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Saint Charles Borromeo ( ; Latinized as Carolus Borromeus) (2 October 15383 November 1584) is an Italianmarker saint and was a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. He worked during the period of the Counter-Reformation and was responsible for significant reforms in the Catholic Church, including the founding of seminaries for the education of priests.

Borromeo was the nephew of Pope Pius IV. Along with Anselm of Lucca, he was one of only two cardinal-nephews to have been canonized.

Early life

The son of Giberto II Borromeo, conte (count) of Aronamarker, and Margherita de' Medici (sister of Pope Pius IV), Carlo Borromeo was born at the castle of Arona on the shores of Lago Maggioremarker in northern Italy. The aristocratic Borromeo family's coat of arms included the Borromean rings, sometimes taken to symbolize the Holy Trinity.

When Borromeo was about twelve years old, his uncle Giulio Cesare Borromeo, resigned to him an abbacy (the office and dignity of an abbot). Borromeo applied the revenue from this position in charity to the poor. He studied the civil and canon law at Paviamarker. In 1554 his father died, and although he had an elder brother, Count Federigo, he was requested by the family to take the management of their domestic affairs. After a time, he resumed his studies, and in 1559 he took his doctoral degree. In 1560 his uncle, Cardinal Angelo de' Medici, was raised to the pontificate as Pope Pius IV.

Pius IV named Borromeo as protonotary apostolic (secretary of state), entrusted with both the public and the privy seal of the ecclesiastical state. He then named Borromeo to the post of Cardinal of Romagnamarker and the March of Ancona, and supervisor of the Franciscans, Carmelites and Knights of Malta.

Archbishop of Milan

At age twenty-two, Borromeo was highly trusted at the papal court. Soon afterwards the Pius IV raised him to the archbishopric of Milan. In compliance with the pope's desire, Borromeo lived in splendor to represent the glory of the church. He established an academy of learned persons, the Academy of the Vatican Nights, and published their memoirs as the Noctes Vaticanae.

About the same time, Borromeo founded and endowed a college at Paviamarker, today known as Almo Collegio Borromeo, which he dedicated to Saint Justina of Padua. On the death of his elder brother Federigo, his family urged Borromeo to quit the church to marry and have children, so that the family name would not become extinct.

Borromeo declined the proposal. He worked even harder for the welfare of the church. Owing to his influence over Pius IV, he facilitated the final deliberations of the Council of Trent. He took a large share in the creation of the Tridentine Catechism (Catechismus Romanus).

After the death of his uncle, Pius IV

On the death of Pius IV (1566), Borromeo contributed materially to suppressing the cabals of the conclave. Subsequently he devoted himself wholly to the reformation of his diocese. It had deteriorated in practice owing to the 80-year absence of previous archbishops. Borromeo made numerous pastoral visits, and restored dignity to divine service.

In conformity with the decrees of the Council of Trent, which suggested simplifying church interiors, Borromeo cleared the cathedral of ornate tombs, rich ornaments, banners, and arms. He did not even spare the monuments of his own relatives. He divided the nave of the church into two compartments to separate the sexes at worship.
He extended his reforms to the collegiate churches, monasteries and even to the Confraternities of Penitents, particularly that of St. John the Baptist. This group was to attend to prisoners and those condemned to death, to give them help and support.

Borromeo believed that abuses in the church arose from clergy ignorance. Among his most important actions, he established seminaries, colleges and communities for the education of candidates for holy orders. His emphasis on Catholic learning greatly increased the preparation of men for priesthood and benefited their congregations.

In addition, Borromeo founded the fraternity of Oblates of St. Ambrose, a society of secular men who did not take orders, but devoted themselves to the church and followed a discipline of monastic prayers and study. They provided assistance to parishes where ordered by the church .

Reacting to the pressure of the Protestant Reformation, Borromeo encouraged the Golden League formed in 1586 by Ludwig Pfyffer in Switzerland. Based in Lucerne, the organization (also called the Borromean League) linked activities of several Swiss Catholic cantons of Switzerlandmarker, which became the center of Catholic Counter-Reformation efforts. This Inquisition-type organization was determined to expel heretics and burned some people at the stake. It created severe strains in the civil administration of the confederation, and it caused the break-up of Appenzell canton along religious lines.

In 1576, when Milanmarker suffered an epidemic of the bubonic plague, Borromeo led efforts to accommodate the sick and bury the dead. He avoided no danger and spared no expense. He visited all the parishes where the contagion raged, distributing money, providing accommodation for the sick, and punishing those, especially the clergy, who were remiss in discharging their duties.

Controversy and last days

Borromeo met with much opposition to his reforms. The governor of the province, and many of the senators, addressed complaints to the courts of Romemarker and Madridmarker. They were apprehensive that the cardinal's ordinances would encroach upon the civil jurisdiction,

Borromeo also faced staunch opposition of several religious orders, particularly that of the Humiliati (Brothers of Humility). Some members of that society formed a conspiracy against his life, and a shot was fired at him in the archiepiscopal chapel. His survival was considered miraculous.

