Felix of Cantalice, Saint
Capuchin friar, b. at Cantalice, on the north-western border of the Abruzzi; d. at Rome, May 18, 1587
Felix of Cantalice, Saint, Capuchin friar, b. at Cantalice, on the northwestern border of the Abruzzi; d. at Rome, May 18, 1587. His feast is celebrated amongst the Franciscans and in certain Italian dioceses on May 18. He is usually represented in art as holding in his arms the Infant Jesus, because of a vision he once had, when the Blessed Virgin appeared to him and placed the Divine Child in his arms.
His parents were peasant folk, and very early he was set to tend sheep. When nine years of age he was hired out to a farmer at Citta Ducale with whom he remained for over twenty years, first as a shepherd-boy and afterwards as a farm laborer. But from his earliest years Felix evinced signs of great holiness, spending all his leisure time in prayer, either in the church or in some solitary place. A friend of his having read to him the lives of the Fathers of the Desert, Felix conceived a great desire for the eremitical life, but at the same time feared to live otherwise than under the obedience of a superior. After seeking light in prayer, he determined to ask admittance amongst the Capuchins. At first the friars hesitated to accept him, but he eventually received the habit, in 1543, at Anticoli in the Roman Province. It was not without the severest temptations that he persevered and made his profession. These temptations were so severe as to injure his bodily health. In 1547 he was sent to Rome and appointed questor for the community. Here he remained for the rest of his life, and in fulfilling his lowly office became a veritable apostle of Rome.
The influence which he speedily gained with the Roman people is an evidence of the inherent power of personal holiness over the consciences of men. He had no learning; he could not even read; yet learned theologians came to consult him upon the science of the spiritual life and the Scriptures. Whenever he appeared in the streets of Rome vicious persons grew abashed and withdrew from his sight. Sometimes Felix would stop them and earnestly exhort them to live a better life; especially did he endeavor to restrain young men. But judges and dignitaries also at times incurred his rebuke; he was no respecter of persons when it was a matter of preventing sin. On one occasion, during a Carnival, he and St. Philip Neri organized a procession through the streets. The Oratorians headed the procession with their crucifix; then came the Capuchin friars; last came Felix leading Fra Lupo, a well-known Capuchin preacher, by a rope round his neck, to represent Our Lord led to judgment by his executioners. Arrived in the middle of the revels, the procession halted and Fra Lupo preached to the people. The Carnival, with its open vice, was broken up for that year.
But Felix’s special apostolate was amongst the children of the city, with whom his childlike simplicity made him a special favorite. His method with these was to gather them together in bands and, forming a circle, set them to sing canticles of his own composing, by which he taught them the beauty of a good life and the ugliness of sin. These canticles became popular, and frequently, when on his rounds in quest of alms, Felix would be invited into the houses of his benefactors and asked to sing. He would seize the opportunity to bring home some spiritual truth in extemporized verse. During the famine of 1580 the directors of the city’s charities asked his superiors to place Felix at their disposal to collect alms for the starving, and he was untiring in his quest.
St. Philip Neri had a deep affection for the Capuchin lay brother, whom he once proclaimed the greatest saint then living in the Church. When St. Charles Borromeo sought St. Philip’s aid in drawing up the constitutions of his Oblates, St. Philip took him to St. Felix as the most competent adviser in such matters. But through all, Felix kept his wonderful humility and simplicity. He was accustomed to style himself “The Ass of the Capuchins”. Acclaimed a saint by the people of Rome, immediately after his death, he was beatified by Urban VIII in 1625, and canonized by Clement XI in 1712. His body rests under an altar dedicated to him in the church of the Immaculate Conception in Rome.