SAN GAETANO
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Early life.
The future pillar of faith Gaetano was born of a noble family in October of 1480 at Thiene, near Vicenza in Northern Italy. This city owed its allegiance to Venice and was a centre for textiles. His father was Count Caspare Thiene and his mother Maria Porto. Those days, last names were usually the same names where the family was originally established, and so with the surname Thiene, Gaetano's last name. Some historians indicate that he was born in a house close to the 'Furo' bridge, others say that it took place closer to the 'Pusterla' bridge, the latter being less probable even though on the facade of the 'Roi' Palace in the area there is an inscription dating from the year 1800 stating that 'within these walls was born Gaetano Thiene - a great person and a great Saint, Hosanna in heaven and on earth'. Most probably his birth took place in a palace in Corso Palladio, nowadays called 'Sindacaria di San Marcello', and this theory is backed by recent studies. He was the second son born after John Baptist and Alexander. Even before his birth he was dedicated by his mother to the Virgin Mother of God. Because of this and because of the pious life he lived from an early age, he was called Gaetano of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Born twelve years before the discovery of America and three years before Martin Luther, he was named after his maternal great-uncle, who was a Canon and professor at the University of Padova and considered to be a leading theologian of his time. His uncle had died in 1465, fifteen years before Gaetano's birth. This name was derived from the place of origin, Gaeta. Several prelates and cardinals, as well as governors of Milan and Naples, were in the same family line. Gaetano was two years old when he lost his father during a war near Velletri, not in action but probably of malaria, after the victory of the Papal troops on the 21st August 1482. This resulted in three orphans who luckily had a mother of strong character who could raise them by herself. The family judge recognized her integrity and prudence and awarded her the custody of the three children. Soon the youngest, still an infant, would pass away.

From his childhood under the eyes of his devout mother who was a Dominican tertiary, Gaetano showed such wonderful innocence that all who knew him called him 'The Saint'. Even from an early age he was pious and liked solitude, so he used to visit the nearby Churches. He was remarkable in his obedience, his temperance and his charity towards the poor very early, and one could see the mercy which the child had towards others and which he carried into his youth. His generosity towards the poor was out of the ordinary and there was no need for the deprived to ask because he gave them all he had, and when that was gone, he used to solicit alms from family and friends to give to the poor.

His behaviour at home was exemplary, the only excess being that of his charity where he was admonished more than once to be more reasonable. His answer used to be that people of the nobility like himself had the duty not to forget Christ's humiliation on Calvary. He was also frequenting the church of Santa Corona (which is still standing nowadays). He grew up with his maternal cousin of the same age Luigi da Porto. It was this cousin of his that later on in life wrote the novel 'Romeo and Juliet' which inspired William Shakespeare. We do not know too many details about his childhood, but we can be sure that his studies were at home under the supervision of tutors as was the custom of the nobility in those days.

He first entered the local Thiene Lyceum where he studied Human sciences and Rhetoric. Later, at the end of his studies in Vicenza, he was obliged to continue his higher education at Padova university, the best one in Italy. This was the tradition among those of this class and of his family, but of course we must also consider that his great uncle whose name was given him, had been professor there. In the University of Padova the pious youth found the liberal environment quite different from the sheltered family environment of Vicenza. The young people here found themselves free from family control and usually lapsed in their faith, but our young Saint, while studying even harder than he did in Vicenza, reinforced his religious life with prayer and mortification and intensified his quest for charity.

He started to visit the poorest of the sick in hospital bringing them gifts and doing the meanest of jobs that the nurses hated to do. For Gaetano, with Mass every morning, university lectures throughout the day, extra study and long visits to the hospital, twenty four hours a day weren't enough. Even so he sometimes found time to visit monks in their convent and converse, pray and make penitence with them. It is said that during his youth he used to play a particular game with anyone: he used to bet people he would complete a service promised them, but he did not bet for money but for recitations of the rosary and other prayers. He always seemed to deliver!

It was the intensification of his religious life during his university years that set his mind on becoming a priest. Truly this was his inner longing even before when he was still at his parents' palace and this attitude of his had never gone unnoticed by family members, friends and strangers alike. Padova therefore served as a fertile ground for encouraging his grand plan for living a saintly life through the priesthood. This comes out in one of his entries in the intimate diary he kept as a university student: 'I know too well, o Lord, that I am not worthy to be admitted among the consortium of these earthly angels (his way of viewing the ministry), I wish even so to merit it. You can see my burning desire to bind myself to you forever with priestly promises. Why therefore do you not console me, my dearest goodness? Anyway, my desire is not to want my way but your way. Accept at least these my heart's desires which in front of you become so real even when they cannot become a reality for me.'

The difference between Gaetano and other good people of this world, is that words like these said in the fervor of youth usually become diluted with the passage of time. Not so with Gaetano whose promises and vows made in youth were kept in adulthood. Because of this, he would become a rock of faith during the upheavals which were imminent inside the church... others would cling to this rock during the upcoming storms.

The stay in Padova had another effect on the young Gaetano; he was separated from his family not as regards loving care but because of his interests. At Vicenza the Thiene family had a palace where everything was carried out according to the social status of the nobility. Gaetano did not want to return to all that for too long but was obliged nonetheless to make contact with his mother and brother for a few days. So, with the hospital and the poor of Padova deep in his heart, he had to take this break at the end of his studies at the University. He had finished with a double honours degree of Doctor of Civil and of Canon law 'utriusque juris' on the 17th July 1504 at the early age of twenty four. The 'crown of laurel' was conferred upon him, the dream of every graduate those days. As soon as he graduated, Gaetano went to Rampazzo, where his family had some property. He chose the family residence at Rampazzo which, even though it was a castle, was more humble than their Vicenza mansion.

Here he came for a rest from his studies, a short vacation, but to his dismay, the twenty-four year old university graduate found that the people of Rampazzo, mostly farmers, were very deficient in religious instruction. They had the chapel of San Fermo but the pastor lived far from the town and rarely appeared to do his priestly duties. Gaetano set out at once to help the good people and organize some catechism for them. The fruit which grew from his efforts would have been more ample had they possessed a larger premises than the little chapel. Gaetano, coming from a rich family, was in possession of some income, but not enough. As was the custom those days, the firstborn inherited the largest amount. The eldest came to know about his younger brother's intention of building a church in Rampazzo, approved of the plan, and was very generous in his donation. In this manner, the church dedicated to Mary Magdalen was built. It was enlarged in later centuries and is still standing. It is now the Parish Church of Rampazzo.