Blessed Stephen Bellesini was born in Trento, Italy, on November 25, 1774. At birth he was given the name Luigi Giuseppe. The time in which he was born was a period of great turmoil for the Church and society in general. As a young man of twenty, “Luigi Giuseppe” entered the Order of Saint Augustine, and was given the name Stephen. Within the apparent stability and tranquility of the Order, spent his years of religious and intellectual formation in the monasteries at Bologna and Rome. Upon completion of his formation he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in Trento in 1797. In his first years of ordained ministry he occupied himself principally as a preacher and rector of the small chapel attached to the Augustinian monastery in Trent.
The tribulations of those times manifested themselves in severe anti Christian legislation, such that the government confiscated religious houses. In 1810, together with his Augustinian brethren, he was ejected from their monastery during this vile suppression of religious houses. Having no property of his own, as is the custom for Augustinians, Blessed Stephen turned to the charity of his brother. He was able to live in his brother’s house. There, confronted by the situation at hand, he lived as secular priest.
With characteristic fidelity to his priesthood and the spirit of Saint Augustine, he determined not to allow the anti-clerical atmosphere of society thwart his apostolic zeal. Consequently, he established a school to care for the many poor children of the city who were without means to receive an education. His interest in their well-being was all inclusive: he provided clothing and food to the poorest, encouragement and fatherly care to those most neglected, sound religious education in the truth of the faith to all. To the credit of his brother, often times the means by which Blessed Stephen manifested apostolic generosity was to take from his own brother’s table. The success of his efforts with the poor children was noticed, even by a government hostile to Blessed Stephen’s faith, and so he was appointed director and inspector of schools for the entire district of Trento.
He was not a man prone to civil honors, and while he was doing good work, his heart was intent upon living his Augustinian religious life. In 1817 he had heard that in the Papal States it was again possible to live the religious life, and so, for the second time, he left home, family, and position in order to take up again what had been surrendered so reluctantly years earlier when forced from his monastery. In September 1817 Blessed Stephen secretly left Trento for Rome, never to return.
The reaction in Trento was first shock, then indignation, and finally condemnation. Blessed Stephen would not be dissuaded from returning to his Augustinian life. The government of Trent spared no efforts to persuade him to return; even to the point of promises of greater financial compensation, and with letters of public praise. Still, our Blessed Stephen remained determined to stay where he could live the Augustinian life so near to his heart.
The same government that had so readily flooded him with praises and bribes, now proclaimed him to be an exile and forbade him ever to return to his native town. Once in Rome, he was welcomed back by his confreres and was made the Master of Novices. In 1826, he was sent to the shrine of Our Mother of Good Counsel in Genazzano, and five years later, at the age of 57, he was named prior of the Augustinian monastery at the shrine.
In 1839 the town of Gennazzano was afflicted with a great plague and Blessed Stephen, with heroic selflessness, devoted himself to the spiritual and medical care of its victims. On 23 January 1840, while attending Divine Office in the monastic Choir, he was called upon to care for a sick parishioner. On descending the steps, he fell, causing a cut on his leg. That night he came down with a fever. Nevertheless, the following day, he went about his usual Pastoral visits at the public hospital and remained on his feet for two more days. On the 26th day of January, given his terrible appearance, his brethren insisted that he rest. He died at four in the afternoon of 2 February 1840. When Stephen Bellesini was beatified on 1 November 1904 by Pope Pius X, he became the first pastor to be elevated to the honors of the altar. His feast is celebrated by the Augustinian Family on the 3rd of February.