What God can do with a holy diplomat…

Today, 9 May 2012, is the anniversary of the translation of the relics of Blessed Nicholas Albergati (a.k.a. Blessed Niccolo Albergati). During the 15th century he led an amazing life of law student, Carthusian monk, Bishop, Cardinal and Papal diplomat. God used each and every one of his gifts and talents to further the kingdom of God.

Even though most of us outside Europe have rarely heard of Blessed Nicholas Albergati, he has been highly honoured. On the facade of the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome among the statues of saintly Popes there is a statue of Blessed Nicholas Albergati as well as one of St Charles Borromeo. Not long after his death, Blessed Nicholas appeared to his assistant – one Tommaso da Sarzano – and told him that he would soon serve as Pope. Obviously Tommaso had enormous regard for Blessed Nicholas because when he was elected Pope in 1447 he chose the name Nicholas V. Another one of his secretaries, Enea Silvio Piccolomini, became Pope Pius II.

Blessed Nicholas Albergati was born around 1373 in Bologna, Italy. At the age of 20 when he had recently completed a law degree at Bologna University and on the point of beginning a brilliant legal career Nicholas paid a visit to the Carthusian charterhouse in Bologna. The visit was intended to be a short one, but while he was there a storm hit which made travel impossible. To pass the time Nicholas went to the chapel and experienced the monks praying the Divine Office. In those moments he heard the call of God to become a Carthusian monk and responded to it wholeheartedly.

The next few years passed gently full of silence and prayer in the Carthusian charterhouse while Nicholas prepared to become a full member of the order and to be ordained a priest. When the time came to elect a new Prior his fellow monks found the choice of Nicholas very easy to make, even though he was still in his early thirties. This role enabled him to play a part in reuniting the Order which had split during the Schism in the Church of 1378-1417.

Someone must have noticed how well those delicate negotiations went, because that same year he was chosen to become the next bishop of Bologna. Can you imagine how daunting it was for him to leave, under obedience, this haven of prayer, silence and intercession and to enter into the busy, noisy and highly political life of a bishop? Nevertheless Nicholas made an excellent bishop. As far as possible he kept up the Carthusian habits of penance and fasting and remained in his Carthusian habit. Nicholas chose to live in a very simple dwelling rather than a grand one, and to make a point of visiting the people of his diocese, particularly the poor. Under his episcopal leadership many reforms were begun, especially in the areas of education and meeting the needs of the poor. Patronage of scholars and writers was another area he generously gave his time to.

These years were rather turbulent ones for the Church. So when Bologna rebelled against the papacy, Nicholas went in exile to Florence until such time as the people repented and welcomed him back. People outside Bologna soon recognized Nicholas’ special talents for diplomacy and he was sent on important missions to Florence, Venice, Milan and France. By 1426 he had been appointed Cardinal. As his reputation for peace making grew Nicholas became involved in mediating between popes and monarchs, and was appointed as papal legate to the Council of Basel-Ferara-Florence. For a short time his efforts brought about a reunion of the Greek Church with the Latin Church.

As he aged, it was Nicholas’ dearest wish to return to the life of a Carthusian monk. That was not to be. The need for holy and effective diplomats never fades, and it was on a papal diplomatic mission that he died in Siena in 1443. How many lives were saved due to his diplomatic efforts we will only know in heaven. Nicholas had an enormous ‘behind the scenes’ influence for good. May the good Lord grant that his cause for canonisation may soon be taken up again with gusto and brought to a happy conclusion.

Blessed Nicholas Abergati, pray for us.

Blessed Nicholas Abergati, please pray, too, for all scholars and diplomats.