He successfully attacked his Jesuit confessor, Giovanni Battista Ribera who, with other members of the college of Milan, was found to be guilty of unnatural offenses. This action increased Borromeo's enemies within the church.

Borromeo's manifold labors and austerities appear to have shortened his life. He was seized with an intermittent fever, and died at Milan on 3 November 1584. He was canonized in 1610, and his feast is celebrated on 4 November.


  • Besides the Noctes Vaticanae, to which he appeared to have contributed, Borromeo's written legacy consisted only of some homilies, discourses and sermons, with a collection of letters. Borromeo's sermons have been translated into many languages.

  • Contrary to Borromeo's last wishes, the Duomo di Milanomarker created a memorial crypt to him in the church.

  • His relative Federico Borromeo and admirers commissioned a statue 20 m high that was erected on the hill above Arona, as they regarded him an important leader of the Counter-Reformation.

  • His nephew, Federico Borromeo (1564–1631), was archbishop of Milan from 1595 and, furthering Charles' support for Catholic learning, in 1609 founded the Ambrosian Librarymarker in that city. He donated a tremendous collection of art and literature to the library.

  • Borromeo's emblem is the Latin word humilitas (humility), which is a portion of the Borromeo shield. He is usually represented in art in his robes, barefoot, carrying the cross as archbishop; a rope round his neck, one hand raised in blessing, thus recalling his work during the plague.


People's devotion to Borromeo as a saint arose quickly and continued to grow. The Milanese celebrated his anniversary as though he were already canonized. Supporters collected documentation for his canonization. They began the process at Milan, Pavia, Bologna and other places.

In 1602 Paul V beatified Borromeo. In 1604 his case was sent on to the Congregation of Rites. On 1 November 1610, Pope Paul V canonized Charles Borromeo. Three years later, the church added Borromeo's feast to the Roman Catholic calendar of saints for celebration on 4 November, which is still his feast.

The position which Charles Borromeo held in Europe was indeed remarkable. He is venerated as a saint of learning and the arts. The mass of correspondence both to and by him testifies to the way in which his opinion was sought. The popes under whom he served sought his advice. The Catholic sovereigns of Europe: Henry III of France, Philip II of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots and others showed how they valued his influence.
His brother cardinals wrote in praise of his virtues. Cardinal Valerio of Verona said of him that Borromeo was "to the well-born a pattern of virtue, to his brother cardinals an example of true nobility." Cardinal Baronius styled him "a second Ambrose, whose early death, lamented by all good men, inflicted great loss on the Church."

Late in the sixteenth or at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Catholics in England circulated among themselves a "Life of St. Charles". Saint Edmund Campion, a Jesuit who visited Borromeo at Milan in 1580 on his way to England, likely took his influence with him. Campion visited with Borromeo for eight days, when they would talk at length every night after dinner. Borromeo had also been involved in English affairs when he assisted Pius IV. He had a great veneration for the portrait of Bishop Fisher.

Borromeo also worked closely with Francis Borgia, General of the Jesuits, and with Andrew Avellino of the Theatines, who gave great help to his work in Milan.

Karlskirchemarker, Vienna, Austriamarker; Carolus Borromeuskerk, Antwerpmarker, Belgiummarker; Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelomarker in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Californiamarker; Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeomarker in nearby Monterey, Californiamarker; the city of Saint Charles, Missouri, San Carlos City, Negros Occidentalmarker, were all named in his honor.

Roman Catholic schools and parishes are named for him in Albuquerque, New Mexicomarker; Bayportmarker, Minnesotamarker; Paisleymarker, Scotlandmarker; Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker, Staten Islandmarker, New Yorkmarker; Syracuse, New Yorkmarker; Gardiner, New Yorkmarker; Montgomery, New Jerseymarker; Peoria, Arizonamarker; Orlando, Floridamarker; Port Charlotte, Floridamarker; San Francisco, Californiamarker; Bloomington, Californiamarker; Columbus, Ohiomarker; Lima, Ohiomarker; Chippewa Falls, Wisconsinmarker; Pikesville, Marylandmarker; Arlington, Virginiamarker; Oklahoma City, Oklahomamarker; Ryde, New South Wales, Australia; Cleveland, Ohiomarker; Washington; and Cebu Citymarker, Philippinesmarker. The San Carlos Seminary of the Archdiocese of Manila in Makati City, Philippines, San Carlos Major Seminary of the Archdiocese of Cebu, University of San Carlos in Cebu Citymarker, Philippinesmarker, and the seminary of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, are all named after him.

See also


  1. "Saint Charles Borromeo", Catholic Online, accessed 14 Dec 2008
  2. G.P. Giussano, Vita di S. Carlo Borromeo (1610, England, HE Manning, ed., reprinted, London: 1884)

Sources, references and external links

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