Saint Anthony of Sant’Ana Galvão: the Brazilian Saint

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saint frei galvao

Born in the Land of the Holy Cross, Friar Antonio de Sant’Ana Galvão, a soul as pure as crystal, radiated throughout his life the sweet “odor of Christ” in a troubled period for the Church in Brazil, but in which a population eager for holiness knew to see in him the good shepherd that Heaven had sent.

Newsroom (26 October 2021, 09:40 PM, Gaudium Press) Born into a large and exemplary Catholic family, he stood out as the favorite son. His noble background gave him a generous heart, and he delighted in giving alms to those who knocked at his door.

It is told of his childhood that one day when he was alone at home, a poor lady came to ask for help. Not having anything to give her, he didn’t think twice: he had a very rich sieve towel laid out on the table and gave it to the woman.

Times had changed, and the lady realized that this valuable piece had not ended up in her hands with the boy’s mother’s consent. She went back to the house and wanted to return it, but Dona Isabel – the mother of little Antonio – only comforted her: “My son gave it to you, it is well given.” This unique gift, Friar Galvão kept throughout his long existence.

A Priest Turned to Souls

When he left for Bahia to begin his academic formation at the Jesuit College, the young Antonio did not imagine that his priestly vocation would become manifest there.

However, the winds were not favorable for the Jesuits and young Antonio could do much more for the glory of God by enjoying the freedom of the Franciscans. He was ordained a priest in 1762 when he was 24 years old.

Upon his return to São Paulo, he entered the historic Convent of São Francisco, which in those years enjoyed its maximum splendor. It is there, today, that the equally historic USP Law School is located, which since 1827 has produced great personalities for Brazil.

It was from his work as a priest and his direct contact with souls that everyone began to realize the treasure they possessed: the humble friar cured the sick, penetrated the depths of consciences, bilocated, worked conversions, etc.

It once happened that Friar Galvão left very early for the home of a wealthy family. While knocking at the door, a passerby saw him and thought to himself, “So early and already Friar Galvão flattering the rich…” As he approached, the saint called him over and said, “My brother, don’t make a rash judgment of your neighbor! I did not come here to flatter the owner of this house, but to ask for alms for the Recolhimento de Nossa Senhora da Conceição”. Astonished, the man could no longer doubt that this was indeed a man of God!

Fame of Sanctity

He quotes a contemporary record of the saint, from the São Paulo Chamber, in which it says: “This man is most precious to this entire city and town of the Captaincy of São Paulo. He is a very religious man and of prudent counsel. Everyone comes to make requests of him. He is a man of peace and charity”.

That the whole city thought this way was proven by the following case: because Friar Galvão opposed, together with a Benedictine monk, the foolish death of a soldier, the governor decided to exile them to Rio de Janeiro. The Benedictine monk said he was not going, but Frei Galvão just said, “I am a Franciscan, I am a son of obedience…” He took a few clothes and left.

When the people found out, they armed themselves with sticks, staves, hoes, and other farming tools and surrounded the governor’s house. Frightened, the governor immediately sent messengers to track down the friar, who was already far away. And he returned, to everyone’s delight!

The Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Luz

But if we want to mention the greatest work of his life, which would mark forever the great city of São Paulo, we should talk about the Monastery of Nossa Senhora da Luz. Frei Galvão linked his existence to the new monastery in such a way that we cannot mention this institution without his name coming immediately to our memory, just as we cannot refer to the religious saint without remembering this convent.

Friar Galvão received, at the beginning of his priestly duties, three charges: preacher of the Franciscan order, porter – which made him very well known – and confessor of the Recolhimento de Santa Teresa, where some nuns lived. It was the only religious establishment then existing in São Paulo. It was called “Recolhimento” because in those times of religious persecution the term “monastery” was unwise in the eyes of the governor.

In this simple community that Friar Galvão began to direct, there lived a chosen soul: Sister Helena Maria do Sacramento. It was revealed to this devoted nun that it was God’s wish that Friar Antônio de Sant’Ana Galvão founded a new convent in the city of São Paulo. A dangerous and delicate affair!

