Fr. Agostino Lana: a Camillian who Reflected on Our Lady

IMG_5462The Borromaic Reform had just begun, which sought to outline the idea kind of bishop that the Church needed to meet the Protestant Reformation in an exhaustive way, when in Rome on 15 September 1582 the Congregation of the Camillians was founded to provide care to dying sick people. The religious body then spread above all in Italy but it also had a Province in Spain. Gregory XIV raised this religious Congregation to the being an Order on 2 September 1591 by his Bull Illius qui pro gregis, joining to the three solemn vows also that of providing spiritual and corporeal care to the sick, including the plague-stricken. With the complete management of hospitals in 1595, Clement VIII declared that it was right for the Camillians to provide a complete service, with the exclusion of manual labour. The Camillians soon made themselves known as ministers of the sick who in the exercise of their angelic institute showed that they were most worthy sons of the hero of charity, St. Camillus Lellis.[1]

One of these sons was Father Agostino Lana who ‘shone with most beautiful light, compared to the stars of the sky, and left behind him a shining tail of glory’.

Our readers, if they already know about him, remember him as a famous and talented writer on Mary.

He was born in Rome on 23 May 1821 to Sir Vincenzo, a military man, and Maria Maddalena Prassedi, of noble birth, who engaged in most worthy works of faith in the eyes of God and a true ornament of the Christian family.

Agostino was brought up, as I observed, according to the precepts of divine law which were much practised in those days of living faith by parents who were truly Christian and at a very young age he heard the so-named ‘call’.

On 18 January 1843 at the age of twenty he donned the habit of St. Camillus to ‘fight as a man of valour under his standard the battles of the Lord’. He was consecrated a priest in 20 December 1845.

In 1848, three years after his ordination, he was sent to Ferrara to hold a series of sermons and promote institutions, and he remained there until the year 1852. After returning from Ferrara, at the end of the same year he was sent the Church of St. Mary Magdalene where for about a year he was the archivist and librarian. In the same year he was sent to the Hospital of St. John. In 1862 he returned to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene and during the years that he stayed there he reorganised the library. He had just finished doing this when the Italian parliament approved the law (number 3036) of 7 July 1866 which dissolved the religious institutes[2] and ended nearly all the ecclesiastical bodies. The next year, on 15 May 1867, all the secular bodies which were held by the state to be superfluous for the life of the Church were abolished.

These secularisation laws,[3] starting with that of 29 May 1855 which abolished the religious Orders, as is well known would have notable consequences for the machinery of the Holy See and the whole of the Church.[4] Aware that the library of the mother house had a large and rich number of very rare works, Father Lana strove to save the best by walling them up in an atrium of the Hospital of St. John, from which they were removed in 1904 and taken back to the generalate house in 1906. To him we should attribute the merit of also saving the fine collection of works of our Camillian fathers kept in the general archives which were then walled up with the other works at the Hospital of St. John.

After the election of Father Ferrini as the Father General, the intention was to reorganise the general archives and these were taken from the Casa dei Serpenti to Sabini in Via delle Muratte. Finally they were taken back to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene.

In 1885 Father Lana was appointed general archivist by the General Consulta with the obligation to reside at the generalate house. While attending to his duties, in May of the same year he was appointed Provincial Superior of the Province of Rome. The Father Vicar asked him to ho on living at the Magdalene House given his great passion for the reorganisation of the archives.

Manoscritto di p.Lana

Manoscritto di p.Lana

Christian Rome with its basilicas, its catacombs and its monuments which has arisen on the ruins of paganism to attest to the perpetuity of the Catholic faith, with the splendours of worship, formed for Fr. Lana an ecstasy of the spirit and the finest and most appreciated pasture for his spirit of piety and religion. Amongst his best writings we may refer to: Estetica Mariana, organised into three parts; Bello Biblico di Maria, Bello Mistico, on Theodatus, the Bishop of Laodicea in Syria; and a work on the reorganisation of the Zenonian liturgies for the diocese of Verona. He published only the first two parts and two chapters of the third part in the review of Naples I Gigli di Maria: ( Sul nome Ss. Di Maria, Panegirico della SS. Vergine Salus Infirmorum, l’Immacolata Concezione di Maria Vergine, Maria Salus Infirmorum, l’Immacolata… ).[5]

His ‘Monumental Epigraphy of Christian Rome’, namely a collection of all the lapidary inscriptions of Rome, was without doubt a long and arduous undertaking and each page bears witness to the fact that the author had engaged in this difficult study with assiduous, personal and conscientious work.

A true minister of the sick, his life was in danger on four occasions when caring for cholera victims in special centres and this is something he did with admirable charity. The Order esteemed him to such an extent that he was elected a member of the General Consulta, a Provincial Prefect and a Local Prefect on a number of occasions.

The Accademia degli Arcadi recorded him in its annual reports and the Holy Congregation of Rites for about thirty years listed him as one of the best, assiduous and conscientious General Councillors.

The memory of Fr. Agostino Lana is still alive. To his most edifying talents as a religious figure he joined accomplishments of creativity and literary and artistic capacities that were not common and which made him worthy of both felt and expressed respect. He died on 2 October 1901 following acute enteritis which ended in a heart attack.[6]

Panegirico Maria Salus infirmorum di p. Agostino Lana

Piero Del Prete

[1] G. Greco, La chiesa in Occidente. Istituzioni e uomini dal Medioevo all’Età Moderna (Bari, Carrocci, 2008), pp.273-274.

[2] For anti-clericalism at the time Pius IX, cf. Wikipedia, ‘Anticlericalismo durante il Risorgimento’.

[3] De Rosa, La Storia. Dal Seicento all’Ottocento (Minerva Italica, Milan, 2008), p . 311.

[4] Pius IX spoke about ‘persecution’ with reference to these laws. Cf. B. Mondin, Dizionario enciclopedico dei Papi. Storia e Insegnamenti (Città Nuova editrice, Rome, 1995), p. 460.

[5] Endrizzi M., Bibliografia Camilliana ovvero Brevi Memorie degli scrittori dell’Ordine dei Ministri degli Infermi (Tipografia Camilliana, S. Giuliano–Verona, 1910), pp. 83-87.

[6] Padre Agostino Lana, fascicolo personale, General Archives of the Ministers of the Sick (AGMI), Rome.