Feast Day : November 4
Patronage: Apple orchards; boarding schools; catechists; against colic; learning and the arts; public libraries; secular clergy; seminarians; spiritual directors; against stomach diseases; against ulcers; dioceses of Lugano and Basel, Switzerland; Salzburg University, Austria
Charles Borromeo was born on October 2, 1538, to a noble family, Count Gilbert Borromeo and Margaret de’ Medici, sister of Pope Pius IV (r. 1559–1565). Charles, heir to a great fortune, had a wealthy and gracious upbringing in the family castle of Arona on Lake Maggiore. At age 12 he was sent to the Benedictine abbey of SS. Gratian and Felinus, and received his clerical tonsure. His uncle, Angelo de’ Medici, became Pope Pius V in 1558, and in 1559 named Charles his secretary of state and cardinal and administrator of the see of Milan—even though he was not yet a priest. With his access to the pope, Charles became influential in church politics and reform efforts. He persuaded the pope to reconvene the Council of Trent, which had been suspended in 1552. Charles took an active role in the council and its deliberations, and directed the writing of its decrees in the third and last group of sessions. In 1556, Charles began a program of radical reforms to improve the morals of both clerics and laity. He established seminaries, founded a Confraternity of Christine Doctrine, increased aid to the poor, aided the English college at Douai, and held six provincial councils and six diocesan synods. His reform efforts made him many enemies, one of whom wounded him in an assassination attempt in 1559. After the deaths of his father and older brother, Charles declined to become the head of his family. He took ordination as a priest in 1563 and was made bishop of Milan. When famine and the plague struck in 1576, he worked to aid the starving and the ill, using his own resources and even going into debt. He had a vision that told him when the plague would end. In 1578 he founded the Oblates of St. Ambrose, now called the Oblates of St. Charles. Charles died in Milan on the night of November 3–4, 1584. He was buried in a double coffin beneath the pavement in the middle of the cathedral of Milan, of which he was archbishop. Throngs of pilgrims came to his tomb over the years. By 1610, pilgrims had left 10,891 silver votive offerings and 9,618 precious gifts, such as jewelry, gems and lamps of gold and silver. In 1605, during the cause for his beatification, his body was exhumed. Moisture had corroded the cover of both lead and wood coffins, and had penetrated to the body. His remains, however, were found intact. An oratory was constructed, and in 1607 the remains, revested and placed in new wood and lead coffins, were buried there. In 1880, the body was exhumed again and was found to have been embalmed. It was determined that the embalming could not account for the remarkable preservation of his body 300 years after his death. Over the years, the oratory has been improved, and a jewel-like reliquary was made of rock crystal set in silver and adorned with miniature angels and religious figures. When Pope Paul VI (r. 1963–78) was still archbishop of Milan, he had the face of Charles covered in silver. The body is clothed in pontifical garments studded with gems.