Giovanni Battista de' Rossi
Giovanni Battista de' Rossi
22 February 1698|
Voltaggio, Province of Alessandria, Piedmont, Duchy of Savoy
|Died||23 May 1764
Rome, Papal States
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Beatified||13 May 1860, Saint Peter's Basilica, Papal States by Pope Pius IX|
|Canonized||8 December 1881, Saint Peter's Basilica, Kingdom of Italy by Pope Leo XIII|
|Major shrine||Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista de' Rossi, Rome, Italy|
Saint Giovanni Battista de' Rossi (22 February 1698 – 23 May 1764) was an Italian Roman Catholic priest. He served as the canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin after his priest cousin died and he was an ultra-popular confessor despite his initial fears that his epileptic seizures could manifest in the booth. Rossi opened a hospice for homeless women not long after his ordination and he became known for his work with prisoners and ill people to whom he dedicated his entire ecclesial mission.
Rossi's canonization was celebrated on 8 December 1881. It had begun decades before but was suspended due to tensions in Europe that meant work could not be pursued regarding the cause; it was later revitalized and he was beatified in 1860.
Education and ordination
Giovanni Battista de' Rossi was born at the beginning of 1698 in Voltaggio as the last of four children to Carlo de' Rossi and Francesca Anfosi who were poor but pious.
His initial education was under the care of the two priests Scipio Gaetano and Giuseppe Repetto who noted his potential and brilliance and held him as their favorite student. In 1708 he met a noble couple (Giovanni Scorza and Maria Battina Cambiasi) from Genoa after a Mass who took him in as a page after noting his potential - after his father approved - and he went to school there until 1711. But his father's sudden death in 1710 saw his mother plead with him to return home but Rossi was firm in his resolve to continue with his studies; his sole brother (older than him) died not long after their father. Rossi met two Capuchin friars at the Scorza residence one evening (he had begged to meet them) who thought well of him and offered to help him continue his studies. He had known the friars - or of them - for an uncle was one of them as he mentioned to them. At the suggestion of his cousin Lorenzo de' Rossi - the canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin - he travelled to Rome in 1711 in order to commence his studies at the Collegium Romanum under the guidance of the Jesuits (he first had to receive his mother's permission). Rossi also studied at the Dominican College of Saint Thomas (underwent his philosophical and theological studies under them). It was around this time that he joined the "Ristretto of the Twelve Apostles". On one occasion he attended Mass but fainted and was found to have had suffered an epileptic seizure; this would be something he would have to grapple with for the remainder of his life and it meant he would not be able to attend classes sometimes due to the tiredness and the pain.
His desire to become a priest was strong but was hampered due to his suffering of epileptic fits which would exclude one from the priesthood in normal circumstances. Nonetheless he was granted a special dispensation on 3 March 1721 and was ordained to the priesthood soon after on 8 March. He worked in Rome on behalf of homeless women who wandered the streets while being careful to the needs of the sick while helping to found a hospice for homeless women near Saint Galla's. He also aided prisoners and workers and became an ultra-popular confessor. Rossi became known as a second Saint Philip Neri and he was known for a strong and special devotion to Saint Aloysius Gonzaga.
His canon cousin Lorenzo wanted him as his coadjutor so as to ensure Rossi would become his successor; in tears he accepted (despite protesting) on 5 February 1735. But his cousin soon suffered a major stroke so violent that it shattered him to the point where his benign character became abrasive and often violent. Lorenzo's servants kept their distance but Rossi alone remained loving and faithful to his ailing cousin. But Lorenzo - in his eccentricities - raged that Rossi was the cause of his suffering and he often threw medicine bottles at Rossi's head so hard that Rossi often emerged from his cousin's sick room with blood on his head.
In 1737 he became the canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin after his cousin died from another stroke and he used his position to purchase a new organ for the church. He also sold his cousin's sumptuous home and distributed the funds from that to the poor. For a long time he avoided hearing confessions fearing that he would suffer an epileptic seizure in the booth while in 1739 a friend suggested he could do more good hearing confessions. Rossi was not authorized due to his condition and resisted it for a while but was consoled when the Bishop of Civitá Castellana Giovanni Francesco Maria Tenderini said to him that it was all part of his vocation; Rossi was at the bishop's home recovering from an illness. Rossi received authorization to hear confessions though his obligations to the church choir made it hard for him to go back and forth during Mass to the booth and to the choir. To that end Pope Clement XII dispensed him from his obligation in the choir so he could hear confessions without distractions; Pope Benedict XIV confirmed this dispensation and made it permanent for Rossi. But a bitter canon believed that Rossi lied to acquire the dispensation and Rossi soon fell ill due to the distress. But he remained charitable to his now-ill critic whom he visited several times before that canon died. There was one occasion in which he was dining with Cardinal Giuseppe Maria Castelli when a fish was served on the table to which the cardinal asked Rossi to help himself. Rossi began to eat but the cardinal just had a piece before he screamed the fish was bad and had the servant remove it. Castelli was horrified to see that Rossi had eaten much of it to which the canon smiled and said: "But I found it very tender!"
Declining health and death
In 1748 his health became weakened to the point that he moved to Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini but continued to work at Santa Maria in Cosmedin. In August 1762 his health became so weak that his friends prevailed upon him to go to Lake Nemi to recuperate. But his seizures returned and were far more violent there. In mid-October 1762 he returned to Rome and almost never left his room because of his illness. On 8 September 1763 he celebrated Mass at Santa Maria in Cosmedin where he alluded to those present that he would soon die. On the morning of 27 December 1763 a servant knocked on his door at 8:00am and found him on the ground half-naked and unconscious after a violent seizure; he was unconscious until 28 December when he was given the Viaticum and the Anointing of the Sick. But those around him were surprised for he seemed to recover and celebrate several Masses. But his health declined once more and he was again confined to his sick bed.
His condition deteriorated on 21 May 1764 when he suffered violent pains and his face had become pale and his limbs became stiff and cold. He died on 23 May 1764 at 9:00am after multiple strokes. His mortal remains were interred in the main altar of the church of Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini in Rome though were relocated in 1965 to a new church named in his honor. Elizabeth Herbert wrote a biographical account of Rossi in English.
A church was dedicated to Rossi in Rome in 1940 though construction was postponed for a while due to World War II. This church was consecrated on 22 May 1965 (with the saint's relics translated the following 23 May from Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini).
This church - since 1969 - has been a titular church for those cardinals with the rank of Cardinal-Priest.
The cause for canonization began under Pope Pius VI on 27 June 1781 but suffered brief though significant setbacks due to the French Revolution and the ensuring Napoleonic Wars and Revolutions of 1848. Rossi was beatified after Pope Pius IX attributed two miracles to his intercession on 7 March 1859 and presided over the celebration in Saint Peter's Basilica on 13 May 1860.
On 8 December 1881 the acknowledgement of two more miracles in 1881 enabled Pope Leo XIII to canonize him as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
- "Saint Giovanni Battista de' Rossi". Santi e Beati. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- "Saint Giovanni Battista Rossi". Saints SQPN. 17 May 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- "Spiritual Newsletter". Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval. Retrieved 28 March 2017.
- "St. John Baptist de' Rossi". Archive.org. Retrieved 28 March 2017.