CHRONOLOGY OF BLESSED JUSTIN MARIA RUSSOLILLO
January 18, 1891 Vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Fr. Salvatore di Fusco announcing the birth of Justin: “Have no fear,” She said “you shall recover because today in Pianura a child is being born; he will be named Justin and he shall be a glory for the Catholic Church.” Justin was born in Pianura, a town on the west side of Naples.
January 18, 1891 Fr. Justin was baptized on the occasion in which the midwife prophesied he was to be a priest.
1896 Justin cured of serious illness through the intercession of St. Vincent Ferrer and the wearing of his habit (child-size handmade).
1897 (approx.) Justin made his first Holy Communion.
November 18, 1901 Justin enters the Minor Seminary in his native Diocese of Pozzuoli.
1905 Since the seminary school was not recognized by the state, Msgr. Zezza, who appreciated the ability of Justin, wanted him to pass the state exam for high school and college. In his first state exam in 1905, a bitterly anti-clergy professor failed him in French; when Justin took the exam again in September of the same year, he passed with the highest possible score.
September 22, 1906 Justin received the minor orders or “ministries” as they are called today.
1910 Since this year, Justin’s activities had begun to be eminently Vocationist.
1910 Justin organized a group of the “Fedelissimi” poor boys with vocations to the priesthood.
1911-1913 Justin completed his last two years of theology, at the Regional Seminary of St. Pius X in Posillipo, Naples, staffed by the Jesuits.
July 28, 1912 Justin became sub-deacon.
1913 Justin writing to his aunt Michelina from Sorrento, he expressed his thought thus: “You should ask all those good people who teach catechism to the children in their homes, and if possible to all the grammar school teachers to bring all those boys and girls to Holy Communion on the day of my first Mass.
March 22, 1913 Justin was ordained a deacon in the chapel of the seminary of Pozzuoli, the same chapel in which St. Francis De Gironimo, the Apostle of Naples, had been ordained.
September 20, 1913 Justin was ordained priest in the Cathedral of Pozzuoli, through the laying of the hands by the Most Reverend Michael Zezza.
October 1913 The pious pilgrimages of the “fedelissimi” started again from Pianura to Pozzuoli.
September 20, 1913 The morning of September 20, 1913 in the seminary room Justin made a vow of charity for the perfection of spiritual life on the day of his priestly ordination, which he looked upon as making him the first member of the order he would one day, found. While prostrates for ordination later in the day Fr. Justin made a second vow arising from the first: to found a religious congregation for the “cultivation, service and apostolate of God’s vocations to faith, to the priesthood and to holiness.” The first was a vow of perfect charity, which he saw as making him the first member of the order, he would found, and the second vow was a vow of purpose to found it.
April 30, 1914 Fr. Justin and his group of twelve “fedelissimi” who wanted to be priests, but who were too poor to pay the seminary tuition. On that day they started their first experience of community life in the Russolillo’s home.
August 15, 1914 In his own home before an image of the Blessed Mother, he consecrated as “Slaves of Mary” the first twelve ladies. The group grew rapidly.
March 25, 1915 After a month of intense preparation, the Slaves of Mary mobilized the entire town of Pianura to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation. The various small groups came together, forming a big army that couldn’t fit into the small church; there were more people outside the church.
March 14, 1916 Fr. Justin had to report to the army. The head of the examining commission ironically and maliciously asked him, “How many months of starvation have you undergone to reduce yourself to this condition?”
March 1917 Fr. Justin wrote to Cardinal Gasparri asking his advice on the “project of founding a new religious family dedicated to free education for vocations.”
July 16, 1917 Fr. Justin wrote in his spiritual diary: “Servant of saints! Not only in my words, but in my thoughts, in my feelings and desires; a real servant! The least, little, humble, vigilant, hard-working, sacrificed servant of the saints, that is, of everyone, servant in your own eyes and in the eyes of the people and in the eyes of God!”
June 9, 1918 Fr. Justin wrote home from the army: “I am an assistant to a doctor in a section with three beds and no sick people.”
August 5, 1918 Fr. Justin wrote home from the army: “I am so busy that you could not believe it. There are one hundred beds here and I am the only attendant.”
