St Alphonsus Liguori (1696 - 1787)
He was a Neapolitan lawyer who lost a court case in a spectacular fashion, when it turned out that a key document in his case had been misinterpreted by him and in fact proved his opponent’s case instead. He immediately left the law and studied for the priesthood. But God is not proud, and accepts people even on the rebound: Alphonsus became a priest.
He preached in the rural districts around Naples, and it was his boast that he never delivered a sermon that the poorest old woman in the congregation could not understand. His bishop asked him to establish an order of missionaries to work in the countryside, and the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (the Redemptorists) was formally established in 1749.
He was a bishop from 1762 to 1775, insisting on the dignified and unhurried celebration of the Mass and the firm treatment of persistent wrongdoers.
The Redemptorists proved to be a quarrelsome congregation: their formal establishment had been delayed by more than a decade because of internal dissension. After his retirement Alphonsus had to try to make peace within the congregation. Unfortunately his old failing returned and he signed a new Constitution for the Redemptorists without reading it properly (though, to be fair to him, he was 80 and in poor health at the time). The result was that the Redemptorists split into two separate congregations, both of whom rejected Alphonsus: peace was not restored until some time after his death.
Nevertheless, in spite of all this storm and trouble, Alphonsus lived an exceptionally holy life. He was also an outstanding moral theologian, and won back sinners to the fold by patience and moderation. His work needs to be better known today, when there seems to be no rational middle course between puritanism and permissiveness.
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