Today (October 24th) marks the feast day of St. Anthony Mary Claret who founded the congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more commonly known as the Claretians. He was also a Spanish Catholic archbishop, missionary, and confessor to Isabella II of Spain.
He was born in Sallent, in the county of Bages in the Province of Barcelona, Spain on December 23, 1807, the fifth of eleven children. His father was a woolen manufacturer. As a child, he enjoyed pilgrimages to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya.
He received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. At age eighteen, he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade and remained there till he was 20. Meanwhile, he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving.
Recognizing a call to religious life, he left Barcelona and wished to become a Carthusian monk. He finally entered the diocesan seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained on June 13, 1835, on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. He received a benefice in his native parish where he continued to study theology until 1839. Missionary work strongly appealed to him and so he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave due to ill health. He returned to Spain and exercised his pastoral ministry in Viladrau and Girona. His efforts on behalf of the poor attracted attention. In an area despoiled by civil war, he added the practice of rustic medicine to his other efforts.
Recalled by his superiors to Vic, Claret was sent as Apostolic Missionary throughout Catalonia which had suffered from French invasions. He traveled from one mission to the next on foot. Claret, an eloquent preacher fluent in the Catalan language, attracted crowds from miles around who came to hear him. After a lengthy time in the pulpit, he would spend long hours in the confessional and was said to have had the gift of discernment of consciences. In 1848, his life was threatened by anti-clerics and was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. His services were so well attended that he often preached from an improvised pulpit in the plaza before the church.
Upon his return home to Spain, he founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 16, 1849 (Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) and founded the great religious library at Barcelona. Pope Pius IX gave approval to the congregation on December 22, 1865.
Pope Pius IX, at the request of the Spanish crown (Isabella II), appointed him archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1849. He was consecrated at Vic in October 1850. The Santiago seminary was reorganized, clerical discipline strengthened and over 9,000 marriages validated within the first two years of his arrival. He built a hospital and numerous schools. Three times he made a visitation of the entire diocese. Among his great initiatives were trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he first tested himself. In August 1855, he founded the Religious of Mary Immaculate, the first female religious institute in Cuba. He also visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. His work stirred up opposition and was stabbed by a would-be assassin.
In February 1857, Claret was recalled to Spain by Queen Isabella II, who made him her confessor. He obtained permission to resign his Cuban see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanpolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning. He lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years, he was rector of the Escorial monastic school, where he established a scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, library, college and schools of music and languages. In 1868, a new revolution dethroned the queen and sent her with her family into exile. His life was also in danger and he accompanied her to France which gave him the opportunity to preach in Paris. He stayed with them for a while and then went to Rome where he was received by the pope.
He continued his popular missions and distribution of books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish court. In 1869, he went to Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council. Owing to failing health, he withdrew to the French Pyrenees, where he was still harassed by his Spanish enemies. Shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide, Narbonne, southern France, where he died on October 24, 1870, aged 62. His remains were buried in the Catalan city of Vic.
Anthony Mary Claret wrote 144 books. By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language, although most of his books were published in Spanish, especially during his time in Cuba and Madrid.
In addition to the Claretians, which now has over 450 houses and 3100 members, with missions in five continents, Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities or religious sisters.
He was declared venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, beatified by Pius XI on February 24, 1934 and canonized by Pius XII on May 7, 1950. He is the patron saint of textile merchants, weavers, savings, Catholic press, the Canary Islands, technical and vocational educators and Claretian students and educators.