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Witness 33 - Nicolas Giannattasio di Francesco, Bishop of Nardo

 

Born in Bisceglie on 17th January 1871, Nicolas Giannattasio was ordained a priest whilst still very young, on 21st December 1893. A Doctor of Arts, Philosophy and Theology, he taught first at the Regional Pontifical Seminary of Bénévent, then at the Seminaries of Ascoli Satriano and Cerignola, where he was also Rector. He was nominated Bishop of Nardo on 30th November 1908, and consecrated the following 31st December. When he didn’t accept a transfer to the archiepiscopal see of Otrante, he became the tenured Archbishop of Pessinunte and settled in Rome where he was nominated Canon of Saint John Lateran, consultant for the Congregation of Sacraments and clergy examiner. He also devoted himself to studying and apostolic activities. He was a connoisseur of Dante Alighieri, and friend to artists and writers, including Perosi, to whom he was close. In 1916 he published Saggi di apologia cattolica, in 1942 Parusia storica secondo San Pietro, and in 1952 Cristologia Paolina. He died in Frascati on 24th August 1959*.

The witness testified in Italian. The text was immediately translated into French by Mr. Dubosq, Promoter of the Faith. It describes the wondrous events that took place in 1910-1911 in the Carmel of Gallipoli, a monastery with which Mgr. Giannattasio was in contact for his ministry. The Bishop already recognized the value of the spiritual message of Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, and saw it confirmed when the Servant of God said to Mother Carmela of the Sacred Heart in a vision on 16th January 1910: “La mia via è sicura, e non mi sono sbagliata seguendola” (“My way is right and I wasn’t mistaken in following it”). Mgr. Giannattasio compared these words with the promise that Sister Thérèse made to Sister Marie of the Trinity: “If I learn on entering heaven that I’ve mislead you, I’ll obtain permission from God to immediately come and inform you. Until that happens, believe that my way is right and follow it faithfully” **.@CSM">**. – Counsels and Reminiscences -

The witness testified on 21st–22nd August 1911, in sessions 86-87, pp. 1309v-1329v of our Public Copy.

[Session 86: - 21st August 1911, at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[1310v] [The witness answers the first question correctly].

[1311r] [Answer to the second question]:

My name is Nicolas Giannattasio di Francesco. I was born in Bisceglie, Archidiocese of Trani, in the Province of Bari (Italy), on 17th January 1871, of the legitimate marriage between Francesco Giannattasio and Lucretia Gramagna. I am the Bishop of Nardò, in the Province of Lecce (Italy), on the border with the Diocese of Gallipoli.

[The witness answers questions three to seven correctly]:

[Answer to the eighth question]:

I have come to testify principally about the wondrous events that took place at the Carmel of Gallipoli (Articles nos. 145, 145a, 145b). What I will say about these events, I know from personal knowledge. I will also mention, in passing, that the witnesses from whom I was able to ascertain certain details relating to my deposition are wholly trustworthy.      

[1311v] [Answer to the ninth question]:

I have a keen devotion for the Servant of God, and I very much hope that her cause is successful; but it’s not out of any human sentiment. I desire to see her beatified for the glory of God alone, and because I believe she will help edify souls, especially in these present times.  

[Answers to questions ten to twenty-six]:

I know nothing particular on these points.

[Answer to the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth questions]:

My feeling is that the holiness the Servant of God practiced in her life was not only eminent, but I would also say “one of the most eminent in the Church.” Moreover her holiness appears to me to be “distinctive” in the sense that in Providence’s design she is destined to pave a new way to perfection.

[What do you mean when you say that this way of holiness is a “new way”?]:

I mean in the same way a man of genius has “new” views on an “unchanging” truth, that is to say “a new way of understanding and presenting the truth, which remains substantially the same.” Hence “typical” saints like Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Teresa, and so on, highlighted a virtue and a point of view on the evangelical doctrine in a special way, yet the doctrine remains the unique path to holiness. It was not only through their teachings that these saints promoted the practice of certain evangelical virtues, but above all through their actions, becoming what you might call a “new exemplary cause” for holiness, without however the principal and “authoritative” purpose of all holiness ceasing to be unique.

