Bl. Manuel Domingo y Sol
FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF LABORER PRIESTS
Roman martyrology: In the city of Tortosa in Spain, Blessed Manuel Domingo y Sol, Priest, who instituted the Society Laborer Priests, to foster priestly vocations (1909).
Beatification date: March 29, 1987 by Pope John Paul II.
The first to conceive of a Spanish College in Rome was Pius IX, a pope particularly sensitive to the presence of foreign seminarians to nurture in the shadow of St Peter’s. During his pontificate, in fact, the Latin American College and the French Seminary were founded. But, unfortunately, it did not go well for the Spanish bishops.
As soon as Leo XIII was elected pope the matter was back on the agenda. Not least because the news from Madrid was not reassuring: “The decadence of the clergy in Spain is growing palpable... A clergy of questionable conduct, negligence and ignorance... The solution can only come from Rome, through a national college under the supervision of the Roman Pontiff”. The words are those of Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro, apostolic nuncio to Madrid, on 15 June 1885.
During those same years Father Manuel Domingo y Sol was working in Spain, together with his priests, for the same goal. After founding a number of seminaries in his country, all named after St Joseph, the priest born in Tortosa, in the diocese of Tarragona, became ever more convinced of the need to found one in Rome. Only by studying at the Gregorian could the most promising candidates for the priesthood acquire a certain level of theological training. Unfortunately, despite letters, appeals, and pleas of every kind to his episcopate, Mosén Sol obtained no more than an indifferent response.
The story suddenly changed when the priest met by pure chance in Rome, near Piazza Navona, a young fellow countryman, a monsignor. The young man was Rafael Merry del Val, a scion of one of the noblest families of Europe. A polyglot, son of an ambassador, at home in the most exclusive salons of every capital of Europe, he had just been appointed president of the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy in Piazza della Minerva. Merry del Val also enjoyed the respect of the Pope, who had already entrusted him with important missions in England, Canada and the United States. And, just to complete the picture, he also frequented the Spanish court.
In short, the right person at the right time. Taking account of Domingo y Sol’s vain strivings, Merry del Val, decided to help him. He opened one door after another to him and finally set going, once and for all, the matter of the College of Rome, to the great satisfaction of Leo XIII as to how things had been resolved. All “Reverend Sun” then had to do was find a home. And so, on 1 April 1892, taken by historians as foundation day of the San José, the tenacious priest lodged the first eleven seminarians in Via Giulia, in a room adjoining the national church of Spain. A few months later, there were already forty-two of them and, a year later, the Spanish colony moved to the first floor of Palazzo Altieri, in Piazza del Gesù, through the efforts of Leo XIII, who offered to pay the rent.
For Domingo y Sol, however, the problems were not yet over. There were some in the Spanish episcopate who tried to put a spoke in the wheel whenever they could: they preferred keeping their seminarians in Spanish universities, especially at Salamanca. Their main fear was that the young Spaniards would become too “Romanized”. In addition, the bishops proved indifferent to the Pope’s precise request to loosen their purse strings to help the seminarians financially.
Leo XIII, meanwhile, had found a permanent home for the San José, granting the usufruct of Palazzo Altemps, an ancient and beautiful building on the Sant’Apollinare square, near Piazza Navona. The grant was made official on 25 October 1893 with the letter Non mediocri cura, which stated, inter alia, that the direction of the College was entrusted to the priests of Father Manuel Domingo y Sol.
Over time, slowly, things began to move increasingly in the right direction. Meanwhile, along with seminarians from all the dioceses of Spain, bursaries had also arrived. And with the papacy of Pius X, through the good offices of Merry del Val, by then Secretary of State, the title of “Pontifical” was also bestowed on the college.
A few years later, the bishops began to send priests, as well as seminarians. So much so that, because of its smallness, the situation in Palazzo Altemps was becoming more unmanageable by the day. In the years 1955-56, there were about 135 priests and seminarians quartered there. It was also a consequence of what was happening in Spain, where, between 1934 and 1952, the number of seminarians had increased from 7,516 to 18,536.
The moment for change had arrived. What was needed was a brand new college, this time owned by the Spanish bishops. Not least because, sooner or later, Palazzo Altemps would have to return into the hands of the Holy See. “If the first college was a gift from the Pope to Spain, the second will be a gift from Spain to the Pope”, said the cardinal primate of Spain, Archbishop of Toledo Enrique Plá y Deniel.
To find funds for the purchase of the land and the building of the College, a huge collection was made in every diocese of Spain on 13 May 1956. Soon after a plot was purchased, 220 thousand square meters at Villa Carpegna, a tract of Mediterranean shrub not far from the Vatican. And on October 12 of that year, the feast of Our Lady of Pilar, the first stone, previously blessed by Pope Pius XII, was laid: a piece of marble taken from the monument to the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Cerro de los Angeles in Getafe, near Madrid.
On 13 June 1961 the building was finally ready. Its first residents were seminarians; the priests were to remain at Palazzo Altemps until 1970.
The official inauguration took place on 13 November 1965, in the presence of Paul VI. A pope immediately loved by the students of San José for the visit he paid, on the very day after his election, to Palazzo Altemps to visit the elderly and sick Cardinal Enrique Plá y Deniel. That evening the crowd of Romans who flocked to Piazza Sant’Apollinare caused fears for the Pope’s safety.
John Paul II was to cross the threshold of Via di Torre Rossa twice, on 29 October 1987 and 28 March 1992. It was to be Pope John Paul II who beatified Father Manuel Domingo y Sol.
Thanks to him, 3,400 young men have enjoyed the privilege of studying close to the Pope. From among them, 120 have been appointed bishops, 8 created cardinals.