St. Henry de Osso


When Pope John Paul II made his pastoral visit to Spain in June 1993, he canonized a Spanish priest noted for his devotion to religious education: St. Enrique de Osso y Cervello.

Enrique was a native of Tarragona in Spain’s Catalonia, the youngest of the three children of Jaime de Osso and Micaela Cervello, a couple very Christian and very Catalan.

When little Henry was eleven, his father sent him to Barcelona to become an apprentice to his uncle and learn a trade. Unfortunately, the lad soon fell gravely ill, and his first holy communion was administered to him as Viaticum. He did get well and returned home, detouring by the famous shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar to offer thanks for his recovery. Later he was sent to Reus, and apprenticed there to another businessman.

But a business career did not seem to be in God’s plans. As Henry increased in knowledge and wisdom, he became more deeply spiritual. The death of his mother proved especially soul-searing. It moved him to make a retreat at the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat near Barcelona. There he concluded that he was called to the diocesan priesthood.

After studies in the seminary at Tortosa, and later at that of Barcelona, he was called back to the Tortosa seminary and assigned to its faculty. This was even before his ordination to the priesthood in 1867. From the outset, he was resolved to love Jesus more each day, and to make better known to all the love of God the Father. Assigned to catechetical work in the city of Tortosa, St. Enrique applied himself to it diligently. In those days religion was under attack in Spain by anticlericals. He confronted their attacks positively by broadening religious instruction among seminarians, children and families.

It was a demanding undertaking, one that could not be accomplished without help. So in 1873 Father de Osso founded a lay catechetical organization, the Association of Young Catholic Daughters of Mary and St. Teresa of Jesus. In 1876 he founded the Josephine Sisterhood, the “Little Flock of the Child Jesus”, and the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus, which was dedicated to Christian education for all. Christian education, he said, is the only thing that can transform society, drawing it to Christ. The Society of St. Teresa of Jesus grew rapidly, spreading into Portugal and Latin America. Unfortunately, in 1895 a misunderstanding arose between himself and the superior general of the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus. He thereupon went to Gilet, near Valencia, Spain where the Franciscan friary gave him a home. He died there on January 27, 1896.

At the outdoor Mass of canonization in Madrid, Pope John Paul told the immense crowd that he was giving to Spain and the whole world, a saint for all to imitate. St. Enrique, like Christ himself, he said, directed his apostolate of Christian instruction to people of all ages and conditions: particularly to women, for, as the saint used to say, “The world has always been what women have made it.” Furthermore, the future of humanity passes by way of the family, the Pope continued. It is therefore necessary “to present authentically the ideal of the Christian family, based on unity and fidelity in marriage, open to children, guided by love.” To the young people in the audience, said John Paul, “Do not be afraid to be saints!”

The Holy Father, in conclusion, recalled that 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage and the apostolate to the new world. Today, again, he said, “there is a pressing need for the new evangelization in order to renew the wealth and vitality of the Christian values in a society that shows signs of disorientation and discouragement.”

The primary objective of the new evangelization, the Pope stated, is “to renew the ideal of holiness among the faithful. A holiness that is manifested in bearing witness to one’s own faith, in boundless charity, in a love lived and practiced in everyday activities.”

In a day in which Catholics are showing themselves increasingly ignorant about their faith, it is understandable that the Pope is mounting a campaign for a “second evangelization”. And it is understandable that he should consider St. Enrique a fitting model for catechists of the 21st century.

--Father Robert F. McNamara