Msgr. Giovanni Braschi was born in Mugnano del Cardinale, Avellino, Italy on October 24, 1943. He grew up during the realm of the grandest feast celebrations of St. Philomena within Mugnano. This was a time when people flocked to the Sanctuary during the August feast. There was a solemn Mass and prayers within the church and great festivities outside, all one would expect on a very grand Italian occasion for this very important and special person. The Rector of the Sanctuary through the years of Msgr. Braschi’s youth was Fr. Luigi Esposito – 1950 -1962. Fr. Esposito was to educate and lead the way for the Sanctuary’s present Rector.
Throughout Msgr. Braschi’s training in the seminary he would go to the Sanctuary and pray at the Sacred Altar of St. Philomena to help him to get through the studies and pass his exams to become a priest. These exams were quite tough and he promised St. Philomena that if she could help him through he would offer his priesthood to her. We know our little Saint will keep you to your word! After his training in the Seminary of Nola and in the Regional Seminary, Pope “Pius XI” of Salerno, he was ordained priest on June 19, 1971 by Msgr. Guerino Grimaldi, Bishop of Nola.
1971 – 1973 – Msgr. Braschi remained within the Seminary and assisted as prefect with the education of seminarians, not yet ordained.
1973 – 1975 – he was appointed assistant to Fr. Antonio Cirillo, Torre Annunziata, Naples and also assisted Msgr. Aniello Marano of Scafati, Salerno. Both churches were named St Francis of Paola.
1975 – 1983 – His Excellency Msgr. Guerino Grimaldi nominated Msgr. Braschi Parish Priest of the Church of Saint Maria of the Rosary in Cinquevie Selve di Nola where with great effort he constructed a new church.
September 25, 1983 – His Excellency Msgr. Giuseppe Costanzo, Bishop of Nola, nominated Fr. Giovanni Braschi Rector of the Sanctuary Saint Philomena in Mugnano. Like his predecessor Msgr. Luigi Esposito, Fr. Braschi always gave accurate detail to the St. Philomena question.
The story of Msgr. Giovanni Braschi & Saint Philomena
Msgr. Braschi, who was known to all in contact with the Sanctuary as Don Giovanni, now begins his life work. For this past 27 years he has worked tirelessly in restoring the Sanctuary and devotion to St. Philomena. Here is his story:
Don Giovanni was called by the Bishop’s office and offered the position of the Rector of the Sanctuary. He was given a few days until an answer was required. During this time he is in the region of St. Pio’s Shrine in San Giovanni Rotundo. At this time the saint was still known as Padre Pio. Don Giovanni knelt down in the church and prayed for guidance to Padre Pio about his appointment. He had known the devotion to St. Philomena was not as it once was and that it would entail a great deal of work, not only within the devotion but also with the church itself, which was in need of a huge restoration. He spent a considerable amount of time in the presence of God in Our Lady of Grace Church and with guidance from Padre Pio. At the end of this time he walked out of the church with his mission as the Rector of the Sanctuary of St. Philomena and zeal in his heart to promote devotion to St. Philomena. He also accepted the suffering he knew this work would bring.
On his first day in the Sanctuary as Rector he looked around in dismay at the condition of the church. There was not only the church building but an abandoned orphanage and convent attached. With the earthquakes of 1980-81, along with few pilgrimages or devotees visiting the Sanctuary, donations were not forthcoming. Previous Rectors had not been able to keep up with the cost of operating such an historical church. Therefore no structural or decorative work had taken place for many, many years. He looked at the ceiling, the walls, the lights, the floor – what was he to do and how could he do it! He was led straight to the Sacred Altar of St. Philomena and on bended knee asked her “How?” He stood up in the trust that the path would be lit. He never once asked “why?”
Throughout the first three years Don Giovanni had only one prayer card to St. Philomena – the Supplicate of St. Philomena – the official prayer of the Sanctuary. There were no devotional items, no statues, no cords or chaplet beads. An annual blessing of the Oil of St. Philomena took place and the oil lamp always was lit in front of the Sacred Body St. Philomena.
Don Giovanni began reading and collecting as many books on St. Philomena as he could. He began a restoration program and collected donations where he could. He used all the personal money he had and continues to do so. Most of the pilgrimages who visited the Sanctuary during those years were Italian.
After the first year he began to form the new Universal Archconfraternity of St. Philomena. He had family and friends who could speak several languages who helped to translate letters that were sent to the Sanctuary. In this way he developed international contacts. This was to be the beginning of the office in the Sanctuary. In 1985 Don Giovanni wrote his first book about St. Philomena and had it translated into several languages. By 1986 he had appointed the first new Archconfraternity Center in Sydney, Australia.
By this point he felt the need for help in the Sanctuary and requested this of his Bishop. Shortly after, Sister Bertilla R.I.P. was appointed to the Sanctuary. She helped Don Giovanni on every level she could manage. She woke before 6 a.m. and did not go to sleep again until her work for that day was done. She often worked about 17 hours each and every day. Don Giovanni has always said she did the work of ten people. She took on a motherly role and made contact with the people of town to help in the church. She worked making cords and scapulars and many other devotional items. She and Don Giovanni created a gift shop within the church and furnished it with devotional items. Don Giovanni worked for at least ten years to have a statue of St. Philomena created – a statue that would do her justice. It would take a phenomenal piece of work for a sculpture to measure up to what Don Giovanni had in his mind for his Saint.
