St. Alfonso Maria Fusco: Educator and Protector of Children and Youth

Alfonso Maria Fusco was born on March 23, 1839 in Angri, in the Province of Salerno, in the Diocese of Nocera-Salerno, in Italy. His parents Aniello Fusco and Giuseppina Schiavone were childless and prayed at the tomb of St. Alphonso De Liguori. One Redemptorist priest told them that they would have a son, whom they should name ‘Alfonso’ and he would become a priest imitating the life of St. Alphonso De Liguori.

The promised child was brought up in Christian principles. Alfonso told his parents when he was eleven years old that he wanted to become a priest and on November 5, 1850, he entered Episcopal Seminary of Nocera dei Pagani. When he was still a seminarian, he had a dream where Jesus of Nazareth told him:

“Alfonso, You should found an Institute of Sisters that you will call ‘Of the Nazarene’ and an orphanage for boys and girls. The ground is ready; you need to only build it. As soon as you become a priest, you should do this.”

On May 29, 1863 he was ordained by the Archbishop of Salerno, Monsignor Anthony Salomone, amid the joy of his family and the enthusiasm of the people. And so, as a newly ordained priest Alfonso began a little school for them in his own house, taught the basics of their religion and instilled in their hearts love of God and of neighbor. Alfonso recognized that a quality education was the best gift one could give a youngster to make them good citizens of earth and heaven. He needed help in accomplishing this.

In Alfonso’s days there were no Sisters in Angri. As a result of the anticlerical atmosphere rampant throughout Italy in the 1800’s, religious communities had been forced to disperse. Alfonso saw the absence of Sisters as an opportunity to bring them back to Angri. From a dream he had while in the seminary, he felt his call was to establish a religious group of Sisters to help him with his work with the children. He learned that a pious, wealthy widow of the parish, Mrs. Graziani, was also concerned about the plight of young girls and wished to start an institution to help them. Alfonso realized the intervention of God and took this as an opportunity for collaboration. He was convinced in the core of his being that the care of young girls and boys through the founding of a religious group of Sisters was God’s Will for him.

One day while at Mrs. Graziani’s house he met a pious young woman from the parish called Maddelena Caputo. In her Alfonso found a “soul-sister” who shared in his dream. In 1878 after overcoming many obstacles and being convinced that this was God’s plan for him, Father Fusco together with Maddalena Caputo and with the help of a few pious women of the parish committed them to caring for and educating the young children, especially orphans. Thus he began the Religious Community of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist.

Alfonso Maria Fusco was a true and devoted Son of the Church, a “Servant of God”. He was very kind, approachable and compassionately generous. Children were attracted towards him feeling welcomed in his presence. To these little ones he was truly the loving father that many did not have. Adults, too, did not hesitate to bring themselves to him presenting their needs, confiding their failings and sharing their hopes. As God’s servant, Alfonso was nonjudgmental. He did not condone what was wrong, nor did he judge people because of the circumstances that left them in need whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually.

Throughout his life, no matter how trying, how frustrating, how disappointing circumstances might be, Alfonso was true to his faith, to his ecclesial superiors and to the mission that he knew God had given him. In turn, God was even more faithful to him. Alfonso did not shrink from the task that God laid before him. Indeed, he remained faithful to it until he reached his destination in the Heavenly Father’s house on 6th February 1910. On 7th October 2001, Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square, Rome proclaimed him ‘Blessed.’ On October 16, 2016 Pope Francis proclaimed him a saint.

Charism, apostolate, Spirituality: 

Charism of CSJB is “To live our spousal relationship with Jesus the Nazarene in the service to the little ones and the poor and like John the Baptist prepare His ways.”

Apostolate: Human promotion through evangelization and Education of children especially the poor and abandoned.

Spirituality: The spirituality of the Baptistine Sisters flows from the contemplation of Jesus the Nazarene,  as He carried out his mission in the streets of Palestine,  intent on fulfilling his Father’s project,  doing good to everyone,  bringing a human touch to people’s relationships and building the Kingdom of God.

