Seraphin of Montegranaro
Born (al secolo) Felix (Felice) Rapagnano at Montegranaro, then in the March of Fermo, was the second of four children of poor but pious parents, Gerolamo Rapagnano and Teodora Giovannuzzi. His father was a mason. Because of their poverty, the family depended on the productivity of all of its members. The eldest son, Silenzio, followed in his father's footsteps, as a mason. The slighter and less manually adept Felix was hired out to a local farmer as a shepherd. Felix enjoyed shepherding since it afforded him time for prayer. Even at an early age, Felix had an inclination toward silence, seclusion, and prayer, which caused people to take notice of him in admiration.
When their father died, Felix was summoned home. His brother understood that Felix lacked the skills of a mason, but hoped to use him as an unskilled laborer. All attempts proved futile. Felix could not even learn how to slake lime. He did learn, however, to put up with the physical and emotional abuse heaped upon him by his irascible brother.
Rapagnano kept in mind stories he had heard about the desert ascetics and of their fasting and penances, and dreamed of becoming like them. He confided in a friend, Luisa Vannucci from Loro Piceno, who encouraged him to enter religious life. She specifically mentioned the Capuchins because she was familiar these friars and with their reputation for virtue. Immediately, he left for Tolentino and presented himself to the Capuchin Minister Provincial, expecting to be admitted that very day. But such was not the Capuchin custom. When Rapagnano presented himself he was sent home, in all likelihood because of his age and fragile condition. In 1556, Rapagnano repeated his request to the Minister Provincial, who this time accepted him and sent him to the novitiate of the province at Jesi
After completed a year of probation, Rapagnano received the religious name of Seraphin, or Seraphim. Upon entering into the Order, he remarked, "I have nothing, just a crucifix and a rosary, but with these I hope to benefit the friars and become a saint."
Seraphin was distinguished from the first by his unaffected simplicity, mortification, and obedience as well as a great charity towards the poor. He had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady.
Recollections sustain that Seraphin was endowed with the gift of reading the secrets of hearts, and with that of miracles and prophecy. Although unlettered, Seraphin's advice was sought by secular and ecclesiastical dignitaries, and was a fruitful source of virtue to souls.
Externally, Seraphin remained much unchanged: hair always rumpled; and clumsy at manual tasks; and mainly illiterate. But his holiness was recognized by many. At times, he was discouraged by the ridicule of his Capuchin brothers. Seraphin would regain his composure and perspective through prayer. He explained, "When I entered religious life I was a poor, unskilled laborer, lacking both talent and potential. I remained as I was, and this caused so many humiliations and rebukes which the devil used as opportunities to tempt me to leave religious life and retreat to some desert, withdrawing into myself. I entrusted myself to the Lord, and one night I heard a voice coming from the tabernacle say, "To serve God you must die to yourself and accept adversity, of whatever type." So I accepted them and resolved to recite a rosary for anyone who caused me trouble. Then I heard the voice from the tabernacle say, 'Your prayers for those who mortify you are very pleasing to me. In exchange, I am ready to grant you many graces.'And the wonders worked at his hands were plentiful. In fact, people began calling him a saint, a healer and a prophet. Whatever objects touched him seemed to work some prodigious sign.
Seraphin was assigned as to serve variously as a porter or questor at various friaries throughout the March, but most of his religious life was spent at Ascoli Piceno, where, after his death, his picture became commonly displayed in homes and public buildings as if it were a noble shield or coat of arms.
A Capuchin custom was to keep rooms near the porter's office available for the use of travelers and pilgrims. At whatever hour of the night, Seraphin would answer the door. Many recounted that, after the city gates had been closed for the night, they had sought refuge at the Capuchin friary, which were usually located outside the city walls, and that they had been welcomed warmly by Seraphin. Seraphin spent entire nights in church. Friars testified that, after everyone else had gone to bed, they would often hear Seraphin walking toward the church to spend the night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. There he was heard praying, "Peace, Lord, I ask peace for so-and-so." Seraphin once confided that the reason he spent so much of the night in church was because, in his room, he was greatly tempted against chastity, even in his old age.
Seraphin's reputation reached even the Dukes of Bavaria and Parma, the Peopli nobles of Bologna, and Cardinal Bandini. To avoid having people kiss his hand or tunic to show their respect, Seraphin would carry a crucifix with him, offering it for them to kiss.
Although nearly illiterate, Seraphin was said to speak about God more eloquently than any theologian. Even the bishop of Ascoli, the eminent theologian, Cardinal Girolamo Bernerio, sought Seraphin's advice.
Seraphin was austere in his person. Only once in his life did he accept a new religious habit, and then, only out of obedience. For 40 continuous years, he ate only soup or salad. In keeping with the spirituality prevalent at the time, Seraphin had a personal devotion of serving as many Masses as possible.
Seraphin possessed a great sense of humor. Once, a woman asked him if she would give birth to a boy or a girl. Seraphin attempted to avoid answering. But the woman insisted, saying, "How shall I know what name to choose?" Chuckling, Seraphin responded, "As far as that goes, choose Ursula and companions," indicating that throughout her life the woman would give birth to a succession of girls.
Seraphin once healed a dying bishop. The bishop told him, "I made a long journey and was hoping to enter paradise. But, thanks to you, they shut the door in my face and threw me down the stairs, so here I am back in this world."
Seraphin died at Ascoli Piceno in the early afternoon of October 12, 1604. Even before the burial, his first biographer put pen to paper. He was canonized by Pope Clement XIII on 16 July 1767. Pope Clement canonized Seraphin, together with John Cantius, Joseph Calasanz, Joseph of Cupertino, Jerome Emiliani and Jane Frances de Chantal. In the papal bull of canonization, the illiterate and physically clumsy Capuchin was acclaimed as a person who "knew how to read and understand the great book of life which is our Savior, Jesus Christ. For that reason, he deserves to be listed among Christ's principal disciples."