Blessed Juan Nepomuceno, a diocesan priest, in his great zeal for the poor founded the Mercedarian Sisters of Charity. He was destined to share the “cup of suffering” during his life, but recently has been recognized as Blessed.
Blessed John Nepomucene Zegri y Moreno, Founder (1831-1905) Juan Nepomuceno was named, like the pioneering bishop of Philadelphia, John Nepomucene Neumann (1811-60; 5 Jan.), after St John Nepomuk, the fourteenth –century confessor to Queen Sophie of Bohemia, who was drowned on the orders of her dissolute husband, King Wenceslaus IV. Juan was born in Granada in Southern Spain to Antonio Zegri Martin and Josefa Moreno Escuedero, who brought him up to be devout and sensitive to the needs of the poor. He wanted to become a priest in order to serve the poor, and accordingly entered the seminary of San Dionisio in Granada, and was ordained in the cathedral in June 1855. He served in two parishes in Granada, carrying out his duties, as he said in a homily, “like a good shepherd, going after lost sheep; like a doctor, healing sick hearts wounded by faults and binding them with hope; like a father, who visibly provides for all those who, suffering from abandonment, must drink from the bitter chalice and receive nourishment from the bread of tears.”
Juan’s career progressed rapidly in ecclesiastical terms: he was appointed synodal judge in Granada, then canon of Malaga Cathedral, visitor of the religious Orders in the diocese, and spiritual director of the seminarians. He was then summoned to Madrid to become preacher and royal chaplain to Queen Isabel II (1830-1904; queen 1843-68). After she was deposed he returned to Malaga, and in March 1878 he founded the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy, whose purpose was to work for the spiritual and material advancement of the poor. The foundation spread rapidly throughout Spain. Following the general understanding in the Church and the time (determined to distinguish herself from a nascent socialism dedicated to changing the structures of society); Fr Zegri declared that “charity is the only answer to all social problems.” He told his Sisters to “heal wounds, repair evils, comfort sorrows, dry tears; do not, if possible, leave even one person in the world abandoned, afflicted, unprotected, without religious education and assistance.”
This noble goal did not prevent some of the Sisters from accusing him of improper behavior. The case was referred to Rome and no less a weapon than a Pontifical Decree was launched at him, barring him from contact with the Congregation he had founded. This unjust situation lasted six years, until a further Pontifical Decree reinstated him, though in practice he still kept away from his “daughters,” who were not disposed to accept Rome’s second verdict. This state of affairs lasted until he died on 17 March 1905, “like Jesus, alone and abandoned.” Some of the Sisters had kept a true memory of events, but it was not until twenty years after his death that he was again officially recognized as the founder of the Congregation.
He was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II in 2001 and beatified by him on 9 November 2003, with four others, in a ceremony that brought the number of Blessed declared by this Pope to 1,320. In his homily, the Pope called him “an upright priest of deep Eucharistic piety,” made no mention of the rift with his Congregation, and simply said, “Today this Institute, following in the footsteps of its founder, continues its dedication to witness and promote redemptive charity.” Taken from page 85-86 (March 17): Butler’s lives of the saints: Supplement of new saints and blessed By Paul Burns, Alban Butler