The Mother of Good Counsel chose to keep near her—in life and in death—the one who served as an example and incentive of true devotion to her.


Visitors to Northern Italy will discover that it is the educational, scientific, financial and political centre of the country. Trent is in the heart of this region, the capital of Trentino-Alto Adige, and retains much the same appearance as at the time of the important Council of the sixteenth century which affirmed that the Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.

Dominated by the Castle of Good Counsel, Trent was also the birthplace of a member of this Mystical Body: Luigi Giuseppe Gioacchino Bellesini—Blessed Stefano Bellesini—whose feast is celebrated on February 3. Through him, the famous Tridentine city has ties with the small and picturesque city of Genazzano, in Lazio, also dominated and made famous by another Good Counsel, that of Mary, whose beautiful image is venerated in the shrine.

Within the perspective of the Year for Priests, let us examine the life of this virtuous pastor, who fits well alongside the holy Cure of Ars—his contemporary and only twelve years younger.

The Castle of Good Counsel overlooks Trent, the birth-city of Blessed Stefano Bellesini

A new world to be discovered

Luigi was born on November 25, 1774 and baptized in the very church where the Council had been held two centuries before.

His parents belonged to the bourgeoisie of Trent and were held in high regard. His father, Giuseppe was a successful notary; he was reserved, honest, just and pious. His mother, Maria Orsola Meichlpeck, from an illustrious Belgian family, was devoted to husband and children, and unlike the other high society ladies, she personally took on domestic tasks.

Luigi’s uncle, Fr. Fulgenzio Meichlpeck, was the prior of the Augustinian monastery of Piazza Duomo. As a child, Luigi found a world awaiting discovery in the Monastery of St. Mark. During his frequent visits there, accompanied by his brother Angelo, he would walk among the centuries-old columns in the cloister, breath the air of faith, and listen to the chirping of the birds and the chanting of the psalms. A strong call to the religious life began to blossom in his young heart.

When his mother brought his older brother to church to be examined by the pastor for his First Communion, Luigi accompanied them and longed to be questioned. The priest took notice of the little boy and, after exchanging some words with him, found him to have a deeper understanding than his brother. He was only seven years old, and at that time, receiving Communion at such a young age was unthinkable. To his mother’s objections, the pastor replied: “The desire of God is not measured by age.” 1

Luigi embarked on his studies, which included Greek and Latin, with the help of the oldest of the Bellesinis, Giuseppe, who was a priest and who lived with the family. Luigi admired his brother and also wanted to be a priest—but a religious priest rather than a secular one.

From novitiate to priesthood

Young Bellesini was not yet fifteen years old when the Bastille fell in Paris and the echoes of the Revolution reverberated throughout Europe. Trent was tainted by the winds of revolt and the thirst for the unbridled pleasures of life.

Yet Luigi did not let himself be swept up in the new current. Remaining an “enemy of everything opposed to social mores and decency,” 2 he sought to consecrate himself entirely to God. The Augustinian ideal seemed to him the best way of achieving this.

At age seventeen he was accepted as a novice in the Monastery of St. Mark, where he is recorded as being “of angelic customs, devout, obedient, assiduous in the reception of the Sacraments, and of a calm disposition, most edifying for the other religious.” 3 His heart was marked by the words of the ceremonial for the reception of habit: “From now on, you should consider yourself dead to the world, you should renounce all affection, even the most chaste, and you should live on the earth like an Angel from Heaven.” 4 He received the name Stefano.

From Trent he was transferred to Bologna and, on May 30, 1794, having completed one year of novitiate, he returned to St. Mark’s where he was solemnly professed.

In autumn of the same year, he went to Rome for a course in Philosophy at the Monastery of St. Augustine, beginning what he would later call the “first logical years,” during which he spent long hours in study. After a year of ecclesiastical studies, he returned to Bologna to study Theology, winning high praise for his capabilities.

When Napoleon’s troops invaded the Pontifical States, Stefano had to leave Bologna, and returned once again to St. Mark’s. His desire for Holy Orders was so ardent, that despite his weakness from a grave illness contracted the day before, he rose from his sick bed for the ordination ceremony. He became a priest on November 5, 1797.

