church is closed most of the time. From what I can gather it isn’t a parish church but rather a church attached to a convent and it serves the religious community primary. However I couldn’t imagine myself leaving Rome without visiting it. The convent adjacent to the church was the place where St Eugene was lodged during his visits to Rome. He lived here from November 1825 to May 1826 when he was applying for Papal approval of the Oblate Congregation. In the convent he prepared the final text of the Constitutions and Rules that were to be the way of life of his fellow Oblates. In the church he was celebrating most
of his Masses and was spending long hours praying. He returned to the place in
1832 to be ordained a bishop. The ceremony took place in the church which by
then he must have known through and through. It was October 14. At that time the place was owned by the priests of Saint Vincent de Paul who run the novitiate for the candidates to their congregation here. St Eugene being away from his own congregation found it helpful to be around some people who also lived in a religious community. The convent and the church meant also a lot to him because of Father Bartolo Zinelli who spent the final years of his life in the convent. He died here at the age of 38 and is buried in the church. Father Zinelli was a mentor of Eugene during his time of exile in Venice. Eugene was a little boy then and Fr Zinelli shaped him profoundly. St Eugene in this way recorded his first encounter with this holy priest at Venice: “One day I was amusing myself at the window that gave on to the house of the Zinelli family opposite. D. Bartolo appeared on his side, and addressing me said: “Master Eugene, aren’t you afraid of wasting your time in idleness in this way at the window?” - “Alas, sir, I replied, it is indeed a pity, but what can I do? You know I am a foreigner, and I haven’t any books at my disposition.” That was the opening he wanted: “That’s no problem, my dear child, you see me here actually in my library, where there are many books in Latin, Italian, French even, if you want them.” “There is nothing I would like better”, I answered. Immediately Fr. Bartolo undid the bar that held the shutters of the window, and placing on it a book, passed it over to me across the little street that separated us. The book was soon read, for I was always an avid reader, and next day my father advised me to go and take it back and thank D. Bartolo. This was all planned. Fr. Bartolo received me with the greatest kindness; he gave me the run of his library, and from there I had access to the study where he studied around a large table with his brother, Fr. Pietro, who was still only a deacon. “All our books are at your disposition”, Fr. Bartolo told me. Then he added: “This is where my brother and I study: you see over there the place that was occupied by one of my brothers whom God in his goodness has called to himself. If you would like to take his place, you have only to say the word, it will be a real pleasure for us to have you continue with your studies, which clearly you have not yet finished.” You can imagine my surprise and joy. “I shall be overjoyed, sir, and my father will happily give his consent.” - “Very well, come from tomorrow, and we will make a beginning.” My parents thanked God for having obtained for me so great a benefit. Can I ever thank God sufficiently for getting for me, out of his infinite goodness, help such as this precisely at the most difficult time of life, a decisive time for me, in which were planted by a man of God, in my soul prepared by his skilful hand and the grace of the Holy Spirit whose instrument he was, the fundamentals of religion and piety on which the mercy of God has built the edifice of my spiritual life? It was in the school of this holy priest that I learnt to despise worldly vanities and to taste the things of God.
The church of San Silvestro was for Eugene like coming to the origins of his most holy desires that were associated with his childhood mentor. I am so glad that I too have been blessed by praying in this Holy Place that meant so much to my mentor: Saint Eugene de Mazenod whose life has shaped me so much.