St. Anthony Mary Claret – Loom Programmer Turned Missionary Priest

Medieval Otaku introduced us this week to the work of a famous saint of whom I only knew the name!

He started as a child worker replacing bobbins on the spinning jenny in his father’s little weaving factory, became a weaver himself, and then went on to study loom programming and graphic design, as well as becoming an engineer, inventor, and businessman. But then… he gave it all up to become a priest.

Here’s part of his life story, from The Autobiography of Anthony Mary Claret:

Because I wanted to improve my knowledge of manufacturing techniques, I asked my father to send me to Barcelona…. My first move was to submit a petition to the Board of Trade for admission to classes in design….

Of all the things I have studied or worked at during my life, I have understood none better than manufacturing… God gave me such a ready wit in this that all I had to do was analyze any pattern, and in short order a copy would emerge from the loom exact to the last detail, or even with improvements… When after much thought I had managed to take a design apart and put it back together, I felt such a sensation of joy and satisfaction that I would walk back home quite beside myself with contentment. I learned all this without a teacher…

One day I told the shop superintendent that the pattern we both had in hand could be worked out in such and such a manner. He took a pencil and drew a plan of the way the loom should be set up for the job. I made no comment but told him that if he didn’t object, I would study it. I took the pattern and his sketch for the loom-setting home with me. In a few days I brought him a sketch of the setup needed to produce the pattern and showed him how the one he had sketched would not have produced the pattern in question, but a different one which I also showed him.

…My life at that time was an embodiment of what the Gospel says about the thorns choking the good grain. My ceaseless preoccupation with machines, looms and creations had so obsessed me that I could think of nothing else…

My only goal and all my anxieties were about manufacturing. I can’t overstate it — my obsession approached delirium… I loved to think and dwell on my projects, but during Mass and my other devotions I did not want to, and I tried to put them out of my mind… My efforts seemed useless, like trying to bring a swiftly rotating wheel to a sudden stop. I was tormented during Mass with new ideas, discoveries, and so on. There seemed to be more machines in my head than saints behind the altar.

So he went straight to the local Oratory to talk to a priest, gave up his job, and started aiming to become a Carthusian monk with a vow of silence. He was instructed that he needed to catch up on his Latin studies first, and eventually found out while taking classes in the seminary that he was called to be a diocesan priest. (But only after experiencing a lot of “temporary vocations” to various orders, which God used to train him in various aspects of his priestly work and spiritual growth. Not very easy on the expectations, though.)

St. Anthony Mary Claret eventually became assigned as the apostolic mission priest to all of Catalonia, Spain, at a time when the Spanish government was very ill-disposed toward priests. He gave more than ten thousand sermons, tramped endless miles along mountain paths between tiny villages, slept only two hours a night, and was sometimes directed to emergencies by visions or given miraculous travel help by angels. He also wrote 144 small books for use by the laity, designing their graphics and often setting up their printing. He did missionary work in the Canary Islands when they were added to his assignment area. He co-founded religious orders of women, and founded his own new religious order, the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, aka the Claretian Fathers. (In his copious spare time.)

The job was impossible, but nothing was impossible with God.

Then, all of a sudden, he was appointed Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, and had to sail across the ocean! His job was to be a fixer and missionary under horrible circumstances, to try to stamp out the slave trade which persisted in spite of Spanish law, and to teach an island full of priests who barely knew Latin or how to say Mass. He brought in new priests from Catalonia under the new Catholic-friendly climate, and set up classes for the priests he already had. He also set up hospitals, schools, and nursing homes, as well as parish savings banks that doubled as credit unions. He was archbishop for six years, and his tenure included the great Santiago earthquake (when he was observed to stop some aftershocks by touching the ground with his hand) and the cholera epidemic that followed it. It also included a couple of attempts on his life, including a knife attack that left him with slurred speech and terrible scars on his face and arm, and a bout of yellow fever.

The bishop was called back to Spain (accompanied by some awfully suspicious “accidents” that failed to kill him or sink the ship) and made royal chaplain, as well as president of the Escorial Monastery. He reestablished religious in the place, restarted the local seminary, started schools and libraries and agricultural teaching farms nearby, and restored or replaced the Escorial’s priceless art treasures after long neglect and damage by war. His days started at three in the morning, and included both intense prayer and hard work for others, as well as giving away huge quantities of alms and free books.

Things got crazy again in Spain, and soon the queen was dethroned by a Communist revolt. St. Anthony Mary Claret went into exile with her, but his work was not done. Called to attend the First Vatican Council, he ended up addressing the craziness at Vatican I, making truly magisterial and saintly speeches.

The saint commented that the whole trouble was that people don’t understand Scripture. And why not? Three reasons:

“The first, as Jesus told Saint Teresa [of Avila], is that men do not really love God. The second, that they lack humility. It is written: ‘I confess Thee Father Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these truths from the wise and those prudent according to the world, and revealed them to the humble.’ Third and finally, there are some who do not wish to understand Scripture — simply because they do not wish the good.

“Now, with David, I pray: ‘May the Lord have mercy upon us, bless us, let His Holy Face shine upon us.’ I have spoken.”

And then he sat down.

But although he won his fight, the stress of hearing his fellow bishops talk junk instead of sense brought him bad health, and then a stroke. He returned to the Claretian Fathers in France almost unable to speak or stand. He had further nerve attacks, and then the government threatened to arrest him. He was taken into hiding among the Trappists at Fontfroide, and soon entered upon his last illness. He spoke of perhaps starting a mission in the United States, which the Claretians later did. He died a painful but holy death on October 24, 1870, and the bells of a nearby convent of nuns rang out with noone to ring them. When his body was exhumed 27 years later to be taken back to Spain, it was found to be incorrupt.

So yeah, the reason we don’t hear about this guy is because he is a challenge, because he fought Communism and other leftist movements just by proclaiming the Gospel, and because his modern life included real Apostolic fervor, results, and miracles. This sort of thing makes people uncomfortable, because it demands that we do something, too!

It’s also fairly obvious that St. Anthony Mary Claret should be named a patron saint of programmers, because he did the job back when it was still Jacquard looms.

1 Comment

Filed under Church, Saint Stories

One response to “St. Anthony Mary Claret – Loom Programmer Turned Missionary Priest

  1. Yes, the “programmable” Loom used PUNCH CARDS… and so, along with “programmable” musical instruments, forms two “grandparents” of modern computing.

    Lest we forget, all this sort of thing existed in Life – the ribosome and mRNA are also automata. (See psalm 139:15 which in one translation speaks of how I was “knit together” in my mother’s womb) The mystery is that the ribosome can and MUST synthesize parts of itself, hence unlike the music or the weaver it is self-referential. (Cf. Mt 28:20 for a hint of how even the supernatural life contains such instructions!) And although music when played does not build a musical instrument, nor does the loom weave another loom, the ribosome builds parts for more ribosomes, and the polymerase which builds the rRNA (the other parts). So the modern molecular form of the joke is “which came first: the ribosome or the mRNA?”

    Now if only some English writer had written a play about how to build a typewriter, we might have a good joke about how many monkeys it would take to make an omlet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s