How Saint Anthony Mary Claret Engaged the Culture of His Times

How Saint Anthony Mary Claret Engaged the Culture of His Times
How Saint Anthony Mary Claret Engaged the Culture of His Times

The history of nineteenth-century Spain cannot be understood without studying the life of this great Catholic missionary.

 Saint Anthony Mary Claret was one of the great pillars of the Holy Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. When Pius XII canonized him in 1950, the pope called him “everyone’s saint” because “artisans, priests, bishops and the entire Christian people, each according to his state, look for hope and encouragement from his clear examples, in that Christian perfection which alone can produce, in the present disturbances, opportune remedies and attract better times.”[1]

This extraordinarily active saint was “an apostle of the word by preaching countless sermons; an apostle of the pen by publishing numerous volumes; an apostle of the press by creating academies, bookstores and libraries; and an apostle of Catholic social action and spiritual exercises. He was a catechist, a missionary, a trainer of the clergy, director of souls, founder of congregations, educator and ‘guardian angel of the royal family,’ as Pius XI put it; most of all, he was eminently holy.”[2]

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A popular preacher, he founded the Missionary Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, became Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, confessor and adviser to Queen Isabel II of Spain, and distinguished himself at the First Vatican Council as a fearless defender of papal infallibility.

Since it is impossible to include all the work of this tireless fighter, here are a few brushstrokes.

Antônio John Adjutor was born in Sallent, Diocese of Vich, Province of Barcelona, Spain, on December 23, 1807, the fifth of 11 children of John Claret and Josefa Clará, owners of a small textile mill. His parents were “honorable and God-fearing, very devoted to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and the Blessed Virgin Mary,” as the saint says in his autobiography,[3] “because Mary Most Holy is my Mother, Godmother, Teacher, Director and my everything after Jesus.”

Piety and a True Priestly Vocation

With precocious piety, he was concerned with eternity and man’s ultimate destiny already at the age of five. As an adult, he ponders: “I cannot understand how other priests who believe in these same truths as I—in which we all must believe—neither preach nor exhort people to save them from falling into hell.”

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His devotion to the Blessed Virgin started at the age of reason: “I never tired of being in the church in front of Mary of the Rosary, speaking and praying to her with such confidence that I truly believed the Blessed Virgin was listening to me.”

It is thus understandable how the priestly vocation awakened in him as a boy: “When still very young, in day school, a great man visiting the school asked me what I would like to become. I replied that I wanted to be a priest.”

An Intense Missionary Spirit

As an adolescent, he started to work in his father’s weaving business. Having made great progress in this craft, he went to Barcelona, ​​a great textile center, to become specialized in the industry. Extremely hard-working and talented, he mastered the textile craft so well that he would make a great career if he devoted himself exclusively to it. But God’s call became more pressing, and he decided to break with the world at once and withdraw to a charterhouse. But he ended up choosing to be a secular priest.

Anthony entered the Vich Seminary in 1829. Shortly afterward, he caught a bad flu and was ordered to stay in bed. On one of these days, he was attacked by a terrible temptation against purity. He turned to Our Lady, to his guardian angel and patron saints, all in vain. Finally, he prayed, “Behold Mary, most beautiful and gracious, comes to me … and she replied, saying: ‘Anthony, if you win, this crown will be yours.’… And the Blessed Mother placed on my head a crown of roses she had on her right arm.” This experience was not the only mystical grace he received. In his life, there are several palpable manifestations of the supernatural.

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On June 13, 1835, his patron’s feast day, Anthony was ordained and appointed auxiliary pastor in his hometown.

However, realizing that his calling was to be a missionary, he sought to evangelize the peoples of Catalonia, orphaned since the suppression of religious orders. When the civil war made this infeasible, he went to Rome to ask for admission to the Congregation for Foreign Missions.

Preach “Opportunely and Inopportunely”

In the Eternal City, after taking the Spiritual Exercises with priests from the Society of Jesus, he decided to join it. He started his novitiate, but a sharp pain in one of his legs forced him to return to Spain. Shortly afterward, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus wrote him, “God did not bring you into the Society to stay in it but to learn how to win souls to heaven.”

