Saint Charles Borromée-RELICS

Saint Charles Borromeo

Saint Charles Borromeo: A Pillar of Catholic Reformation and Charity

Saint Charles Borromeo is an emblematic figure of the Catholic Church, recognized for his unwavering commitment to the reform of the Church and his immense charity towards the less fortunate. Born in 1538 in Italy, he was Archbishop of Milan and played a major role in the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century. This article aims to retrace his life and his legacy, highlighting his pastoral actions, his liturgical reforms and his philanthropic efforts.

Charles Borromeo

The youth and training of Charles Borromeo:

Charles Borromeo was born on October 2, 1538 in Arona, Lombardy, into a noble and influential family. He was the second son of Gilberto Borromeo, Count of Arona, and Margherita de Medici, cousin of Pope Pius IV. Very early on, Charles manifested an inclination for religious life and showed exceptional intellectual qualities.

At the age of twelve, Charles was sent to Milan to continue his studies. He studied Latin, philosophy and human sciences at the Collège Borromée, founded by his family to promote the education of young people. He distinguished himself by his zeal for learning and his deep piety.

saint charles borromeo relic

Relic of Saint Charles Borromeo at

In 1554, Charles Borromeo went to Pavia to begin studies in canon law at the university. However, he soon realized that his true calling was church service, not law. He therefore abandoned his law studies and devoted himself entirely to theology and spirituality.

After graduating in theology from the University of Pavia, Charles Borromeo was ordained a priest in 1563, at the age of twenty-five. He was immediately appointed cardinal-deacon by his uncle, Pope Pius IV. This rapid and exceptional appointment testified to the confidence that the pope placed in him and to his great expectations for his nephew.

In addition to his academic training, Charles Borromeo immersed himself in the study of the Church Fathers and the writings of the saints. He saw a thorough knowledge of theology and spirituality as essential to his future role as a pastor and church reformer.

The youth and training of Charles Borromeo were therefore marked by his careful education, his precocious inclination for religious life and his passion for study. These elements would lay the foundation for his commitment to church reform and his devotion to pastoral service and charity to those most in need.

His role in the Catholic Reformation:

The role of Saint Charles Borromeo in the Catholic Reformation was of paramount importance. As Archbishop of Milan, he devoted himself zealously to implementing the decrees of the Council of Trent, which was the main response of the Catholic Church to the Protestant Reformation.

One of the fundamental aspects of the Catholic Reformation was the revitalization of the spiritual life of the faithful and the reform of the clergy. Charles Borromeo undertook radical pastoral reforms to meet these goals. He founded seminaries to guarantee a solid formation for future priests, emphasizing their intellectual and spiritual education. These seminaries became models for the training of clergy across Europe.

Borromeo also insisted on the importance of preaching and teaching the catechism. He pledged that Catholic doctrine be taught clearly and accessible to all. In this spirit, he published the famous Catechism of Milan, which was used for centuries as a valuable tool for religious education.

In addition, Charles Borromeo instituted regular pastoral visits to his diocese to ensure that priests were engaged in their ministry and to assess the pastoral needs of the faithful. He insisted on the need for priests to reside in their parishes and to serve their communities with dedication.

With regard to the liturgy, Borromeo paid special attention to its dignified and sacred celebration. He saw to the application of the liturgical directives of the Council of Trent, particularly with regard to the mass. He encouraged the use of sacred music, the decoration of churches and the active participation of the faithful in the liturgy.

Saint Charles Borromeo's zeal for the Catholic Reformation was not limited to his office as archbishop. He also played an active role in conclaves for the election of popes and was one of the main advisers to Pope Pius V. He worked closely with the pope to promote ecclesiastical reforms and combat abuses within the Church. 'Church.

Borromeo's pastoral reforms:

The pastoral reforms of Saint Charles Borromeo were at the heart of his commitment to the revitalization of the Catholic Church. As Archbishop of Milan, he undertook bold reforms aimed at improving the spiritual life of the faithful and strengthening the pastoral ministry. Here are some of its main reforms:

  1. Training of the clergy: Borromeo attached great importance to the training of priests. He founded seminaries to guarantee a solid education for future clerics. These establishments had rigorous theological study programs and emphasized the intellectual and spiritual formation of priests. Borromeo's seminaries became models for the training of clergy throughout the Catholic Church.

  2. Catechesis: Charles Borromeo was convinced of the importance of teaching catechism for a solid understanding of the Catholic faith. He published the famous Catechism of Milan, which became a valuable tool for religious education. He also organized catechesis programs in parishes and encouraged priests to transmit Catholic doctrine in a clear and accessible manner.

  3. Pastoral visits: Borromeo set up regular pastoral visits in his diocese. He personally traveled through parishes to ensure that priests were fulfilling their pastoral duties, teaching doctrine correctly, and administering the sacraments. These visits were also an opportunity for Borromeo to listen to the concerns of the faithful and to respond to their spiritual needs.

  4. Residence of the priests: Charles Borromée insisted on the residence of the priests in their parishes. He encouraged priests to live among their community, to be available to the faithful and to be actively involved in parish life. This reform aimed to strengthen the closeness between priests and the faithful, thus promoting more effective pastoral care.

  5. Reform of religious orders: Borromeo strove to reform religious orders to restore discipline and spiritual life. He demanded strict observance of monastic rules and promoted the continuous formation of religious. He also encouraged religious orders to get involved in charitable works and pastoral activities, so that they could be living examples of consecrated life and service to others.

