Saint Louis of Casoria (St. Ludovico da Casoria)
Saint Louis came into this world as Arcangelo Palmentieri in Casoria a suburb of Naples, Italy on March 11, 1814. He was the third sibling in a family of artisans. At the age of 18, he entered the Novitiate of Friars Minor at Lauro (Avellino). He was ordained to the priesthood on June 4,1847 and began his activity as professor of philosophy and mathematics in the various Institutes of The Franciscan Order. Born into a world that had more of its typical share of strife and struggle, Saint Louis’ life was engulfed in social-cultural upheavals of enormous dimensions: parental loss, social unrest, rampant contagious diseases, philosophical contention, full - scale revolution, political unrest and the abomination of slavery. This broad ranging turmoil marked what many might have thought was the onset of apocalyptic times.
Saint Louis took these troublesome signs of the times at the urban, regional, national, and international levels and found in them both a challenge and an invitation: a challenge reflecting a world hopelessly splintered, an invitation to bring counter challenges, if not simple solutions. Saint Louis not only formed within himself counter challenges, but also evoked from others unsuspecting responses. To troublesome times, he brought his own glimmer of hope, his own counter punch. Saint Louis brought solutions to situations where some only seemed feasible, encouragement when hope seemed slim. His chronology flows with channels of generosity and courage. Institutions were born where none seemed possible. Strategies were mounted where hope seemed to be the offspring of desperation. His chronology tells a tale of mission impossible. His ministry flowed with love unlimited. He was a man for the time. Chronos was a challenge set before him; kairos was his response from a great heart, a clear mind, a resolute will.
This change and redirection of Saint Louis’ life occurred one day while he was at prayer before The Blessed Sacrament, he fell to ground, experiencing what he was to call later his “second baptism”. This was his call to change direction and dedicate his life to works of charity on behalf of the less fortunate. From that time forward, his ministry to the less fortunate characterized Saint Louis’ lifestyle.
From this time of reorientation, Saint Louis began to meet with persons of differing political and cultural orientation; he founded academies of religious culture and Homes for the aged. With the approval of Ferdinand II, he was able to redeem numerous young slaves from Cairo and Alexandria, with a view to giving them a life of dignity, a Christian education, as well as a cultural preparation in such a way to be able to send them back to Africa as missionaries themselves. Many of these youths chose to be Baptized, Confirmed, and successively became priests, and consecrated women religious. As his works of charity grew, Saint Louis saw the need to have a corps of helpers more closely aggregated to his works of charity.
The Grey Franciscan Friars of Charity were founded by Saint Louis of Casoria to assist him in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy established by him and to continue this patrimony grafted on to the great spiritual tree of the Franciscan Family. At the time of the original foundation of the Congregation, Saint Louis placed the Grey Friars under the Third Order Rule. However, the Third Order Rule at the time was the same for those living a communal, celibate life in hermitages or in convents as well as for those who lived at home or in their own families. The situation has changed recently. With the rewriting of the Third Order Rules (there is now one Rule for Seculars and one for Regulars ) all those who profess the Third Order Regular Rule are expected to profess the three vows. The profession of the three vows was never consonant with the intent of the founder and the intensification and propagation of our charism.
While it is true that organizational structures neither create nor define a religious community, efficiency of operation would be impossible without them. It is by means of the structures of government and lifestyle guidelines that the human resources and spiritual impact of a religious society’s members are integrated into the church as a single working entity. The more these structures flow from a recognized charism by the church and are human, personal and Christian, the more integrated and fully united to the life of the larger church will all become. Cardinal Alphonse Capecelatro, in his biography of Saint Louis writes: “…He (Father Louis) wanted to gather about himself a religious, Franciscan family which would be characterized by humility, holiness, and industriousness. Saint Louis wanted his Institute to be without vows of any kind but to be comprised of clerics who would direct the Institute and care for the spiritual needs of brothers and persons served in our corporate charities and the friars who would be concerned with the corporal works of mercy. The only binding force in the Institute would be charity nonetheless this community would be grafted on to the great Franciscan family. To the members of this community he gave the traditional Franciscan cruciform grey tunic over which we place a pointed scapular with an attached hood. By a mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, the life of Saint Louis of Casoria offers his followers a twofold gift of divine mystery. The first is the sheer gift of his chronology. The second is the astounding impact of his great charisms.
In order to favor the growth and propagation of our identity and purpose and remain grafted on the great tree of Franciscan spirituality, the Friars and associates of this Institute are incorporated into membership by commitment to St Francis’ “Letter To The Faithful” and our particular Constitutions. Our Constitutions are governed by Canons no. 731-755 (Clerical Societies not bound by vows).
Such a lifestyle is more appropriately suitable to the formation and mission of our membership and the original desire and intention of St. Louis of Casoria for his Grey Friars. In a word, one might say that St. Francis’ Letter to the Faithful is our Rule and our particular Constitutions bring our life into relief. A document dear to all Grey Friars also is a volume written by Saint Louis entitled On The Love of Jesus Christ. This volume constitutes a spiritual testament for us and is placed before our Constitutions. It was written by Saint Louis of Casoria himself for the Grey Friars.