The Clerics Regular Minor: 400 years of service in to the Church
by. Fr. Nicholas Capetola, C.R.M.
The Order of the Clerics Regular Minor (Adorno Fathers) came into existence in the 16th century and was one of several approved by the Church, before and after the Council of Trent, under the general name of Clerics Regular. The first inspiration to establish the new Religious Order came to the Genoese, Augustine Adorno, who in the city of Naples, found another collaborators: Fabrizio Caracciolo and Francis Caracciolo. With them, he wrote a Rule and presented it to the Pope, Sixtus V, who approved it in 1588.
Even though our three men came from geographical, social and religious backgrounds, they brought together a common desire to reform their lives, and they shared the vision to renew the Church in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation. In starting a new Institute about 25 years after the Council of Trent had officially closed and more than half a century after the Theatines, the Jesuits and a number of other Institutes had been extablished, our Founders drafted laws based on what they had seen and what they felt would bring a deeper renewal in the Church.
For them, certain elements of spirituality, present in ancient Institutes, needed to be taken up again and re-expressed in the Clerics Regular. Our Father Adorno, in particular, claimed a revelation from God about this and became convinced that his Order was to take the best from other Institutes and be a kind of compendium of all of them. Accordingly, he and the other two Founders, examined well other Religious Orders before moving on their own. From them they took what they felt was more important. In this they followed the Apostle Paul: Set your hearts on the greater gifts (1 Cor.12:31).
Their new Congregation was to be more ascetic and contemplative than the other Clerics Regular by stressing and practicing more prolonged times of prayer, such as the obligation of the Liturgy of the Hours in common, the centrality of the Eucharist in their apostolate and the importance of penance and restraint in one’s life. In the original petitions to the Holy See, our Founders spoke of contemplation and worship as being the principal occupations of the Institute. They did not reject the works of the apostolate, but they preferred pure times of prayer, a view which needed to be stressed in the busy post Tridentine Church.
Because Augustine Adorno died early, only three years after the Order had been approved, and because Fabrizio Caracciolo did not make his religious Profession but after several years, the task of guiding the new religious family, of forming its first members, of clarifying the Rule, and of seeing the Institute increasing and expanding, fell upon Francis Caracciolo. He was the first elected Superior General and lived long enough to see the Order well established in Italy and in Spain. He died on June 4, 1608 at the age of 45 on the vigil of Corpus Christi – the feast of the Eucharist, which Francis prescribed as central in the spirit and the apostolate of the Order.
He was proclaimed a Saint by Pope Pius VII on May 24, 1807. The process of canonization, which took almost 200 years, marked also a time of great witnessing and growth for the Institute. By the middle of the 18th century, the Order had grown into five Provinces (3 in Italy and 2 in Spain) and about 50 communities with a total membership between 700 to 800. The Order worked in parishes and taught in Colleges and universities. It had consulters in various Congregations of the Holy See, and some of its members were given special and delicate assignments in the Far East to investigate and report on the difficult controversies of the Malabarian Rites. Others, like Nicola Tomacelli, reached as far as the Court of the Emperor of China in Peking.
Unfortunately, the next century dealt a serious blow to all religious Orders and to the Clerics Regular Minor in particular. Napoleon, the Revolutions and Europe Nationalistic spirit of the time contributed to a general disarray and deterioration. Many houses were suppressed, a number of members were secularized, and entire Provinces disappeared. With the coming of the 20th century, however, the Order has experienced a remarkable recovery. Its presence has widened and diversified for what it does and where it operates. Today it is present in several places in Italy, especially those which remind it of its Founders. It has lost the traces of its one time glorious presence in Spain, but Divine Providence has called it in other countries: in the United States, in Germany and in the heart of the African continent, the Republic of Congo, where it operates the mission as well as two houses of formation. Just this past year, the Order has opened a new House of Formation in Nairobi, Kenya, staffed totally by our African priests.
The Order is not an Institute specifically missionary. In the course of four centuries never was a house opened for the pastoral service ad gentes, but the Second Vatican Council and the solicitations of the Popes inviting all religious Orders to a new re-evangelization of the world, have matured in us the decision to open ourselves to the missions not only in Africa, but also in Southern India, where we have built our seminaries with a good number of candidates currently in training in Mallikassery, Kerala and Bangalore, Karnatika.
March 1, 2002 marked also the official beginning of our presence in the Philippines. Following an invitation by Bishop Benjamin J. Almoneda, we went to the Diocese of Daet with the understanding of using the academic diocesan facilities of Holy Trinity College Seminary. We took up residence temporarily on the campus of Holy Trinity, while our House of Formation was being built in Vinzons, Camarines Norte. Today the seminary there is in full operation. We have about 25 College seminarians and four novices.
If we look at the difficult journey of our Order in more than four centuries, we must acknowledge as true the tradition of a promise made by the Blessed Mother to Father Adorno: that the Institute would be under her special protection. It must have been her maternal hand that has spared us from shipwreck. We want to be worthy of this special protection of Mary, and, in the renewed will of fidelity to the charism of the Founders, we feel sustained by the friendship and charity of so many people, who praise and thank the Lord with us for all that He has granted us in the past, and we want to implore His benevolence on our future.