THE Very Rev. Felix De Andreis was born of respectable and pious parents, on December i3th, 1778, at Demonte, a considerable hamlet in the present diocese, and former province, of Cuneo, Piedmont.
We have not been able to ascertain any particulars respecting his early youth, but will relate what he himself mentions with candid simplicity in a manuscript found after his death, entitled, “Soliloquy No. 59, Illuminare to mirabiliter a montibus aeternis.”
“I see very clearly, when I collect my thoughts, that Divine Bounty began to call me to the sweet intercourse of contemplation from my very childhood ; and afterwards, at different intervals, during the whole course of my most ungrateful life. I remember, and, even now, can very distinctly picture to myself the unspeakable delight which I once felt when a child, while listening to one of my aunts, on my mother’s side, who was singing some hymns on the love of God and the infancy of Mary, as we walked one evening in the gardens of Count Beranger. And I experienced this pleasure on many other similar occasions ; once especially, as I was thinking of St. Aloysius while I was employed in composing a hymn in which I spoke with my Angel Guardian of the joys of heaven and the sweets of the love of God. 0 ! how happy should I have been had I corresponded to divine grace ! Even amidst the disorders of my youth, never did the Almighty cease to call me to Himself by inspiring me with a desire of entering the Congregation of the Mission, which desire, in spite of myself, impelled me to seek solitude. And when, through divine mercy, I had entered the novitiate, I remember that the dislike I felt for conversation was such, that I generally spent the time of recreation without being able to utter a single word. I made known to the director the secret desire I felt of keeping aloof from all creatures, were it possible to do so ; and he told me that I should cultivate such feelings. I did not then foresee what would be the result, and, though I was somewhat acquainted with the writings of St. Theresa and St. John of the Cross, I had no precise idea of the treasures hidden in their mystic works. I passed through divers ordeals of scruples, anguish, and temptations, until the little book “God Alone” inspired me with a more earnest desire of suffering as they did. And, before I underwent those fearful trials, God mercifully ordained that suitable writings should fall into my hands, to enlighten me during the dark night through which I had to pass. I see, therefore, to my shame, how much I was favored by the blessings of divine mercy; though my conduct, being so different from the lights I received, dishonors, in some sort, the gifts of God, and gives me reason to fear that I am a consummate hypocrite. Oh ! what confusion is mine !”
Having completed his first studies, in his native place, Felix De Andreis was sent to Cuneo, at the age of fifteen, to learn rhetoric and philosophy; while there, he was once in imminent danger of losing his life. It was a holiday, and he, and several of his companions went to take a walk beyond the river Stura ; on their return, in order to reach home more quickly, they endeavored to wade through its rapid waters. For the others, this proved an easy task • but, for him, who was rather small and delicate, it was a dangerous undertaking. The current carried him off a long way, and his companions, who were anxiously watching him from the bank, without being able to come to his relief, already believed him drowned. Such indeed he would have been but for a special intervention of Divine Providence. While in the water, he raised his heart to Heaven, invoked the aid of St. Anthony, and, at the same moment, saw, or thought he saw, the saint handing him a rope, which, having grasped with all his might, he was conducted in safety to the shore. The fact is, he escaped unhurt, to the great astonishment of his fellow students.
All who knew him admired his penitrating intellect, his aptness to learn the most difficult things, his ready and retentive memory, his lofty imagination, and, what is more important, his determination in the pursuit of his studies, and his irreprehensible moral conduct.1
His excellent qualities caused increasing wonder among his teachers, who incited him by their commendAions to still greater progress, promising him their assistance and predicting his brilliant success in literary pursuits, but especially in poetry, for which the young De Andreis felt a peculiar attraction.2
But grace, meanwhile, was working in his heart, other and better dispositions ; he was not more than fifteen or sixteen when he felt within him an increasing desire of joining the Company of the Mission, founded by St. Vincent de Paul. This wish became so strong that he could no longer refrain from making it known, and accordingly mentioned it to Rev. Father Laugeri, Visitor of the province, entreating to be received into the Company as he felt convinced that such was his vocation. The prudent superior, well aware of the remarkable talents of the young candidate, and knowing particularly his poetical genius, received his request very coldly, observing that the Congregation of St. Vincent would never suit his views. “The employments of our missionaries,” said Father Laugeri, “are far different from those to which you have hitherto devoted yourself in accordance with your natural inclination ; the principal object of our institute is to instruct the poor in the country, and form good laborers for the vineyard of the Lord ; its duties, therefore, do not require brilliancy of thought, nor talent for poetry; but serious study, and discourses without pomp or ornament. How difficult it would be, fora young poet like yourself, to become accustomed to such things !”