Father and master of the poor

The Napoleonic wars of the first decade of the nineteenth century caused political unrest in Italy which even affected the life of religious institutions. In 1809 several monasteries were suppressed, including St. Mark’s. It was then that Fr. Stefano embarked on an undertaking that he had been planning for some time—that of being an apostle of youth through tuition-schools for all social classes—something unheard of in his time.

He started gathering a group of boys and girls at the paternal home, the Palazzo Bellesini. In addition to not having to pay anything, they received bread and other essentials. He was both teacher and father to the young, providing the students with a good academic education and a solid Christian formation. He chose teachers according to these criteria.

When the Napoleonic Empire collapsed and the Austrians once again governed the region, Fr. Stefano was appointed Inspector General of Schools for the Province of Trent, a civil-service position with a good salary. He carried out this function with holy zeal, dedicating himself to preserving young people from corruption.

The steeple of the Shrine of the Mother of Good Counsel dominates the city of Genazzano

Return to religious life

On June 18 1815, the battle of Waterloo marked the end of the Napoleonic whirlwind, which had swept across the European continent. Little by little, the situation returned to relative calm. It was not long before news reached Trent that Pius VII had returned to Rome and that monks were returning to their monasteries. Fr. Stefano saw that the moment was ripe to return to community life to which he had made solemn vows. However, as the doors remained closed to the sons of the great Augustine in Trent, he decided to depart secretly for Rome in 1817, leaving behind success and honours.

He crossed the Ferrara border on foot, without a passport, carrying only his breviary. He almost passed unnoticed by the guards but his flight soon became known to the Austrian government, which tried to induce him to return with the promise of a raise and an honorific post. Threats were soon added to the promises: if he did not return, all his property would be confiscated. But neither promises nor threats could shake his resolution.

In Rome, the Father General, aware of his ability with young people, appointed him master of novices. But his true desire was to go to Genazzano, where he felt that community life would be most perfect. He sought to understand the ways of Providence that kept him waiting so long.

Exemplary novice master

Although of a strong temperament, Father Stefano was an excellent novice master. He was affable, meek, jovial, humble and witty. His speech was simple and filled with good sense. He was a model of mortification—he ate little, rarely took wine and slept on boards. He firmly applied correction when necessary, and through wise counsel skilfully led the erring to acknowledge their faults.

From Rome, Father Stefano was transferred to Città della Pieve in 1822. During his stay in the monastery of that city, also as master of novices, he suffered much from the prior—a caustic and fiery man—who publicly reproved and beat him. Father Stefano silently accepted these humiliations and fulfilled the penances imposed on him while seeking to excuse the actions of his superior before the novices. Notwithstanding, prominent citizens of Città della Pieve came to seek his advice, beginning with the Bishop, who regularly confessed with him.

Finally, Genazzano

Fr. Stefano had always nurtured the desire to practice the Augustinian rule with all perfection, and it was his habit to ask the novices to pray a Hail Mary with him for his intentions. When he was pressed to reveal his intention he admitted that it was his constant prayer that God enlighten his superiors to institute perfect community life in one of the monasteries of the Order. He predicted that this exemplary monastery would be Saint Mary of Good Counsel, in Genazzano.

In fact, around the year 1826, the new Pope, Leo XII, decided that the Augustinian convent of Genazzano would be inhabited by those who had spontaneously requested permission to go there. Father Stefano was among the first to make the request.

It was November when he joined the community of this monastery called to be a model for the others. There, he was named sacristan and, once again, novice master. Testimonies abound regarding his dedication to church decorum and worship, and his diligence in forming new members of the Order. Miracles were also attributed to his intercession; for example, a votive light which lit spontaneously, and the unexpected cure of a novice, for whom he had interceded before the Madonna.

Last office: pastor of the Shrine

At 57 years of age, Father Stefano was elected pastor of the Shrine, in the chapter act of the Order. Instead of planning a well-merited rest, he showed renewed youthfulness, and multiplied his duties, including requesting help from friends in Rome and Trent to aid a poor, hungry, and overtaxed population.

