SAN GAETANO
Contact
Naples
One could ask why, after the tempest of the sacking of Rome and nearly everything back to normal, the Theatines who had worked so well there were not called back! It must have been the disturbed consciences of many in Rome that kept the citizens of this city from realizing that they would have been far better with the presence of Don Gaetano's order. The call which did not come from Rome, came instead from Naples, at first from private citizens having heard of all the good works done in Venice and offering all the help needed. Then a call went out from the authorities in the person of the Viceroy of Spain himself, Don Pedro di Toledo, an old friend of Carafa, and it was difficult for the Theatines to refuse since this time the request was also endorsed by the Pope himself.

So on the 2nd of August 1533, Don Gaetano and Don Giovanni Marinoni (another splendid Theatine figure who could blend asceticism with activism and who would later become a priest himself), set out on foot for Naples. By the middle of the month they reached Rome and sought an audience with the Pope. Their haggard appearance, dusty clothes and faces showed what they were going through, and Clement VII understood, but he let these words slip "And where are you going, to your death my children in all this heat?" to which Don Gaetano answered "Your Holiness has ordered us, and we are not afraid to die because we do not want to be disobedient." The Pope, visibly admiring them, blessed them and let them go. They in turn, after a few days rest at the hospital of the incurables, resumed their way to Naples.
The city of Naples, in those days was governed by the Viceroy Don Pedro de Toledo representing Charles V of Spain. To keep stability and peace, the Spaniards bestowed upon the Neapolitan nobility, great benefices, but the population was living in poverty and misery.

The promises of hospitality were kept and the Count of Oppido who was one of the nobility in favour of bringing the Theatines to Naples, had prepared for them a comfortable house. Since the two Theatines realized that the spiritual harvest was rich, they called for another six of their brothers to come and join them. The Count had offered Don Gaetano and his friends a life of luxury which they of course refused, and he, marveling at their noble spirit, insisted and gave them enough riches to live a comfortable life, but this the Theatines distributed among the poor of the city. Again and again they were given material comforts which they gave up every time in favour of the needy. Count Oppido was a generous Christian but could not understand the principle of living in total poverty within God's Providence, the norm of the Theatines wherever they went.

He expected a community to have at least a modest but secure income not live from day to day. Don Gaetano refused to bend, time and again, until one day the Count presented himself in the company of some priests who were supposed to give him a hand convincing the Theatines to accept the donations. After a long discussion with the priests and many other such encounters after that still on the same subject, there came a time when Don Gaetano herded his companions out of the house, locked the doors behind them and gave the keys to the Count that he might understand!
Their activities never varied: study and prayer at home; meticulous care of the church given in their custody; the priests among them always available for confession and the celebration of Mass for the faithful. Here they not only respected the letter of the Liturgy in its various forms and functions, but also delivered sermons which moved the hardest hearts in the congregations and little by little added to the numbers attending church. Where the Theatines failed in Naples was at the hospital of the incurables which existed here too. Naturally they wanted to help the sick here as they had done in other cities, but in Naples they were rebuffed by the administration who had lots to lose since the members were doing little for the sick but a lot for their own gain.

A story is told about the order around this time in Naples. One of the Theatines, a new convert, was given a task when he fell and fractured a leg. He was medicated with the means available in those days but to no avail, his leg developing a weeping wound with the obvious signs of development into gangrene. The doctor's decision was to amputate and he promised to bring the necessary tools and an assistant with him the next day. But Don Gaetano knew of another Doctor who used neither medicine nor surgical tools, so he called his company of brethren to kneel around the patient in prayer, then before leaving, the saintly priest knelt down again and kissed the festering wound. The next day, the doctor, on entering with his tools and assistant, had to unbelievably admit that the leg needed nothing because it was in perfect shape even as it was before the accident occurred.

If Don Gaetano was kept out of the hospital for incurables, he found other important things to do in Naples. He founded a convent for nuns whose discipline was very much like that of the Theatines. This convent was afterwards handed over to the care of the Franciscan Capuchins and the nuns started to be called Capuchins because of this. Another convent was started by him for the rehabilitation of women of the street and was called 'Convent of the Converts'. On top of all this he also entered the confraternity of the 'whites' who were religious people who used to accompany those condemned to the gallows. This way he could do further good trying to persuade these people to convert and turn to God before their death.