Founding and Growth of the Congregation: The context of the founding of the Congregation was French Revolution. In 1860 the socio-political situation in Angri and Campania became more complex and thick with political, social, and religious upheavals. There is a noted difference between the Northern Italy, where a profound industrial transformation is underway bringing comfort and wealth, and the Southern Italy, where the situation is ever more dramatic because of the economic crisis, the decrease in commercial trade, and the poor conditions or absence of the infrastructures necessary to live.

The large estates collapse and land wars break out. Poverty, hunger, sickness, illiteracy, dreadful conditions, and emigration are the most critical issues emerging from the territorial composition of the time. Within this alarming socio-political context, the vocation and mission of Don Alfonso Maria Fusco matures towards a social commitment, in addition to an ethical-religious dedication.

In 1863 Alfonso was ordained a priest.  Taking into account the social reality of the time and the very real requirements of Christian pedagogy, Don Alfonso used education an instrument for the promotion and formation of the youth, emphasizing on scientific education, Christian formation and professional preparation. In Angri there was a young woman called Maria Maddalena Caputo who wanted to become a religious. With four young women on September 26, 1878 he found an institute of Sisters for the protection and education of poor and orphan children. Madalena Caputo became the co-foundress of the congregation.

The congregation of the sisters of St. John the Baptist is today an international family belonging to different nations, races, speaking many different languages. The Baptistine sisters continue to be passionate about the project of Don Alfonso and work in 18 nations. We dedicate ourselves principally to works related to education, we provide service to parish ministry, and we offer assistance to elderly, to the sick, to blind.  We are at the side of those suffering from leprosy or AIDS, women who need help in social advancement.

Growth and spread of the CSJB in India:

The Congregation of the Sisters of St. John the Baptist was started in Tamilnadu, India at Madurai, Annanagar in the year 1977. It was by the grace of God two of our sisters namely Mother Alberta Stango and Sr. Enrica Mendonzza bought a piece of land with the help of Fr. Jesudass, the then procurator of Madurai Archdiocese. Sisters were much interested in the pastoral activities. The first nursery school was started in 1978 with 10 children in a small shed.  The native vocation started flourishing.

CSJB in Bangalore:

On August 29, 1979 novitiate house was started in a rented house at Koramangala, Bangalore. In December 29, 1982 the first floor of the new house in Indiranagar was blessed. Sr.Teresina Kunnath was the first superior and novice directress. In the year 1988, it was erected as a delegation and Sr.Teresina was the first delegate superior. In 1997, the delegation became a vice-province. It grew up into a Province by 2008.

Today Indian Province is comprised of 23 communities and 114 sisters working in India. Gradually the mission spread to seven states in India namely Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Assam. In India its apostolates are Education, Health Ministry, Home for the Children, Hostels for girls, Empowerment of women, Social works etc.

Global Presence of the CSJB:

As of 2017 CSJB is spread out in 18 countries, in 5 Provinces, 2 Vice-provinces and 1 delegation with total number of 850 professed members. The CSJB headquarters is in Rome, situated at Circonvallazione, Cornelia, 65 – Roma 00165, Italy.

St.Alfonso Maria Fusco was canonized on 16th October 2016. Pope Francis raised him as Saint, and offered him as an example to priests, and a model for every one as an educator and protector especially to the poor and the needy.


Sisters of St. John the Baptist,
Indiranagar P.O,
Old Madras Road, Bangalore 560038,
KARNATAKA, Ph: 080-25283437/08989426811
Email: provinceindiacsjb@gmail.com

Bibliography

  1. Sergio C. Lorit, “Five Lire and a Hovel”, National Printing Press, Bangalore, 2010.
  2. Salvatore Garofolo, “Alfonso is his name”, New York, 1981.
  3. Margherita M. Lecce, “A Young man, a dream, a project”, Barcelona, 2001.
  4. http://baptistine.org, “Mission and Charism”
  5. CSJB, “25 years of His mission in India”, Joe Offset Printers, Madurai, 2002.

 

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