Don Giovanni began to be invited abroad to talk about St. Philomena and thus creating new Archconfraternity Centers. He bought the first computer for his office in 1988 with MS-DOS. Communications began to come and go more frequently and were building up momentum. The devotion to St. Philomena was once again budding like a flower not yet in full bloom. By 1992 Don Giovanni began to create guest rooms in the Sanctuary and Sister Bertilla would ensure they were well turned out and clean. In this way families and small groups of people could stay close.
In 1998 Don Giovanni had a website for the Sanctuary designed in Italian and English. 2003 began a new era for this website. A final custom design, which the Sanctuary now displays, photos and video files. By 2005 the website was receiving around one million visitor hits each month. An online shop was created in order for devotees to obtain items direct from the Sanctuary. These items lovingly evolved into the professional and high quality items available today.
By the year 2000 Don Giovanni had created the Pilgrims Center. There are many rooms, including some around the dome on the third floor. On the fourth floor a room has access directly onto the Sanctuary’s roof with spectacular views across the town and the green mountains surrounding it. An elevator was installed by Fr. James Swenson R.I.P. of Nevada, US, who was a great benefactor to the restoration program of the Sanctuary. The first official pilgrimage arrived in May of 2001. This Pilgrim Center is a work in progress with yet another eight rooms awaiting restoration. There is a full and professional kitchen, a dining hall, lounge areas on several levels and garden access.
In the year 2002, Don Giovanni initiated many scientific studies into all matters regarding St. Philomena. This work was completed by 2005 and is published in Don Giovanni’s new book, excerpted below. These studies cleared up many questions about St. Philomena with a very positive outcome.
For the 2005 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the Sacred Body of St. Philomena arriving in the Sanctuary: he restored fully the main church, created a confessional chapel, had the sacristy restored, organized major events, including a conference in Rome of all matters related to St. Philomena. A major feast celebration was held in August, and continues to be viewed on the website.
A new and larger devotional shop was created in the church and the museum has been restored and treated and redecorated. Still outstanding for Don Giovanni are many ongoing projects: the repair of the leaky dome, the completion of the replica of the catacombs with the tomb of St. Philomena and another elevator for the disabled to the dining hall.
January, 22, 2011 Sister Bertilla finally took her place in Heaven after a long illness. Don Giovanni made sure all her care and needs were taken care of throughout this time. I am sure she would agree that Don Giovanni will be marked down in history as one of the great leaders of the devotion to St. Philomena. He has proved to be one of the most historical rectors of the Sanctuary and most defiantly a pioneer in many avenues. Particularly in these days, he makes no decision without first praying to Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Mother and St. Philomena. He has a statue of St. Pio in the church as his first guide to the work of the Sanctuary.
Don Giovanni finally finished his new book 2010 in Italian, “Saint Philomena, Testimony of the Light of Christ”. It has taken him 26 years to research and write. It has now been translated into English, French and Spanish. The English edition was published August 2011. This is the most comprehensive book about St Philomena, each fact well researched and accurate. It is not only a pleasure to read but also an inspiring story of a wonderworking Saint. 2011, a poem, “Star of Heaven” by Giuseppe Boccia, influenced him to write yet another book, only available in Italian, with this title.
New for 2012: The new Archconfraternity website launched with the new logo. It is a comprehensive website with information on all avenues of the Archconfraternity, bringing together all of the St Philomena groups worldwide, along with a new online shop. Re location of the Archconfraternity office within the Sanctuary. new security, procedures and systems in place within this office. The publish of the new book in French and Spanish. New web site for the Sanctuary in Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, English.
Exerts from Msgr. Braschi’s new book:
The “pastoral” meaning of the book is what guided its author Monsignor Braschi.
“I hope that my effort for the goodness of the devotees, and for the sake of truth, may strengthen and spread the love and the devotion for our little, great and splendid Martyr!”
Archbishop Msgr. Beniamico Depalma
Bishop of Nola
“In drafting this book – written for the glory and honor of Saint Philomena, and with the intention of re-establishing internationally the veneration and devotion for the Saint – I have chosen the main bibliographical sources and the most significant contributions from the world of literature, science and art: I thank you all fervently.”
The Miracle of the Curé of Ars.
Between Saint Philomena and the Curé of Ars, an important relationship was established. This relationship is so important that the figure of the Curé of Ars becomes incomprehensible if his huge devotion to his dear “little Saint” is not taken into consideration. This bond has something of the prodigious about it. Saint Philomena’s Miracle towards the Curé of Ars was multiform; 1) Saint Philomena’s apparition to the Curé of Ars; 2) Miraculous healing of the Curé by Saint Philomena’s intercession; and 3) Miraculous healings happening in Ars following the Curé’s urging everyone to turn to Saint Philomena.
Miracle of Ven. Pauline Marie Jaricot and her Statement
“Struck by violent illness, Jaricot, paralytic and nearly dying, came on pilgrimage to the Sanctuary of Mugnano, where she arrived on August 8, 1835, brought on a chair (this chair remains in the Sanctuary museum to this day). According to some witnesses she already looked like a corpse. She remained for two days in prayer in front of the urn of Saint Philomena. On August 10th, during the blessing with the Most Holy Sacrament, she had the sensation of having been healed; she got up and walked without any support. This is how the Servant of God describes the event;”
“For many years I had been affected by various illnesses, so serious, that I had no hope of healing, this established by a consultation of the doctors of Lyon, who asserted that the resurrection of the dead would have been a miracle of the Most High, and my health, for the incurable illnesses, required more miracles, and big ones.”
“But what scared me most of all, and made me tremble every moment with the possibility of imminent death, was an aneurysm of the heart, with which I had suffered for many years……….”