To the main page
Martino Santini, born of a noble family of Trent, was beyond all doubt an eminent man and one deservedly reckoned a commander of our society. He was blessed with great gifts of nature and grace, a retentive memory, subtle intelligence, polished judgment, a noble and ever cheerful nature and he displayed great spirits in a small body. He had such constant health that neither his mind nor his teeth wavered and his eyes never dimmed even into extreme old age. He studied philosophy and theology at the universities of Graz, Vienna, Prague and Olmütz with distinction over many years and always cum laude. He held the highest offices in each faculty, being honoured with election as Chancellor and Rector Magnificus: he was very dear to Emperor Ferdinand II of glorious memory and was chosen out of many to teach the sacred canons to his son the Most Serene Leopold Wilhelm.
He held the office of Rector of the Professed House in Prague for a great many years, where he engrossed himself in the governorship, the studies and functions of his subordinates with unruffled efficiency. He engaged everybody he oversaw with various projects suited to their subject or occupation. He graced regular discipline, the commandments and all his actions with the example of his observance, his helpfulness and a characteristic innocence of life and a sincere heart which bore hardly a trace of guile. He was in charge of the highest counsels of the places and the province and of various spiritual projects in the colleges for many years. His great ascetical prudence and of course his huge enthusiasm for the common and public good recommended him when he was elected procurator of our province and sent to Rome for a term. Yet when he was selected to visit Rome again for the eighth general congregation, this most modest of men, more in a spirit of humility than true necessity, cited powerful reasons to waive the honour in favour of another man.
From his very entrance into religious life he inspired the greatest edification and admiration. He showed uninterrupted self-effacement in his way of thinking and spoke modestly of himself and well of others at all levels. He loved and cultivated religious poverty, showing the greatest frugality with necessities, and was quite bereft of of all superfluities or treats even when in the highest offices. He was at pains to increase brotherly love or, on occasion, renew it, with a delicacy and persistence beyond normal expectation. In consequence Fr Santino acquired an outstanding reputation for these virtues throughout every province of Austria and Bohemia. He was loved by all, and called by many Sanctinus. It was his regular habit to praise these virtues in public to his housemates and individually in private conversation. His exclamations, sighs and other signs of passion often made it seem that he was taken out of himself and those who heard it would pause in astonishment.
He would treat the smallest talents of others as being superior to his own. When he met members of the order or saw them in the distance he would forestall them with a gesture of courtesy, and equally he would minimise all that was his own, so that he had virtually nothing of his papers and compositions left over from the horses. Even when he was Rector he lived in a room devoid of all furniture and virtually empty. He is not known to have spent a single penny on himself, nor, when he left office, to have taken as much as a tiny icon or any other aid to devotion with him. So it was that after his death hardly anything which displayed wear and tear from the Father’s lifetime could be discovered and given to the Illustrious Persons to fulfil the requirements of the cause of veneration.
Time and again he would try to recall people to charity when they were locked in bitter strife by bending his knees to the ground. Whenever he ran into somebody looking gloomy or downcast he would wipe away his frown with some unforced witty remark and would try to restore him to a semblance of cheerfulness. Outside the confessional, he was exceedingly conscious of and insistent on the mildness of Christ, but in it he would prove a good deal harsher towards sins, however light, which wounded charity. The virtues which he prudently taught in word he thus reinforced by the piety of his example. And with no less exacting an attitude, as long as he lived he did as much as he could to commune more closely with God through prayer and intimate familiarity and with the Society by tender and true affection.
He was unmistakeably endowed with the spirit of prayer and had the unique gift of perceiving the divine presence everywhere. Sometimes he was granted an experience of the secrets of the higher levels of prayer. Often, to further the spiritual progress of the brethren, he would blurt out things which, as if they were drawn individually from God, manifested a stronger force than human advice and taught the very heart. But he always stressed that higher prayer is joined with the love of God or true contemplation and that experience taught him that it was a mistake for people practising it to neglect their efforts to master themselves, since the former necessarily proceeds from the latter like light from the sun or heat from fire. Without constantly communicating with God by devotional exercises it was fruitless to seek methods for overcoming base selfishness elsewhere: we owe God greater thanks when we are visited with the gift of affliction than when we are refreshed with divine consolation. God loves and wants as his servants such as are hard and holy: that is, not those nourished by human flattery and celestial breezes as if by milk, but those hardened on the path of virtue by tougher food lacking any human or divine comfort and let every reward and sweetness take second place to pleasing God.
Following this principle Fr Martinus never in his life sought the favour of any man by wheedling and never praised any man to his face, whatever remarkable things he had done. Nor was he ever seen to wish any of the Brethren a happy birthday or give him the usual present, saying that he would rightly be tarred with the brush of vain flattery if he did so. How much he loved and prized the Society and had its increasing fortunes at heart should be plain from his actions from day to day. Both in prayer to God and through himself by his own efforts and of others who were inspired by him he worked tirelessly to teach as many highly gifted young men as possible to promote the glory of God and conceive a desire for the happiness of the Society.
Anyone who wanted to bring the old man delight and comfort would bring him tidings that some youth of exceptional intelligence and first class talents had been called to the Society. He would often feel grieved for days on end when he heard that some part of the Society had suffered some injury or disappointment. Conversely he wore an air of utter triumph when he heard that some award or privilege had been accorded to the Society. From then on he would remember it forever and would often gratefully hold a commemorative roll call of the names of all the many families who had founded a college or residence for our Society anywhere in the world. He would say with his unique cheerfulness of spirit that he was offering due prayers and sacrifices to the divine spirit for the welfare of those whose generosity had enlarged the Society somewhere. He would pray beautifully with incredible feeling and longed for those who had shown themselves to have some exceptional virtue or skill or notable ability to prove worthy sons indeed to the Society.