August 5, 1918 Fr. Justin grieved when he realized that the war would delay the realization of his mission. “Oh, how I cherish the sweet hope of returning for good to my ministry, and to the beautiful school which also is a part of my priestly ministry. Blessed be God forever and ever,” he wrote in a letter on August 5, 1918.
August 26, 1918 While serving in the army, Fr. Justin wrote to his aunt Giovannina: “Please, I beg you; transmit privately and as secretly as possible a renewed plea to all the teachers of Pianura, asking their cooperation for the teaching of catechism after school” (Letter dated August 26, 1918).
February 1, 1919 With the approval of the bishop and the permission of the pastor, the Pious Union was officially established; its goal was to promote a religious education of children, the missionary formation of the faithful, and to cooperate with the work of the Society of Divine Vocations, still in its embryonic state.
July 1920 Bishop Farina, who was a sincere admirer and spiritual counselor of Fr. Justin, valued his project. He officially invited the founder to realize it in the diocese of Troia. He offered Fr. Justin the direction of the seminary, and for his congregation, an old convent.
September 20, 1920 Fr. Justin was installed as pastor of St. Giorgio’s parish in Pianura after having spent a week in spiritual retreat with the Dominican Fathers. Fr. Justin ascended the pulpit and began his pastorship announcing his motto, which was also printed on the holy cards prepared for the occasion: “The son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for the ransom of many.”
October 18, 1920 The Society of Divine Vocations officially opened its doors in the parish house of Pianura, a few but selected, young boys formed the first group of candidates whom Justin called the “Fedelissimi”.
January 2, 1921 Fr. Justin read the written reply and evaluation of Fr. De Francesco, and without showing excessive enthusiasm, he told his brother Ciro that he needed his father’s consent to join him (first discernment report of Ciro).
October 1, 1921 The first five Vocationist Sisters gathered in community life in their rooms rented in the Caleo Building on the evening of October 1, 1921.
1921 The Rev. Francesco Sepe, a diocesan priest, joined Fr. Justin, thus becoming the first Vocationist after the founder.
March 4, 1922 Informing the bishop about the progress of the new community, Fr. Justin wrote: “It has been a year since you have allowed us to accept into the community a diocesan priest and those young men we had been training both spiritually and academically. Divine Providence has kept our religious family, which consists of twenty people, from having to make debts and at the same time enable us to increase the attention and the expenses for the improvement and maintenance of the parish.”
1922 During the winter of 1922, Fr. Justin suffered an exceptional health crisis. He was overheard painfully uttering, “O my good Jesus! Virgin Mother! O my St. Joseph!” He was found fainted on the floor.
1923 Pentecost Sunday The Most Reverend Giuseppe Petrone, newly appointed Bishop of Pozzuoli, approved the first by-laws of the Congregation.
1923 Ciro was drafted and had to serve in the army through 1924; for him that was like walking on a bed of hot coals.
1924 The first blessing and approval was cause of great joy for Fr. Justin and for his pupils. Those by-laws, which consisted of twenty-one articles, were further developed to include the complete program of the congregation and with the permission of the same bishop were published in 1924.
August 21, 1924 Fr. Justin wrote in his agenda: “I made a vow of chastity, poverty, obedience and servitude”. This fourth vow became a characteristic note of the Vocationist.
Easter 1926 Bishop Petrone addressed a pastoral letter to the faithful of the diocese of Pozzuoli. In it the bishop lamented the scarcity of priestly and religious vocations: “The problem is very serious, it affects all Catholics….History teaches us that the absence of priests is the worst punishment that God may inflict on a certain area or people…Let us help religious and priestly vocations in every possible way!
May 10, 11, 1926 Fr. Justin had a mystical experience in which the Blessed Trinity assigned the Blessed Virgin, in a very special way, really unique, as our immediate Superior, present and active in our midst, in all our missions, in all our present and future houses, the only and the most sufficient Superior.
June 28, 1926 The Congregation for the Religious answered the Bishop of Pozzuoli, who had requested canonical approval for the Vocationist community: “The Sacred Congregation, having examined everything, deems it convenient that the institution continue as a simple, pious association….
1926 The first two Vocationist priests, both from the town of Pianura, were ordained priests – Fr. Salvatore Polverino and Fr. Giorgio Mele.
