September 19, 1772 – April 9, 1847
Don Francesco de Lucia was the first Rector of the Sanctuary of St. Philomena. He was born on September 19, 1772 in the town of Mugnano del Cardinale within the diocese of Nola. Throughout his childhood his uncle, who was a priest, taught him the ways of the Catholic faith and initiated his life with a sound Christian upbringing. His uncle remained close to him and gave him every assistance to enter the Institution of the Congregation of the Holy Sacrament in Lucera, where he studied Theology and Philosophy. He was ordained to his priesthood on the September 19, 1796. He became ill shortly after this and was moved to Naples which was closer to his hometown. This is when he truly began his work and opened "The Institute of Literature and Philosophy". With the start of the Neapolitan Revolution in 1799, Don Francesco decided to move back to his hometown in Mugnano del Cardinale where he dedicated him self to missionary work along with many other priests of Naples and the south of Italy.
Through this apostolic life he became friends with Mons. Bartolomeo De Cesare who was to go on to become instrumental in his life. This good friend asked Don Francesco to accompany him to Rome for his Episcopal ordination on the 30th June 1805 which is when his life takes a turn, for through this journey to Rome he is given permission to receive the Sacred Relics of St. Philomena.
The divine providence had arranged this journey in order that Don Francesco De Lucia would become the Propagator of the devotion of St. Philomena. He did this work admirably and was witness to many great works of God through the intercession of St. Philomena. After establishing and guiding this devotion for nineteen years, in 1824 he began to document the wonders he had been privileged to witness. By 1836 he had written the first ever book on St. Philomena giving it the name "History of the Relics of St. Philomena". The first edition was published in 1836 and was called the "Historic relation of the translation of the Sacred Body of St. Philomena from Rome to Mugnano". His work spread so fast in every city of Italy and was translated into many languages. From 1836 until 1843, there followed another six revised and corrected versions.
In order to give devotion to Saint Philomena he initiated an association called "The Pia Association of the Virgins of Saint Philomena" also called "The small nuns of St. Philomena". Many of whom were very young girls, housewives or peasant women. They all lived with their family but following a very religious life. They wore a black dress, white veil and a small crucifix and would follow the vow of chastity with little daily routines. As Don Francesco was the founder of this he established the regulations and policy. Many other Bishops and Religious institutions throughout Italy and France went on to follow these rules for their own religious establishments.
Don Francesco attained the respect and high esteem of many Bishops, Priests and important people through his good work. Among whom was the King of Naples, Ferdinand II who visited the Sanctuary 25 times until 1843, accompanied by his first wife Maria Cristina of Savoy who died during childbirth and also with his second wife Maria Sofia. He also achieved great admiration by his town people and most importantly that of all the devotees. On Holy Friday in 1835, while Don Francesco was going to Nola to greet the Bishop, he fell from a donkey, (which was a normal mode of transport at the time) and that was the start of a very long frailty. On the 14th April 1841 he had a second fall and in 1845 the third fall caused the breaking of artery, which made him become infirm and in great pain. During these years of infirmity he struggled through the suffering with great acceptance and dignity.
Don Francesco De Lucia died on the 9th April 1847 giving his holy soul to our Lord, after having dedicated 41 years of his priesthood ministry and continuous service at the Sanctuary and spreading the devotion of St. Philomena. The loss of the custodian of the Sacred Relics of St. Philomena became a deep mourning for all the community of Mugnano and for the devotees of the Saint. The days of mourning leading to his funeral celebration, which was held in the Sanctuary (funeral services are not normally held at the Sanctuary as it is not a Parish Church,) were a clear manifestation of the great love that all had towards him. During these days it became important to have guards because of the many visitors who were trying to obtain a piece of his clothes as a Relic.
The body of Don Francesco was placed in front of the Chapel of St. Philomena. It had been decided after some disagreement that the bells of the Sanctuary would not be rung, nor would the veil covering the Sacred Urn containing the Relics of St. Philomena be lifted, nor the candles lit as these would be done in union with each other and happened at special occasions. However a miracle of Our Lord through the love of St. Philomena happened, while the Don Francesco’s body was being lifted to start the funeral rites, the wheel of the Churches bells without being touched began to ring, with great astonishment of the population and the priests present. At this point the candles in front of the Altar of St. Philomena were lightened and the veil lifted. Don Francesco was temporarily buried in the Chapel of the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception, near the Sanctuary. On the 9th December 1848 he was moved to the Sanctuary, with funeral rites and by the reconnaissance authority received by the Diocese of Nola, into the special monument, which is on the left side of the entrance of the Sanctuary.
