RMG – Rediscovering the Sons of Don Bosco who became cardinals: Alfons Maria Stickler (1910-2007)

15 September 2023

(ANS – Rome) – From the heart of Europe to the centre of the Church: this was the path taken by Alfons Maria Stickler, the fifth Salesian of Don Bosco, in chronological order, to be appointed and created cardinal. Unlike the other profiles examined previously, he expressed his episcopal and cardinal service not so much in pastoral activity, but in discreet but very effective work within the Roman Curia and academic circles – always manifesting the simplicity and humility so dear to Don Bosco.

Alfons Maria Stickler was born in Neunkirchen, Austria, on 23 August 1910, the second of twelve children. He attended elementary schools in his hometown and the classical high school in Vienna, a student of the local Salesian College, when the future Cardinal Hlond was about to conclude his governance of the German-Hungarian Province of the Salesians of Don Bosco.

Entering the novitiate of the Salesian Congregation in Germany, he made his first religious profession on 15 August 1928. After completing his philosophical studies in Germany and Austria, and following practical training, he completed his theological studies in Germany, in Benediktbeuern, and later in Turin and Rome where on 27 March 1937, he was ordained priest in the Basilica of St John Lateran.

After following the courses of Canon and Civil Law at the Pontifical Lateran University from 1936, he graduated in 1940, immediately obtaining the appointment of professor at the Salesian University in the Faculty of Canon Law. Displaced with the entire Salesian University to Cuneo during the Second World War, he saved several lives by mediating the release of prisoners with the German occupying authorities, and in those places his memory remained alive with gratitude.

After the war, he taught Canon Law first in Turin and then in Rome where, the Salesian University had moved in 1957. He was Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law from 1953 to 1958, then Rector Magnificus from 1958 to 1966, and Dean of the new "Institutum Altioris Latinitas" from 1965 to 1968.

On 25 March 1971 he was appointed by the Pope as Prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library. In this capacity, he promoted the construction of the large underground warehouse for the optimal conservation of all the Library codices, and other extensions to make it easier for scholars to consult. All this was achieved thanks to a daring cultural and publishing operation promoted by the Prefect himself in collaboration with the Belser international publishing house, consisting of the publication of many valuable codices in perfect facsimile.

His activity as a scholar, author of many volumes and essays on the History of Canon Law, was considerable. The result of this intense scholarly activity were many volumes and essays on the History of Canon Law. He was curator and editor of "Studia Gratiana" and co-editor of "Studi Gregoriani". A Peritus /expert) for three Commissions during the Second Vatican Council, Consultant to Roman Congregations and a member for the new Code of Canon Law since the beginning of this Commission, member of the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences, of the board of directors of the Institute for the Medieval History of Canon Law in Berkeley California, he was also one of the three Vice-Presidents of the Bureau of the International Association of the History of Law and Institutions.

On 8 September 1983 he was appointed Pro-Librarian of the Holy Roman Church and, at the same time, titular Archbishop of Bolsena. John Paul II personally conferred episcopal ordination on him the following 1 November, also calling him to be a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of the Code of Canon Law.

On 7 July 1984 he also became Pro-Archivist of the Holy Roman Church, becoming Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church in May 1985.

Despite his very high intellectual and academic profile, he always remained humble and, as a true Son of Don Bosco, a lover of simplicity: he used to move around Rome alone, using public transport, and when he was not needed for various ceremonies, he wore a simple clerical suit without any other distinguishing sign of his roles.

He was created Cardinal by Benedict XVI in the Consistory of 25 May 1985 – together with his confreres Cardianls Rosalio José Castillo Lara and Miguel Obando Bravo.

He died in Rome at the age of 97 on 12 December 2007. On the occasion of his funeral, celebrated by Pope John Paul II in the Vatican Basilica, the Pontiff outlined the figure by recalling that "He knew well that to love Christ is to love his Church, which is always holy, despite weakness"; and he concluded by quoting the spiritual testament of the Austrian cardinal: "I believe, I hope, I love; forgive my weakness in faith, hope and charity and lead me, my God, into the Kingdom of your love."



ANS - “Agenzia iNfo Salesiana” is a on-line almost daily publication, the communication agency of the Salesian Congregation enrolled in the Press Register of the Tibunal of Rome as n 153/2007.

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