St. Cajetan

The feast of St. Cajetan, also known as the ‘Saint of Divine Providence’ is celebrated on 7th August. He is the founder of the Theatine Order and the Patron Saint of  the unemployed and the job seekers.

Gaetano dei Conti di Thiene, popularly known as St. Cajetan, was born on 1st October 1480 in the territory of Vicenza in Lombardy, Italy to pious and noble parents, Gaspar de Thiene and Maria Porta. As a child he was known as a “Saint’ and in later years as “the Huntsman for Souls”. He studied Law in Padua, Italy and at the age of 24 obtained a doctorate in Civil and Canon Law. In 1506, he was made a protonotary apostolic at the Court of Pope Julius II.

St Cajetan was ordained a Priest in 1516, after which he renounced his wealth and ecclesiastical dignities for a life of service to the Lord. Shortly after his ordination, he joined the Oratory of Divine Love, a group devoted to piety and charity. After the death of Pope Julius II, St. Cajetan returned to Vicenza and joined the Confraternity of St. Jerome. In 1522 he founded a hospital for incurables in Vicenza and by 1523 he founded one in Venice. He founded a bank, monte de pieta, to help the poor and offer an alternative to usurers (loan sharks). It later became the Bank of Naples.

St. Cajetan intended to form a group that would combine the monastic spirit with the exercises of an active ministry. On 3rd May 1524 in Rome, with the help of three others, St. Cajetan founded the Congregation of Clerks Regular, who came to be popularly called the Theatines after the city of Chieti (Latin: Theate). With absolute reliance upon Divine Providence the new Congregation’s members were forbidden to own any property or to beg for their sustenance; and were only allowed to retain what was freely donated. The Theatine Order grew slowly, but made substantial contribution to the work of Church reform. St. Cajetan died in Naples on August 7, 1547.

The Theatine Order settled in Goa in October 1640 and established the Convent and Church of the Divine Providence (popularly known as the Church of St. Cajetan in Old Goa). The spherical dome of this notable building, the last large sacred edifice to be raised in Old Goa, is meant to recall St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

As far as the iconography of St. Cajetan is concerned, most images keep to the same details with regard to his appearance and dress: a short beard, male pattern baldness, a black cassock with a high collar, and in some cases a surplice.

Sometimes St. Cajetan is shown holding ears of wheat in one hand, which is symbolic of his title as the Saint of Divine Providence and as the intercessor for bread and work. This symbol of the ear of wheat was introduced into the iconography of St. Cajetan after his first publicised miracle in Argentina. During a great drought in Argentina, a poor farmer faced with losing his crops and possible destitution, placed an ear of wheat at the feet of a statue of St. Cajetan and it rained three days later.

In some images, St. Cajetan is shown holding the Infant Jesus in his arms. It is said that St. Cajetan had a great devotion to Mother Mary as a result of which on Christmas eve at the Church of Saint Mary Major, he was rewarded with a vision of Mother Mary who came to him and placed the Infant Jesus in his arms.

This 18th century polychrome and wood image of St. Cajetan is from the collection of the Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa. It was originally from the Pius X Pastoral Centre in Old Goa, which was once an old monastery of the Theatines, more commonly associated with St. Cajetan or the Divine Providence, and has thus been identified with the Order’s founding saint. This possibility is confirmed by the fact that the first letters of St. Cajetan’s name are visible in the painted part of the base upon which the image rests. In this representation, St Cajetan is seen clad in the habit of the Theatine clerks regular, though not displaying his usual attributes.