His Life - Mission Accomplished



On 29th April 1848, Father Gentili returned to Dublin. It was his fifth visit. In an earlier visit, he had written to Father Pagani in England: “I have renewed old friendships, and I find myself among friends more intimate and familiar than I had yet experienced in England.”

Gentili’s first mission in Dublin that year lasted from 30th April to 4th June. It was preached in the church of St. Audeon. The church was large, though not yet finished, and could seat several thousand people. The response was immense. At the end of this busiest of all his missions, Gentili, mentally and physically exhausted, went to spend a few days with Lord and Lady Bellew at their country house, Barmeath Castle, near Drogheda in County Louth. There is unfortunately no account of the meeting between Gentili and the former Anna Maria Fermina Mendoza y Rios, to whom he had proposed twenty years previously in Rome, but in correspondence she addresses him as “Dear Don Luigi”. It was their last meeting.

In the third week of June, Father Gentili, accompanied by Fr. Furlong, began a mission at Rathmines, which continued with great success to 25th July. The crowds attending it were so vast that he had to preach out of doors --- as many as five thousand people were present at some of the sermons. It was during this mission that the first outdoor procession of the Blessed Sacrament took place. It was held on 12th July --- bad weather had caused the delay. Father Gentili’s notes read:

On this day, 12th July, the enemies of our holy religion hold their annual procession carrying orange lilies, the orange lily being the symbol of the sect of Orangemen who are fierce haters of Catholicism. Our Rathmines procession on this occasion was remarkable for a great display of white lilies, which were unexpectedly donated by various benefactors. They were carried in the hands of the children who accompanied the Blessed Sacrament in our procession.

Indignant protests were sent to Dublin Castle against this display of

idolatry and all sorts of abominations in the township of Rathmines.

Dr. Gentili began his last mission on 3rd September in the Augustinian church of St. John. The church was in a densely populated area and the living conditions of the people were wretched in the extreme. Fever was rampant. Some well-intentioned people advised Father Gentili to postpone this mission, pointing out to him that the church, which was poorly ventilated, would be crammed with people. The risk of infection would be very great during the long hours he would have to spend in the confessional; his health, never robust, would not withstand the strain. Gentili brushed all these suggestions aside; health had never been one of his great concerns.

There are few details of this mission, but we do know that Father Gentili wrote his last letter to Rosmini on 5th September 1848 from the Augustinian Priory. Addressing Rosmini as “My very dear and beloved Father Superior and General in Jesus Christ,” he advises him (Rosmini had written to several of the brethren asking their opinion on the matter) to accept the cardinalate offered by Pius IX, but to remember the scarlet cloak of mockery with which Jesus had been clothed.

As you also ask for a command, I send you one as definite as I can make it, and if I am allowed, in virtue of holy obedience.

He goes on to describe the mission at St. John’s and adds:

The Lord has opened a fresh field, greater and more fertile than that of England. We could easily have a house and a church that are now being built in this capital city.

He tells Rosmini that he has suggested that the bishops of Ireland place the whole country under the special protection of the Immaculate Virgin Mary. He ends this last testament, as it were:

My greetings to all the brethren in Rome; give me your holy blessing, and believe me always, your most affectionate son in Jesus Christ and Mary most holy. Luigi Gentili.

Gentili is at his best in this letter, although another letter, this time to Pagani (7th September), shows that even towards the end his sense of the dramatic was never far from the surface. Speaking about Rosmini’s promotion to the cardinalate, which never in fact took place, he says:

Thanks be to God my predictions about Fr. General are beginning to become true. Who knows, perhaps they will be fulfilled completely and we shall see him Pope. It must be some time now that he has been made Cardinal. Let us pray to most holy Mary, our hope, and she will at last console us and let us see the Institute great and beautiful before we die.

but he goes on

Above all let us pray that we become saints. Without this the rest is nothing.

The mission in the Augustinian church had reached only the end of its second week when Dr. Gentili’s strength could no longer keep pace with his heroic spirit. On 16th September, a sudden attack of fever compelled him to leave the confessional. He had held on as long as he could but finally was unable even to understand his penitents. Hardly able to walk, he dragged himself to the Priory and lay down on a couch wrapped in his great cloak. Here Father Furlong found him and advised him to go to bed.

On 17th September, Furlong wrote to father Pagani: “I regret that dear Dr. Gentili was taken ill last night.” Further communiqués followed until Thursday, 26th September, when “our venerated and holy brother slept calmly in the arms of Jesus and Mary at twenty minutes past seven o’clock this morning.” Luigi Gentili had lived 47 years. It was seventeen years since he had joined the Institute of Charity and only three since he began to preach his missions and retreats. During that time, he had given 58 missions, some lasting a fortnight or more, 15 retreats to priests, and 21 to religious and students. It is estimated that in these last three years of his life Father Gentili had preached well over 2000 sermons.

The news of Gentili’s death spread rapidly. The body, first placed in the Augustinian church to facilitate the vast numbers who wished to pay their respects, had to be transferred to St. Audeon’s, the largest church in Dublin, where father Gentili had preached his first Irish mission. Day and night thousands filed past the body, touching it with reverence and love. Gentili was buried on 29th September. Requiem Mass was sung by Dr. Devereux, assisted by Mgr O’Connor, a friend of Gentili’s from his days at the Irish College, Rome. Another Roman friend, Dr. Moriarty, Prior of the Augustinians, preached the panegyric, taking as his text: “to visit the fatherless and the widow in their tribulations, and to be pure and unspotted from the world.” The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Murray, offered a tomb in the Pro-Cathedral, but it was decided to bury Gentili in the Heroic Circle in Glasnevin, reserved for the great men who had given signal service to Ireland.

The funeral of Dr. Gentili was unequalled since that of the Liberator, Daniel O’Connell, next to whom he was laid in Glasnevin. Crowds made the streets almost impassable, and the funeral cortege stretched for three miles. The people of Dublin stood with bowed heads as the coffin passed and, as one newspaper reported, “All was hushed, save the tolling of the bell and the low cries and sobs of the people.” Gentili “a burning and a shining light,” was, as Cardinal Wiseman wrote: “a martyr to his zeal for the salvation of souls.”

For ninety years the body of Father Gentili rested in Glasnevin. Then in July 1938, it was removed from the O’Connell Circle to Omeath in County Louth, on the shores of Carlingford Lough. There he awaits the Resurrection. Many pilgrims still come to pray at his grave, inspired by his wonderful life and the power and beauty of his holiness.

Archbishop Ullathorne, on learning of Gentili’s death, wrote:

May God raise up for us another Apostle like to him.

Ambrose de Lisle was generous:

We were not worthy of this blessed saint; nothing can ever replace him to me in this world; my only comfort is to invoke his prayers.

Newman wrote sadly to Pagani:

It is very mysterious indeed that anyone should be taken away in the midst of a career of such holy and important services as Father Gentili was rendering to Catholicism in this country [but] doubtless he is able to do more for you and for the Church where he now is by his prayers than he could do by even the greatest exertions on earth.

Rosmini himself felt exultation rather than sorrow. He wrote to Pagani:

Let us bless the Lord for all that happens, and rejoice that his holy will is fulfilled. Our peace will then be perfect and our joy complete. If we have lost a dear brother in Don Luigi, and the field of the Lord a great worker, let us not allow our pain to become sadness. Let it be seasoned with spiritual joy at the thought that this citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem can do more of us and the Church now than the earthly pilgrim did … God has given, god has taken away. May the name of the Lord be blessed … Courage, dear brother. Te Deum laudamus.

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