Vicenza, Venice and Padova
SAN GAETANO
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Vicenza, Venice and Padova
Don Gaetano's mother, being sick, asked her priest son to visit her. He had not been there for a visit for the previous thirteen years. We know that during his student years in Padova, he had visited only once, and that time for only three days. During his second return to Vicenza, Don Gaetano assisted his sick mother until she died in his arms in September 1520. After some shedding of tears, he had some important duties to attend to. His brother Gianbattista had passed away and that made Gaetano the sole surviving member of the family with a thousand things to settle. It took awhile but in the end he cleared everything up by paying all outstanding family debts and securing a dowry for his young niece. He gave what was left to the cousins. For himself he kept some small tracts of land and we will even see how he disposed of these!

Until things got done, which time it took three years, Don Gaetano did not live in Thiene palace but in a room at the hospital where he was close to the sick and where he could readily immerse himself in their physical and spiritual welfare. There was in Vicenza an association similar to the 'Divino Amore' which took care of the sick both in hospital and at home and as soon as he discovered its existence, Don Gaetano became a member and donated the pieces of land of his inheritance mentioned earlier, to the group. The members appreciated these concrete gifts, but being lay people they appreciated more the religious instruction and the great example of dedication that Gaetano showed. The charity of Don Gaetano during this period is testified by a declaration made by the leader of the group:

"... he did not want to stop giving away his belongings to the needy until he ended up in such poverty that he did not have any land left even just enough for his burial or even a penny to pay for his funeral".

His stay in Vicenza was interrupted by a few months' sojurn at Verona where the company of San Siro could be found. This group was on the lines of 'Divino Amore', but here the members were important figures of the Veronese society and some of them were priests. Even so they welcomed Don Gaetano's experience and humility, and his sincere spontaneous nature opened all doors. He signed the act of admission to the San Siro group thus: "Gaetano Thiene, lowly priest accepted as the least brother of these saintly companions". He was particularly keen that the Veronese build a hospital for incurables, in fact when the time came for him to return to Vicenza, the hospital was a reality.

But he was destined never to stay in one place for too long. Invitations started to come in from Venice where the inhabitants had heard about his virtues and organizational skills in Verona and Vicenza. At first he felt he was incompetent to work in a cosmopolitan environment such as Venice, but in March 1521 someone told him: "Christ waits and no one is moving", and he overcame his doubts and fears and set out for Venice. There Don Gaetano stayed two years, enough though to give life to two institutions, one of 'Divino Amore' and a hospital for incurables, deemed by the government of Venice to be of national interest. The hospital was so appreciated that those of the nobility were trying to outdo each other in their help.

But he was shunned by those who knew him, who thought his action was a reflection on his family. Permission was granted to the hospital administration to issue an order for all incurably sick or at least gravely ill, to enter the hospital. The problem was that since many sick were incredulous, Don Gaetano had to go through the city streets and hovels spotting them, and after that fervently imploring them and inspiring trust in them to follow him to the hospital. He himself did not have a specific task because actually he was the director, but he behaved more like a nurse! He was so happy that the sick were being treated like real people who had proper names and were being made to feel important to society. In 1522, from Venice, he wrote to Bartolomeo Sciani, a friend of his, about his experience of the Church in Rome: ".. so beautiful in itself but a prostitute in its ministers".

Padova too was blessed with a hospital for incurables. Since the Venice hospital was still in its early stages regarding organization, Don Gaetano had to stay awhile longer, but he soon sent one of his close assistants Girolamo da Solana, a Spaniard, to Padova where he was able to start both a hospital and also open a branch of 'Divino Amore'. Coordinating the wills, actions and even financial commitment of so many generous persons, Don Gaetano succeeded in giving four cities hospitals for the incurably sick.

Vicenza, Venice and Padova were not enough for Don Gaetano. From Rome came the news that a new spiritual awakening had started. Adrian VI the new Pope was not Italian, but known for his simple life and rigid customs, he made it clear that reform and changes in the church were in dire need. The pomp of court; the magnificence of churches; feasts whose secular elements eclipsed the spiritual; music and poems composed in honor of a triumphant church and the actual charity that flowed from the pockets of popes and prelates, were all elements which without doubt pleased the people and helped to make them come to church. But their worth in building the religious sentiment and the faith of the same population was in great doubt. With Adrian VI everything started to change and one of the first actions of his reign was to fill each position of benefice with a priest for the religious instruction of the people, not vice versa, that is giving a benefice to each priest. This was a pope ready to implement radical changes, but sadly he passed away too soon. In fact, only a few understood him and instead of crying his demise, the population broke out in a manifestation of joy and abandon at his death. This showed that the flock had been led with too much tolerance for too long.

At the end of 1523, Gaetano took his pilgrim's cane and set out of Venice in the direction of Rome. As soon as he arrived there after the arduous journey on foot, he embraced his 'Divino Amore' brothers who in the meantime had increased in numbers. Among the new entries Don Gaetano cherished and esteemed the young priest Bonifacio de Colli, doctor at law and of exemplary character.