Pope Francis Advances Sainthood Causes of Priests with Early and Late Vocations

Venerable Fr. Mario Ciceri knew his vocation from a very young age and died after an accident at just 44 years old while Servant of God Fr. Alfonso Ugolini was ordained after a lifetime dedicated to helping the poor and disaffected of his district, and lived to be 91 years old.

Pope Francis speaks during the Wednesday general audience inside the San Damaso Courtyard of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Sept. 30, 2020.
Pope Francis speaks during the Wednesday general audience inside the San Damaso Courtyard of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, Sept. 30, 2020. (photo: Daniel Ibanez)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis advanced Tuesday the sainthood causes of several men and women, including two Italian priests of the 20th century, one who was ordained at age 23 and another who was ordained at 65.

Venerable Fr. Mario Ciceri knew his vocation from a very young age and died after an accident at just 44 years old. Servant of God Fr. Alfonso Ugolini was ordained after a lifetime dedicated to helping the poor and disaffected of his district, and lived to be 91 years old.

The pope decreed that the sainthood causes could advance to the next stage after a Nov. 23 audience with Bishop Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, who will be made a cardinal on Saturday. 

Among the causes promoted was also that of Fr. Juan Elias Medina and 126 companions, who were killed during the Spanish Civil War. Declared martyrs, they will now be beatified.

Venerable Mario Ciceri will also now be declared blessed, after Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Father Ciceri was born to poor farmers in northern Italy in 1900. He was the fourth of six children and, after the death of an aunt, Father Ciceri’s parents also brought her 13 children to live with them. 

From childhood, Ciceri knew he had a vocation to the priesthood. He would go often to the local parish and attend religious functions, serving as altar boy.

With the permission of his devout parents, he left to begin studying at a seminary high school while still in grade school. His achievements earned him scholarships, which allowed him to continue his studies despite his family’s limited financial means. Ciceri was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Milan at age 23. 

As a new priest, he was responsible for the parish’s catechism classes and helped with the Catholic Action youth group. He founded and directed a schola cantorum for young people. Father Ciceri also helped to repair the buildings, acting as a carpenter, bricklayer, and electrical engineer. The priest also used these skills to build a small reproduction of the Lourdes Grotto. 

One young man at the parish wrote that the priest somehow found time to do these activities while also never neglecting his priestly ministry and was “always in church.”

The man said: “Yet if you go to the hospital, you can find him there at any time; if you go around the country, wherever there is a material or spiritual need, a pain to soothe, a need to help, you will find him there. Where you are sure not to find him is at his home, which really is not his home, but that of the young people.”

Father Ciceri cared for and encouraged the poor, the sick, former prisoners, and the young men who were soldiers fighting at the front during World War II.

In February 1945, while riding his bicycle home from a neighboring parish, where he had helped to hear confessions, he was hit by a buggy and fatally injured. He died two months later, on April 4, at the age of 44, after offering his suffering for an end to World War II and the safe return of soldiers.

In contrast to Father Ciceri, there is Fr. Alfonso Ugolini, who spent most of his life serving the Church as a layman, before being ordained a priest at age 65. He was declared “venerable” by Pope Francis Nov. 23.

He was born in France in 1908 to a once wealthy Catholic family. After losing everything, they moved to Sassuolo, Italy. Father Ugolini’s parents were deeply religious and taught their son the values of faithfulness, honesty, and love of neighbor, despite their poverty.

When he was between 12 and 15 years old, Father Ugolini’s parents and only sister, who was a nun, died of tuberculosis. Father Ugolini himself came close to dying from the disease, but attributed his recovery to the Virgin Mary, to whom he had entrusted himself during the deep loneliness he experienced following the death of his mother.

At age 17, he began spiritual direction with his parish priest, who incorporated him into the life of the parish, giving him jobs as a sacristan, parish secretary, catechist, and handyman.

In addition to these roles, Father Ugolini took it upon himself to transform a little room next to the church into a reception space for the poor.

There he would meet the poor and give out food and support, or help them to find a job. He was known for his acceptance of everyone, and lines of gypsies, immigrants, ex-prisoners, drug addicts, the unemployed, and homeless people from throughout the district would form outside his little office looking for help.  

When people complained that he helped even atheists, communists, and swindlers, he would respond: “They are all children of God.”

People in the area so trusted and esteemed Father Ugolini that they were eager to give him money, open their doors to the poor, and create jobs. He is estimated to have handled in about 15 years the equivalent of $300,000 -- a huge amount of money at the time. Some called him “God’s banker.”

In 1972, the local bishop asked Father Ugolini if he would like to be ordained a priest, and he agreed. His remaining 26 years of life he served in priestly ministry, with many hours spent in the confessional administering the Sacrament of Penance. Father Ugolini died on Oct. 25, 1999, at the age of 91.

Pope Francis also declared Nov. 23 the “heroic virtue” of Servants of God Italian bishop Fortunato Maria Farina (1881-1954) and Spanish priest Fr. Andres Manjon y Manjon (1846-1923), as well as three Italian women: Sr. Maria Francesca Ticchi of the Poor Clares (1887-1922); Sr. Maria Carola Cecchin of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo (1877-1925); and Sr. Maria Francesca Giannetto of the Congregation of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate (1902-1930). 

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