The Translation of the Sacred Relics of St Philomena from Rome to Mugnano del Cardinale
In 1805 Don Francesco De Lucia a young priest from Mugnano del Cardinale in the diocese of Nola, was in Rome with his friend Mons. Bartolomea DeCesare, a priest from Saint Angelo a Segno, Naples who was to be consecrated on 30th June 1805 as Bishop of Potenza. Don Francesco had a secret wish to bring back a Martyr Saint to his oratory in Mugnano (it was customary at that time for priests to have their own private chapel in their living quarters for daily mass). The new Bishop helped Don Francesco’s wish come true, by presenting him to the custodian of the Sacred Relics Mons. Giacinto Pozzetti.
Mons. Bartolomeo De Cesare, apart from being elected as the new Bishop of Potenza, had been appointed by the King of Naples to take his personal message to Pope Pius VII, who had just returned to Rome after having crowned the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who had returned from a triumphal journey through France. The Kings ambassador conveyed to the holy see of the great wish of Don Francesco De Lucia. At this point Pope Pius VII, was so touched with this wish he agreed to give him as a gift the Relics of St. Philomena. However it was not protocol to give such a precious gift of the Relics of a named Martyr to a simple priest. This right was only given Bishops and so in order for him to obtain these Relics of St Philomena they were donated to the newly elected Bishop on the 8th June 1805. Bishop De Casare went on to donated them to Don Francesco de Lucia. The will of God was that this St Philomena was to be donated throughout the world by Him to help His chosen people just as he was donated to Don Francesco. We should recognize this first sign from God for this is why when St Philomena comes into our life the pull toward her is so strong, she is indeed a truly great gift from God.
On the 30th June, while in Rome the celebrations of the Apostle St Paul were held, Don Francesco De Lucia was assisting the Episcopal ordination of his good friend Bartolomeo De Cesare. On the 1st July, the new elected Bishop and Don Francesco organized the coach to leave Rome with the Relics of Saint Philomena. They had previously discussed placing the Relics of St Philomena in a privileged position within the coach, however time was short and for the safe keeping of the Relics due to the robberies, they where placed under the wooden seat beneath the Bishop. As everyone took their seats and the coach began its journey, Bishop De Cesare experienced extreme pain to the back of his legs, he cried out in pain. Again what felt like a lash happened and by the third time Don Francesco and the Bishop realized that God wanted His daughter of light to be placed in the front seat where it had been first discussed. The contained holding the precious Relics where taken from beneath the seat and placed facing the two men. This was the second sign from God that we would go on to realize characteristic of St Philomena when she gives us the three knocks. This signifies that St Philomena is present is our life for those whom she feels needs to know that.
The journey from Rome to Naples took one day and they arrived there on the 2nd of July. The Relics where taken to the house of a well respected Neapolitan librarian, Antonio Terres, a trusted friend of the Bishop. The requested and authorization from the Bishop of Nola, Mons. Vincenzo Torrusio to open the containers with the Relics. The new Bishop of Potenza opened and officially identified them as the Relics of St Philomena that had come from Rome. The Sacred Relics of St Philomena were sealed several times in one large case containing five packets, each packet was also sealed several times at all the openings. Immediately when the case the opened a sweet fragrance spread throughout the whole house. Each of the five packets within where specially wrapped and meticulously sealed. The first one had the vase with the blood and the second the scull of the virgin martyr which was extremely fractured. The three remaining packets where the bones of St Philomena together with a high volume of ashes which was the remains of her flesh which made up the main part of each packet. There where many bones, the larger bones where intact but very fragile. The color of the ashes clearly indicated that it was her flesh that had turned to ashes. Don Francesco states in his writings " What a great precious thing, for us to have the body, blood and flesh of this great Saint. This is indeed a blessing and very rare, for in most instances when a tomb is opened after so many years, one may only find some bones and in most you will probably find merely ashes, for the many centuries of entombment would reduce the body to this." When the body of St Philomena was discovered originally in 1802 in the catacombs of St Pricilla, Rome it had been stated, after examining all of the Relics and these basis only, that it was a young girl of about 13 years of age. Don Francesco goes on to say " After having opened the small separate packets, what was certain was the small size of the scull in proportion to all other remaining bones, that they belonged to a young Martyr Saint between 12-13 years of age or just older."
