Home > Archives > 09 - 2011 > The correspondence between Cardinal Ferrari and Monsignor Conforti
from issue no. 09 - 2011

The correspondence between Cardinal Ferrari and Monsignor Conforti

From the Ferrari-Conforti Correspondence we report just five letters that refer to two  dramatic moments in Conforti’s life: his appointment as Archbishop of Ravenna and his resignation from that See for health reasons

Guido Maria Conforti, Archbishop of Ravenna [© Xaverian Missionaries]

Guido Maria Conforti, Archbishop of Ravenna [© Xaverian Missionaries]


Appointment to Ravenna


In Parma in 1895 Conforti founded the Emilian Institute for Foreign Missions, which was to become a religious congregation three years later. The Bishop of Parma appointed him vicar-general of the diocese of Parma in 1895. On 16 May 1902 he went to Rome, called by Pope Leo XIII, who told him he had appointed him Archbishop of Ravenna. In his letter to Cardinal Ferrari Conforti recounts the event and expresses his bewilderment at the appointment. He accepted in obedience to the Pope, in the conviction that he was doing the will of God, but does not fail to make a veiled rebuke to whoever contributed to his appointment. The allusion to Cardinal Ferrari is evident.

The cardinal’s letter of reply shows the  great esteem he nurtured  for Conforti.



Monsignor Conforti to Cardinal Ferrari


Parma, 22 May 1902


Your Eminence,

It is a mind agitated by a thousand emotions and feelings and not without confusion that leads me this time me to write to Your Eminence, from whom I have never been able to hide what concerned me in any way.

Last Wednesday I was called to Rome by an urgent letter, and soon setting off there, I arrived the next day, and presented myself, at about 10 am, to the prelate who to my great surprise invited me to the Vatican for 6 pm on that day to be received in audience by the Holy Father who wished to speak to me.

At the appointed time I was there and I was soon put in the august presence of the Pope together with Monsignor Maffi, the current administrator of Ravenna, also called urgently. My heart was beating fast not knowing how to explain what was happening, but when His Holiness told me that he was appointing me Archbishop of Ravenna, giving me Monsignor Maffi as auxiliary bishop, I felt faint and burst into tears. I begged the Holy Father to spare me such a burden, citing my lack of virtues and knowledge, my inexperience, my poor health, the weakness of my character, the present needs of the Seminary of the Missions founded by me recently, but none of these reasons were accepted. I asked him to exchange the posts by putting Monsignor Maffi in my place, in comparison to whom in all aspects puer sum et nescio loqui, but in vain. I begged him then if it was his will that I should be bishop at least to give me a less illustrious and important diocese than Ravenna and to the latter request he replied, in somewhat stern tones, in these exact words that I shall never forget: “Insist no further and even less get others to insist because then you will force me to an imperious command. The Vicar of Christ must be obeyed promptly. I invited you to come in person to Rome precisely to avoid any delay and so you would hear from the mouth of the Pope himself what he wants from you. So set yourself to do the will of God who will be generous with His grace”.

I came out of the Vatican with soul deeply stirred and a high fever afflicted me all that night. Oh, how unfit I feel for the mission to be entrusted to my weakness! Only the thought of doing the divine will, which I can not doubt since shown me by the Vicar of Christ, brings me some comfort.

Only the hope of finding in the new post, to which I am called by obedience, good souls who will want to help me and know how to sympathize with me, gives me a little courage. Heaven grant that those who have contributed in righteous purpose to my appointment do not have to rue it because of my fault. At the beginning of next month, if I may, I will come there to bother you, having great need to pour out my soul to Your Eminence who has always been generous towards me in benevolence and compassion.



Cardinal Ferrari to Monsignor Conforti


Milan, 22 May 1902


Most Reverend Monsignor,

The obligation of secrecy now done with, very different from the one entrusted to me by Sister Ghezzi, I am sending this sheet, but my words might almost have the air of those of St Bernard (although I am far from holy) when he first wrote to Eugene III, just then elected Pope. In that ancient Father I could in some way find myself, and if things go on like this, the father will become son and the son father.