[In your opinion, what does her special way of holiness consist of?]:

It consists of the love of God, [1312v] which is envisaged as a love of trust and surrender expressed in the practice of “little acts” of virtue. For her life was one of “heroic” tenacity and constancy in the attentive practice of these “little acts” of virtue: her faithfulness in performing these acts never flagged, and “Story of a Soul” shows that she was constant in this even in her early childhood, while she was still in the world, and then in the Carmel until her death. I believe that through her constant and faithful practice of these “little acts”, she reached the height of perfection and an eminent degree of love of God. Hence she shows that the highest perfection is accessible even to “little souls”, and it seems to me that today the majority of souls are “little” as the Servant of God understood it.  

[Do you think that there were certain virtues in particular that the Servant of God practiced when she performed “little” acts such as these?]:

I believe she was particularly mindful to being exquisitely amiable to her neighbour, being patient when [1313r] tolerating the faults of others, and to being very meticulous and unflagging when testifying to her profound piety and her faith in God.  

[How did you come to know all this?]:

I deduced it from studying and meditating “her Life Story”. This work appears to me to be a master-piece of Christian hagiography; it’s a marvelous ascetic “directory”.

[Do you know whether the Servant of God is renowned in Southern Italy?]:

She is known by a large number of people, especially by those who are pious and fervent. Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus is considered to be a saint. The wondrous event that took place in Gallipoli, and which I will talk about later, has contributed to spreading her renown for holiness. I’ve never heard anyone contest the truth of her reputation for heroic virtue.

[1313v] [Answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

The events in Gallipoli can be summarized, for more clarity, in three main points: 1stly the wondrous occurrence that took place on 16th January 1910; 2ndly the subsequent events that reoccurred on different occasions, after the 16th January 1910; 3rdly the event that is more personal, and which happened on 16th January 1911.    

1stly – The event that took place on 16th January 1910 was reported to me a few days later by Mgr. the Bishop of Gallipoli who invited me, on 6th February, to represent the Pontiff for the feast day of Saint Agatha, the patron Saint of Gallipoli. Moreover, the following day, 7th February 1910, the Prioress of the Carmel of Gallipoli, who was granted this wondrous favour, told me about it herself in the presence of Mgr. Muller, the Bishop of Gallipoli.

I am going to recount the event by relating what Mother Carmela of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Prioress, told us. Now on 7th February, after his account and [1314r] to satisfy the request I had made the previous day, the Bishop of Gallipoli led me to the Carmel’s visiting room and asked the Mother Prioress to tell us the story of what had happened on 16th January. I must mention that this nun was very hesitant and averse to recounting the tale: she did so very reservedly, and it was only under the Bishop of Gallipoli’s injunction in the name of obedience that she agreed to our request.

[Do you know the reason for her aversion?]:

I never thought the prospect of saying something that might not be true could be the cause of her hesitation. What I observed in her attitude and her story leaves no room at all for such a suspicion as this. The Prioress is very virtuous and incapable of lying. I formed the impression, and I believe it to be true, that her aversion stemmed from a feeling of humility, making it very difficult for her to recount events that involved her personally. In addition, I noticed that during the [1314v] interview, in which the Prioress obviously went to great pains to obey the Bishop’s order, her face transformed as she recounted her tale, and her features took on a wholly celestial expression, which made a profound impression on me.      

[The witness continues]:

The Prioress told us that, at about dawn on 16th January 1910, she was in bed. Suffering from the repercussions of pleurisy, she hadn’t slept all night, and at that moment, she was half-sitting up in bed. (She was fully awake, or half asleep, she didn’t say which in her story.) She thought she could feel someone touch her on the chest through the bed-covers. So she said: “Don’t do that, I’m all sweaty.” A voice replied: “Don’t be afraid, what I’m doing is not bad, but good.” Then the voice added: “God makes use of those in heaven like he does of those on earth: I am bringing you five hundred pounds to meet the [1315r] community’s needs.” The Prioress replied: “The community’s debt amounts to only three hundred pounds.” “Well” said the voice, “you can keep the rest for the community’s other needs.” The Prioress objected: “But the Holy Rule doesn’t allow me to keep money in my cell.” The voice replied by means of a “locuzione mentale” that the money could be taken out of the cell, and that as the Prioress couldn’t get up because of her state of transpiration, a “bilocation” would allow her to go and fetch the money. (I must mention at this point that the Prioress was very reluctant to utter the word “bilocation” and only did so after Mgr. Muller insisted, instructing her to speak the whole truth.)        

