FILIPPO SMALDONE (1848 – 1923)
Filippo Smaldone was born in Naples on 27 July 1848, at a time of political and social turmoil in Italy as well as for the Church. Notwithstanding the social, political and religious unrest that surrounded him, he decided to dedicate himself to the service of the Church and become a priest.
While he was still a philosophy and theology student, he became involved in helping the many marginalized people and deaf-mutes in Naples, who at the time were without appropriate forms of assistance.
His dedication to the apostolate did not leave him much time to study, and it was with difficulty that he passed the examination for Minor Orders.
After a period of time in what is today known as the Archdiocese of Rossano-Cariati, where he could concentrate on his studies, he returned to the Archdiocese of Naples in 1876. There he continued to study and to work with deaf-mutes, and was ordained a priest on 23 September 1871.
Fr Smaldone dedicated himself to the priestly ministry through evening catechism classes and visiting the hospitalized and homebound sick. During a plague epidemic he too caught the contageon, but he was miraculously cured through intercession to Our Lady of Pompeii, for whom he cherished a special, lifelong devotion.
In addition to his parish ministry he continued his pioneer work in the education of deaf-mutes; however, he met many obstacles during his work and became discouraged, at one point wanting to change ministries and head for the foreign missions.
But it was his wise confessor who convinced him that his true mission was in Naples among the people who needed him most. Thus, he gave himself without reserve to this apostolate and made it the principle object of his mission.
Armed with the great experience he had acquired through the years, Fr Smaldone went to Lecce, Italy, on 25 March 1885, where he founded an institute for deaf-mutes with Fr Lorenzo Apicella and a group of Sisters he had specially trained. This was the basis for the Congregation of the Salesian Sisters of the Sacred Hearts, which rapidly took root and flourished.
After founding the Lecce institute, which became the Motherhouse of the Congregation he founded, in 1897 Fr Smaldone opened other institutes in Rome and Bari, Italy.
Due to the great need, Fr Smaldone soon expanded his work to include blind children, orphans and the abandoned in his institutes.
Signs of the great work he accomplished for love of God and neighbour were both external and internal trials. In fact, one of his favourite sayings was: "The Lord sends us trials and tribulations to settle our debt to him".
From without he had to defend himself against the anti-Church municipal council; from within, he had to deal with the departure of the first superior of the new Congregation he founded, which provoked a long apostolic visit on the part of the Holy See.
The crucible of trials thus tried this holy man of God and found him and his works worthy. He continued to strive, with fatherly affection, to educate his deaf-mute students and to give the Salesian Sisters a complete religious formation.
Fr Smaldone also served as confessor and spiritual director to priests, seminarians and various religious communities. He founded the Eucharistic League of Priest Adorers and Women Adorers, and was superior of the Congregation of the Missionaries of St Francis de Sales.
He was appointed a canon of Lecce Cathedral and at one point was awarded a commendation by the civil Authorities.
Fr Filippo Smaldone died of a serious diabetic condition with heart complications on 4 June 1923 at the age of 75; he was in Lecce and surrounded by the affection of the Sisters and many of the needy whom he had served throughout his life.
Pope John Paul II declared him Blessed on 12 May 1996.