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St. Bernard Tolomeo

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Founder of the congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto, born at Siena in Tuscany in 1272; died in 1348. He received at baptism the name of Giovanni, but took that of Bernard out of admiration for the saintly Abbot of Clairvaux. He was educated by his uncle, Christopher Tolorneo, a Dominican, and desired to enter the religious life, but his father's opposition prevented, and he continued his studies in secular surroundings. After a course in philosophy arid mathematics lie devoted himself to the study of civil and canon law, and of theology. For a time Bernard served in the armies of Rudolph of Hapsburg. After his return to Siena he was appointed by his fellow citizens to the highest positions in the town government. While thus occupied he was struck with blindness. Having recovered his sight through the intervention of the Blessed Virgin he retired (1313) to a solitary spot about ten miles from Siena, where he led a life of the greatest austerity.

The fame of his virtues soon attracted many visitors, and Bernard was accused of heresy. He went to Avignon and cleared himself of this charge before John XXII without difficulty. Upon his return he founded the congregation of the Blessed Virgin of Monte Oliveto, giving it the Rule of St. Benedict. The purpose of the new religious institute was a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Guido, Bishop of Arezzo, within whose diocese the congregation was formed, confirmed its constitution, (1319), and many favours were granted by Popes John XXII, Clement VI (1344), and Gregory XI. Upon the appearance of the pest in the district of Arezzo, Bernard and his monks devoted themselves to the care of the sick without any personal ill effects After having ruled the religious body he had founded for twenty-seven years Bernard died, at the age of seventy-six. His death was followed by many miracles and the congregation became a nursery of saints. In 1634 the Congregation of Rites declared that the Blessed Bernard Tolomeo was deserving of veneration among the saints. In the Roman Martyrology he is commemorated on 21 August.

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