The Russian noble Gregor Augustin Maria Shuvalov converted to the Catholic Faith and began his prayer work for the conversion of Russia
by Roberto de Mattei
"Russia will become Catholic." This inscription was affixed to the tomb of Father Gregory Augustin Maria Shuvalov in the cemetery of Montparnasse in Paris. The Russian Barnabite has sacrificed himself for this purpose. 1)
Count Gregor Petrovich Shuvalov was born on 25 October 1804 in Saint Petersburg as the son of an old noble family. An uncle, who, like his father, was the Tsar's general, was commissioned to bring defeated Napoleon to the island of Elba. Another ancestor is the founder of the Lomonossov University in Moscow. Gregor studied from 1808-1817 at the Jesuit College in Saint Petersburg. When the Jesuits were expelled from Russia, he continued his studies in Switzerland and then at the University of Pisa, where he also learned the Italian language to perfection. He was, however, influenced by materialism and nihilism, which then prevailed in the liberal circles in which he lived. Czar Alexander I appointed him an officer of the Hussarsky, and returned to Russia. At the age of 20 he married Princess Sophia Saltikov, the daughter of Prince Alexander Saltikov, who was a member of the Crown Council and the Foreign Affairs Council. Sophia was a deeply religious woman, Orthodox, but "Catholic in soul and heart". She was only 34 years old when she died of tuberculosis in Venice in 1841. Shuvalov had her buried in Russia on a family estate near Saint Petersburg. She had given him four children, two sons and two daughters, of whom Alexander and Natalia had already died in infancy. His son Peter became a member of the Council of Internal Affairs and married the Princess Maria Gagarin. Helena married Alexander Skariatin, a collector of old music and son of the Russian Major General Gregor Skariatin.
The death of Sophia prompted Shuvalov to deepen his study of religion. One day he came upon the "Confessions" of St. Augustine, which became an enlightenment for him.
"I kept reading, copied entire pages, writing long excerpts. His philosophy filled me with good wishes and love. With what inspiring satisfaction I found in this great man emotions and thoughts, which had hitherto slumbered in the soul, and which this reading kept alive."
After his move to Paris, Count Shuvalov was a member of a circle of Russian nobles who had been converted to the Catholic Church by Count Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), who was ambassador of the King of Sardinia in Saint Petersburg from 1802-1817.
Among them was the mystic Sophie Svetschine (1782-1857), who had to leave Russia after 1815 because of her conversion to the Catholic Church, Prince Ivan Gagarin (1814-1882), whose family is a side line of the Rurikids, the Varangian founding dynasty of Russia, and Prince Theodor Galitzin (1805-1848), whose Lithuanian family originated directly from the patriarch of the Jagiellonians, and who, as an embassy attaché, belonged to the Diplomatic Corps of the Tsar's empire. Galitzin, who recognized the profound spiritual crisis of his friend, helped him to find the truth by recommending him to read Joseph de Maistre's Du Pape and to think about it. Shuvalov followed the advice and understood that the first essential feature of the Church was unity and that this demanded a supreme authority which can not be any other than the Roman Pope.
"Lord, thou sayest, my Church, and not my churches; In addition, the Church must preserve the truth, but the truth is only one, so the church can only be one [...]. When I realized that there could be only one true Church, I also understood that this Church must be universal, Catholic. "
Shuvalov went to Notre Dame every evening to hear the sermons of Father François-Xavier de la Croix de Ravignan (1795-1858), a learned Jesuit who was to become his spiritual guide. On 6 January 1843, the Feast of the Epiphany, Shuvalov renounced Orthodoxy, and in the Chapelle des Oiseaux, he professed his confession to the Catholic Faith.
But he wanted to devote himself far more to the Catholic cause. With the help of a young Italian Liberal, Emilio Dandolo, with whom he happened to become acquainted on a train, he met Father Alessandro Piantoni, Rector of the Longone College of Barnabites in Milan. Piantoni accepted Schuwalov in 1856 with the name Augustin Maria in the Barnabite novitiate in Monza.
In this Order, founded by St. Antonio Maria Zaccaria in 1530, Shuvalov found the climate of the spiritual depth that he had sought. He wrote to Father Ravignan:
"I think I am in paradise. My fathers are like saints, the novices like angels."