A social injustice of the times especially in Naples was usury. Those who were in need, asked for loans to which were added the highest interests. These poor people, in this way, found themselves bound in a spiraling chain of debt which most of the time they could not escape. Don Gaetano thought that such an injustice could be fought with a 'Monte dei pegni' a kind of trust fund where on guaranty of the money borrowed and received, one could leave a token which could be retrieved when the money was restituted with just a little bit of interest. But to start this off, one needed a base of capital which the Theatines couldn't possibly possess. Here Don Gaetano remembered about the time, years before, when Count Oppido wanted to leave everything he possessed to the Theatines as heirs. He looked for him, and when they met, he found him enthusiastic and obliging, ready to throw his fortune into the cause and find other nobles who would follow. This way in 1539 the 'Monte dei pegni' was created in Naples, and it later was transformed into the 'Banco di Napoli' still existing today. This institution never forgot its humble beginnings at the hands of the Theatines, in fact, years ago, the Bank gave the Theatine church of San Paolo Maggiore of Naples, a magnificent pipe organ.

Even in Naples, the rise of Lutheranism was being felt through three men of culture but of dubious character. One of these was still running around in a monks garb even though he had abandoned his Catholic faith. These three infiltrated congregations, groups and families around the city, instilling doubt, interpreting Gospels in their own way and discrediting priests and hierarchy. Many people, even priests and bishops fell to the errors, but Don Gaetano, a man of few words, confronted these people and revealed the misdirection of the pseudo doctrine coming from their crooked souls.

For a while at least, the Neapolitans became immune to their false doctrine because of the efforts and fervour of Don Gaetano. In front of the proof of love offered by the Theatines to the Neapolitans, the hostilities slowly vanished as did the misunderstandings and coldness towards them. People referred to them with respect and were even starting to call Gaetano a Saint.

Then in 1536, Bishop Carafa as superior decided to send Gaetano again to Venice to fend against Lutheranism there. He obediently trekked across the length of Italy and after four years there, upon Carafa's call to Rome in 1540, Gaetano returned to Naples where he was elected Superior General of the order. The call for Carafa to Rome, necessary for his needed expertise with preparations for the Council of Trent, came with his nomination as Cardinal. This notification arrived suddenly while the Bishop was seriously ill in bed in the convent of the Dominicans. Many of the Theatines went to see him including Don Gaetano because of the upcoming nominations and procedures within the order.

The two were in the poor and empty convent cell where the sick man lay in bed when the Papal envoy entered with the Cardinal's hat, the sign of nomination. This unusual procedure of the hat coming to the sick man, was justified since he was thought to be at the point of death. Seeing the hat, Don Gaetano was sad because the nomination was in total contrast with their principles of humility and poverty within the order they founded, so he signaled Carafa to refuse it. The other mistook the sign to be an affirmative one to accept and not be disobedient to the Pope. So the nomination was accepted and the Cardinal's hat was hung on one of the bare walls since the cell lacked any sort of furniture for it to be placed upon. This fact confirms that Carafa had always kept his dignity as Bishop while keeping his Theatine vows all the time. The new Cardinal in fact recovered from his sickness and devoted himself to his new duties, the reform of the Church being at the root of his thoughts. The Council of Trent was not completely wrapped up when one important declaration had come out, that of one diocese for one Bishop who was bound to reside there all the time. This brought to Carafa's mind the impossibility of his previous situation of trying to juggle two dioceses while being part of the Curia in Rome.

Always working for the Church as Cardinal, Carafa had to put aside his Theatine garb and any position within the order even though he remained supportive till the end. This meant that now Don Gaetano had to shoulder a double load and moreover start commuting between Naples and Venice to take care of the two main branches of the order. From Naples even with the heavy load of work, he managed to extend his work to Verona and Vicenza too.
The popularity of the Theatines could also be observed from the size of their congregation which now could not fit in the original church of Santa Maria della Stalletta. (Stalletta = small stable, which stood in the place where the church was originally built). So a new magnificent temple was built where St.Paul was said to have broken the statues of two pagan deities in the heart of Naples. This temple could accommodate a much larger congregation. At first Don Gaetano hesitated having his order maintain a parish church with its financial commitments clashing with the order's vow of poverty. But after the intervention of the Viceroy himself who cleared up the details, the Theatines took possession of San Paolo Maggiore on the 28th May 1537 and as the decades went by this temple was enriched, expanded and beautified up to the present times.

Time was taking its toll on Don Gaetano, because of the consistently heavy load of work, penitence and the stress of leading the Theatine order. It was time for him to rest a little bit or to delegate more authority even because one of his legs was swelling up and he had to drag it along while walking.

Back to SAN GAETANO INDEX