Saint Alphonsus Liguori (27 September 1696 – 1 August 1787) was an Italian Doctor of the Catholic Church, spiritual writer, and founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer or Redemptorists, an influential religious order.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori was born in Marianella, in the Kingdom of Naples. He was the first born of seven belonging to the Neapolitan nobility. Two days after he was born he was baptized at the Church of Our Lady the Virgin. Since the school systems were different back then and because he was an intelligent boy, Liguori finished school and went to law school at age sixteen. Eleven years later, after having lost an important case, he decided to give up his career because of the corruption in the courts of Naples.
In 1723, after a long process of discernment, he abandoned his legal career and, despite his father's strong opposition, began his seminary studies in preparation for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest on 21 December 1726, at the age of 30. He lived his first years as a priest with the homeless and marginalized youth of Naples. He founded the "Evening Chapels". Run by the young people themselves, these chapels were centers of prayer, community, the Word of God, social activities and education. At the time of his death, there were 72 of these chapels with over 10,000 active participants.
In 1729 Alphonsus left his family home and took up residence in the Chinese College in Naples. It was there that he began his missionary experience in the interior regions of the Kingdom of Naples where he found people who were much poorer and more abandoned than any of the street children in Naples.
On 9 November 1732 Alphonsus founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, also known as Redemptorists. This order's goal was to teach and preach in the slums of cities and other poor places. They also fought Jansenism which was a heresy that denied humans free will and didn't allow many Catholics to reicieve the Eucharist. He gave himself entirely to this new mission. A companion order of nuns was founded simultaneously by Sister Maria Celeste.
Alphonsus was consecrated bishop of the diocese of Sant'Agata dei Goti in 1762. He tried to refuse the appointment because he felt too old and too sick to properly care for the diocese. During this time he wrote sermons, books, and articles to encourage the devotion of the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1775 he was allowed to retire from his office and went to live in the Redemptorist community in Pagani, Italy where he died on 1 August 1787. He was canonized in 1831 by Pope Gregory XVI, proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1871 by Pope Pius IX, and Patron of Confessors and Moralists in 1950
Alphonsus was a lover of beauty and art, being a musician, painter, poet and author at the same time. He put all his artistic and literary creativity at the service of the Christian mission and he asked the same of those who joined his Congregation. Hagiography says that, in his lay days, he liked to go to the local theater, which at the time had a very bad reputation; after being ordained, each time he attended the recitals Alphonsus simply took his optic glasses off and sat in the last row, listening to the music and not paying attention to other distractions.
Alphonsus wrote 111 works on spirituality and theology. The 21,500 editions and the translations into 72 languages that his works have undergone attest to the fact that he is one of the most widely read Catholic authors. Among his best known works are: The Great Means of Prayer, The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, The Glories of Mary and The Visits to the Most Holy Sacrament. Prayer, love, his relationship with Christ and his first-hand experience of the pastoral needs of the faithful made Alphonsus one of the great masters of the interior life.
His best known musical work is his Christmas hymn Quanno Nascetti Ninno, later translated into Italian by Pope Pius IX as the well known carol Tu scendi dalle stelle (From starry skies Thou comest).
Alphonsus' greatest contribution to the Church was in the area of moral theological reflection with his Moral Theology. This work was born of Alphonsus' pastoral experience, his ability to respond to the practical questions posed by the faithful and from his contact with their everyday problems. He opposed the sterile legalism which was suffocating theology and he rejected the strict rigorism of the time, the product of the powerful theological and ecclesiastical elite. According to Alphonsus, those were paths that were closed to the Gospel because "such rigor has never been taught nor practiced by the Church". He knew how to put theological reflection at the service of the greatness and dignity of the person, of a moral conscience, and of evangelical mercy.