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Patron Saint of the Abandoned

FEAST MAY 23

Giovanni Battista de Rossi was born in the Piedmontese village of Voltaggio, in the diocese of Genoa, and was one of four children. His parents, of modest means, were devout and well esteemed. A nobleman and his wife vacationing in Voltaggio, and impressed with the ten-year-old John Baptist, obtained permission from his parents to take him to live with them and be trained in their house in Genoa.

After three years, hearing of his virtues, John’s cousin, Lorenzo Rossi, Canon of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, invited him to join him in Rome. Thus John Baptist entered the Roman Jesuit College at thirteen. Despite episodes of epilepsy, brought on by excessive zeal in imposing harsh penances upon himself, he was granted a dispensation and was ordained at the age of twenty-three.

From his student days he loved visiting hospitals. Now, as a priest there was much more he could offer suffering souls. He particularly loved the Hospice of St. Galla, a night shelter for paupers. There he laboured for forty years.

He also worked at the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini and extended his assistance to other poor such as cattlemen who came to market at the Roman forum. He had a great pity for homeless women and girls and from the little that he made in Mass stipends, and the 400 scudi sent to him by the Pope, he rented a refuge for them.

John Baptist was also selected by Pope Benedict XIV to deliver courses of instruction to prison officials and other state servants. Among his penitents was the public hangman.

In 1731 Canon Rossi obtained for his cousin a post of assistant priest at St. Maria in Cosmedin. He was a great confessor to whom penitents flocked, and as a preacher, the saint was also in demand for missions and retreats.

On the death of Canon Rossi, Fr. John inherited his canonry, but applied the money attached to the post to buy an organ, and hire an organist. As to the house, he gave it to the chapter and went to live in the attic.

In 1763 St. John Baptist’s health began to fail, and he was obliged to take up residence in the hospital of Trinita dei Pellegrini. He expired after a couple of strokes on May 23, 1764 at sixty- six years of age. He died so poor that the hospital prepared to pay for his burial. But the Church took over and he was given a triumphant funeral with numerous clergy and religious, and the Papal choir, in attendance.