“And yet,” replied the undaunted youth, “I will do all this, if you will receive inc among your children.”
“Be of good heart, then,” resumed the Visitor ; “take another year to reflect on your design ; give up your poetical compositions for that period, and apply your mind to other studies ; devote more time to prayer ; let your life be more recollected ; and then, having done all this, present yourself anew.”
“I then entered into myself,” adds Mr. De Andreis, “and endeavored to correct whatever I knew to be reprehensible in my conduct, but especially, that spirit of vanity which prompted me to wish to display my talents before the world ; I traced out the plan of a more serious life, having resolved to become a missionary, in order to atone for my sins, give glory to God, work out my own salvation, and, by the aid of Divine grace, promote that of others ; such was my intention, and I acknowledge it to be from Thee alone, 0 my God !”3
Father Laugeri became acquainted with these excellent dispositions the following year ; and having, without any further difficulty, admitted him among his children, he sent him to begin his novitiate in the house of the Mission at Mondbvi. There, Mr. De Andreis took the habit of St. Vincent on the first of November, 1797, and afterwards applied himself to correspond to his holy vocation, under the guidance of Rev. Joseph Giordano, subjecting himself to the most perfect obedience, mortifying his passions, and striving to become an interior man. About this time, namely, in January, 1799, the houses in Piedmont having been suppressed, by order of the Provisional Government, established by the French after the expulsion of the royal family of Savoy, he was obliged to return home, February 9th, 1799. Affairs being more settled towards the close of the same year, and the Missionaries having regained possession of the house of the Holy Martyrs at Turin, he was recalled there on the 12th of December following.
His novitiate being ended, he made his vows with great interior delight, on the 21st of September, 1800 ; being most desirous of making progress in all the sacred sciences, in order to fit himself to be a good missionary. He was not vain of his talents, nor did he presume upon them, but always seemed little in his own eyes, though he was most fervent, regular and obedient, even in the smallest things. His superiors remarked all these excellent qualities, and, though they avoided any manifestation of the esteem in which they held him, it was nevertheless very great, for in him they already beheld a true disciple of St. ‘Vincent. No fault could they perceive in his deportment, and, if by chance some slight imprudence needed reprehension, they always found him docile in receiving correction, more circumspect for the future, never betraying any ill-humor, but showing a smiling countenance and modest cheerfulness.
He prosecuted his studies in the same house at Turin, which, at the end of the last century, was adorned with many experienced men who spent their lives in the labors of the holy ministry. The young De Andreis, seeing in these venerable priests so many living portraits of St. Vincent, endeavored, with ardor, to follow their holy example in the practice of every virtue. But it was not long granted him to enjoy their company, for fresh misfortunes having befallen the royal family of Savoy, the Mission of Turin was again suppressed. Mr. De Andreis was then sent to the house at Placentia, in order to continue his studies. He arrived there on the 26th of December, i800, and pursued them so extensively, and with so much success, that he became a profound philosopher, a learned theologi an, and an erudite historian ; besides being well versed in literature, chemistry, natural history, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, music, geography ; and skilled in the Hebrew, Greek, French, and Spanish languages. As for Latin, lie spoke it fluently, and wrote it with elegance. It must not be thought that his knowledge of these sciences was merely superficial and only fit to dazzle the vulgar eye ; on the contrary, he was an adept in each one of them, and had accustomed himself from the beginning to so much regularity and order in his ideas, that these different acquirements were never confused in his mind, and he could teach them all in a masterly manner.
