St. Gaspar del Bufalo, immortalized in a statue, liberated the papal states of northern Italy from the briganti, or bandits, who took over following Napoleon’s declaration of a republic, armed with only a cross and by preaching about the precious blood of Jesus. Wikimedia Commons

Good News drenched in Precious Blood

  • October 10, 2015

If you’re going to preach in the modern world you need powerful language. The Missionaries of the Precious Blood have had that power incorporated into their very name for the last 200 years. From “blood brothers” to “Bloody Sunday,” “the blood of the Lamb” to “blood libel,” the 600 priests and brothers who call themselves Precious Bloods have the most arresting imagery in the entire story of human salvation as their calling card.

“Blood is all over the daily newspaper,” said Fr. John Colacino, Missionary of the Precious Blood professor of religious studies at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. “Blood is a human reality, whether it’s shed in violence, whether it’s given in transfusion to save lives. According to the Bible, life is in the blood. Lifeblood, blood transfusions, bloodshed in violence — I could go on.”

The Precious Bloods were established 200 years ago by St. Gaspar del Bufalo working in the papal states of northern Italy. The society came to North America in 1844 to minister to Italian immigrants in the American midwest. Today the Precious Bloods are attracting a new generation of vocations in Tanzania and India, and still ordaining steady numbers of Canadians, Americans, Mexicans and Italians.

Though primarily priests, the Precious Bloods include a strong contingent of lay brothers.

The society takes pride in its multiculturalism. The 25 members of the Atlantic Province of the Precious Bloods include Mexicans, a Korean, a Tanzanian, a Filipino, Italians, Canadians and Americans. Fr. William Nordenbrock, the society’s elected Moderator General, calls the Precious Bloods’ multiculturalism a tool in the society’s prophetic mission “to live the charism of reconciliation.”

The Precious Bloods were created by and for preaching the Good News. St. Gaspar del Bufalo spent some of his first years as a priest in exile and then as a prisoner in northern Italy, courtesy of Napoleon Bonaparte’s new empire. Bonaparte had annexed the papal states in 1809, the year after St. Gaspar was ordained. St. Gaspar twice refused to swear an oath of fidelity to the emperor. Released from prison, he went to work preaching in communities that had, before Napoleon, been under the direct authority of the pope. After Napoleon’s declaration of a republic, the papal states had fallen into the hands of “briganti” — bandits.

Advisors to Pope Pius VII wanted to go into the papal states with an army to clear out the bandits, but St. Gaspar went in armed with a cross, preaching about the precious blood of Jesus. It worked.

The Precious Bloods’ devotion to the blood of Christ wasn’t something they invented or anything new. It had a long history in the Church and the Archconfraternity of the Precious Blood already existed when St. Gaspar was elected the movements’ First Promotor and Missionary in 1817.

Nor is it a spirituality that the men could keep to themselves. By 1834 St. Maria de Mattias was sharing her devotion to the blood of Christ with other young women and in a few short years this community of women became known as the Adorers of the Blood of Christ and sent themselves on mission to Brazil, China, Australia and elsewhere.

The Adorers have lived their lives engaged in the Gospel and the world. In 1992 five Adorer sisters in Liberia were killed by warlord Charles Taylor’s soldiers in the midst of that country’s civil war.

These days the Archconfraternity of the Precious Blood no longer exists, but both the Missionaries of the Precious Blood and the Adorers of the Blood of Christ work extensively with lay associates who share their spirituality and sense of mission.

“What holds it all together? The blood of Christ,” said Colacino. “What does Paul say? Our blessing cup is a communion in the blood of Christ. This is the source of our connection to each other. It is a spirituality that looks straight in the face at human discord, humans at war, at violence, at the calls for human solidarity, inclusion and justice.”

On the men’s side, the priests of the society are secular rather than religious. They make religious promises to live in and dedicate themselves to the community, but not the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience taken by Dominicans, Benedictines, Jesuits and Franciscans. In canon law they are classed as a society of apostolic life. When the Missionaries of the Precious Blood talk about mission they’re not necessarily talking about going to foreign lands. Rather their mission is to preach in some particular context.

Precious Bloods can be found pastoring parishes, teaching in universities, working as hospital and prison chaplains, leading youth groups and even as traditional missionaries. The Adorers today work as social workers, artists, pharmacists, paralegals and community organizers.

The sources for Precious Blood ministry are endless, said Colacino.

“You can’t really escape blood, can you, if you’re a Catholic Christian? The key words in the New Testament — justification, redemption, reconciliation, making peace — are all referred to in light of the blood of Christ,” he said. “We were founded primarily to preach. Insofar as the word of God makes frequent reference to the blood of Christ and those words I just mentioned — justification, redemption, reconciliation, making peace — we have ready at hand the great themes for our ministry of the Word.”

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