Little Joseph Caffaso, was born in 1811, into a hard working peasant family in the village of Castelnuovo d’Asti. His parents were dismayed, because their baby had been born with a deformed spine. God may not have given this little boy a straight spine, but He gave him the ability to inspire people. God also gave him a heart that would fall in love with Jesus.
Joseph did so well in school, that he could help others with their lessons. When Joseph was thirteen, his father sent him away to school. Joseph went on to study at the seminary in Turin. He was the best student in the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1833, receiving dispensation because of his youth. He moved to the Institute of St. Francis Church, in Turin and studied theology there for three years. Joseph passed the diocesan exams with great distinction and began lecturing at the institute, where he had studied. People sensed that within his little body was a very big soul. Joseph was compared to St. Philip Neri and St. Francis de Sales, because he had a joy and a kindness about him. “Don” is a title of respect in Italy. Don Caffaso loved to teach by enlightening the understanding, which would then enlighten and direct the heart.
Don Caffaso was well known as a preacher and worked successfully to destroy the remnants of Jansenism that existed in Northern Italy. Jansenism taught that the slightest fault was a great sin and intimidated people away from God, confession and most tragically, the Eucharist. Don Caffaso encouraged people to have hope and humble confidence, in the love and mercy of God. Of all the many attributes this gifted priest had, he was perhaps best known for his ability to hear confession. He had remarkable intuition in dealing with people from all walks of life and felt, the priest should be fatherly to all those who came to confession. Don Caffaso was known for his ability to heal the broken spirit of a person, through the sacrament of confession. He said, “When we hear confessions, Our Lord wants us to be loving and pitiful, to be fatherly towards all who come to us, without reference to who they are or what they have done. If we repel anybody, if any soul is lost through our fault, we shall be held to account: his blood will be required at our hands.” Don Caffaso worked through the Institute of St. Francis, raising up a generation of clergy who would fight and “refuse to compromise with civil authorities, whose idea of the church-state relationship was one of domination and interference.”
Don Caffaso amazed people in his work with prisoners. The prisons in Turin were awful places. Prisoners were mistreated and degraded. Don Caffaso went to work with these forgotten men, making converts of them. Fr. Caffaso accompanied over 60 men to their public executions. He always asked these men to pray for him and referred to them as “hanged saints.”
When John Bosco was a still a young boy, he met Fr. Joseph Caffaso. Fourteen years later, John Bosco celebrated his first Mass in the Church of St. Francis in Turin. Fr. Joseph Caffaso was instrumental in encouraging John Bosco to fulfill his vocation; working with and educating young boys for God. The Salesians Order founded by St. John Bosco, reveres and loves Joseph Caffaso, because they recognize the instrumental role he played in encouraging their founder. It was because of St. Joseph Caffaso that St. John Bosco settled in Turin and brought boys together in the first Salesian Oratory. Many, many founders of charitable organizations and religious institutions trace their encouragement back to St. Joseph Caffaso. In the spring of 1860, Don Caffaso predicted that he would be dead within a year. Realizing his death was eminent, he created a spiritual testament, a simple guide for people to prepare for a good death, it consisted of the following:
“Lead a godly and upright life, have detachment from the world, and have love for Christ crucified.” - St. Joseph Cafasso
On June 11th after hearing confessions, he went to bed feeling exhausted and sick. Soon pneumonia developed and St. Joseph Caffaso died on Saturday, June 23, 1860 at the hour of the morning angelus. Enormous crowds packed his funeral at St. Francis Church and St. John Bosco preached about his mentor, encourager and friend.
What an amazing life! It can never be overstated, God’s plan for each person, no matter how they may look to the rest of the world! This little baby, this little boy, who was discounted by many due to his deformity, was a spiritual giant! A spiritual giant, who went on to be used by the Holy Spirit to help form and encourage other spiritual giants! St. Joseph Caffaso knew the power of kindness and sweetness; but he also knew that those attributes are worth nothing, unless united to the rock of Jesus Christ. His kindness and sweetness was like the flesh of a peach, but his faith was like the core; strong and firm. It was the center that everything else in his life was built around! Make your family this peach cobbler; there are few desserts that can rival it. Serve it to them with love and tell them the story: of the little baby born with a curved spine; who went on to do amazing things for his Father in heaven and to help those who so desperately needed help and encouragement here below. St. Joseph Caffaso was a giant peach!