Time and again he would pour out the abundance of his heart into words that became familiar. “You would not believe how tenderly I love good men - those I see being an honour to the society and serving it faithfully in whatever role.” This bears on his perpetual solicitude combined with a typically zealous anxiety that all our men should regularly be gripped by a mission to teach schools and that they should work hard at the mastery of all subjects no less than of steadfast virtues. Talking at table he would quote, appreciate and recommend now the best authors and the history of the Jesuits to a ranter, now the best regarded passages and sources from the orators to a professor of humanities, now the latest discoveries to a mathematician, now the choicest sayings of the ascetics to a prefect of spiritual affairs. T
he Greek language too was a special interest of his, and he equally recommended its use to our men. His zeal was beyond all admiration and imitation, and with it he burned for internal and external scholars and even more for their masters to cultivate their style diligently and strive for excellence in speaking Latin. It truly seemed to pain his ears if he happened to hear anybody utter some mistake or barbarism, so that it was common for students and masters who heard somebody making grammatical mistakes to say what was once said in a different context of Bernardinus: Santinus is present, let not Santinus hear that.
In the last years of his life he was forced to rely on others as servants and take his food in his room, but whenever one of our men turned up at the common table to make an eloquent speech or to explain a difficult passage of holy scripture the old man could not restrain himself from coming to the common dining room laboriously leaning on a helper and thanking God and the Society for what was said and what scholarship had uncovered. I would be going on too long for comfort if I detailed every single episode but I cannot leave out the wonderful patience with which he endured to the end and which you might well say had its culmination in the long infirmity which he contracted from apoplexy and which he could never thereafter shake off. In it he did nothing gloomy or fussy and was never heard to complain or seek special treatment. He feared to request any service from the carers for the infirm unless it was plain to him that he needed it.
During all this period in which he was weakened by age, illness and a tremor in his hands, scarcely able to walk even while leaning on a stick, he did not leave off the sacrifice of the mass. Nor did he ever let a confessor come to him outside the set hour of confession but always went to his box himself, which involved severe difficulty and permanent risk of falling over, but he was not once known to collapse. He was a model of patience and a signal example of avoiding, as far as he might, all special treatment or any exemption from the common burden.
He reached the fiftieth anniversary of his priestly ordination in style. He began to desire keenly and ask urgently, partly as an example of holy edification and partly as a common celebration for his fellows, for the seldom granted privilege of sacerdotal jubilee, and also permission to proceed at an early day to celebrate the second firstfruits. His superiors gladly assented to the dearest wish of the venerable old man. And so it was announced with rare devotion that the very solemnity of the Ascension of Christ to Heaven would be the day to be celebrated. There was great anticipation and a gathering of priests of all orders and from all parts. Our trembling old man was anxious, as he confessed, to commend the most serene house of Austria and the individual provinces of the universal Society to the goodness of God by the mediation of this sacrifice. He was well nigh carried to the altar between the arms of a number of elder fathers and there made a sight to inspire men and angels and was so filled with the sweetness of devotion and such a quantity of tears that he could scarcely pronounce his words articulately and constantly had to be helped by the bystanding priests to form his words correctly.
Afterwards the rest of the day was entirely taken up with invoking blessings from heaven on the people who had flocked thither in droved, lured by the thought of his saintliness. They would not let the old man go before he had prayed beautifully for them, which he managed to do with such a pleasant and alert spirit that all went home with stories of good words individually chosen for each of them, exactly suited to their circumstances and need for comfort. Then as if he had seen God his saviour and asked to be let depart in peace, his powers began to fail from his chronic affliction with apoplexy: he finally started to languish all over and began to sigh for heaven and eternal things only. He scarcely permitted the odours and savours with which he was being refreshed, clearly signalling that his hunger was reserved for heavenly dainties. His pious sighs to God and his swift responses to suggestions and questions showed clearly enough the holy desires and sublime thoughts of the goodness of God with which he constantly occupied his mind. In a word, there was no fear of death in him: he would gladly hear those who spoke of it and would start discussion of it peacefully and with great assurance, no doubt encouraged by the testimony of his conscience, for long entirely innocent. Indeed, a certain Father, to whom he had opened his entire conscience in complete candour, solemnly asserted that he firmly believed he had never in his whole life been polluted by grave sin.
Before he was annointed with the holy oil he asked the crown of our brethren for a public recital of a hymn by which the church chants forth her praises. Moreover, thanks be to God, it was to be publicly recited since God the most benign had preserved it with fatherly love in the Society rather than many others which had died out in the same over the passage of time. He was asked at that time to pronounce for the satisfaction of all whether he agreed with the conviction of our holy founder, and mine too, that the Society would ever move forward to better things. Drawing a deep breath from the heart he asserted that it definitely would.
He died on 22 May while completing the eightieth year of his life, his 65th in the Society and 41st of his solemn profession of the four vows, fortified by all the sacraments after the custom of the church, surrounded by prayers and in the arms of our brethren, so peacefully that those kneeling around him and watching him closely scarcely noticed it. The face of the dead man remained pleasant and like one smiling so that it inspired all who saw it with joy and at the same time spurred them on to the love of virtue. An extraordinary number of outsiders flocked to his funeral, even of very important men, among whom the most excellent supreme lord Burgrave in this kingdom stood out for his piety. He had a high opinion of the man's sanctity and more than once visited him in his illness kneeling on the ground and seeking his blessing on the highest princes and on him and his household, which the venerable old man gave him with simple promptness. And since the second day after his passing there was a heavy shower of long desired rain it was commonly believed and said in all Prague that it was all the more obvious that his prayers had obtained it by his merits because the day before his very death he had inquired closely concerning the lack of rain.