[1315v] [Continuation of the answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

The Prioress was led outside her cell by a Carmelite nun who was radiant with a brightness that lit their way as they walked through the corridors. She led her to the turn’s office, while remaining inside the enclosure. Inside the room, there was a desk with three drawers: the office was regularly used for keeping the monastery’s administrative accounts.

The vision had her open one of the drawers in which she found a little box about ten centimetres long. She put five hundred pounds worth of Neapolitan bank notes in the box. The Prioress was very moved and believed at first that the vision was Saint Teresa, the founder of the Carmel. So [1316r] she cried: “0 Santa Madre.” The vision answered: “I am not ‘Santa Madre’, I am the Servant of God Sister Thérèse of Lisieux: today, there is rejoicing in heaven and on earth.” (It was the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus). They exchanged a few more words, and then the vision gave the Prioress a few signs of friendship, by putting her hand on her head, and arranging the folds in her veil with a stroke of her hand; she then appeared to walk towards the door. The Prioress said: “Wait a minute, I will accompany you, because you may get lost, as you don’t know the way.” The vision replied with the following words: “La mia via è sicura, e non mi sono sbagliata seguendola.”  

[Do you know whether the Prioress already knew anything about the Servant of God or whether she had heard of her?]:

Shortly beforehand, a Marcellin nun from Milan, of the monastery of Lecce, had said a few words about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus [1316v] when visiting the Carmel of Gallipoli. Out of urgency, the Carmelites of Gallipoli resolved to pray to the young Carmelite nun they had been told about, and at about the time that the vision was seen, they were saying either a triduum or a novena in order to obtain help from God through her intercession, for the monastery was in great difficulty.

[The witness continues his presentation as follows]:

The Prioress was very moved by the strange event. In the morning, it was with great difficulty that she got up to take Communion and attend Mass. When she withdrew after thanksgiving, the two sacristan nuns noticed how pale her face was and assumed she was very ill. They wanted their Mother Prioress back in bed at all costs and the doctor to be called. Confronted with their persistence, she was compelled to tell them that she was still overcome by something that had happened during the night and which she believed had been a dream. She then told them [1317r] briefly what had happened and about the little box in the office drawer. The Prioress said, as if teasing them: “you mustn’t believe in dreams.” The nuns protested, but, prompted by a sort of religious awe, neither of them dared open the drawer. The Prioress was obliged to do so herself, and found that the little box did indeed contain five hundred pounds.          

[Do you know whether the Prioress slept-walked at all, or suffered from any cerebral disorder that could have caused her to place a sum of money that was already inside the monastery in the drawer?]:

That hypothesis is absolutely inadmissible: 1stly the afore-mentioned Prioress has a very sound mind and has never, neither beforehand nor since, shown signs of having the least cerebral trouble; 2ndly it is also impossible that such a significant amount of money was in the monastery or that it came to the Prioress from outside. [1317v] I know personally and for a fact that the Carmel of Gallipoli is in a situation of extreme poverty: the region itself is poor, not very religious, and not very generous; a benefactor able to offer such a lot of money would have been impossible to find. Moreover, the Carmel’s creditor had been pursuing them extremely ruthlessly for a fortnight, claiming his due every day. If we had had any money available at all, we would have given it to them. Yet above all, the extremely rigorous inquiry led by the Bishop leaves no room for any doubt. Either the venerable prelate was granted special permission from God, or demonstrated profound wisdom in this extremely delicate matter, for his attitude was such that he would have grasped at the smallest pretext to reduce this whole matter to nothing. Now, Mgr. Muller, in his investigation, looked into every possible theory in an attempt to reveal a mistake, illusion or trickery. He had all the different elements in front of him and reached the conclusion, of which he informed me, that there was no natural explanation.          