They where then placed in the private chapel of Antonio Terres. The news of this Roman Martyr has spread and the good people of the surrounding areas came to the house of Anotonio to pay their respects. As the crowds began to increase and to avoid disorder the Relics where transferred to the Parish Church of St Angelo a Serno and for the first time the Body of St Philomena was exposed for public veneration, she remained there for three days. The three day in the Church and the three remaining similar packets holding the Relics are further signs of how significant the number three is when we receive a sign or grace through the intercession of St Philomena . Also note here the name of this Church where she was first revealed, it is the church of an angel and many have reported the strong prescience of the angels when devoted to St Philomena.
The three days had passed and it was time to prepare the Relics to be placed in the hollow Paper Mache statue. It was a privileged job to be given to prepare this Martyr for the world and we should keep in mind at this time it was for the private Chapel of Don Francesco who goes on to say "We then began the dressing which Mrs. Terres greatly desired to do in return for asking to receive the grace of being cured of a severe illness in her legs which she had suffered from for the past 12 years. Which we can say was recompensed for she was perfectly cured the day before the Sacred Body left her home." This was the first miracle through the intercession of St Philomena ever received. All of the bones where put into the paper mace statue in the presence of Don Francesco. St Philomena was ready to be taken to what was to become her home town. The Statue was dressed in fine clothes and this became the first Statue and remains the principle Statue. This was to become the St Philomena we all know and love to this day. From this first miracle St Philomena teaches us to be patient and always to give before we expect to receive, but doing all in love and faith.
On the evening of the 9th August the Sacred Relics were to be transferred to Mugnano del Cardinale. As the procession began on foot the Sacred Body of St Philomena was carried and left Naples, but as night descended, Don Francesco realized he had forgotten the many lanterns needed for the journey, just as he thought it would take up too much time to return for them the most beautiful moon shone down and guided them through out the night. As the procession entered the town of Cimitile and was nearing its end the body of St Philomena became so heavy it could not be carried. Cimitile comes from the word in Italian meaning cemetery and this town had been the place where early Christians had been Martyred, it has a Basilica and Catacombs of the early Christians and is known as "The Sacred Land of the Martyrs". As St Philomena, stayed to join with her fellow Martyrs, Don Francesco went to Mugnano to get some help to carry St Philomena through Cimitile. He returned and after they passed through the town the body of the Saint became lighter than before. Yet another sign we can take form our precious Saint was that when we pray to her she guides us to her heavenly friends, the many Saints and Martyrs who keep her company in paradise, the three who have been widely noted are St Michael the Archangel, St John Vianney and St Pio of Piedesimo.
This journey from Naples to Mugnano was to be solemn and quiet but as it happened there had been earth quakes through the month of July in the area and so many in the path of the procession had thought it better to sleep outside. As the procession passed through the towns the townspeople paid their respects and St Philomena became widely known. God presented his daughter to the world and laid in her path the many chosen ones who where to greet her and spread the news of her arrival. He made certain she was to be known to the world.
On the morning of the 10th August they arrived in Mugnano, to the cheers of the expectant crowds from Mugnano and all the surrounding towns. One elderly man who suffered from severe gout and could hardly put one foot in front of the other was so eager to see this Martyr and pay his respects that through sheer will power he got to the street as St Philomena entered the town and at that moment he was totally cured of his illness and walked like a teenager along side the procession, this was the first of many miracles in the town of Mugnano. However, as the procession entered the town a strong wind came hurly around and as the there had been earth quakes in the area in July the crowd began to disperse. Don Francesco shouted out "Where are you going?" "Do you not know that this is the work of Satan, he is trying to stop this procession, come back and do not be afraid" When he had finished saying this the wind immediately stopped. Not one torch was put out during this gale however all of the trees in the area had been blown down. The procession continued up the hill and entered the Church of Our Lady of Grace. We can clearly see from this that the evil one will do everything he can to stop our connection with St Philomena but it teaches us to go forth in complete faith and trust for then we cannot be touched. We see again from this first Miracle of the town that we must go forth in love and our hope and prayers will be answered.
As the amount of devotees was growing rapidly daily, the Bishop of Nola exhorted Don Francesco De Lucia to renounce to the idea of keeping the Sacred Relics in his oratory. Therefore for this reason a special Chapel was built in the Church of Our Lady of Grace where the Sacred Relics were then translated on the 29th September 1805. To this day the they remain there however during the past 200 years the Chapel its self has continually been adorned and made more precious. It became apparent from the second that St Philomena entered Naples how popular she had become in such a short time and how it came to pass that people should come to know her, even in the night as she passed through the towns on her journey to Mugnano. The will of God was done and St Philomena became and is to this day a truly special and Powerful Wonder Worker.
The Tomb of Don Francesco de Lucia in Sanctuary of St. Philomena, Mugnano del Cardinale, Av., Italy.