Father James Cusmano

James Cusmano was born in Palermo (Sicily – Italy) on 15th March 1834. His parents were James and Magdalena Patti; he has the fourth of five children: Vincenzina, Peter, Joseph and Josephine.

His mother died because of a cholera epidemic when he was three years old. His elder sister, Vincenzina, raised her brothers and sister as if she were a mother; she educated her children instilling into them the principles of Christian virtues.

Since his childhood James showed his care and attention for the poor and needy, he was also fascinated by the missionary ideal which is exemplified in these facts. His parents used to keep the pantry locked because little James gave everything he found at home to the poor who knocked at his door. His generosity was shown one day when he offered his shirt to protect a poor man from the cold, another day he threw his shoes from his balcony to a poor boy who was barefoot.

Between 1841-1851 James studied at the Jesuites’ "Collegio Massimo" in Palermo; it was here that the missionary fervour attracted him. He used to read, with great interest, the magazines of the missionaries who worked in the Rocky Mountains of North America, he wanted to join the group. There is a curious event of his life that shows his great missionary fervour. The Father Superior of the Jesuits had visited Palermo in 1850. When the Father returned to Napoli James devised a plan to leave with him in order to become a missionary but James’s brother, Peter, discovered the plan before the ship sailed, he rushed to the port and took James home.

In 1851 he attended the "Royal University of Palermo" where he got a first-class degree in Medicine and Surgery in 1855. He practiced for four years, as a doctor, in Palermo and San Giuseppe Jato where his family owned a vast estate that he ran.

He never wanted to be paid by the poor who needed treatment but had no money. In spite of his great activity as a doctor he felt that it was not enough to cure and heal the bodies, it was necessary for him to do much more. One day he confessed his sister Vincenzina that he wanted to become a Franciscan Friar in order to help the needy in a more tangible way.

So he asked the help of Monsignor Domenico Turano, a deeply religious priest, well known in town, who advised James to enter the Church. After one year of intensive studies James was ordained priest of Palermo diocese, on 22nd December 1860.

He was the priest of the Church "Santi Quaranta Martiri", in the area of Albergheria in Palermo. This place became the heart of Christian charity attended by thousands of poor people, a consequence of the troubles that Sicily and Italy was suffering in this period. Slowly but progressively Fr. Cusmano was surrounded and helped by collaborators attracted by his great fervour and exemplary life.

One night he was having dinner at Michele De Franchis’ home, one of his best friends. He was attracted by the fact that the guests, before eating, took some food from their dish and put it in a plate, in the middle of the table. This food was later served to the poor who knocked at the door. So Fr. Cusmano had a great idea. He thought: «How many poor could be helped if many people behaved like this?» He associated the morsel to the Holy Communion that unites in Christ the Poor and the rich.

From this idea he founded the "Morsel of the Poor" in 1867. Pope Pius IX, on 24th July 1868, approved the Association that Fr. Cusmano led and reinvigorated for ten years. But many were the difficulties he had to face because the poor to help were getting more and more numerous, so he thought to give the direction of the institution to a similar religious congregation; infact he was convinced that his wearisome experience was only due to his pride and wasn’t God’s will. While he was looking for a solution to his problems he had a dream, (it was July 1878) the Virgin Mary encouraged him to continue his activity, assuring him that it was welcomed by God.

To give continuity to the "Morsel of the Poor" he organized his sisters collaborators in a religious community called "Nuns Servants of the Poor". This institution was founded on 23rd May 1880, Feast of the Holy Trinity. Fr. James blessed the habits and gave it to the first six sisters. On 4th October 1884, Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, he established the religious institution of the "Lay Brothers Servants of the Poor" and in 1887, 21st November, Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to the Temple, he set up the "Missionary Servants of the Poor".

He died on 14th March 1888, because of a pleurisy, at 54 years old.

On 30th October 1983 he was declared Blessed by Pope John Paul II.