[1318r] 2ndly. As for the reports concerning the more or less wondrous events that took place at the Carmel of Gallipoli between 16th January 1910 and 16th January 1911, I don’t accord them as much importance, because I haven’t verified them myself and because the circumstances under which they unfolded are not as striking as those of the first vision. I would only say in general that the Prioress avows to having on several occasions found surplus proceeds in the monastery accounts and that supernatural intervention was the only explanation for this. The Bishop of Gallipoli, who very frequently and very carefully checks the accounts, admitted to me that he couldn’t explain where the money had come from. Also, when these events took place, he submitted the Prioress to so many tests, examinations and conundrums of all sorts, that he himself esteems the Prioress would have no interest in upholding the events to be true if they weren’t. The Bishop of Gallipoli also observes that the progress made by the whole community and by every nun in their spiritual life is [1318v] extraordinary, and that it cannot be denied that this coincides with the material events related above. I am aware of this because I directed the spiritual practices of this Carmel.  

3rdly. – The third occurrence is very personal to me. I now have a special devotion for the Servant of God, based on the effect it had on me, which is to recommend, and have Carmelites recommend, the exceptionally difficult administrative problems I come across in my diocese to Sister Thérèse’s intercession. To elicit the Servant of God’s help, the idea came to me to donate the Carmel of Gallipoli the sum of five hundred pounds, which was the same amount that the Servant of God had miraculously brought, and to make this donation on the anniversary of the wonder that is related above in n° 1. However I hesitated offering such a considerable sum to a monastery that wasn’t in my diocese. But, on Christmas day, a benefactor unexpectedly gave me a thousand pounds to use as I saw fit. I [1319r] immediately said to myself: “Sister Thérèse has come to help me”, and without further hesitation I decided to put my plan to donate into action. With this in view, I took advantage of the fact that a very reliable person from Gallipoli came to visit me on 28th December 1910 by giving her my parcel. Therefore, without being seen by this person or by anyone else, I placed a five hundred pound note in a little envelope, along with one of my compliments slips, on which I wrote the following words as a reminder of what happened on 16th January 1910: “In memoriam… My way is right and I wasn’t mistaken in following it. (Sister Thérèse of Lisieux to Sister Maria Carmela in Gallipoli, 16th January 1910). Orate pro me quotidie ut Deus misereatur mei.” I left the little envelope, with its contents, open in a big double envelope that is known as a safe envelope in the world of commerce. The inner lining of this envelope was made of thin paper, and blue; the outer envelope was of a stronger paper and lighter [1319v] in colour. I carefully closed the double envelope, securely sealing it with a wax stamp bearing my insignia. Then, and in the presence of the person who was to be my messenger, I wrote on the outside of the big envelope: “To place in the ordinary little box, and to be opened by the Mother Prioress, Sister Carmela, on 16th January 1911.” In addition, I asked the messenger to be good enough to check that the instructions I’d written on the envelope were followed through. It was absolutely impossible to read through the double envelope the term “In memoriam”, which was written on the little envelope inside; let alone see what the envelope held. Moreover, I didn’t tell the messenger what the letter contained, I only advised her to take good care of it.  

[Session 87: - 22nd August 1911 at 8:30am and at 2pm]

[1323v] [Continuation of the answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

