Blessed Bernard Tolomei Monk, founder (1272-1348)
Born in Siena on 10 May 1272, Bernard was ever keen on entering religious life but could not do so in his youth due to lack of paternal consent. He went on to serve in the armies of King Rudolph I, studied law and became podesta (magistrate) of Siena. His craving for a life of solitude and simplicity, however, got the better of him as, together with a few like-minded companions, he withdrew into solitary confinement in 1313. In 1319, they were given the white habit and the Benedictine Rule by Bishop Guido of Arezzo.
Bernard then founded the monastery of Monte Oliveto, from which emerged the highly centralized Olivetan Benedictine Congregation whose hallmark was primitive penitential observance. Consequent to the group’s meeting with Pope John XXII, their numbers steadily grew and in 1344 their order was confirmed by Pope Clement VI.
In 1346, when Siena was besieged by the plague, it was Bernard and his men who came to its rescue, devotedly caring for the sick, the suffering and the dying, not forgetting the burial of the victims. Strangely, even as the hand of Black Death claimed many across Italy, the Olivetans remained immune, until one of their own was struck low by the disease—their founder, Bernard Tolomei, who was called to his reward on 20 August 1348.
Reflection: “Let our soul be permeated with internal joy and holy happiness, giving perpetual praise to our Divine Saviour, who through his victory over sin and death has redeemed us and reconciled us with God. We have to rise from a lukewarm and static life to a ltfe that is fervent, holy, spontaneous” (Blessed James Alberione).