FRIAR GIACOMO BULGARO
The Servant of God
A Greyfriar
1879 - 1967

Giacomo Bulgaro was born on 29th January 1879 in Corticelle Pieve, in the province of Brescia, which is located in the Northern part of Italy. He was one of five children. His home was humble and filled with an overwhelming amount of love and faith for God. When Friar Giacomo was young his father had rented out a small farmhouse, where the farm production provided enough income to support his family. As soon as Giacomo was old enough he became an altar boy. Every morning he would go to serve mass at 5:30 a.m.
He was a very studious in Elementary school, which at that time lasted only for three years. He proved to himself and everyone else to be a bright and diligent pupil. As a reward for his good work, his parents decided to let him continue his studies with the village schoolmaster who privately gave him some educational instruction. The tutoring was paid for by the income generated by their home grown farm products.
Giacomo grew up in a happy family environment which had taught him many good virtues such as; diligence, serenity, complete devotion and which left him with an undying faith in Our Lord.
When he was eleven years old his family left Corticelle and moved to Brescia. The city offered many job opportunities in the new iron ore foundries that were rapidly developing.

In the city
Just as the family was beginning to settle into city life in Brescia their father suddenly died, leaving their mother alone with five teenage children. The elder children were all able to find jobs. Giacomo himself started working in a cobbler's shop as an apprentice. He used to go to mass every day at the parish church of St. John's where he was an active member of the church oratory. His faith was reverent and profound as he practised his religion fervently.
Sadly enough his mother also died in 1898. Shortly after this tragic event, his youngest brother Giovanni was sent to an orphanage; the two older sisters were soon married and Giacomo, who was nineteen and his sister Maria sixteen at the time, were left at home by themselves. Giacomo found a new job as a cobbler. This is when he began to feel very lonely and aimless in life.

The wolf
In his spiritual diaries Giacomo writes that his new master "was a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing". He was a happy-go-lucky twenty year old boy, always in the company of young people and surrounded by lewd conversation. At first he tried to avoid mixing with them but in the end their influence won the day. Their daily presence drew him to surrender to worldly temptations. He began to lead an impure life which led him away from his christian values that he had learnt during his earlier years at home.
He no longer followed the Sacraments, nor went to mass on Sundays. Praying was no longer a part of his daily routine. Instead he would spend his Sundays going from one tavern to next drinking and womanising. He became rude, careless in his work, unhappy with himself and ill tempered with everybody around him. At the same time he also stopped taking care of his sister and his little brother Giovanni.
Despite all of this after his 25th birthday he began to feel a strong desire for the christian values that he had once mastered as a youngster. He tried more than once to return to the ways of Our Lord but his bad habits always managed to gain the upper hand. Once he met a proper young lady who he had thought about marrying but then unexpectedly he changed his mind. He began to drift from one girl to another without forming any lasting or meaningful relationships. As time went on he became more and more dissatisfied with himself and his life, which apparently in his opinion had no aim or purpose.

His conversion
In 1913 on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception he went back to Corticelle to visit his elderly Aunt Caterina who was his mother's sister of whom he was very fond. She was the only person that he was able to confided in.
That morning after he had arrived at her home he broke out in tears as he recounted his inner most moral turmoil to her . To comfort him his Aunt talked about Our Lady and explained that he should trust in her. Upon leaving she put her hands on his head in prayer giving him her blessing.
At that instant Giacomo had a vision of Our Lady as he tells us in his Spiritual Diaries "The Virgin Mary was looking at me with affection even though my sins oppressed me. I wept with all my heart: I was the greatest sinner amongst all sinners! But, from the depth of my heart I felt the greatest desire to raise my eyes and my arms to her who was Our Mother, despite the fact I had been an ungrateful son. I knelt at her feet and confessed to her the painfulness of all my sins. She the Mother of all hugged me. That act of kindness I did not deserve, I know."
The vision continued with the coming of Jesus: "I saw that Jesus was trying to find me. When he found me he said not one word. No words of reproach, nor disapproval. He came closer to me, he held me, at once I felt his tears upon my face. I called him by his divine name. He then took my hand and covered me with his cloak as he held me tightly against his heart".
That same afternoon he went back to Brescia. As he was walking along the 18 kilometre path back home he made his first resolution as a converted man. "I will serve thee dear Lord with all my heart, soul and body." When this blessed event took place he was 34 years old.

A new man
The next morning he spent nearly three hours praying in church before going to work. From that day on he would go to mass every morning at 5.30 a.m. immersing himself in deep meditation for three hours. He imposed upon himself a strict penitential regime. He started going to catechism in the parish and would help those in need. The people in the area soon noticed the cobbler's changed lifestyle and the poor began to ask him for his help and alms. During the First World War he was called up to fight but as he was not considered fit enough to serve they sent him to work for the Red Cross Military hospital in Brescia. He treated all of the patients with utmost devotion and care and often stayed during the night to comfort dying patients. When the war ended he went back to being a cobbler and helping out in the parish. He visited families in need and served in the soup kitchens set up for the poor.
He would also invite young people into his home especially those who were not churchgoers in order to discuss the Bible, the life of Jesus Christ and the Saints.

During this time he became acquainted with some of the most notable Catholics of Brescia of that period such as, Father Giovanni Battista Zuaboni, whom he would then meet with on a daily basis. Another noted figure with who he came in contact was Giovanni Battista Montini, who subsequently would become Pope Paul VI. Amongst his acquaintances at that time was Giorgio Montini, the future Pope's. Their reverent religious faith and devotion only helped to further and strengthen Giacomo's decision in adhering to a religious way of living.