For one thing, there was a formal prohibition on the part of the Marquis of Pombal to receive novices into any institution, under penalty of death; and for another, the nature of that revelation would be put to the test by many. The Saint himself reflected at length, consulted the canonists, and, above all, analyzed that soul. His conclusion was: “it is indeed an inspired desire, let us found the new convent”.

The Campo da Luz was chosen, where there was already an old chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Light, in a totally uninhabited area not far from the Anhembi River. From there began an ordeal of hardships and trials that, for the saint, translated into visible proof that this was God’s plan. The small community that lived there in temporary facilities suffered everything: the order to close the Recolhimento, hunger and misery that almost led to their death, deprivation of the assistance of Friar Galvão until the storm passed…

But the Lord wanted to “build the house on the rock” and, at the root of this heroic foundation, the suffering of all was necessary.

Finally, after obtaining the necessary permits, Friar Galvão began the construction of the beautiful monastery that remains in its general outline as we see it today.

The son of the Captain-Major of Guaratinguetá became a beggar for God’s work. He raised funds and workers for the construction, made long and arduous trips – always on foot – publicizing and mobilizing the population to contribute to such a noble cause. The donations came in, but they were not enough… In a word, he himself was the cornerstone of this house of the Blessed Mary and of her Divine Son, and he even worked personally in that difficult job.

But… what consolation! From his suffering, innumerable vocations sprang up, which were not long in coming, and the Monastery of Our Lady of Light soon became known as “a hotbed of saints”, formed in the luminous ways indicated by its founder. How many graces for the salvation of souls have not been obtained through the sacrifices offered by these consecrated virgins?

The “Pills” of Friar Galvão

Among the many graces received through the intercession of Friar Galvão, the miraculous pills stand out because of their simplicity and the wonderful trust in the Mother of God they contain.

This custom, so characteristic of our Saint – uninterruptedly followed by thousands of faithful since he was alive until today – proves, by the graces and portentous deeds it works, not to be a mere popular belief.

The story goes that one day a young man in great pain, unable to expel some kidney stones, was presented to Friar Galvão. The religious saint, moved by compassion, after praying had a sudden inspiration. He wrote on three pieces of paper the following phrase from the office of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “Post partum Virgo inviolata permansisti: Dei Genitrix intercede pro nobis”.

He rolled up the little pieces of paper into a pill shape and gave them to the young man to take as medicine. Soon after, the young man expelled a large stone and was cured.

Later, a man in distress came to Friar Galvão, saying that his wife, who was about to give birth, was very ill. Again he remembered the verse from Our Lady’s office; he wrote it down, rolled it up, and sent the pills to his wife. After taking them, she gave birth without any problems.

These and other facts spread rapidly and requests for the famous little papers, or pills, became very frequent. Friar Galvão taught the sisters of the Recolhimento to make pills, so that, even in his absence, they could give them to people who came to ask at the Convent’s entrance.

In the beginning, the pills were mostly sought by women in labor. With time, however, they began to be used by those suffering from various illnesses, especially kidney problems, stones, or stones in the kidneys. And even for the conversion of sinners.

Nowadays they are requested by men, women, and young people who, in illnesses – especially cancer – or in difficulties of all kinds, invoke the intercession of the servant of God and take them with faith.

He always had his soul in his hands

Death caught Friar Galvão in the same serenity that he had preserved during his life, and his last days were a faithful expression of the very high degree of sanctity that he had attained. He delivered his soul to God on December 23, 1822, when he was 84 years old, in a poor cell behind the chapel of the monastery he had built.

If we want to define the life of this perfect son of Saint Francis, we will find no better words than those that appear on his epitaph in the Monastery of Our Lady of Light: “Animam suam in manibus suis semper tenens”. He always had his soul in his hands.

It is precisely in docility to the will of Providence to the detriment of his own that the holiness of Friar Galvão shone: flexible to the breath of the Holy Spirit, he completely forgot himself and buried his deliberations in the Heart of the Divine Master.

Text extracted, with modifications, from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 65, May 2007.  Sr Carmela Werner Ferreira, EP.

Compiled by Sarah Gangl

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