During the war, we had to close our office in Rome. Fr. Gasparri wanted to maintain the link between the members of the Society, and promote the morale of our missionaries and our confreres at the “front.” With that in mind, he founded and directed from 1917 to 1920, Il Regno, a monthly periodical of information linking the members of the Society. Fr. Gasparri was also the one who intervened with Pope Benedict XV to free Fr. Dehon, who was unable to leave Brussels [during the war to travel to Rome].
In a letter dated March 18, 1919, Fr. Gasparri wrote to Fr. Dehon about his audience with the Pope. Among matters discussed was the question of a Novitiate if our work in Italy was to flourish. During the numerous travels which his work required, Fr. Gasparri had met a group of Sisters who kept a lodging house in Albino, where he had spent some time there for a rest prescribed by his doctor.
Nearby was a very popular shrine to Our Blessed Lady of Peace. The local authority was prepared to sell the building next to the shrine. As a result of negotiations, Fr. Gasparri bought it and a few months later, our Italian Novitiate opened its doors.
Judging from his activities, one would never had surmised that Fr. Gasparri had weak health. Even as a teenager, he spat blood, as Fr. Dehon had at a later age. Occasionally, Fr. Gasparri would return for a short stay at Calabria in southern Italy where the air in the midst of orange groves and olive trees improved his condition enough for him to keep going—and that he did to the very end. He was only 45 years old when he died in 1929.
Fr. Gasparri had been the soul of the Italian Province. He was completely dedicated to the growth of the Congregation. His special love was the Church of Christ the King in Rome, for which he and Fr. Dehon had worked so hard. Fr. Gasparri was the first pastor of Christ the King Church and was buried in the crypt of this beautiful church, which was finally completed in 1935.
John Dalbec, SCJ, Biographical Notes on Deceased Members of the General Curias
Heart of Jesus: Fr. Dehon's favored image of God's loving concern for all creation
Inspired by three invocations from the Litany of the Sacred Heart, this painting portrays the Heart of Jesus as “House of God and gate of heaven,” “Our life and resurrection,” and “Hope of those who die in you.”
Replacing the usual depiction of a heart on Jesus’s chest, the artist has superimposed a church building and a crowd of people onto his body. Indeed, faithful Christians gathered in worship form the Body of Christ, and service to people in need make tangible the Body of Christ. The identifying mark of this Body is a selfless love that transforms a wounded world into the house of God and gate of heaven. Using other words, Fr. Dehon spoke of the reign of the Heart of Jesus in souls and in societies.
Blood flowing from Jesus’ crown of thorns and the nail mark in his hand only suggest the brutality of crucifixion, but the artist graphically displays Jesus’s body being pierced with a lance in the upper left of the painting. This image is balanced in the lower left by the scene of the resurrected Jesus showing himself to Mary Magdalene. As we embrace the sufferings and joys of our present life, union with the self-giving Heart of Jesus sustains us. This ever-deepening union is the goal that continually unfolds toward resurrection.
Fr. Dehon noted that, “Death in the Heart of Jesus is a happy one,” and at the end of his lifetime of service, he pointed to an image of the Heart of Jesus and exclaimed, “For him I live, for him I die.” There are others, however, who take a long time to become conscious of God’s powerful love. As St. Augustine mused, “Late have I loved thee.” In every circumstance, however, there is always hope in the infinite, unbounded love of God.
“And hope does not disappoint us,” St. Paul writes, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” [Romans 5:5]. And God’s love feels very much like coming home.
Image: This painting hangs in the SCJ Generalate in Rome.
Reflection Questions: seeds for personal understanding and growth
In what specific circumstance can your acts of selfless love transform a place of woundedness into the house of God?
What is the basic motivation for the way you choose to live your life?
How do you describe the hope you hold in your heart for the future of our church? for the future of our world?
Prayer: hands lifted in prayer; hands prepared to serve
With the opening of the high school seminary in Albino on September 8, 1907, the Priests of the Sacred Heart began their foundation for an Italian Province. In your kindness throughout the coming week, please remember in your prayer all students who are beginning school at this time of year that their education may prove to be the foundation of a lifetime of loving service. You may find helpful the following vocation prayer, taken from the prayer book, “Dehonian Prayers,” of the British-Irish Province.
you call all things into being
and bring order out of chaos.
Help all those who are searching
to recognize your plan for each of them.
Provide us with leaders
who will inspire and encourage us,
challenge and enable us
to establish the reign of your love.
Give to those you call
enough stillness to hear your voice
and enough energy to respond.
that a selfish, unbending spirit
may never be ours
and that we may always seek
to do your will
with generosity and joy.
Each week reflections and prayers based in the Dehonian charism are published on the Dehonian Spirituality page of the U.S. Province website of the Priests of the Sacred Heart. This is an email version of that update.
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