May 26, 1927 The bishop himself had great admiration for Fr. Justin and great trust in his new institution, and that is why with a formal decree of canonical erection he approved the Society of Divine Vocation on Mary 26, 1927.
Ascension 1927 Bishop Petrone approved the first text of the constitutions, consisting of 110 articles. In his document of approval the bishop wrote: “We approve the constitution of the society of Divine Vocations trusting that the Holy Spirit will fertilize with his grace the small see thrown with trepidation into the furrows of the church.”
1927 Starting the publication of Spiritus Domini, the periodical of the Society of Divine Vocations. Fr. Justin began a study of vocations, saying: “Everything is divine vocation in the world: vocation to life, vocation to faith, vocation to holiness.”
1927 Fr. Justin wrote: “So far the Vocationary has sent some candidates to the Dominicans, Franciscans, Augustinians, Jesuits, Salesians, Saverians and the Priests of Charity…Oh, how we rejoiced to hear that the superiors are happy with them!…”
January 18, 1928 Fr. Justin wrote: “On that same day I was welcomed with the community by the Bishop of Vallo, who just happened to be in Naples that day. From that moment he became the ordinary of the congregation, and in his hands in Vallo, during the Mass celebrated in the bishop’s chapel on January 18, 1928, my thirty-eighth birthday, I pronounced my religious vows.”
1928 The first novices pronounced their religious vows and the small family was blessed with the priestly ordination of Fr. Giuseppe Di Fusco. With the canonical erection’s decree, the bishop appointed Fr. Justin superior general of the congregation.
July 25 and 26, 1930 EARTHQUAKE occurred at Pianura.
October 3, 1930 God’s Providence granted a special gift to the Congregation of the Vocationist Sisters by placing at the side of the founder as future Mother General Fr. Justin’s own sister. With thirteen other sisters, Giovanna pronounced her religious vows.
August 29, 1930 Most Reverent Bishop of Vallo wrote to the Sacred Congregation for the Religious of Fr. Justin.
1930 In Pianura, the Vocationist Fathers had their first general chapter assembly in the church of the cemetery. The constitutions were revised and explained and the superior general and his council were elected.
September 23, 1930 Fr. Justin went personally to Rome and he humbly presented a written request to the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Religious.
1930 Most of the misunderstandings were cleared between the Bishop of Pozzuoli and Fr. Justin in a meeting held in the fall of 1930.
1931 Another serious crisis was caused by heart problem in 1931. He had to spend a long period of rest in Baia, where he remained a guest of the Vocationist Sisters.
1931 Fr. Justin’s bed caught fire while he was asleep.
1931 Vocationist Magazine Spiritus Orationis first published.
June 21, 1932 Fr. Justin was granted a private audience with the Holy Father, Pius XI.
1933 The Second General Chapter assembly was held and with letters of commendation from twenty bishops it initiated the process for Pontifical approval. The request for approval addressed to the Holy Father was signed by the entire general council and was completed by the approval and recommendation of Bishop Petrone.
1933 Justin began three years of repulsiveness and fear of his physical cardiac ailment’ as described by him on the day of his cure by the Miraculous medal on November 27, 1937.
March 30, 1934 Death of Fr. Antonio Palmieri – was the first Vocationist priest to leave this earth to begin the Vocationist family in heaven.
1934 When the congregation for the Religious forbade Fr. Justin to admit anyone else to the profession of the vows and to priestly ordination, he suffered the agony of a father who sees his child condemned to slowly die. He himself solicited the first two apostolic visitations of 1941 and 1946. He defined them as being “precious” but he feared that they might alter the nature and purpose of the congregation, which was not his. From December of 1934 to November of 1941 the Congregation was in a state of purification – see 1941.
1935 In a letter to the sisters who were working in the kitchen of the Mother House in 1935, Fr. Justin wrote, “I have just learned that the whole community was left without breakfast this morning. This must not happen again…Please, do not condemn the community to fasting…it is now fourteen years that we have been living in this way and the Lord has always helped us through the good will of our sisters.”
1936 Fr. Justin suffered his most dangerous crisis up to that point; he even asked for the last rites. Fr. Nicola Verde administered the Anointing of the Sick and the Viaticum. Was cured by the Miraculous medal on November 27, 1937 see 1933 above.