The pastoral reforms of Saint Charles Borromeo were marked by his commitment to renewing the spiritual life of the faithful, to forming virtuous and competent priests, and to promoting a pastoral centered on the needs of the faithful. His influence was considerable and his reforms were widely adopted throughout the Catholic Church, thus contributing to the revitalization of faith and ecclesial life.

The liturgical reforms of Borromeo:

The liturgical reforms undertaken by Saint Charles Borromeo played a crucial role in revitalizing the liturgical life of the Catholic Church. He placed great importance on the dignity and beauty of the liturgical celebration, and implemented significant reforms to promote active participation and a deeper experience of the divine presence. Here are some of his liturgical reforms:

  1. Application of the directives of the Council of Trent: Saint Charles Borromeo was a fervent defender and a zealous promoter of the liturgical decrees of the Council of Trent. These decrees were intended to reaffirm Catholic liturgical principles and practices, in response to the challenges posed by the Protestant Reformation. Borromeo saw to the strict application of these directives in his archdiocese of Milan.

  2. Dignity and beauty of the liturgy: Borromeo emphasized the importance of the dignity and beauty of the liturgy. He encouraged the proper decoration of churches, especially by encouraging the use of sacred art, music and liturgical chants. He supported the creation of choirs and orchestras to improve the quality of sacred music during liturgical celebrations.

  3. Active participation of the faithful: Borromeo was convinced of the importance of the active involvement of the faithful in the liturgy. He encouraged their participation through appropriate songs, responses and gestures. He saw to it that the faithful were involved in liturgical prayer and that they could fully understand and live the mysteries celebrated.

  4. Renovation of churches: Charles Borromée also undertook the renovation of churches and sanctuaries. He promoted the restoration of places of worship, ensuring that they were sacred spaces worthy of the presence of God. He encouraged the construction of appropriate altars, the installation of suitable liturgical decoration and the creation of an environment conducive to prayer and contemplation.

  5. Liturgical formation of priests: Borromeo emphasized the liturgical formation of priests. He saw to it that they had a thorough knowledge of the liturgical rites and gestures, as well as of the prayers and texts specific to each celebration. He formed them to celebrate with piety and dignity, emphasizing the importance of their role as presidents of the liturgy.

The Charity and Compassion of Borromeo:

The charity and compassion of Saint Charles Borromeo were fundamental traits of his personality and his pastoral ministry. He showed deep love for those most in need and devoted much of his time and resources to alleviating their suffering. Here are some examples of his charity and compassion:

  1. Assistance to the poor: Borromeo founded charitable institutions to help the poor, orphans, the sick and the elderly. He established shelters, hospitals and nursing homes where the needy could find shelter, food and medical care. He personally ensured that these institutions operated effectively and that the most vulnerable in society were treated with dignity and compassion.

  2. Distribution of food: Faced with periods of famine and shortage, Charles Borromée organized food distributions to relieve the hunger of the populations. He mobilized resources and provisions to provide meals for the hungry, especially during times of crises and food shortages. He was quick to share his own food and possessions to support those in need.

  3. Care of the Sick: Borromeo showed great devotion to the sick, especially during the plague epidemics that ravaged Italy in his time. He visited the sick, brought them comfort and spiritual care, and organized teams of nurses to bring them medical assistance. He even risked his own health by being present with people suffering from contagious diseases.

  4. Welcoming refugees: During times of war and political unrest, Borromeo welcomed and supported many refugees. He offered them safe refuge, food and material support. He worked to reunite separated families and help them rebuild their lives in conditions of safety and dignity.

  5. Responsible management of Church property: Charles Borromeo demonstrated great integrity in the management of Church property. He ensured that Church resources were used responsibly and equitably, with particular attention to helping the poor and needy. He also urged members of the clergy to be examples of generosity and sharing.


Saint Charles Borromeo was canonized by Pope Paul V on November 1, 1610, approximately 26 years after his death. His canonization is an official recognition of his holiness and his exemplarity in the Christian life. As a canonized saint, he is venerated in the Catholic Church as a model of virtue and an intercessor with God.

The canonization of Charles Borromeo is a milestone in his legacy, as it attests to the lasting impact of his life and work. It also contributed to his fame and sparked more widespread devotion to him. His liturgical feast is celebrated on November 4, the day of his death, in the Catholic calendar.

He is revered as the patron saint of bishops; catechists; catechumens; cardinals; seminarians; spiritual directors; spiritual animators.

The Incorruptible Body of Saint Charles Borromeo:

In 1610, when the body of Saint Charles Borromeo was exhumed, some 26 years after his death, witnesses were amazed to find that his body was virtually intact. He showed no signs of decomposition, his facial features were recognizable, and his skin was still supple. This discovery aroused great astonishment and reinforced Borromeo's reputation for holiness.

Since its discovery, the incorruptible body of Saint Charles Borromeo has been an object of veneration and devotion for the Catholic faithful. Thousands of pilgrims go to Milan Cathedral every year to contemplate the body of the saint and pay homage to him.

The remarkable state of preservation

The incorruptible body of Saint Charles Borromeo exhibits amazing characteristics of preservation:

  • Physical Integrity: Despite the centuries that have passed since his death, the body of Saint Charles Borromeo has remained intact, preserving the integrity of his bodily structure.

  • Preservation of features: The saint's facial features are still visible, allowing worshipers to gaze upon his serene countenance and feel an intimate connection with him.

  • Suppleness of the Tissues: Unlike a decaying body, the tissues of Borromeo's body remained flexible, giving the impression of a living presence.

  • Absence of signs of decomposition: The body shows no signs of natural degradation, such as putrefaction or discoloration, thus reinforcing the mystery of its incorruptibility.


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