Charles Borromeo

1538-1584. Archbishop of Milan. Of noble birth, he received his first benefice at twelve. He studied civil and canon law under Alciati, but when his uncle became Pius IV, Borromeo was called to Rome and appointed archbishop of Milan, cardinal secretary of state, protector of the Low Countries, Portugal, the Swiss Catholic cantons, and several religious orders. His humanist ideals were decisively channeled in the direction of reform by the death of his elder brother (1562) and his ordination to the priesthood (1563), which combined to inspire him to a more austere life. Besides playing an important role in the final session at Trent, he helped reform the College of Cardinals and was a reviser of the Missal and Breviary. His notable achievement was diocesan reform, and he has continued to be regarded as a model bishop, some of whose works were reprinted during Vatican II. Borromeo called his first provincial council in 1565, but was not permitted by the pope to take up residence in his see until 1566.

Skillful use of provincial and diocesan synods created a constitutional framework for reform and discipline. Careful attention was given to education of the clergy, and Borromeo founded six seminaries. Monasteries were reformed and clergy encouraged to join the Oblates of St. Ambrose (1578) in order to raise standards of pastoral care. Corrupt clergy and religious were disciplined, and feeling ran so high that an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made in 1569. Borromeo also had to contend with opposition from the Spanish governors of the city. Nevertheless he pressed on with the work of reform and education, made extensive use of the Jesuits, and founded a Confraternity of Christian Doctrine to help with the instruction of the young. Orphanages, refuges for deserted wives, and montes pietatis were founded through his pastoral zeal; his own work during the plague of 1576, when the civic officials had all fled, showed that he was himself a selfless pastor of the highest order. He continued to play an important role in Rome, advised neighboring dioceses, pursued heretics, consolidated the Catholic reformation in Switzerland, and personally visited neglected and remote Alpine valleys. Canonized in 1610, he was one of the greatest Catholic reformers.

G.A. Sassi, Opere (5 vols., 1747); A. Ratti (ed.), Acta ecclesiae Mediolanensis (1890- 92); S. Caroli, Borromaei, Orationes XII (1963); A. Sala, Biografia di S. Carlo Borromeo (3 vols., 1857-61); T. Schwegler, Geschichte der katholische Kirche in der Schweiz (1935); M. Yeo, A prince of pastors (1938); A. Deroo, Saint Charles Borromée (1963); P. Brodi, “Charles Borromée archevêque de Milan et la Papaute,” Rev. Hist. Eccl. 62: 2 pp. 379-411 (1967).