At the invitation of Mgr. Muller, the Bishop of Gallipoli, I was to preach spiritual practices at the Carmel for a week, starting on 16th January 1911. So, on 16th January, at about four o’clock in the afternoon, I went to the Carmel’s visiting room at the Bishop’s order, to arrange the practice times. 16th January was the day I had chosen for the Prioress to open my package: I thought she must have discovered its contents earlier in the day; but when we met in the visiting room, she said that the envelope still lay unopened in the little box and that she wanted me to open it myself. Why did she want me to open the envelope myself and had waited for me to arrive? It was, I think, because she suspected something extraordinary had happened to the envelope and because she wanted as far as possible to avoid any involvement in a new affair that would only give her more trouble, and attract more public attention. Furthermore, for a year, the nuns in her monastery had been saying [1324v] the following prayer to the Servant of God, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “Seeing as you have taken an interest in the community’s material commodities, please take an interest in a more spiritual one and procure us the means to acquire a floral decoration for our poor chapel’s alter.” They estimated that it would cost 300 pounds. The Prioress had at first refused to play any part in their request, then eventually conceded, and had for a while been praying for the decoration along with the other nuns. Now, a few days before the 16th January, the Prioress, finding an opportunity to open the drawer which had the envelope inside, noticed that the envelope had become thicker and sensed that some wonder had taken place as a result of the Sisters’ prayers. That is, in my opinion, the reason for her hesitation in opening the envelope; and she had written to me saying: “Don’t forget to come yourself on 16th, it seems to me that the Servant of God wants to give you a sign, even if an indirect one, of her supernatural intervention.”  

[1325r] I asked the Prioress to go to the drawer and fetch the envelope, which she then presented me with, asking me to open it. I insisted she open it herself. Not without some difficulty, she tore off a corner of the envelope which was stiff and well stuck, then opened it from bottom to top with her finger. Then, without touching the contents, she handed it to me through the grille, saying: “You take it then, since it’s yours.” I believe this was because of the feeling I mentioned above and because she wanted, as far as possible, to get rid of this matter that she sensed was supernatural. I therefore took the envelope and I was astonished to find other notes inside, besides the five hundred pound note that I had placed in the little envelope. There were two hundred pound notes and two fifty pound notes inside the thin blue paper envelope. My little envelope was amidst these notes and I didn’t see it at first.

My first thought was that someone had changed my five hundred pound note and replaced it [1325v] with notes of a smaller value. The Prioress said: “Count them then, could they perhaps be the three hundred pounds that the Sisters asked for? In any case, keep it all and deal with this matter yourself. If you want, I’ll call the Sisters and you can give them the money as if it came from you.” She probably thought that this way, the miracle would go unnoticed and that people wouldn’t talk about it. I counted the notes again; one of the fifty pound notes smelled vaguely of roses. I took it and replaced it with another of the same value. The Sisters were called: I gave them the money without mentioning the miracle; they thanked me and withdrew. The Prioress then said that the Servant of God had wanted to act through me on this occasion. But I replied that I was only a witness to the event. Having taken the envelope, she said animatedly: “Check that the seal is indeed yours.” So she gave me back the letter and I examined in very carefully. The seal was unbroken; I also recognized, which was important, the way in which [1326r] certain edges were gummed down. I had applied a bit of liquid gum to them with a brush, and the folds that had formed as a result were identical here. I don’t want to omit saying that my five hundred pound note and my compliments slip were intact in their envelope amidst the other notes.

As I had to preach immediately, I put aside any impressions this event may have had on me; but that evening, when I was alone in my room at the Bishopric of Gallipoli, I could freely reflect upon all these occurrences and I was utterly convinced that the event could only be a miracle, and I was moved to tears. The hypothesis that the Prioress had inserted the notes into the envelope is absolutely inadmissible. 1stly she couldn’t have had that amount of money in the Carmel, for the monastery is so poor it could be called “destitute”; 2ndly the envelopes were [1326v] absolutely intact; 3rdly the Prioress is absolutely incapable of committing a fraud such as this; not only do all the nuns say this: Mgr. the Bishop of Gallipoli, who, as I said, is apparently opposed to admitting there is anything miraculous about these events and who would be happy to find the smallest of clues to refute the hypothesis of a miracle, is obliged to confirm that the Prioress is perfectly moral. He said this to me himself, adding that moreover the Prioress had no reason or interest to construct this web of lies. On the last day of the spiritual practices, the Bishop of Gallipoli asked me to write a canonic testimony, under oath, of everything that had happened.  