Among his young confreres was Cesare Tondini de Quarenghi (1839-1907), who, like no other, adopted the spiritual heritage of Shuvalov. On September 19, 1857, Augustine Maria Shuvalov was ordained a priest in Milan by Monsignor Angelo Ramazzotti, later Patriarch of Venice.
On the day of his consecration as a priest, during the elevation of the chalice, Shuvalov addressed the following request to God:
"My God, make me worthy to give my life and my blood in union with yours for the glorification of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin for the conversion of Russia."
This was the dream of his life which he entrusted to the Immaculate, whose dogma Pope Pius IX. declared on the 8th of December 1858. When he was received by the Pope in audience, Father Shuvalov expressed his desire to devote his life to the return of the schismatics to the Church of Rome. In the memorable encounter:
"Pius IX. talked to me about Russia, with a faith, with a hope, supported by the words of Jesus, and with a burning love which guided him, and with whom he thought of the misguided brethren, who had fallen from the right path, as poor orphans. These words inflamed my heart."
Father Shuvalov agreed to sacrifice his life for the conversion to Russia.
"Well," said the Holy Father, "always repeat this resolution three times a day before the crucifix. You may be sure, your desire will be fulfilled."
The field of his apostolate and his sacrifice was Paris, where there were strong Russian and Oriental communities. Untiring was his commitment, with which he could win innumerable souls. He founded the prayer association for the triumph of the Blessed Immaculate Virgin for the conversion of the schismatic Eastern Christians and especially of the Russians to the Catholic faith , which Father Shuvalov simply called the work .
Pius IX. approved the society 1862 with a Breve. Father Cesare Tondini became its tireless exponent. Father Shuvalov was not to experience the recognition. He had died in Paris on April 2, 1859. He had just finished his autobiography Ma conversion et ma vocation (Paris 1859). The book underwent numerous editions in the 19th century and was translated into other languages. [In 1862, two independent German translations were published under the title "Meine Bekehrung und mein Beruf" (My conversion and my profession), one published by the Ferdinand Schöningh Verlag in Paderborn, the other by the Felizian Rauch Verlag in Innsbruck, translator's note] New edition by the Barnabite patrons Enrico M. Sironi and Franco M. Ghilardotti (Grafiche Dehoniane, Bologna), from which the quotations are taken. Father Ghilardotti tried to transfer the mortal remains of Father Shuvalov to Italy, where they now rest in the church of San Paolo Maggiore in Bologna, built by the Barnabites in 1611. At the foot of an altar there reposes a copy of the Holy Trinity of Andrei Rubljov, the greatest Russian icon-painter, Father Augustine Maria Shuvalov, awaits the Resurrection.
In his autobiography the Russian Barnabite wrote:
"When heresy threatens, when faith evaporates, when morals fall, and peoples fall asleep at the edge of the abyss, God, who arranges everything by measure, number, and weight, opens the treasures of His grace to wake them up again. Once, in a dark village, he awakens a hidden saint, whose powerful prayer restrains his arm from punishment; Once, on the face of the earth, he makes a bright light appear, a Moses, a Gregory VII, a Bernhard. Once, with the help of a miraculous event, whether temporarily or permanently, he inspires the idea of a pilgrimage or other form of worship, which is perhaps a new form, but always old in its essence, a moving and salutary cult. This was also the origin of the veneration of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This cult was built in the midst of a thousand oppositions in a small monastery in the village of Paray-le-Monial."
We can add, the origin of the worship of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose spreading the Mother of God desired 100 years ago in a small village in Portugal. In Fatima, the Mother of God announced that the great ideal of Father Shuvalov might become a reality: the conversion of Russia to the Catholic faith. This is a very extraordinary event that belongs to our future, and which in the world makes the mysterious words of the Holy Scriptures which Father Shuvalov referred to his own conversion:
"Surge qui dormis, aur a mortuis et iluminabit te Christ."
"Wake up, you sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will be your light" (Ephesians 5:14).
* Roberto de Mattei , historian, father of five children, professor of modern history and history of Christianity at the European University of Rome, chairman of the Lepanto Foundation, author of numerous books, most recently in German translation: defense of tradition: the insuperable truth of Christ A foreword by Martin Mosenach, Altötting 2017.