Heartful Thanks Father Antonio!

March 20, 2024

He passed away this morning at 7:45 a.m., Fr. Antonio M. Santoro. He had been hospitalized for a few days in a palliative care home in Foggia. His last assignment was as Rector of the shrine Notre Dame des Anges in Pignans and former Father Guardian of the adjoining Marian House in France. A historical and eminent figure of the Institute, he can be considered the father of the Marian Publishing House and the founder of the mission in Bénin.

Father Antonio M. Santoro, a Franciscan Friar of the Immaculate, entered his final Easter on the morning of March 20, 2024, the eve of spring with its first warmth and flowers.

Born to Joseph and Agnes Loreto on Sept. 25, 1953, in Sant’Agata di Puglia in the Foggia area, Fr. Antonio generously scattered the seeds of the Kingdom of God.

The first of six children, including one consecrated to the Immaculatine Franciscan Sisters, he liked to describe himself as a “A farmer with large shoes and a sharp mind.”

From the agricultural roots of the Tavoliere farming region, he had not only drawn physical strength and generosity in his work but possessed such ingenuity in that he distinguished himself as a master technician in the first phase of his original and rich path of service in the Lord’s vineyard.

He entered the Marian House in Frigento in 1972 and remained there permanently until 1990, becoming an emblematic figure among the friars.

He can be considered the father of the friars’ printing press and the Marian Publishing House for his creativity and commitment in organizing the printing, binding, and shipping of books and magazines, as well as the packaging of miraculous medals.

To him, along with a few master masons and laborers, we owe the construction of the new wing of the Frigento convent in the 1980s, after the great Irpina earthquake.

Remarkable was his contribution to setting up the mast and station of Tele Radio Buon Consiglio in Montevergine (1,500 m a.s.l.) and other station repeaters scattered along our station’s interregional coverage area.

Mason, carpenter, plumber, mechanic, electrician, truck driver, wheelwright… he was a man with the golden hands that would later become also the hands of priestly blessings and epiclesis.

He made his profession of perpetual vows on March 25, 1981, and then joined the primordial foundational community of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate transferring from the Friars Minor Conventual in 1990.

In the first year of the Institute’s foundation, he reorganized the missionary magazine “Christ to the World” in the Propaganda Fide building in Rome.

That same summer he accompanied a Camillian priest friend of his on a missionary journey to Benin.

Fascinated by that land and sensitive to the technical needs of the hospital in Zinvié, in the lake area of the country, he asked and obtained from his superiors to have a more stable missionary experience, identifying in Fra. John M. Arena as his first missionary companion.

On December 8, 1991, he was ordained a deacon in Benevento Cathedral by Bishop Carlo Minchiatti, who a few days earlier had canonically erected our fledgling religious institute.

On December 13 of that same year, he left for Bénin and inaugurated a new page in his personal life and that of Franciscans of the Immaculate as a missionary Institute.

After a stay of nearly two years with the Camillian Fathers, the then Archbishop of Cotonou, Archbishop Isidore de Souza entrusted the confreres with the arduous task of building the diocesan Marian shrine and Catholic radio station in the city of Allada.

Fr. Antonio succeeded in transforming an industrial chicken coop into a decent home for the brothers and laid the foundation for the present radio building.

In December 1995 Fr. Antonio returned to Italy and was replaced by the first missionary priest of the Bénin mission, Fr. Alfonso M. Bruno, who continued and completed his works.

But more surprises are yet to come, he was then destined to the shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows in Castelpetroso (IS), and while arranging the veil of the statue of Our Lady on the main altar, he fell from a significant height under the eyes of the then Rector Fr. Michele M. Iorio, whose right arm he was in Frigento together for many decades.

Fracturing his foot, it was feared that his operational capacity would become limited but fortunately, it was not a hindrance to other greater work,

In life’s many surprises and God’s Providence, despite a marked aptitude for practical work, the horizons of priestly life opened up for Fr. Antonio, with his ordination on Dec. 8, 2000.

By 2001, knowing from his African experience the French language, Fr. Antonio was transferred to the Marian House N. D. des Anges in Pignans in France, where he would spend nearly twenty-three years as rector of the attached shrine.

From a semi-abandoned sacred shrine, with some liturgical vitality only in the summer, Fr. Antonio succeeded in pastorally reawakening the shrine with daily Eucharist and Marian devotions, the creation of a dynamic MIM cenacle, the regular organization of pilgrimages to Fatima, welcoming pilgrims, training lay people, hearing confessions and providing spiritual direction, distributing a self-produced monthly magazine, printing a calendar, helping parish priests in ministry, and providing material support to missions.

Fr. Antonio, as a son of the first hour of Casa Mariana of Frigento and of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate knew how to authentically interpret the charism of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, and readily grasp its eventual adulterations.

With other confreres of equal religious seniority, he had the merit of entrusting to the Church in the commissarial discernment of the Institute’s young life while somaticizing, offering, and finally transfiguring upon himself the progressive institutional purification resolved with the new government of 2022.

A year and a half earlier, on January 12, 2021, Fr. Antonio experienced worrying dizziness and headaches.

Urgently transported to the hospital, thanks to Fr. Pascal M. Mauvoisin who with Fr. Cyril M. de la Riarte composed the Pignans community, a brain tumor was discovered a few days later.

Operated by skilled doctors in Toulon, who by removing the tumor mass managed to avoid affecting and impairing important sensory functions, the confrere resumed his life with some normality.

In the second half of 2023, after the discovery of other metastases and their advancement at the bone and organic abdominal level, he was advised to be hospitalized at the “Sacred Heart” hospice in his hometown, where his sister Agata, in a special way, assisted him together with the medical and paramedical staff of the facility run by a congregation of nuns.

On the feast of the patron saint of his hometown, on Feb. 5, 2024, he received a visit from the archbishop of Foggia-Bovino, Archbishop Giorgio Ferretti.

Later the worsening of Fr. Antonio’s health condition necessitated his admission to a better-equipped palliative care center in Foggia, where he passed away a few days later, precisely on March 20, 2024, at 7:45 a.m.

S. Maximilian Mary Kolbe said that man’s life is encompassed in three stages: preparation for work, work itself, and suffering.

Fr. Antonio M. Santoro in his 70 years of life had known these three existential dimensions.

To the confreres who visited him in the most acute phase of his illness, he lavished a great life lesson to all present in the serene acceptance of the cross.

The funeral will be held at St. Agatha di Puglia Parish on March 22, 2024, at 10:30 a.m.

The life of the Christian and the consecrated person does not stop at Good Friday but is projected toward Easter Sunday opening up to the theological hope of the encounter with the crucified and risen Christ that every soul seeks.

The good and faithful servant shall be freed from every chain of sorrow and thus live in the freedom of God’s children.

May the Immaculate One whom he loved so much and for whose Cause he worked so hard, open to him the Gates of Heaven.

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