Saints often come in pairs or triplets, and in the case of Saint Joseph Cafasso, he was in some ways the first, though lesser known, of a pair. The elder friend and spiritual director of his more famous companion, Saint John Bosco, Saint Joseph Cafasso was a hidden marvel, and his life, recounted in this biography by Don Bosco himself, was one of sanctity and extraordinary charity for his neighbor.
Born in 1811 to a poor peasant family, he was never known, even as a child, to have sinned, so saintly was his character. He had a spinal deformation that rendered his physical life difficult and painful, but he bore it all with astounding charity and humility. Discerning in childhood a call to the priesthood, he pursued studies in Turin to this end; during this process, he met John Bosco, a few years behind him on the same track. He became a teacher at a seminary, fighting Jansenism's scourge, in addition to joining the Third Order of Saint Francis, the spirit of which he lived out well: his austerities, despite his fragile constitution, were noted. He was a sought-after confessor and worked tirelessly in the chapel—and equally in the prisons, whence his fame was derived. He was known for extracting confessions from prisoners on death row in particular, and so he was called the "Priest of the Gallows." On one occasion, he accompanied 60 men he had converted to the gallows; he called them "hanged saints," since they had confessed and were doing penance by their execution. He died himself of medical complications in 1860; he was canonized in 1947.
Here is a wonderful little book—the life of a saint as told by a saint. There are few things more edifying and wholesome in the world.
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