1939 Fr. Justin had confided a mysterious dream to Fr. Saggiomo. The two of them had been caught in a tremendous storm of rain and wind; a whirlpool suddenly formed in front of them and was about to draw them down when a short, unknown priest freed them from danger and saved them.
June 27, 1939 Fr. Justin pleaded to the Holy Father, Pius XII, “for the grace to reopen the admission to the novitiate and to the vows so that we may not have to witness the agony and death of the congregation and its activities… the Congregation for the Religious appointed Fr. Baldini of the Servants of Mary as apostolic visitor for the congregation from June 27, 1939 until July 2, 1941.
October 31, 1939 he wrote: “As prescribed by the Constitution, put yourselves in the place of St. Joseph and of the blessed Mother to foster the growth of the Child Jesus in the chosen ones of the Divine Vocations…So, I beg you to carry yourselves this daily cross without trying from time to time to place it on the shoulder of the priests, who are already carrying the cross of teaching the discipline of the house, and other crosses which are not readily visible. May Jesus increase His divine love in us.”
December of 1934 to November of 1941 the congregation was in a state of purification.
1948 The Constitution revised and approved by the Holy See in 1948, simply state:” The special goal is the search, especially among the humble classes, of priestly and religious vocations and their formation in the Vocationaries that constitute the characteristic work of the congregation and the special field of its activity.”
1942 Sr. Agnes had the idea of sending a telegram to Fr. Justin informing him of the situation and asking his blessings for the dying sister. The telegram was not delivered until Monday morning! The relatives and the other sister shared the long agony of the dying sister. Suddenly, on Monday July 26, 1942 at 9:00 a.m., Sr. Matilde regained consciousness; she sat up on the bed, made the sign of the cross and began the song of the Blessed Mother: “My soul magnifies the Lord…” It was the exact hour in which she had been blessed from a distance by the founder.
1943 At the time of this visit of Fr. Baldini, the community and the world were suffering the painful interruption of World War II.
1943 “I am a pastor” answered Fr. Chiaro. “Well”, continued Fr. Justin, l “It is the duty of the pastor to make sure that the young men who show signs and indications of religious vocation should be preserved from the influences of the world.” Fr. Justin was referring to Article 1353 of Canon Law; with great originality he developed this theme at the Eucharistic Congress of Anagni in 1943.
November 1943 Allied forces 1943 Italy was a Theatre of war, and Pianura – including the Vocationary – was a real military camp for the Allied forces. Helped by the ingenuity of Fr. Ciro, who improvised a means of transportation, Fr. Justin and a part of the community moved from Pianura to Mercato Cilento.
August 1945 Giovanna was appointed Superior General by the Bishop of Pozzuoli.
May 27, 1945 An unpleasant episode that took place during the war darkened the precious visit of Fr. Baldini. A brother, who had come to the Vocationist Fathers from another religious order and who, after a short stay with us, had been dismissed succeeded in being ordained by the Bishop of Anagni with false documents.
1945 Apostolic visitation: Fr. Cuomo, OFM, appointed as apostolic visitor and Superior General of the Vocationist Fathers and Vocationist Sisters.
1946 At the completion of Fr. Cuomo’s term the Holy See appointed the vicar general, Fr. Giorgio Saggiomo, as an interim superior general. Fr. Saggiomo established a school of theology in the Vocationary of Pianura and opened the first residence of the Vocationist Fathers in Rome.
In 1945 Cardinal Lavitrano was appointed prefect of the Congregation for the Religious. A group of Vocationists went with Fr. Justin to visit Cardinal Lavitrano in his native land of Ischia. On the way back from that visit, in the presence of the other priests who were aware of the dream, Fr. Saggiomo asked the founder, “Is this the priest of the dream?” “He is the one!” responded Fr. Justin.
April 10, 1947 the cardinal personally presided at the General chapter assembly of the society of Divine Vocations in which the founder was re-elected superior general. The following year the Holy Father appointed Cardinal Lavitrano as “the Cardinal Protector of the two Vocationist Congregations.”
1946 Fr. Justin himself solicited the first two apostolic visitations of 1941 and 1946. He defined them as being “precious” but he feared that they might alter the nature and purpose of the congregation, which was not his.
