Saint Charles Borromeo (November 4)

Author: Nicholle Check ~ October 24, 2017


Saint Charles Borromeo packed a lot of living into his 46 years (1538–  1584). Born an aristocrat, he was a bishop and cardinal who gave away his fortune. He had a speech impediment, yet his listeners were inspired by his preaching. He wrote a catechism and organized the final session of the Council of Trent, but he also worked in the streets of Milan to help those who were dying of the plague. He set out to reform religious orders that had become lax.

At the age of 22, Carlo (Italian for Charles) was called to Rome by his uncle, Pope Pius IV. As the favorite nephew, Carlo received lots of promotions. Pius even made him administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan, an important region that had been without an archbishop for more than 50 years.

Carlo asked to be allowed to go to Milan and look after the archdiocese, but the pope refused. Carlo was too valuable in Rome. The Church was in turmoil as more and more of Europe became Protestant. Obviously, the Church needed reform, so Carlo organized the final session of the Council of Trent. In addition, he wrote a catechism, a book that contained the truths Catholics believe about Jesus, his message, and his Church.

But finally Carlo was made Archbishop of Milan and was allowed to move to his archdiocese. When he arrived, he found a city where many people had stopped attending Mass and the clergy were ignorant and lazy. Carlo called for meetings of clergy, founded seminaries, and helped to establish the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to teach young people about their faith.

Not everyone was happy with Carlo and his efforts at reform. However, within a few years, most people of Milan were grateful that Carlo was their archbishop. In 1570, there was a crop failure. Milan and its surroundings faced famine. As the son of an aristocratic family, Carlo had financial resources and he spent them on the needs of his people, feeding 3,000 people every day for months.

In 1575, visitors to Milan brought the plague with them. In situations like this it was customary for rich people, including city leaders, to leave town to escape the contagion. But Carlo stayed and urged the city’s leaders who had already left to return to their suffering city. Carlo took the leading role, organizing temporary quarters where the sick could live, seeing to the burial of the dead, and providing priests for the people’s spiritual needs.

Again, people were going hungry. Carlo and his family went into debt, feeding as many as 70,000 people daily for a year and a half. He went into the streets himself, treating the sick, bringing the homeless and helpless into his own house. He even set up altars in the streets so those confined to their homes could look out their windows and celebrate Mass.

The people of Milan were so grateful to Carlo that, when he died, they buried him in the cathedral of the city he had served so well. He was only 46 when he died, but Carlo had worn himself out in bringing the message and the love of Jesus to others. The Church honors Saint Charles Borromeo on November 4.

  • Seeds (pre-K) and Promise (Kindergarten and grade 1): Tell the children that they can help people just like Saint Charles Borromeo did. If possible, acquire a list of homebound members in your parish. Address envelopes with those names and addresses. On 8 ½” x 11” sheets of paper, print a message to those special parishioners, leaving at least half of the sheet blank. Print one copy of the message for each child, with several extras. Ask children to draw pictures on the blank portion of the preprinted messages. Help the children to fold their messages, put them into envelopes, and then to put stamps on the envelopes. If possible, arrange for the children to take their messages to the post office to mail them. Note: Due to privacy concerns, you may need to just bring your messages to the parish office to be addressed and mailed.
  • Good News (grades 2–3): The story about Saint Charles Borromeo tells us that he worked in the Vatican to help the pope. Ask Good News children what they know about the Vatican and Pope Francis. Allow everyone who wishes to contribute to the discussion, but be sure children know that the Vatican is where the pope lives and works, and that the pope is the leader of all the Catholics around the world. Show the children a photo of Pope Francis and provide some basic biographical information about the Pope. You can find a biography of Pope Francis on the Vatican’s website. Encourage children to share stories they might have heard about the Pope, beginning by sharing a story of your own. If possible, have a map or globe on which you can show children the location of Vatican City.
  • Venture (grades 4–6) and Visions (grades 7–8): Remind Venture and Visions students that Saint Charles Borromeo was influenced in his faith by his uncle who rose in the ranks of the Church to become Pope Pius IV. Ask the students to think of people who have influenced their faith and to think of questions they would like to ask these people about their faith. From all the questions, have the group pick ten. Write the questions on a whiteboard or on large sheets of paper, and have each student make a copy. Have the students use these questions to interview people who have influenced their faith. Allow time at the next meeting for the students to share what they learned.

Alternatively, you may choose to have the students write a paragraph about people who have influenced their faith.  They can then brainstorm for ideas for how to reach out and help younger children to live their faith. How might they help brothers or sisters who are preparing for First Reconciliation or First Eucharist? Or, if they are servers at Mass, how could they encourage younger children to become servers? How could they help new servers? Or, if they are in the choir, how could they encourage other young people to join? How could they help new members of the choir?

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