Blessed Stephen Bellesini OSA, the educator

25 Nov. 1774 – 2 Feb. 1840

The Bellesini community in Hammersmith has, as its patron, Blessed Stephen. He was born in Trento, northern Italy, and entered the Augustinian Order at the age 20, spending his years of formation in Bologna and Rome until he was ordained priest in Trento, where he ministered as a preacher in the community’s small chapel. Three years later, 1810, religious houses were suppressed by the local Government and his community dispersed. Stephen went to live with his brother, and set about establishing a school for poor children, who otherwise would have had no schooling, providing not only education but often meeting their material needs of food and clothing, sometimes from his brother’s cupboard and wardrobe. So successful was his school that he was appointed director, and then inspector of elementary schools in the entire district of Trento. In spite of the great popularity he enjoyed among students, teachers and government officials, in 1817 Stephen slipped away from Trento, having heard that it was once again possible to live the religious life further south. His brethren in Rome gave him a warm welcome and appointed him director of novices. Later he was transferred to the Shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Genazzano, eventually appointed pastor. In 1839 a plague broke out in Genazzano and Stephen devoted himself to the spiritual as well as the physical care of his people, until in 1840 he himself contracted the fever and died within a couple of days. He became the first pastor to be beatified – by Pius X in 1904. Stephen represents two of the most common ministries of the Augustinian friars – education and parish ministry.

In the UK, Austin Friars St Monica’s School in Carlisle was founded in 1951, as the Catholic Grammar School for the area. It is now run entirely by lay staff but retains strong links with the Order.