1946 Sr. Giovanna was re-elected Superior General by the sisters after the apostolic visitation, which had lasted from August 1945 to 1969. She remained in that office until her death on May 5, 1969. The unanimity with which Sister Giovanna was elected was a living witness of the esteem and love that everyone had for the Founder’s sister as well as an acknowledgement of her leadership qualities and of her capability to direct the Congregation.
April 10, 1947 Of particular significance for the whole town of Pianura were the visits of Cardinal Lavitrano and Cardinal Alvaro Da Silva.
April 10, 1947 At the end of this period Cardinal Lavitrano, the new Perfect of the Congregation for Religious, presided over the Chapter of the Vocationist Fathers and announced the election of Father Justin as Superior General of the congregation. It was April 10, 1947, a date that will never be forgotten by the Vocationists and all their friends.
January 3, 1948 The Society of Divine Vocations: The Vocationist Congregation of the Sisters and Fathers became Congregations of Pontifical Rights respectively.
1948 The following year 1948 – see above 1947 – the Holy Father appointed Cardinal Lavitrano as “the Cardinal protector of the two Vocationist Congregations.”
April 14, 1948 At 4:30 in the morning, while Fr. Justin was celebrating Mass for the novices, over fifty students from the Vocationaries of Perdifumo and Mercato Cliento entered the chapel. Mass had already started; noticing the long line of young boys walking into the church, the founder understood what was going on and tears filled his eyes (they had traveled since midnight to be there for his Feast day).
May 2, 1948 Vocationist Fathers received their Final Pontifical approval.
May 2, 1948 Cardinal Luigi Lavitrano went to Pianura for his first visit to the two Mother Houses. The small town of Pianura exulted over the visit of the Cardinal and the joy was multiplied by the fact that the visit was also a tribute to that most humble and illustrious son of Pianura, Fr. Justin.
May 2, 1948 That night, Fr. Justin’s mother, Giuseppina privately called her other son, Fr. Ciro, and confided to him a secret that she had carefully kept in her heart for many years but now could hide no longer. The Blessed Mother appeared to a priest of Pianura, Fr. Salvatore Di Fusco before Fr. Justin’s birth.
January 11, 1949 Death of Justin’s father.
1949 The congregation purchased a new house.
1949 The congregation purchased a new house in the city of Rome, the capital of Catholicism. Once again the community started the procedure to obtain the Decretum Laudis or final approval of the Holy See. It was not given until 1968 when Fr. Justin received the precious assistance of Fr. Manzo S. J., who helped to give new impulse to the theological studies and to the reorganization of the novitiate house in Pianura.
In 1949 Annamaria Longobardi was seriously ill. Fr. Justin prayed over her but on seeing a statue of St. Antony on the way out said, “On some occasions you should not ask God’s favors through saints who are already in heaven, but through those who are not there yet. They may be more interested and more sympathetic.” The next morning the girl was completely healed.
April 29, 1950 The town united itself with the first Vocationists to leave on a mission to Brazil – Fr. Fraraccio, Fr. Torromacco, and Bro. Prisco.
1950 During the Holy Year of 1950, Fr. Justin was received in private audience by his Holiness Pope Pius XII and once again implored the Holy Father’s guidance and blessings for the growth of his religious families.
August 2, 1950 Cardinal Lavitrano died. He had been Prefect of the Congregation for Religious from May 14, 1945 till August 2, 1950.
February 10, 1951 Fr. Justin’s Mother, Giuseppina died.
1951 The opening of the new house in Rome, which had been a cause of great rejoicing, became a real thorn in the life of Fr. Justin.
In 1953 Fr. Ciro finally left Italy to go as a missionary to Brazil. The Bishop of Amargosa entrusted him to two large parishes; to visit them, he needed three months travel on horseback.
1953 Cardinal Alvaro Da Silva, Archbishop of Bahia in Brazil, was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of the people of Pianura and conquered their souls with his kind personality.
1954 Fr. Ciro went to the United States, trying to study the feasibility of establishing a religious house. After Fr. Justin’s death, he returned to Italy to continue his favorite mission of rebuilding abandoned or decayed monasteries and churches.
1954 Fortunato Cioce of Pianura had been told by the rector of the Vocationary in 1954 that he could not wear short pants and he was put out of the class for not wearing long ones. Fr. Justin gave the boy a pair of his own pants and sent him back to his class. Mrs. Cioce still keeps those pants as a special relic and as a proof of Fr. Justin’s love for vocations.
