By Larry Peterson
Filippo (Philip) Lo Verde was born in Palermo on December 10, 1910, and baptized on NewYear’s Day, 1911. By the time he was six years old, he had already developed a deep love for the Child Jesus and was spending more and more time in prayer at home or in the nearby chapel. His influential family home life, which included daily prayer and the family Rosary, played a big part in his faith development.
By the time Philip turned twelve, he was sure he had received a vocation to the priesthood. His parents were not quite as confident as their son was. They knew a Third Order Franciscan by the name of Antonina Spatola. He lived near the monastery, and they took Philip to see him. When Antonina learned that Philip wanted to be a priest, he took him to Father Girolamo Giardina, the superior of the monastery (Father was destined to be Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor in Sicily). He gave Philip the biography of St. Francis of Assisi and asked him to read it.
The next day Philip brought the book with him to the chapel. He began to read, and when he was halfway through the book, a family member waiting for him heard him exclaim, “Enough! The Lord wants me to be a Franciscan.”
His father conceded to his son and gave him his approval. He was only twelve years old, and it must have been a hard thing for him to do. Philip’s mom was not so easy to convince. She wanted him to wait and enter a diocesan seminary when he was older. She loved him dearly and did not want to see him go behind the walls of a religious monastery. On August 30, 1922, he wrote her a letter and put it under her dinner plate. It was her birthday.
When they sat down to eat, she asked Philip to please read it to her. In the letter, he asked for her permission and finished by writing (taken from his journal) “—“You must not let yourself be overcome by the devil because the devil does not want you to give me to Jesus, he has all these thoughts put in our heads, but we must not let the devil win. We must make the Lord win”. When he finished reading, she told him, “Yes.”
Philip finished his initial training on January 21, 1923, and received the Franciscan habit assuming the name of Fra Luigi. He was still almost a year away from his thirteenth birthday. He remained at the Franciscan seminary of Motevago completing his middle school and high school classes while there.
It was during the spring of 1926 when Philip suffered from the first symptoms of the serious illness known as Oligoemia. The initial symptoms stopped him from studying. He was exhausted and could not focus. The disease was depleting his blood supply, and its effects were obvious. The teenager was fighting back amid great frustration.
The illness would seemingly go into remission, allowing him periods to get back to his studies. He did return to school in December of 1926 and managed to make his temporary religious vows on December 8, 1927. He was almost seventeen at the time.
In November of 1928, Philip moved to the Seraphic College of the Sacred Heart in Palermo. His illness returned with a fury. But even though he was fighting fatigue and exhaustion and had terrible headaches, he managed to complete his philosophy course.
He was required to undergo various therapeutic attempts to no avail. During this time there were two uplifting and happy days for the young man; on February 28, 1931, he received his clerical tonsure, and on May 30, 1931, he received the first of two minor orders.
Philip Lo Verde went back home to visit his parents in October of 1931. His illness rapidly progressed, and he could barely get out of his bed. He knew the end was near and turned it all over to God. He received Holy Viaticum and Anointing of the Sick and was quoted as saying, “How sweet is the passage to Heaven!”
He died in his home on February 12, 1932, at the age of 21. It was reported he was smiling.
On June 14, 2016, Pope Francis declared him worthy of the title Venerable Luigi Filippo Lo Verde.
We ask him to pray for us.
copyright©Larry Peterson 2019