When Stephen Bellesini was beatified on 1 November 1904 by Pope Pius X,
he became the first pastor to be elevated to the honors of the altar.
Luigi Giuseppe Bellesini was born in Trento, Italy, on 25 November 1774
during a period of great turmoil for the Church and society. At the age
of twenty he entered the Augustinian Order, taking the name Stephen, and
spent his years of religious and intellectual formation in Bologna and Rome,
after which he was ordained a priest in Trento in 1797. In his first years
of ministry he was occupied principally as a preacher and rector of the
small chapel attached to the Order’s monastery in his native city.
In 1810, however, he and his confreres were ejected from their monastery
during the suppression of religious houses. Stephen withdrew to his brother’s
home where he lived as a secular priest. Determined not to allow the anti-clerical
atmosphere of society to thwart his apostolic zeal, he established a school
to care for the many poor children of the city who were without means to
receive an education. His interest in their well-being was comprehensive:
to the neediest he provided clothing and food, to the neglected encouragement
and friendship, to all religious and moral as well as intellectual formation.
Often, the means for his material generosity was his own brother’s
table and cupboard. The success of his efforts and the popularity of his
educational “system” led to his appointment within a short time
as director, and then inspector, of elementary schools for the entire district
Despite all the good he was doing as an educator and the great popularity
he enjoyed among students, teachers, and government officials, in September
1817 Father Stephen secretly left Trento for Rome, never to return. He had
heard that in the Papal States it was again possible to live the religious
life, and so he left home, family, and position in order to take up again
what had been surrendered so reluctantly years earlier when forced from
his monastery. The reaction in Trento was first shock, then indignation,
and finally condemnation. Despite all efforts to persuade him to return
with promises of greater financial compensation, and by letters of praise
and commendation, Father Stephen was determined to remain where he could
live the Augustinian life that was so dear to him. The same government that
had valued his work so highly now proclaimed him to be an exile and forbade
him to return under threat of punishment. Once in Rome, where he was jubilantly
welcomed by his confreres, Stephen was given the position of director of
novices. In 1826, he was transferred to the shrine of Our Mother of Good
Counsel in Genazzano, and five years later, at the age of 57, he was named
In 1839 the plague reached Genazzano and Father Stephen devoted himself
to the spiritual as well as the physical care of its victims, with exemplary—even
heroic—selflessness. On 23 January 1840, while at prayer with his
community, he was once more called to care for a sick parishioner. On descending
the steps in the choir, he stumbled and fell, causing a cut on his leg.
That night he came down with a very high fever. Nevertheless, when the fever
subsided on the following day, he went to the public hospital for a pastoral
visit. He remained on his feet for two days more, until the 26th when, given
his terrible appearance, his brethren forced him to go to bed. He died at
four in the afternoon of 2 February 1840 as he had predicted.
His feast is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on 3 February.