On January 11, Franciscans honor the memory of Saint Thomas of Cori (1655–1729), a Franciscan who is not well known outside the region of Rome; he was only canonized in 1999.
Thomas was born Francesco Placidi into a family of poor shepherds in Cori, a town in the Lazio region of Italy. A quiet, gentle boy, he was orphaned by age 14 and worked to support his sisters; once they were married, he sold his flocks and entered the Friars Minor. Thomas’s deep spiritual discernment was evident at an early age; his first assignment after ordination was to assist with the formation of novices.
Very soon, though, Thomas asked to join one of the houses of prayer then springing up in the Order attempting to revive a life according to Francis’s Rule for Hermitages. In 1684, he went to the hermitage of Civitella (now Bellegra), in the rugged mountainous area around Mount Subiaco, where he spent almost all the rest of his life.
Thomas’s life is a vivid reminder of the central place prayer should occupy in the Franciscan life. As Francis stated in his Rule: “The brothers should work faithfully and devotedly, so that, while avoiding idleness, the enemy of the soul, they do not extinguish the Spirit of holy prayer and devotion to which all temporal things must contribute” (5.1-2). Francis wrote his “Rule for Hermitages” for brothers who wished to concentrate more ardently on this contemplative dimension of their life.
Although Thomas devoted himself to prayer and the humble daily rhythms of fraternal life, he also wanted to share this God he loved so deeply with others, and so he often left his hermitage to preach throughout the villages of the Subiaco region in a simple, direct style. Many of the other friars formed in these hermitages became zealous missionaries abroad. Thomas died at Bellegra on January 11, 1729. Thomas was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1999.
The friary at Bellegra still remains a retiro or house of prayer of the Franciscan Order. A recent video (in Italian) on the hermitage of Bellegra gives an appreciation of the site.
The friars also maintain a site on Facebook: Ritiro Di San Francesco-Bellegra
-----Main image: Saint Thomas of Cori
Dominic V. Monti, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar of Holy Name Province (USA) and currently professor of Franciscan Research in the Franciscan Institute of St. Bonaventure University. He devoted the greater part of his ministry to teaching the History of Christianity, in particular the history of the Franciscan movement. He has contributed two volumes to the Works of St. Bonaventure series and is author of Francis & His Brothers, a popular history of the Friars Minor.