Somaschians, the Order of
Somaschians, The Order Of.
The Somaschians are a religious order in the Church of Rome, and their congregations rank with the most important institutions called into being by the effort to retard the progress of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The name is derived from the solitary hamlet of Somascho, between Milan and Bergamo, where Girolamo Miani (Hieronymus Aemilianus), the founder, undertook the definitive organization of the order and wrote its first rule. Miani was a noble Venetian who served with distinction against Charles VIII and Louis XII, and who was given over to frivolity and worldliness until the capitulation of Castelnuovo, near Treviso, where he commanded, made him the prisoner of the Germans under Maximilian I (1508). He was thrown into a dark dungeon and there abjured his sins, and vowed a thorough reformation, of life to God if he should once more become free. It is related that his prayers were heard, and that the Blessed Virgin caused his shackles to fall from his limbs and led him through the midst of the guard to freedom. He now renounced the dignity of podesta of Castelnuovo, given him in recognition of his bravery, and accepted an inferior position in Venice itself, where he displayed great benevolence in caring for the poor and the sick, especially during a famine and pestilence in 1528. Eventually, he devoted himself chiefly to the care of poor orphan children and fallen women. He founded an orphan asylum in connection with the Church of St. Roch in Venice, in 1528, and afterwards others in Verona, Bergamo, and Brescia. In 1532 he established a magdalen asylum in Venice; and finally he united with a number of like minded clergymen in founding a congregation for the care and administering of the institutions he had established, and for the training of young persons to succeed in that work. Pope Clement VII highly approved of this benevolent order, and favored it. Its seat was fixed at Somascho, though other houses were subsequently established at Pavia and Milan. Miani died Feb. 8, 1537. He was succeeded by Angelus Marcus Gambarana, under whose administrationt the community was solemnly constituted an order of regular clergy under the rule of St. Augustine, and denominated Clerici Regulares S. Majoli Papioe Corigregationis Somaschae, from a church in Pavia presented to them by archbishop Charles Borromeo of Milan. The order was afterwards temporarily united with the Theatines (1546-55), and with the Fathers of Christian Doctrine in France (1616-47), and increased largely in numbers and influence, so that in 1661 Alexander VII approved its division into three provinces — Lombard, Venetian, and Roman. It sustained numerous colleges, and was earnestly devoted to the instruction of the young. A French province was subsequently added.
The constitutions of the order are based on the ideas of its founder as collected by the procurator-general, Ant. Palinus, and approved by pope Urban VIII, and they have continued without essential change until now. They prescribe simple and poor clothing, in all respects like that of the regular clergy, simple food, frequent prayers by day and night, fastings, bodily mortifications, manual labor, care of the sick and of orphans, and the instruction of the young. They may be seen in Holstenius, Cod. Reg. Mon, 3, 199-292; comp. also the Bollandists Vita Hieronynmi, Aemiliana,
February, vol. 2; Helyot, Gesch. d. Klosteru. Ritterorden, 4, 263 sq.; Fehr, Gesch. d. Monchsorden, 2, 41 sq.,