One important aspect of stewardship — of involvement in parish life and our community — is understanding our own personal vocation. One saint especially embodies this key aspect of stewardship. St. Charles was a model priest, and many priests and clergy-in-training look to his life as an example of how to live completely for the Lord. Let us look to his example as we serve our own faith family and community.
When St. Charles Borromeo died at the age of 46, he had accomplished more than most clergy twice his age. St. Charles is credited with the continuation and completion of the Council of Trent in 1562, extensive reformation within the Archdiocese of Milan and beyond, and the creation of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine — the forerunner of the modern Religious Education system. St. Charles possessed a fierce love for the Church, especially for the people under his spiritual care — the Archdiocese of Milan.
He was born in 1538 to the powerful noble family Borromeo. But rather than live the life of a noble, St. Charles chose instead to serve the Church.
As a young man, St. Charles received the clerical tonsure — a hairstyle where the top of the head is shaved, common among religious orders — and studied at a Benedictine abbey near his hometown of Arona, Italy. His uncle, Cardinal Giovanni Angelo de’ Medici, was elected Pope in 1559, and took the name Pius IV. Shortly after becoming pope, Pius IV appointed St. Charles to serve as secretary of state, as well as cardinal and administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan. At the time, St. Charles was still a layperson. While serving in these positions, he encouraged the pope to reconvene the Council of Trent, an ecumenical gathering during which Church leaders corrected various abuses and sought to more clearly define elements of Catholic doctrine.
In 1563, St. Charles was ordained to the priesthood during a secret ordination ceremony. Following the death of his older brother, Count Federico Borromeo, St. Charles’ family had urged him to marry and carry on the Borromeo name. However, St. Charles felt that God was calling him to serve the Church, and continued to fulfill his vocation.
Shortly after becoming a priest, St. Charles was appointed by Pope Pius IV as Archbishop of Milan. Historians say the people of Milan rejoiced under St. Charles’ leadership and spiritual guidance — he was the first bishop in 80 years to actually live in Milan and minister to its people himself. Under his rule, Milan became a model diocese that was revered throughout the Catholic world.
Due to his great intellect, St. Charles was often called away from Milan to help the pope in various ways. However, despite his busy life, St. Charles continued to push reformation among clergy and sought to continually improve the ministry of the Church. He often encouraged clergy to spend time educating and spiritually renewing themselves. During a homily at a diocesan synod, St. Charles addressed the priests saying, “Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without becoming forgetful of yourself.”
St. Charles was a true servant of the people. As the plague of 1576 ravaged much of Milan, he remained with his people, serving the sick and dying in hospitals throughout the archdiocese.
St. Charles Borromeo died Nov. 3, 1584. He was canonized in 1610, and his feast day is celebrated each year on Nov. 4.