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I. Hermits of St. John the Baptist. II. Missionaries of St. John the Baptist. III. Sisterhood of St. John the Baptist.
I. The Congregation of the Hermits of St. John the Baptist of France was founded about 1630 by Brother Michel de Saint-Sabine who reformed and united the hermits of various dioceses. He established for each diocese a visitor who was aided by four majors and a secretary. The bishop received the religious when they took the habit and made their profession, and the brothers in a diocese met together once a year. The pious reformer gave the congregation a collection of statutes which regulated their mode of life. The first bishops to make these statutes obligatory in their dioceses were the Bishop of Metz (1633), and the Bishop of Cambrai (1634). Brother Jean-Baptiste who had a great reputation for virtue carried this reform into the Dioceses of Vienne, Lyons, Geneva, Le Puy, and Langres. The Bishop of Langres, Louis-Armand de Simiane de Gardes, added in 1680, for the hermits in his diocese, several ordinances to those of Brother Michel. He established four visitors, one for each division of the diocese and the brothers wore a white habit to distinguish them from vagrant and lax hermits. Brother Jean-Baptiste went to the Diocese of Angers to found the hermitage of Gardelles; and died there in the odour of sanctity, 24 December, 1691.
II. The congregation of missionary priests of St. John the Baptist, called Baptistines, was founded by a Genoese, Domenico Olivieri. He began by uniting several zealous priests with himself for the evangelization of the people of the cities and country. His plan of forming from this company an association the members of which should devote their time especially to missions was encouraged by Cardinal Spinola and the scheme afterwards received the approbation of Benedict XIV. The pope confirmed the new congregation in his Brief of 23 September, 1755, and placed it under the control of the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda. The institute had a house and an oratory at Tome near the church of St. Isidoro, and the members held missions in the different churches of the city and in the surrounding country. The Propaganda, realizing their zeal and virtue, wished to employ them in distant missions. A number of them were, therefore, sent to Bulgaria, Macedonia, and China; some became bishops. Foreign missions did not absorb all their activity, for a number were employed in the service of the Church in Italy, two, Father Imperiali and Father Spinelli becoming cardinals. The only vows imposed by the pious founder were those of continuance in the congregation and readiness to go to missions to which the members should be sent by the Propaganda. Olivieri died at Genoa in the odour of sanctity, 13 June, 1766. His society disappeared during the troubles which overwhelmed Italy at the end of the eighteenth century.
III. The Baptistines, or hermit sisters of St. John the Baptist, had as their founder Giovanna Maria Baptista Solimani. In 1730, when she was forty-two years old, she gathered her first companions together at Moneglia, not far from Genoa. The congregation intended to lead a life of penitence in imitation of the precursor of Christ and under his patronage. All the choir sisters, therefore, added to their names in religion that of Baptista in honour of their illustrious model. The Capuchin, Father Athanasius, aided them by his advice during the drawing up of their constitutions. Soon after, Providence gave them the direction of the saintly priest Olivieri, the cause of whose canonization has been introduced. Shortly after taking Olivieri as their director the founder now went to Rome to obtain the confirmation of the Holy See; through the aid of the Barnabite, Mario Maccabei, the approbation of Benedict XI was obtained in 1744. Two years later, 20 April, 1746, the Archbishop of Genoa received the religious profession of Giovanna Solimani and her twelve companions. Soon after this, Mother Solimani was elected abbess and governed the house until her death 8 April, 1758. In 1755 the congregation had sent a colony to Rome which founded a convent near the church of San Nicola da Tolentino. Houses were also founded in some of the other cities of Italy. The congregation drew its members from among the young girls and widows who were admitted into their houses as lay-sisters. Tertiaries took care of their churches and gathered the alms of which they had need. A rigorous cloister was observed. The sisters rose at midnight for Matins, slept in their clothes, went bare-footed, and observed a continual abstinence. The whole life was one of extreme austerity. Several convents of the congregation still exist in Italy.
Helyot, Histoire des ordres religieux, VIII, 112-116; Grandet, La vie d'un solitaire inconnu mort en Anjou, en odeur de saintete (Paris, 1699); Heimbucher, Die Orden und Kongregationen, II, 307-308, 375.
JEAN M. BESSE