But let us leave all this, and as I have no time, as you will not have in these days, without further ado, I offer my congratulations, and if you don’t want them, then I offer them to Ravenna, and to you I shall wish all those graces that will be indispensable to you in really being the good Cyrenian. But you can easily imagine how gladly I would see you, but a little it’s that I will not have time, and more than a little it’s really I who non sum dignus. And with solemn and affectionate homage

I am Yours most affectionate in the Lord


+ Andrea C. Card. Archb.



Guido Maria Conforti [© Xaverian Missionaries]

Guido Maria Conforti [© Xaverian Missionaries]

The resignation from Ravenna


Archbishop Conforti found himself running a diocese in which anti-clerical propaganda had distanced the people from the faith, the churches were empty, children were no longer baptized and the dead were not brought into church. In addition, he found his clergy divided into opposing camps. The difficulties and the climate affected his already precarious health. In 1904 the archbishop repeatedly spat blood, enough to make him think of the last stages of tuberculosis. So he decided to submit his resignation to the Pope. He told the Cardinal of his reasons for this serious step and begged his help in gaining the consent of the Holy Father Pius X.



Archbishop Conforti to Cardinal Ferrari


In omnibus Christus!


Parma, 11 September 1904


Most Eminent Prince,

Allow me to open my mind to Your Eminence with the trust that your goodness inspires in me and to implore your backing in a matter of great difficulty, which may perhaps displease you, but which you must recognize as indispensable for me.

Since I have come to Ravenna, my poor health has been almost continuously deteriorating and now I find myself in a far from comforting condition. Last year with the arrival of the summer season, which is very hot and muggy in Ravenna, I was seized by continuous coughing, insomnia and frequent fevers that lasted for more than three months, to the point of causing the doctors a well-founded fear of incipient tuberculosis. I went in August to spend time in Parma and my native climate and assiduous care led to a significant improvement, so I returned to my post and went back to work with reasonable alacrity. But I was not slow to notice a significant worsening and in fact there hasn’t been a month when I haven’t had to stay in bed for several days. The return then of the summer season provoked the usual inconveniences of cough and fever that I managed to bear with certain nonchalance, carrying out my duties as best I could, which has contributed to worsening my health, as evidenced by not infrequently spitting blood, which I always hid from the household so as not to sadden them.

At the end of last July I went to Parma, where I still am, but in very deplorable condition. In early August I spat blood twice, a few days apart, and if at present, as a result of the diligent treatment I have undertaken, I feel much better, I can’t say, however, that I am entirely cured, occasionally spitting blood. I do not conceal from Your Eminence that this set of things pains me a great deal, able to promise myself very little in terms of health, especially when I think that also in the past I always had, from my most tender years, a great tendency to chest ailments.

But it pains me even more to think of not being able to carry out in Ravenna all that hard work and energy that the moral gravity of the local situation would require. That illustrious archdiocese has now fallen low due to the fact that for the last fifty years it has always been ruled by archbishops, commendable certainly for piety and learning, but who came into the post already old and infirm, so they could do little good for it.

The thought that this painful state of things is to be prolonged because of me troubles me deeply and gives me not a moment’s peace. For this reason, and not for the crosses and sorrows inseparable from the episcopal ministry, I came to the unhappy decision to put my resignation into the august hands of the Holy Father, which I did a few weeks ago. I received the answer that His Holiness could not bring himself to accept my resignation and offered me the choice of an auxiliary or coadjutor of my choosing. I replied thanking him for his concern, but at the same time insisting on my resignation, by quietly observing that such a choice would create an abnormal state of affairs, which could last a long time, given my not advanced age, not to mention that the funds, despite being believed ample, did not offer sufficient margin for a fitting stipend for the coadjutor himself. I have not yet received an answer to my reply, and I therefore beg Your Eminence to all the extent I can to use Your good offices with the Holy Father.

