The congregation of the Passion has suffered a severe loss by the recent death of one to whose faithful and prudent administration it is immensely indebted.
The most Reverend Bernard Mary Silvestrelli was born of a noble and illustrious family in Rome on the 7th November, 1831. His early education was entrusted to the care of the Jesuit Fathers, in that Collegio R.omano.
When, having completed his course of studies, in the full enjoyment of all that wealth and social standing afford, and when a career of distinction here opened out before him, he turned his back upon the world, and determined to devote himself unreservedly to the service of God in religion. He chose the Congregation of the Passion as the one which corresponded best to the aspiration of his heart.
In 1854 he entered the Passionist Novitiate at Monte Argentaro, where he devoted himself which with such fervour to the practice of the austerities of our rule, that very soon he experienced the sad consequences of this transit from a life of comfort and ease to another which is a continual sacrifice.
His health gave way and he was obliged to abandon his term of probation; but so intense was his love for the austere life of a Passionist, and in his anxiety to give himself to God in our Congregation, that he begged his superiors to allow him to remain in the devout solitude and seclusion of Argentaro.
His petition was granted, and he remained as a guest at the retreat for about two years, during which he pursued his scholastic studies, and was raised to the priesthood in 1856 by Monsignor Molajoni, one of our religious. By this time his health had sufficiently recuperated, and he was sent to our Retreat where he had the pleasure of passing his year’s probation in the company of that angelic youth, now known as Blessed Gabriel of our Lady of Sorrows. On the 28th April, 1857(the feast of our Holy Founder, St Paul of the Cross), he pronounced his vows.
Shortly afterwards he was appointed Rector of our Retreat, Scala Santa, as well as Master of Novices, and there he composed that little book, “Regulations for the Novices,” so familiar to every Passionist, wherein, with admirable simplicity and unction he treats of the solid principles of the religious life. In this same retreat, on that memorable day, 17 September, 1870, he enjoyed the esteemed privilege of receiving the Supreme Pontiff, Pius IX, the last occasion on which the Holy Father was to leave the precincts of the Vatican; it was truly a touching sight, one which brought tears to the eyes of the bystanders, to witness His Holiness and Father Bernard ascend that Holy Stairs, purpled and by the Precious Blood of our Divine Saviour, step by step, upon their knees, united in prayer.
As Provincial of the Presentation Province, Father Bernard was present at the 23rd General Chapter held in Rome on the 4th May, 1878. By the unanimous vote of the Chapter he was elected to the responsible office of General of the entire Congregation.
In 1884, despite his protestations of unworthiness, he was confirmed in his office. Four years afterwards feeling the burden of his duties well nigh intolerable, and saddened by the poverty-stricken state of so many of our houses, he petitioned the Holy see to be relieved of an office which had become almost insupportable. Pope Leo XIII, moved chiefly by his humility, granted his petition, and now, freed from all responsibility, he betook himself to a most sequestered Retreat to give himself entirely to prayer. But, this seclusion and retirement were not to last many years, for, in 1899, he was again placed in supreme command, and for the 5th and last time, in 1905, when stricken with old age, his health completely shattered, he was obliged to make another appeal to the Holy see, to be relieved of his office.
Pope Pius X granted his request in July, 1907, and the Holy Father, to manifest the high esteem he entertained towards the venerable old man, graciously bestowed upon him the title of “Honorary General of the Passionists,” which he maintained to the end.
He passed his remaining days at the Retreat of St Eutichius in prayer and meditation, and was called to his reward rather suddenly on 9th December, 1911.
The extension and development of our Congregation over Europe bears ample testimony to Father Bernard zeal for the welfare of the charge committed to him for over a quarter of a century. Two new Provinces sprang into existence, one in the Argentine Republic, the other in Spain. Mexico was separated as a distinct Province from the United States which, in turn, were divided into two Provinces, and three retreats were opened beneath the Southern Cross.
Space will not permit me to speak of the many virtues which Father Bernard practiced in an eminent degree. But I cannot pass over two instances that serve to bring out his extraordinary humility . He desired that the Golden Jubilee of his priesthood should pass, like that of his profession, unnoticed. But, to his surprise and bewilderment, he received an autographed letter of congratulations from Pope Pius X. Having manifested his gratitude to His Holiness, he went to his confessor, and, with tears in his eyes, bewailed the fact that that day was not allowed to pass unobserved, as he had wished. Again, on many occasions, but especially during the last years of his office, rumours reached him of the intention of the Holy See to confer upon him the Cardinal’s hat, and when, eventually, a high official of the Vatican came and announced the fact, so great was his confusion, that he went immediately to Viterbo, and besought the Provincial to use every means to avert what he himself styled a “calamity.”
In a word, everyone who came into contact with Father Bernard went away fully persuaded that he was a saint, and it is the unanimous voice of all his religious that our Congregation had, in him, another St Paul of the Cross. That almighty God may be pleased ere long to glorify his servant, and proclaim throughout the world the virtues and noble example of another Saint of the crucified, is the ardent desire of those who had the pleasure of living with, and of knowing more intimately the true character of Father Bernard Mary of Jesus. R.I.P. (From the Cross, II, 401)