A solicitous sacristan and a precious gift of Pope Pius IX

Perhaps not everyone knows that a solicitous sacristan of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, a certain Br.

Fr. Ferdinando Vicari,[1]  requested and obtained a gift from Pope Pius IX.

Expressed in such terms, this could appear to be an affront to the Pope, but let us take a step backwards…

It was the year 1846 and given that this was the centenary of the canonisation of St. Camillus the newly elected Pope celebrated the Holy Mass at the High Altar. By accident, the sacristan Msgr. Castellani had forgotten to bring the chest with the sacred vestments as was the custom and thus the Holy Father celebrated with the vestments of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. This forgetfulness meant that the Pope did not leave his sacred vestments as a gift in honour of the Founder Saint, as was the custom when he went to other churches.

This was not the first time that Pope IX had visited the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Indeed, as our solicitous sacristan tells us, the Holy Father as Msgr. Maria Mastai Ferretti had lived for some time in that house, knew the fathers that at that time stayed there, and in various circumstances had also made reference to them. Amongst the anecdotes connected with him there is also a moving episode that is described in the Canonical Process for his beatification: ‘Living at that time with the Camillians at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, he forgot one night to put out the lamp and his bed caught fire; after waking up abruptly and seeing the danger, he prayed to Our Lady, and managed to flee safe and sound’ [2].

And in the year 1862 he was present at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene on the occasion of the feast day of our Most Holy Saviour.

Thus the sacristan, when in conversation with Msgr. D. Paolino Carlucci, who held most affectionate feelings towards the Institute and the church, expressed with great displeasure that although the Holy Father had come on a number of occasions to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, he had never left a memory of him that could be shown. Msgr. Carlucci shortly made this news reach the Holy Father who in humorous tones replied: “We had never thought of that, but the sacristan is right”.

Thus the gift soon arrived: ‘a magnificent chalice of gilded silver with cherubs around it of good and recent work’.

The sacristan on receiving this gift was pleased but also a little confused. And to such an extent that in his turn he wanted to express his gratitude to the Pope by offering him a copy, superbly illuminated by Sig. Giuseppe Pazzi, of a magnificent picture of Our Lady of Health with St. Joseph and St. Camillus, by the painter Francesco Gagliardi and reproduced by Sig. Filippo Belli.[3]

[1] Br. Vicari (Rieti 22 January 1815 – Rome, house of St. Mary Magdalene 27 August 1877) performed the office of sacristan at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene starting in the year 1839. He worked to promote the Archconfraternity of Our Lady of Health for which he had made an effigy in copper of St. Mary of Health with St. Joseph and St. Camillus in supplicant pose.

[2] Domesticum, 1911, p. 165.

[3] AGMI 2745 ‘Historical memories of the miraculous Picture of the Most Holy Mary of Health which is venerated in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene by the Fathers of the Ministers of the Sick, by Ferdinando Vicari of the same religion’ (ff. 45 -50).