BONAVENTURE OF VERONA
It is in the case of men like Father Bonaventure of Verona that one specially regrets the well-known fact that the early Dominicans, absorbed in their vocation of spreading the glory of God and saving souls, often neglected to bequeath posterity any (or but the meagerest) account of the labors of their confrères. The few notices which we find of him in the scanty records leave no doubt but that he was a personage of prime importance, and that he must have exercised a strong and beneficial influence in the first years of the Friars Preacher. A good part of the little that is known of him has come down to us through a document containing statements about his life, which authority drew from his own lips.
The "of Verona" (da Verona)attached to Father Bonaventure's name shows the Italian city in which he was born. No date is given for his birth. Still the fact that he was a priest, as he must have been, when he joined the Friars Preacher, proves that he was born in the twelfth century -- most likely early in its final decade. Writers of other nationalities so frequently copy the Italians' familiar way of abbreviating his name, and call him Father Ventura, that we almost feel constrained to do the same. He himself says that he received the habit from the hands of Saint Dominic. All make the date of this 1219, and state that it took place in the convent at Bologna. He informs us further that he made his religious profession to Saint Dominic. Circumstances show the founder, who had full powers given to him by the Holy See in such matters, did not wait the ordinary twelvemonth before permitting the pious candidate to take this momentous step.(1)
Hardly had Bonaventure taken his vows, when Dominic appointed him superior of Saint Nicholas' Priory, Bologna.(2) All this is proof that "Ventura" made rapid progress in his new life, that he was a man of solid piety, that he possessed a mature judgment, and that he had considerable intellectual attainments. Only in this way can we understand the esteem and confidence in which the patriarch certainly held him. A further proof is had in the fact that Bonaventure also gained the affection of his confrères in general. His appointment to a priorship immediately after his religious profession leaves no doubt but that he was a priest before he came to the Order. Yet how long he had been ordained we do not know.
There can be no question as to the friendly, intimate, and trustful association between Saint Dominic and Father Bonaventure; or as to the Bolognese prior accompanying the founder of the Friars Preacher, as a chosen companion, on a number of journeys in the interest of souls and the Order. No less certain is it that the holy patriarch often consulted him in regard to the religious institute he had established. All this we know from the same sworn testimony. The close relationship between the two men gave Bonaventure a rare opportunity to study his spiritual father, which could only increase his love and admiration, as well as act as a spur ever urging him to advance further in the way of perfection.
As prior of Saint Nicholas', Bologna, Father Bonaventure took part in the first two general chapters of the Order, which were held in that city in 1220 and 1221.(3) In the same capacity, it fell to him to look after Saint Dominic during the latter's final illness. It was he who administered the last saer'aments to the blessed patriarch. Dominic then looked to him for his every need, and he was possibly the last person recognized by the saint.
The founder of the Friars Preacher died at Saint Nicholas', Bologna, August 6, 1221. Yet Father Bonaventure was often prior there until in the thirties. In this we have a no uncertain index to the hold he had on the affections of his brethren, and to the confidence in which he himself was held by Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who succeeded Saint Dominic as Master General of the Friars Preacher. Pio tells us that he worked zealously for the canonization of Saint Dominic.(4) No doubt it was this, together with the fact that he was prior in Bologna, where the investigation was held, that caused the papal commissaries to select Father Bonaventure as the first witness to the holy patriarch's heroic virtue and life. Only a few months before this, in the spring of 1233, Bonaventure had assisted Blessed Jordan and the hierarchy, assembled for the purpose, at the translation of the saint's relies.(5)
Bonaventure's testimony is one of the longest given by the nine witnesses in Dominic's cause. It is from this document that we have drawn the major part of the facts given in our sketch. Of their trustworthiness there can be no doubt, as their truth was vouched for on oath. He tells them in a simple, candid, unadorned way, as they are brought out in answer to questions put to him by the examiners. His testimony throws not a little light on the life and character of Saint Dominic, shows his amiable disposition, and reveals how closely Father Bonaventure studied him.(6)
Unfortunately, we have almost no information on Bonaventure of Verona after this time. Most likely he was still prior of Saint Nicholas', Bologna, when Saint Dominic was canonized, and superintended the celebrations on the first feast day held in his honor at that noted Dominican shrine. Malvenda is of the opinion that he was appointed prior of San Romano, Lucca, in 1236; that the people of that city received him with open arms; and that, with their generous assistance, he completely renovated and greatly enlarged the convent.(7)
Echard rejects this idea on what to us, under the circumstances, seem rather flimsy grounds. The reason for his objection is that, while Father Bonaventure belonged to the Province of Lombardy, Lucca was in the Province of Rome, which had any number of good subjects who could be appointed to priorships within its jurisdiction. From this he concludes that the Father "Ventura" who became prior there was a different man from the subject of our sketch.(8) This would have been a good argument for later years. But in the beginning of the Order, when there was question of one who had been so beloved by Saint Dominic and had rendered such signal services to the young institute, it hardly holds good.
Pio assures us that Father Bonaventure was provincial in Lombardy; and that he was "a superior of great learning, great zeal, and a great reputation."(9) No one seems to have discovered the date or place of his death. What is of greater importance, however, is that we are told that he was an exemplary and saintly religious. From this fact we can only conclude that he ended his days of labor with a full measure of divine grace; and that in heaven he is loved by Dominic even more tenderly than he was on earth.
1. Acta Sanctorum, XXXV (first vol. for August), 610, No. 305, and 629 ff; MALVENDA, pp. 272, 274, 554; MAMACHI, pp. 543-544, 658, and col. 99; PIO, col. 63; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 44-47.
2. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 44.
3. PIO, col. 63; QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 44.
4. PIO, col. 63.
5. Ibid., and QUETIF-ECHARD, as in note 1.
6. His testimony is given in full in Acta Sanctorum, XXXV, 629 ff; in MAMACHI, col. 99; and in QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 44 ff. (Ed. note).
7. MALVENDA, p. 554.
8. QUETIF-ECHARD, I, 46.
9. PIO, col. 63. The only reason we can conceive why Marchese does not include Father Bonaventure of Verona in his Sagro Diario Domenicano is that he could not find any date for his death. (Ed. note).