St Francisco Coll y Guitart (1812-1875)
St Francisco Coll y Guitart was born on 18 May 1812 in the small village of Gombreny, in the Diocese of Vic, Catalonia. He was the 10th and last child of a wool carder.
At the age of 10 he was sent to the Seminary in Vic in 1823. He completed his studies in 1830 and that same year entered the Convent of the Order of Preachers in Gerona, founded only about 35 years after St Dominic de Guzman's death. He made his solemn profession and received the Diaconate in 1831.
Contemporaries of Fr Coll testify that he always behaved as a man of God and led an exemplary life. In 1835 religious orders in Spain were forcibly suppressed and Friar Francisco Coll, was obliged to abandon his convent and become a secularized Dominican. He was nevertheless ordained a priest on 28 May 1836 despite the risks involved.
Indeed, in spite of being unable because of the new anti-clerical laws to live in his convent or to wear his habit, he remained a Dominican all his life in all that he was and all that he did. Soon after his ordination Francisco offered his services to his Bishop and for 40 years exercised his ministry as an itinerant missionary in the parishes of northeast Spain. Impelled by an irresistible force, he started to preach as a new apostle, "the apostle of modern times". Like the Founder of his Order, he received no stipend nor would he accept donations; he was a preacher of popular missions. He prayed for long hours, studied and dedicated a great deal of time to preparing sermons for preaching the missions. He believed in the efficacy of collaboration and gave spiritual exercises to the priests in the region. Thus he collaborated with diocesan priests, Jesuits, Claretians, Augustinians and fellow Dominicans. With his friend, St Anthony Mary Claret, he founded the "Apostolic Fellowship" for evangelization in 1846.
He preached to cloistered nuns and prisoners, visited the sick and imparted catechesis to children, always encouraging the devotion to the Virgin Mary.
His complete trust in God and his apostolic zeal motivated him to gather a group of young women who had already chosen to follow Jesus' call. In 1850 he was appointed Director of the Secular Order of Dominican Tertiaries, which enabled him to found the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters of the Anunciata in 1856 to solve the problem of the Christian formation of girls, then considered inferior to boys.
When Fr Coll died, according to the Congregation he founded, there were already 300 sisters and 50 communities dedicated to the Christian education of children, mainly girls. Today the Congregation has about 1,039 members in Europe, America, Africa and Asia.
Fr Coll y Guitart lost his sight and then his mental faculties and was cared for by the nuns of his Congregation. He died in Vic on 2 April 1875 at the age of 62. His body was exposed in the chapel of his religious and they buried him in the local cemetery. His mortal remains were later translated to the chapel of the Mother House.
John Paul II beatified him on 29 April 1979. In his Homily for Fr Coll's Beatification, the Pope described him as "a transmitter of faith, a sower of hope, a preacher of love, peace and reconciliation among those whom passions, war and hatred keep divided", and "a real man of God", a "man of prayer", who made his priestly and religious identity a source of inspiration, with the words, "I am a religious" constantly on his lips.