[1327r] [Continuation of the answer to the twenty-ninth question]:

To conclude my testimony, I must add that it wasn’t by chance, but by design that, on the compliments slip enclosed with my five hundred pound note, I wrote the sentence that the Servant of God had pronounced on 16th January 1910, to the Prioress of Gallipoli: “My way is right and I wasn’t mistaken in following it.” Right from the beginning, these words appeared very important to me and I regret that the canonic investigations that were carried out following the event failed to stress the significance of them and failed to grasp their spiritual meaning. For me, there was never any doubt that the sentence means: “The spiritual way of holiness that I myself followed and taught others is right, etc….” It can’t signify anything else, and it above all shouldn’t be interpreted in its purely material sense: “I certainly know the way to follow through the corridors to exit the monastery.” For instance, the expression “Mia via”, “my way”, shouldn’t be interpreted in a material sense, especially in Italian. Moreover, the expression “seguire la via” in Italian is used in a figurative sense. What I didn’t know at first and later learnt, and which confirmed my belief about the spiritual meaning of the sentence, is that the Servant of God pronounced the very same sentence to three novices, when speaking about her self-same “little way of holiness”: “I’ll come and inform you as to whether I’ve mislead you, or whether my way is right.” – SS 12 –'.  

In my opinion, when she appeared on 16th January 1910, the Servant of God was keeping her promise, and especially when she said: “My way is right, etc.” and the theological purpose behind the second miracle on 16th January 1911 was to highlight [1328r] the truth of this interpretation. I infer this from the set of circumstances as a whole and from my first and immediate intuition. Although I wrote this sentence on my compliments slip, which was enclosed with the five hundred pounds, it wasn’t actually my intention to provoke a miraculous sign to confirm the meaning of the sentence. I was however under the very strong impression that the ideas I mentioned above were right, and absolutely determined to bring all my authority into play and use any means necessary to attract people’s attention to the importance of her words and their true interpretation. The wonder of 16th January 1911 therefore fulfilled my desire.

Lastly I would like to briefly describe another wondrous event that took place in Nardo during the night of 2nd – 3rd January 1911. It is the healing of Miss Santa Aprile, who is about 50 years old and lives opposite the cathedral. This lady was suffering from gangrenous phlegmatic erysipelas in her throat and face. She had contracted the illness on 1st January and within 48 hours she was at [1328v] death’s door. According to two doctors, Zuccalà and Tarantino, there was no hope of any positive end to the crisis: her mouth had become necrotic; her face was covered in terrible tumours and the doctors were considering performing a tracheotomy to allow her to breathe. The patient, who was aware of her condition and was prepared to die, nevertheless remained confident in her heart she would recover, but only through the intercession of the Servant of God, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus. During the night, even though we’d prepared everything for her burial, being fully awake, but with her eyes closed due to the swelling on her face, she mentally saw a very white hand and felt as though the hand was delicately touching her face. She sensed it was Sister Thérèse, and a feeling of well-being gradually came over her; the following day the doctors found her condition better; the necrosis had begun to recede, and from that moment on, she increasingly improved and, although progress was slow and she suffered a relapse lasting two or three days, [1329r] she fully recovered her health. I know the family personally, and the above facts come from the testimonies of the patient herself, her mother, her two brothers and her sister.

To conclude I will add that I owe extraordinary spiritual graces to the Servant of God’s protection in relation to the very difficult governing of my diocese. I consider Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus as my special protector and I pray to her in all circumstances.

[Answer to the thirtieth question]:

I don’t believe I have forgotten anything important.

[After having examined the Interrogations, we come to the Vice-Postulator’s Articles. The witness replies]:

There is a small error in the Article 145b, page 162. This slight error, or rather ambiguity, stems from an imperfect translation of my Italian report that was sent to the Vice-Postulator. The words: “Mgr. Nicolas [1329v] Giannattasio was then unaware of the words, etc….” were true at the time I thought of making the donation of five hundred pounds; they were no longer true when I actually had the letter delivered, for I had learnt the information shortly beforehand.      

[Here ends the interrogation of this witness. The Acts are read out. The witness makes no amendment to them and signs as follows]:

Ita pro veritate deposui, ratum habeo et confirmo.

Signatum.t NICOLAUS, episcopus neritonensis.