September 22, 1953 Fr. Justin wrote to a confrere: “In this time of tribulation, let us share one another’s pains and let us find comfort only in comforting others. Remember, with the help of God! In this our peace.”
1954 Even though the founder had been unaware of the accumulation and multiplication of these debts, Rome definitely wanted someone else in Fr. Justin’s place in the office of superior Fr. Poli was assigned as a new apostolic visitor. Fr. Justin offered himself as a victim for the salvation of the community.
1954-1955 Many nights during the years 1954 and 1955 Fr. Louis Caputo S.D.V. personally saw Fr. Justin in the chapel on the third floor of the Vocationary.
December 1954 Fr. Justin was affected by a very severe case of shingles, causing skin rashes, lacerations and boils all over his body, even on his head. He never recovered from the illness.
1954 A letter of Fr. Justin’s speaks of the “time of tribulation” – frequent painful skin rashes, doctors unable to understand or cure my sicknesses” and speaks of having St. Alphonsus in front of him constantly.
1955 During the spring of 1955, the Vocationist Fathers and the parishioners of Pianura noticed an extraordinary increase in the activity of Fr. Justin.
June, 1955 Fr. Justin’s health further deteriorated with excruciating stomach pains and an enlarged spleen; edema developed on both feet, making it very painful for him to wear shoes or to walk, the right foot being much worse than the left.
August 2, 1955 At 9:00 p.m. Fr. Justin seemed to relax and rest and his breathing became smoother. His face regained its usual tranquil and smiling look. He died peacefully at 9:10 p.m. on August 2, 1955.
August 2, 1955 This was the Feast day of St. Alphonsus, the anniversary of the death of Cardinal Lavitrando, and it was also, in North Wales UK, the Feast day of St. Bruno whose healing miracle of the cure of St. Winefride made Holywell the national shrine of Wales since 660 AD which has had an unbroken succession of priests for one thousand three hundred and fifty years. Due to lack of vocations this unbroken link with 660 AD was under threat of cessation. It was saved by the Vocationist Fathers taking over the Parish on April 6, 2008 – their first UK foundation by Fr Salvatore, S.D.V. It was in this holy place where the Vocationist Fathers are encouraging all to be saints and sanctifiers that this book came to be written.
1956 Fr. Justin’s body was buried temporarily in the local cemetery and was later transferred to the church of the Mother House on April 14, 1956. Fr. Ciro returned to Italy after the death of Fr. Justin and continued his mission of rebuilding abandoned or decaying monasteries and churches.
1965 The Vocationist Apostle of Universal Sanctification, a Secular Institute founded by Fr. Justin, received Pontifical approval.
1968 Justin’s death happened in the midst of the serious financial debt crisis and certainly his offering of himself had a lot to do with solving it. The community grew, especially in Sicily, Brazil and the United States.
January 18, 1968 The Vocationist received the final pontifical approval – the Decretum Laudis or final approval of the Holy See.
May 5, 1969 Mother Giovanna, Fr. Justin’s sister and Superior General died on Mary 5, 1969. When Fr. Justin died, the Vocationist Sisters had over fifty houses in Italy, France and Brazil, with over five hundred sisters.
January 18, 1980 The process for Fr. Justin’s beatification was opened in the Archdiocese of Naples by Cardinal Corrado Ursi.
July 9, 1983 Pope John Paul II gave an address to the participants in the General Chapter of the Vocationist Fathers, summarizing the charism of Fr. Justin and of his congregation.
December 18, 1997 Fr. Justin’s heroic virtues are declared and he is proclaimed a “Venerable”.
July 1, 2010 Pope Benedict XVI signs the decree for Fr. Justin’s beatification, by approving the miracle of Ida Meloro through his intercession.
May 7, 2011 The church proclaims “Blessed” Fr. Justin Mary Russolillo of the Most Holy Trinity, founder of the Society of the Divine Vocations.
Fr. Musella, Salvatore, SDV and Sr. Woods, Anne. Apostle of Vocations: Blessed Justin Russolillo. Copyright, May 2011. Vocationist Fathers. Holywell, UK.