Anthony Mary then obtained a license to preach missions in Catalonia and the Canary Islands. He operated miraculous healings, both material and spiritual, cast out demons from the possessed and regularized unmarried couples. He was driven by an intense desire to deliver souls from hell because “seeing the multitude of souls that fall into hell forces me to preach without stopping because it is of faith that all who die in mortal sin condemn themselves.”

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He was encouraged by the example of Saint Paul: “How he runs from one place to another, carrying the doctrine of Jesus Christ as a vessel of election! He preaches, writes, teaches in synagogues, prisons, and elsewhere; he works and makes work opportunely and inopportunely; he suffers lashes, stones, persecutions of all kinds, the most atrocious calumnies.” This description also fits Saint Anthony Mary Claret.

He says: “When I went on a mission, I would see people’s needs and write a booklet or pamphlet according to what I saw and heard. If I saw that the population was accustomed to singing immoral songs, I would publish a pamphlet with a spiritual or moral song. That is why almost all the first tracts I published are songs.”

In 1849, Fr. Anthony Mary, with five other priests, founded a religious Congregation with the name Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Its members would be his assistants in missionary work, which he describes thus: “A Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man who burns in charity that ignites everywhere he goes; who effectively desires and seeks, by all means, to kindle the fire of divine love throughout the world. Nothing stops him; he enjoys hardships, looks for jobs, embraces sacrifices, delights in being slandered, and rejoices in torment. He thinks only of how he will follow and imitate Jesus Christ in working, suffering and always seeking only the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls.”

Appointed Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba in 1850, he affirmed in his inaugural address that “the true Prelate will be the Blessed Virgin, and the form of government, the one she inspires in me.”

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The first mission he preached on the island yielded such great fruits that 40 confessors were not enough to hear all confessions. Distributed by three priests, the general communion lasted six hours! In this mission alone, 8,577 marriages were legitimized.

“Strong-minded” people made several unsuccessful attempts to kill him, but Our Lady watched over him.

Unveiling the Future of Cuba and Spain

Saint Anthony Claret made many prophecies. When in Cuba, he prophesied “great earthquakes,” which came. When authorities sought to remove the rubble, he warned: “There will be another one.” Then he prophesied, “If sinners do not wake up with earthquakes, God will punish them in their bodies with the plague or cholera.” A cholera epidemic then came, which took 2,734 victims in three months. However, he said this was a mercy from God because “many who had not confessed during the mission, confessed before dying, while others who had converted and confessed at the mission had fallen again into the same sins, and with the plague, God took them away.”

In 1861, as the confessor of Queen Isabel II, he declared that “the Lord made me aware of the three great evils that threatened Spain: Protestantism, or rather, de-Catholicization, the republic, and communism. To curb these evils, He let me know that three devotions are required: the Holy Trinity, the Blessed Sacrament, and the Rosary.”

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Fighting Socialist Errors

Writing about a visit he made to the provinces of Andalusia, Spain, in 1862, the indomitable archbishop comments on the work of socialists in that region taking advantage of the apathy of rulers and ecclesiastics. He notes several errors they spread. Indeed, the messages of these socialists resemble those spread today by progressive bishops and the so-called “social movements.” One rabid speech of that time argued that:

“Until now, the rich have enjoyed the land. It is high time that we enjoy and share them among ourselves. This division is about fairness and justice and of great utility and benefit, for the lands gathered by rich robbers are unproductive. When divided among us into small plots and cultivated by our own hands, they will yield abundant crops.”

The saint comments on this erroneous and misleading notion: “[The socialist movement] took on great proportions in such a short time with these discourses and other alluring and fascinating means, and by threatening and insulting those who would not give in right away.”

Saint Anthony Mary Claret died on October 24, 1870, in the Cistercian monastery of Fontfroide (France) and was canonized by Pius XII in May 1950.


[1] AAS 42 (1950), 480. From San Antonio Maria Claret—Escritos Autobiográficos y espirituales, Biblioteca de los Autores Cristianos (BAC), Madrid, 1959, Prologue, p. xv.

[2] Edelvives, El Santo de Cada Dia, Editorial Luis Vives, S. A., Saragoza, 1955, vol. V, p. 543.

[3] Autobiography, BAC, above-cited edition. All texts in quotation marks without mentioning the source are taken from this work.