About Alphonsus Maria de Liguori
Alphonsus Maria Liguori was born September 27, 1696 in Marianella, near Naples, Italy. He was 16 years of age when he received his doctorate in civil and canon law. His father, a nobleman, had high hopes for his son, the eldest of seven children. Alphonsus was a prodigy; he easily mastered any subject put before him. By the age of 13, he was playing the harpsichord with the perfection of a master.
A combination of myopia and asthma kept the young Alphonsus from following his father into the navy. Giuseppe decided the best course for his son, in order to attain a position of influence within society, was to become a lawyer. For nearly 10 years, the future saint distinguished himself in the courtroom. Alphonsus was considered to be one of the up and coming stars of the Neapolitan bar. He never lost a case. Then, in 1723, in a lawsuit that would decide a property dispute between a nobleman and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Alphonsus erred in the reading of a critical piece of evidence. He turned deathly pale. Then, in a broken voice, he announced, “You are right. I have been mistaken. This document gives you the case.”
He would never practice law again, nor marry, a double disappointment to his father. Alphonsus spent the next several days alone and in prayer. One day, while visiting the sick at the Hospital for the Incurables, he found himself surrounded by a mysterious light. He then heard a voice say, “Leave the world and give yourself to me.” Alphonsus left the hospital and went directly to the church of the Redemption of Captives. There he laid his nobleman’s sword before the statue of Our Lady, renounced his inheritance, and made the decision to become a priest.
This decision caused a rupture in his relationship with his father that lasted roughly two years; they barely spoke to one another, even though Alphonsus was living and studying in his father’s house. Alphonsus would spend the next several years attending to the spiritual needs of the lazzaroni, the beggars and street people of Naples. Suffering from exhaustion, Alphonsus, on the advice of his doctor, left the city for the quiet of the countryside. But here, too, he would meet another group of people abandoned by the priests of Naples, the goat herders and shepherds tending the hills above the Amalfi coast.
Back in Naples, Alphonsus was asked by his spiritual director, Thomas Falcoia, to look into reports of a nun’s vision concerning the creation of a new order of women. After speaking with Maria Celeste Crostarosa, Alphonsus determined she was doing God’s will and gave her efforts his blessing. Maria Celeste would then tell Alphonsus that she had experienced another vision, one that foretold of Alphonsus establishing an order of religious men. This would come to pass a year later, in November of 1732, when he established the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, more popularly known as “Redemptorists,” whose mission would be to follow the example of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, by preaching the Gospel to the poor (cf. Luke 4,14-21).
At this time Alphonsus found himself caught up in the debate over two warring ideas of morality. His celebrated work, Moral Theology, argued for a middle position between rigorism and laxity. The Church sided with him, later declaring him a Doctor of the Church and the patron of moralists and confessors.
In March of 1762, the pope appointed Alphonsus bishop of St. Agatha of the Goths, a plum job in a well-to-do diocese with plenty of priests. But Alphonsus was not happy about it. Despite his petitions to be spared this appointment, he threw himself into the task, reforming abuses in the diocese, organizing general missions, and establishing social welfare programs for the poor, even opening his palace to the needy. But ill health forced him to give up the bishopric in May of 1775.
Four years later, Alphonsus would suffer the biggest disappointment of his life. His congregation had the blessing of Benedict XIV but had yet to receive royal approval. In 1779 two Redemptorists, Fathers Cimino and Caione were sent to negotiate with the royal court for approval. Instead of negotiating, the two priests allowed the regal authorities to completely rewrite the original papal rule. The vows of religion were changed to mere oaths, the vow of poverty disappeared altogether, the oath of perseverance was omitted, and the local bishops were given power over the internal affairs of the Congregation. General Chapters were wiped out of the text completely.
Alphonsus, nearly senile at this point, deaf, blind and very ill, was tricked into signing the document, or Regolamento. On hearing about the changes, Alphonsus fell into a deep depression. The pope, upset over the Congregation’s willingness to go along with changes that contradicted his papal rule, dismissed Alphonsus from his own congregation!
Six years later, on August 1, 1787, Alphonsus died. In 1839 he was canonized. In March 1871, Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church, and in 1950 Pius XII declared Alphonsus the official patron of moralists and of confessors. He is also the patron saint of vocations and of people who suffer from arthritis.