Saints for Our Times: St. Gaspar was devoted to the Precious Blood of Christ

By Mary Lou Gibson
Columnist

Gaspar del Bufalo’s birth in 1786 might have gone mostly unnoticed by the family’s Roman neighbors, except for the baptismal names his parents gave him. Because he was born on the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 6, he was given the names of the three Magi: Gaspare Melchiore Baltasare Quarterione. The family was poor and they lived in the servants’ quarters of a noble family where his father worked as a chef.
He began his studies at what had been the Jesuit College Romano. Gaspar was only 12 when he entered the minor seminary and spent his teenage years giving spiritual and material assistance to the poor. He was ordained at age 22 and soon after met a friend, Francesco Albertini. Paul Burns writes in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” that Francesco introduced Gaspar to devotion of the Precious Blood and a confraternity dedicated to preaching the redemptive power of Christ’s blood. From then on, the Precious Blood became the focal point of Gaspar’s spirituality.
His spiritual work came to an abrupt stop when Napoleon entered Rome in 1809, and deported Pope Pius VII. All clergy were required to sign an oath of allegiance to Napoleon and to reject the pope. Those who refused were exiled and imprisoned. Gaspar was in this group and he spent the next four years imprisoned in Bologna.
After Napoleon’s downfall in 1814, Pope Pius returned to Rome and asked Gaspar to devote his life to preaching missions to restore religion in Italy. At his first house in Giano, Gaspar established a congregation of missionaries and trained young clergy in Scripture study, theology and foreign languages. Burns writes that Pope Pius gave his approval to this congregation dedicated to the Precious Blood in 1815. According to John Delaney writing in “Dictionary of Saints,” Gaspar’s goal for his missionaries was the evangelization of the world. 
An early member of the Congregation was Giovanni Ferretti who later, as Pope Pius IX, issued an encyclical “Redempti sumus” (“We are redeemed”) to spread devotion to the Precious Blood worldwide.
Gaspar opened two houses soon after, but he had problems with bands of brigands who roamed the country preying on the people and carrying out vendettas and organized crime. While he made many converts, he also made some enemies especially among the Freemasons who made threats against him.
But Gaspar and his missionaries continued to preach missions throughout central Italy. He encouraged his followers admonishing them to “be ready for anything: like soldiers and sailors, they must never surrender.” David Farmer writes in the “Oxford Dictionary of Saints” that Gaspar’s missions were often dramatic and have often been described as a spiritual earthquake. He also founded charitable institutions for young and old, men and women.
Remarkably Gaspar opened 15 new houses during his life time. One biographer credits him with accomplishing much with very little. Throughout his life, Gaspar struggled with poor health and an anxious spirit and apparently suffered from insomnia all his life. 
Gaspar died on Dec. 28, 1837, during the cholera epidemic. His remains are buried at Santa Maria in Trivio. He was canonized by Pope Pius XII in 1954. His Dec. 28 feast day is not on the General Roman Calendar. The Missionaries of the Precious Blood celebrate it on Oct. 21. There are now four provinces of the Society in the U.S. Members work in parishes, schools, hospitals and clinics. They preach missions and retreats and minister to those who have experienced family violence.