Alphonsus Liguori, founder of the Redemptorists (Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer) was one of the Church’s greatest moral theologians. Because of this distinction he is honored with the title Doctor of the Church. Born Alfonso Maria de’Liguori in 1696, the son of a noble family in he kingdom of Naples, he studied and practiced law successfully until, after losing an important case through his own fault and seeing it as a sign of God’s will, he decided to enter the priesthood.
Ordained in 1726, Alphonus established a reputation in Naples as an effective preacher and understanding confessor. His pastoral approach was to keep things simple, and at all times to act with kindness.
He became a chaplain at a college that was training missionaries for China in 1729, and just three years later, Alphonus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer for priests, dedicated to preaching the Gospel, especially to the rural poor in the kingdom of Naples.
In 1745 he published the first of three dozen theological and devotional works, the most important of which was his Moral Theology. It was to be reprinted nine times during his life. He also wrote devotional writings, especially about the Blessed Virgin Mary. His Glories of Mary (1750) influenced devotions to Mary well into the nineteenth century.
Alphonsus was ordained bishop of Sant’Agatha dei Goti in 1762. He organized parish missions and urged his priests to be simple in the pulpit and compassionate in the confessional. He was especially critical of priests who celebrated Mass too quickly. When a famine broke out in 1763, he sold everything he had, including his episcopal ring, to buy food for the starving. The Holy See gave him permission to dip into the assets of the diocese for relief work. In 1767 he contracted rheumatic fever that almost killed him and left him with an incurably bent neck. In 1775, he resigned because of poor health. He lived another twelve years in poor mental and physical health.
Alphonsus Liguori died on August 1, 1787 at age 90. He is the patron saint of confessors and moral theologians, and his feast day is August 1.
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