As to merely ornamental accomplishments, he possessed them without display, being very much averse to anything like ostentation ; he looked upon them as the spoils of Egypt, only fit to adorn the temple of the Lord. It may here be asked, how it was possible that a young missionary, whose hours of study were regulated with prudence, and were not dependent upon his own will, could thus acquire such vast and diversified knowledge. We will say, in reply, that Mr. De Andreis was gifted with so piercing an intellect that he penetrated, at the first glance, the most difficult questions and the most abstruse theories. His memory was so good, that, having once read a book, he never forgot its contents, and could repeat them many years afterwards ; and, so just and accurate, was his discernment, that he could distinguish, in an instant, truth from error ; correct reasoning from sophistry; the light that merely dazzles, from that which illumines the mind. It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that he learned, in a few months, what, to an ordinary capacity, would have been the labor of years. And one thing, which appears worthy of particular notice is, that his ardor in the pursuit of science was restrained within due bounds, and was ever subordinate to the zeal with which he sought to perfect himself in every virtue. Thus, while he was adorning his mind with so many different acquirements, his spiritual progress was no less rapid ; his attention to the Divine presence, and his desire to learn all the functions of his institute, never decreased. He consequently preferred to every other study, that one which tends to form holy and learned priests, namely: the Holy Scriptures, the works of the Fathers, the canonical decisions of the Church, and the moral and ascetic books written by the most eminent doctors. St. Thomas was the theologian he preferred, but he also consulted St. Augustine, St. Bernard, and St. John Chrysostom ; and he retained by heart long passages from these Fathers, besides all their most remarkable dicta and most important quotations.
Meanwhile the time approached when Mr. De Andreis was to be promoted to the priesthood ;4 this event took place in Placentia, in the year i8oi. He prepared for it by the most efficient means : fervent prayer, austere mortification, continual interior recollection; and useful reading. He had formed that exalted and true idea of the priesthood which is given of it in the Sacred Scriptures, and by the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church ; and, having obtained this incomparable dignity, his desire to discharge all its holy duties was proportionally increased. Nothing was wanting to him for that purpose ; he had prepared everything requisite for a good missionary, such as catechetical instructions on the sacraments, the laws of God, and those of the Church ; spiritual retreats for those who were preparing for ordination, as also for the laity ; ecclesiastical conferences for priests, and other similar discourses.
It is not, therefore, surprising that he was, immediately after his ordination, entrusted with the complete exercise of the Apostolic ministry; the duties of which he discharged with uninterrupted fidelity. Placentia beheld him, at one period, employed in the country missions,5 at another, devoting himself to the ecclesiastical conferences ; again, as director of the collegiates, or filling among them the professor’s chair ; ever ready to supply the place of any one who was absent, either through illness or any other cause. And not only seculars and country people, professors and students, but even the most experienced clergymen of the city, marvelled, on hearing, from the lips of the young missionary, so much profound learning expressed with such dignity and grace ; such strength of argument, which never, in the heat of controversy, degenerated into vulgar ideas, rigorous doctrine, or relaxed opinions. They would scarcely have trusted their own eyes, had he not also made a deep impression upon their hearts ; his superiors themselves were struck with astonishment, and augured great things of him.
Meanwhile Divine Providence was preparing a new field for his evangelical labors, but, before we speak of it more fully, we must insert some reflections and resolutions which he found it requisite to take several years afterwards, and whereby will be seen how entirely he was devoted to study, while he was, at the same time, most careful to shun that knowledge which swells the heart and leads it away from God.
“During the retreat of 181o, which I made amid many contradictions, in spite of my ardent desire to make it well ; I experienced, for the first few days, nothing but superficial lights and general emotions; but, having besought the Lord to discover to me the cause of my spiritual infirmities, during the night following the second day, I suddenly awoke, and received a Divine inspiration, which showed me clearly the diseases of my soul, the root whence they sprung, and the means which I should take for their removal.