They were a candid and deeply religious people, but superstitious, and even ignorant. It was necessary to go in search of souls. He is still remembered in Genazzano as the “father of the poor and comforter of the afflicted.” More than once he gave his own clothing to the needy. He carried wood on his back in winter to heat the shacks of the poor, despite suffering from a herniated disk. He also brought them water, oil lamps, and on one occasion gave his cot to a sick person.

He made a compendium of the Catechism adapted to the understanding of the people which clearly laid out the articles of the Faith. His confessional was always active and his patience was widely admired. Despite his many activities he continued caring for the novices as their master.

In life, Blessed Stefano was “tutto a tutti5: he was everything to everyone, beginning with his novices. The source of his boundless energy came from constant prayer and an ardent and filial devotion to his beloved Mother of Good Counsel.

The mortal remains of Blessed Stefano Bellesini lie in a chapel built in his honour in the Shrine-Basilica of the Mother of Good Counsel, Genazzano

Victim of his own charity

At the beginning of 1840 an epidemic swept through the city. As a tireless servant of the sick, Father Stefano attended all calls and went where other ministers of God feared to venture.

His health was weakened with this increase of activity. He suffered two falls that left him with a wounded leg and forced him to bed with a fever. But as soon as he could move about he returned to the sick, until he himself succumbed to the illness.

On February 2, Feast of the Purification of Our Lady and the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, his state worsened. At the time of Mass, the superior was torn between his duties in the church, and his desire to accompany Fr. Stefano in his last moments. But the patient assured him that only when everything had ended would his agony begin.

He had implored the Mother of Good Counsel to die on the Feast of the Purification. When the day arrived he requested that a blessed candle be lit. He also asked for his spectacles, and taking hold of a large volume written in his own hand, he began reciting the prayers. He prayed the novena of the Purification and was about to begin the Rosary and the Little Crown of Our Lady, when the priest assisting him advised him not to tire himself. He responded: “How can it be that today, when I will present myself to kiss the feet of Mary most holy, I will not have prayed her Little Crown, nor made the customary meditation?” 6

When the prayer ended, he folded his arms on his chest and held tight to a crucifix. There were two images of the Mother of Good Counsel on the left, at the head of his bed and he fixed his gaze to that side. While the Magnificat was being chanted in the church he entered his agony and died soon after.

Obedient in life and death

The funeral rites were celebrated the next morning in a crowded church. The faithful wanted to draw near and touch the body and were eager to obtain relics. He was buried in the afternoon in the common tomb of the religious, behind the choir, with neither coffin nor embellishment.

His remains were exhumed seven months later. The grave emitted no trace of odour. The body was flexible and intact, except for the nose. The flesh was rosy and the leg wound had become quite distinct; the bandage wrapped around it was still reddish. The body, which was to be placed in a coffin too small to hold it, adjusted itself to fit perfectly. Cardinal Pedecini, who was present, exclaimed: “Father Stefano, just as he was always obedient in life, proves himself to be obedient even after death.” 7

He was interred in a tomb expressly opened in the nave of the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Counsel, between the altars of the Holy Spirit and the Assumption, initiating a wave of miracles.

Pius IX introduced the request for the cause of Beatification and in 1873 a verification of his still incorrupt body was made. Later, his remains—deteriorated because of water that had entered the old sepulchre—were taken to a small chapel built in his honour, in the shrine. He was beatified by St. Pius X on December 27, 1904.

The Mother of Good Counsel wanted to keep near her, in life and in death, the one who had lived under the shield of “Good Counsel”, and who had served as an example and incentive of true devotion to her. 

Panoramic view of the city

1 RICCARDI, Duilio. Un santo fra poveri e ragazzi. Vita del B. Stefano Bellesini. Milão: Editrice Àncora Milano, 1970, p.20.
2 Idem, p.24.
3 Idem, p.28.
4 Idem, p.28-29.
5 STELLA, Vico. Una vita per gli altri: Beato Stefano Bellesini, parroco agostiniano,(1774-1840). Genazzano-Roma: Santuario Madre Del Buon Consiglio, s.d., p.36.
6 Idem, p.43.
7 Idem, p.44.


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