The years 1830 to 1954 were known as the "age of Mary." During that period, there were saintly men who promoted devotion to Our Lady. One such man was St. Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870).
Anthony was born in Sallent, Spain. When he was very young, his parents gave him a rosary, which he prayed daily at home. His parents had a book on the rosary, and after reading it he became an ardent promoter of the rosary. He made frequent visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya with his sister Rosa to pray the rosary. He also frequently led the recitation of the rosary at the local parish.
As he began his seminary studies in 1829, Anthony began his lifelong practice of praying three rosaries a day. Anthony was ordained on June 13, 1835, the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. He tried the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave due to ill health. He then devoted himself to preaching retreats and missions, always emphasizing devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. As one of the most popular preachers in Spain, Father Anthony sometimes gave as many as 12 sermons a day.
During a trip to Italy in 1839, Father Anthony witnessed the great devotion of the people to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This experience helped deepen his devotion to the Immaculate Heart. In 1847, Father Anthony founded the Archconfraternity of the Heart of Mary and in 1849, he founded the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the Claretians). The traditional profession formula of the Claretians contains a special consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Father Anthony understood the Immaculate Heart to be a new Noah's ark and mercy seat.
Father Anthony was consecrated a bishop on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1850. A few days before his episcopal ordination, a Mass-goer saw heavenly lights surrounding Father Anthony as he was offering Mass at a rosary altar. When Father Anthony became a bishop, he inserted the name "Mary" into his own name.
As Archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, Bishop Anthony gave away over 20,000 rosaries and mandated that the rosary be prayed in all the churches on Sundays and feast days. To make sure this practice was carried out, he often made surprise visits to parishes.
Bishop Anthony was an ardent promoter of the rosary. He was called the "St. Dominic" of the 19th century. On several occasions, Our Lady appeared to him and told him that he was to serve as the "St. Dominic" for the people of his time by zealously promoting the rosary.
Bishop Anthony initiated a vigorous reform of clergy and laity in Santiago. No fewer than 15 attempts were made on his life. During one assassination attempt, he was stabbed in the face. Bishop Anthony obtained a commutation of the assailant's death sentence to a term in prison.
After seven years in Cuba, Bishop Anthony was recalled to Spain to be the confessor of Queen Isabella II. With this light assignment he combined a vigorous apostolate of the press. He authored over 100 theological works and wrote at least 10 works on the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In 1868, a revolution dethroned the queen and sent her with her family into exile. Bishop Anthony accompanied her to France. He continued his popular missions and distribution of books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish Court.
Due to poor health, Bishop Anthony retired to a Cistercian abbey in southern France, where he died on Oct. 24, 1870, at age 62. When his relics were transferred in 1897, the heart of this ardent devotee of the Immaculate Heart was found incorrupt.