It is not empty fear that leads me to the grave step, but the desire for the greater glory of God and the greater good of souls, which would certainly come from my resignation. Ravenna needs a bishop capable of the maximum energy and activity, and I feel physically unequal to the grave task. For my part I only ask to be allowed to retire to the solitude of my Institute for Missions, where I shall spend the rest of my days, that can’t be many, in educating the many young men panting for the peaceful conquests of faith and martyrdom. That is my only aspiration on this earth.

Should the Holy Father assign me some pecuniary provision I shall accept with gratitude for the benefit of the humble Charity, to which I devoted everything I owned. Forgive me this time also if I abuse of Your goodness, which I know is very great, and bless me.



Reply from Cardinal Ferrari



Most illustrious and reverend Excellency,

The Holy Father, though reluctantly, had to recognize the weightiness of the reasons given by Your Excellency in Your request, and is already thinking of a solution for the archdiocese. I added a hint about the provision, and he replied that, as is only fair, he will take it into account. With great sorrow I have performed the service that You asked of me, but along with You I lifted my eyes to Heaven and said: “Fiat voluntas Dei”. I want, however, to hope that Providence has in store for you to do good again and a great deal; and that once you are in blooming health, especially through absolute rest, one may thoroughly wish that Your Excellency will be prodigal in energy and saintly zeal not only to Your seminary, but to the beloved diocese of Parma.

I regret having to pass by way of Genoa, leaving today at 2.40, because I would have liked to pay You a visit in Parma. But may I not see you a little farther ahead in Milan? I’d be very happy and I hope so.

The Holy Father blesses You with all affection, and I, renewing the homage of profound veneration, humbly kiss your hands.

Of Your Most Rev. Em.

Rome, 16 September 1904


Your most humble devoted affectionate

+ Andrea C. Cardinal Ferrari Archb. of Milan



Guido Maria Conforti, Bishop of Parma <BR>[© Xaverian Missionaries]

Guido Maria Conforti, Bishop of Parma
[© Xaverian Missionaries]

The archbishop thanked him and again stated the reasons for his resignation: “The private good must give way to the common good; and I have willingly complied with this to me dutiful sentiment”.



In omnibus Christus!


Parma, 18 September 1904


Most Eminent Prince,

On receipt of your venerated letter, I went to the chapel to thank the Lord for the favor obtained, and now I fulfill the duty of expressing to Your Eminence the feelings of deep gratitude for the good and effective services done me with the Holy Father in getting my wishes heeded.

I feel reborn to a new life, now that I have been freed from that huge cross that was imposed on me two years ago and that I accepted in obedience to the Vicar of Christ. Accustomed to recognizing in human affairs the will of God, who disposes all things for our best, I feel no regret for the painful step I took, faced with no small difficulties that took away my capacity to do all the good that I would have liked. Indeed it seems to me that I performed a sacred duty in working to get sent to Ravenna an archbishop who knows how and can do what I, because of my ill health, could only wish for.

The private good must give way to the common good and I have willingly complied with this to me dutiful sentiment. From now on my thoughts and my efforts will be aimed at educating many dear young men for the Catholic apostolate; an employment in no way unbecoming to the lofty episcopal office with which I was invested against all my merit. Your Eminence, always good, always fatherly to me, help me with Your prayers, so that I may achieve this noble and wholesome purpose and likewise, at least not make me useless to the Church of God in the time, perhaps not long, which still remains for me to live.

I thank Your Eminence also for the beautiful pastoral letter which You sent me in gift and for the kind invitation to come to Milan. My desire to see and pay my respects to Your Eminence is too strong for me not to profit from it in the not too distant future.

I kiss with deep devotion the Sacred Purple and with overflowing gratitude I consign myself to You, Most Eminent Prince.

Your most devoted grateful affectionate Son in Christ


+ Guido M. Archbishop



Thus ended the matter of Ravenna and Monsignor Conforti returned to his Institute in Parma. Having sufficiently recovered his health, he was appointed coadjutor to the bishop of Parma with right of succession by Pope Pius X in 1907. He did in fact succeed in late December of that year and governed the diocese for 24 years until his death. The friendship with Cardinal Ferrari and the exchange of letters went on up to the death of the cardinal in 1921.


Edited by Xaverian Father Augusto Luca

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português