“I. The great origin of all my faults is, that I have fallen, without being aware of it, on that rock of which our holy father St. Vincent speaks, in his Rules, chap. xii., art. 8, where he says : ‘All, but especially the students, shall continually watch lest an inordinate avidity of learning should insensibly invade their hearts ; yet they shall not neglect applying themselves assiduously to the studies necessary to perform, as they ought, the functions of a missionary, provided that their first care be to learn the science of the Saints, which is taught in the school of the Cross.’ I was not aware that I had failed in this, but the result proves that such is the fact.
“2. This immoderate ardor for study produces, in my soul, a kind of languor in my spiritual exercises, making me consider them as mere accessories ; filling them with distractions concerning my studies and causing me to perform them hastily, in order to return the sooner to my occupations ; and, though it may appear to me that I act thus with the purest desire of knowing the source of all truth, which is God, and the better to be enabled to serve the Company, self-love is concealed beneath it.
“3 This irregular passion also generates in me, (though I do not in the least perceive it, ) a certain self esteem on seeing so many others deprived of the knowledge that I possess, and this esteem is revealed by the thoughts that pass through my mind, the conversations which I hold, and my demeanor, as well in praise, as in humiliations.
“4 Besides the foregoing effects, this immoderate ardor for study produces in me another disorder which our holy founder has well foreseen in his rules, namely : a certain prudence of the flesh, which, under pretext of preserving health and strength, gives me a relish for the comforts of life, and produces disgust for all practices of mortification. I have noted it in little things only, but they may become great.
“5 Finally, as a last consequence, I begin to experience the truth of these words, Deus sit perbis resistit, by strong temptations which I never before experienced, and to which I am now liable. I begin to feel a certain reluctance to leave my studies when called upon to discharge any duty of my ministry, etc.
“Hence I am spiritually wasting away, and becoming infected with many faults, without knowing why or wherefore.
“I now resolve:
“I. Considering, the axiom scientia inflat, that, however much I may study, my knowledge will never equal that of so many unfortunate men whom study has ruined, and who have also caused the loss of an infinite number of souls ; that I shall never be able to attain the knowledge of omnem veritate»z, which is reserved for paradise. I will remember then, while I apply my mind to study, those words of the Apostle : Non plus sapere qua»z oportet, etc. ; perdam sapientiam sapientium, etc.; non existimavi me scire aliquid inter vos nisi Christum. I will only give to study a stated portion of time, and, beyond that, will banish every thought of it.
“2. Seeing, that study is not God, nor even the most direct road to Him, I will endeavor to be more assiduous in my exercises of piety and the practice of virtue ; these being the surest means to lead me to the clear view of truth in paradise.
“3 Bearing in mind, that humility is the gate of truth, my most ardent study shall be to overcome self-esteem, which I will combat on every occasion by contrary acts.
“4 Remembering, also, that the prudence of the flesh kills the soul-, I will resume the practice of my former mortifications, etc.
“5 In fine, by fidelity, to these four points, I shall be enabled to find a remedy for the last mentioned evil. It seems to me, that by divine mercy, I am now thus disposed ; and if my God knows that there is, in my heart, a single fibre not entirely His own, I would wish to tear it out, were it even to cost me my life.
“Con firma Deus hanc voluntatem.”
It was by such powerful means as these that rather De Andreis made such progress in science!
- Memoirs of his life by Bishop Rosati and the Rev. Mr. Ugo, C. M.
- Among the numerous manuscripts of F. De Andreis, a considerable volume of sacred poetry was found after his death ; this he composed more to give vent to the pious sentiments which animated his heart, than to afford amusement to his mind. It was impossible to peruse them without, feeling the effects of that charity which inspired them. Un fortunately, this precious volume, with many others, has been lost.
- From the MS. entitled Ad Quid Venisti.
- He was ordained subdeacon early in the year 1801, deacon at Pentecost, and completed his course of study, on the 14th of August, 1802.
- He gave several missions with Father Colucci, who was much venerated by the people on account of his sanctity; also, with Father Lucia, etc. In 1804 and 1805, he presided over the retreat for the candidates for ordination.