Becoming a franciscan
On 28th October 1928 Brescia celebrated the return of the Franciscan order of the old Monastery of St. Francis. In 1797 they had been forced to leave Brescia due to the Napoleonic invasion and subsequent suppression of the order. That same Sunday evening Giacomo's confessor Msgr. Angelo Nazzari introduced him to the Minister General of the Franciscans saying "Very Reverend Father, this man would like to become a monk. I will personally vouch for his character and assume all responsibility for him." though Giacomo was now fifty years old the Minister General had no objection and concurred with the decision.
Giacomo entered the Monastery. He kept himself very busy with all the church duties both in the refectory and at the porter's quarters. He would spend more than thirty years of his life in the small inconspicuous room which was dedicated for the porter situated at the entrance of the monastery. He welcomed everybody with a warm friendly smile and a kind greeting and was always willing to help those in need. He also continued his work as a cobbler repairing the shoes of his fellow friars, the young altar boys and the needy parishioners. He prayed continually and wrote the major part of his Spiritial Diaries under the auspices of his confessor.
He received his religious instruction from Father Dionisio Vincente, who was martyred for his faith during the Spanish Civil War and who would later be beatified in 2001.
In the monastery Friar Giacomo was soon noted for his reverent humanistic qualities and spirituality and his great gift of unremitting humble prayer. He lived his vows of obedience to their fullest, always obeying his superiors. He treated everyone with kindness and sincerity, happy to serve others without receiving any special praise, as many times these deeds went unnoticed.
He considered himself a humble servant of the poor people who came to the his quarters every day to receive a hot meal.

Spirituality
The spirituality of Friar Giacomo testified by his life and writings were undoubtedly Franciscan.
From the day of his conversion he held steadfastly within his heart his love for the Good Shepherd who died on the cross for all mankind. This love for Jesus who suffered on the cross helped him to fulfil his everyday duties with serenity and humility.
In order to follow the example of the humble life led by Jesus and Mary of Nazareth he carried out all of his daily menial tasks as a symbol of his undying love for Our Lord. He had the gift of contemplative prayer which was nourished by an incessant bond with heaven and meditation.
He refused to be caught up in all of the modern conveniences that surrounded him and was all consuming for the lives of many. He lived in absolute poverty and with permission from his superiors he gave part of his daily food ration to those poorer than himself. Despite his reserved nature he was always ready to greet others with a warm friendly smile and encouraging words.
In the first few years after his conversion, Our Lady had said to him that "the shortest route" to sainthood would be through unquestionable obedience and this he did by living his vows of obedience to their fullest obeying his confessor and Father Superior.
Our Lady played a very important part in his life. She brought about his conversion and his return to the church and there after followed him day by day by inspiring and encouraging him in the ways of Our Lord. Giacomo was profoundly devoted to her and wanted to follow her example in every way as she had done by glorifying the Almighty and loving our neighbours.

Death
In the latter years of his life he was confined to his cell, due to his inability to walk and the infirmities of a ninety year old man. He died peacefully on the evening of 27th January 1967 and was buried in the town cemetery.
In 1989 the Diocese of Brescia began proceedings in order to collect all of his writings and memoirs. When they had finished their research all it was sent off to Rome for further investigation by a papal approbation.
On the 28th April 1994 Friar Giacomo's body was transferred to the church of St. Francis. His remains lies in a plain and simple chapel located on the church grounds. It's a quiet place of prayer and meditation for the many faithful followers of Friar Giacomo. From that day on there has been an ever increasing interest in the quiet gentle figure of Friar Giacomo, "Poverello di Brescia" who like St. Francis passed on his experience of conversion and undying and magnificent love of Our Lord to those who would follow in his footsteps.

FROM THE DIARY

"If you only knew how sweet
it is to be by the Cross,
you would beg me to give it to you,
so that you could be like me!"
(from the dairy 20.04.1950)

"Holy Father here I am all yours,
do with me as you wish,
according to Jesus' will.
In me fulfil what
you established since the beginning
may thy will be accomplished fully. So be it."
(from the dairy 11.11.1953)

"How happy I would be
if I could say to you my God:
- My Lord, how I love you!
my Lord would reply thus:
- My son I love you more than you could ever love me.
Because you are my creation,
you are almost the master of your God,
who loves you more than a father
could love his own son."
(from the dairy 05.12.1953)

LET US PRAY

O God, your humble servant Friar Giacomo worshipped and prayed unrelentingly to you with a pure and simple heart ; through his intercession, help us to seek always your image and to listen to the truth of your word. Glory be to the Father...

O God, your humble servant Friar Giacomo always served you with humility and in a steadfast way; through his intercession, grant that our work becomes our daily offering and praise. Glory be to the Father...

O God, your humble servant Friar Giacomo saw in the faces of the poor your beloved son Jesus and thus he served them with your love; through his intercession, help us to see with his eyes the suffering of others. Glory be to the Father...

O God, your humble servant Friar Giacomo had tender devotion for the Mother of your Son; help us to live as he did so that the Virgin Mary pours down on us the treasures of her Motherhood. Hail Holy Queen...


With the Ecclesiastical Approval of
+ Virgilio Mario Olmi, Auxiliary Bishop
Brescia, 06.11.2000

 


Friar Giacomo

 


House in Corticelle

 


House in Brescia

 


The entry to the grave

 


The grave

 


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