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Life / Biographical sketch

Father Cornelio Fabro was born on August 24th, 1911 in Flumignano, a small village 18 km from Udine, Italy. As a small child he suffered from a motor deficiency, which impeded him from speaking and walking. He could understand everything spoken to him, but being unable to speak, he had to express himself through gestures. At the age of five, he suffered an attack of anorexia, causing his health to worsen further. After many failed attempts to treat him medically, the Capuchin Guardian Father had the inspiration of sending him to the Sanctuary of “Madonna delle Grazie” (Our Lady of Graces), in Udine. As soon as his mother laid him on the altar of our Lady, the child stopped crying and smiled. He had been healed.

Because of his precarious health, he was not able to go to elementary school. Thus compelled to stay home, he received his first education from his elder brother. Only later did he manage to go to the village school regularly, where he attended third grade. For the fourth grade, he had to walk every day to Talmassons, where he was first in his class.

During a mission preached by the priests of the “Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata” (the Stigmatines), his long-felt religious vocation intensified. On October 27, 1922, after having successfully passed the final exam for the fifth grade, he moved to Holy Trinity of Verona, in order to receive, as was the custom of that time, a solid and austere formation at the Stigmatines’ “Bertoni” Apostolic School.

On November 1, 1927, he entered the novitiate of the Stigmatine fathers. As a novice, Fabro took the most important formative year of his life very seriously, including some personal austerities which might have compromised his ability to work because of the continuing precariousness of his health. On November 2, 1928, he professed his religious vows, after which he started his first year of secondary school, following the ordinary courses within the Apostolic School. Upon passing his first year of high school with excellent results, his superiors destined him to Rome in order to continue his studies.

Fr. Fabro attended the Pontifical Lateran University, graduating in 1931 with a degree in philosophy, completing a dissertation on The Objectivity of the Principle of Causality and the Critique of David Hume. Next he studied theology at the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). On December 20, 1934, in the Pallazzo della Cancelleria, he was awarded first prize in a competition of the Roman Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas for a dissertation on The Principle of Causality: Psychological Origin, Philosophical Formulation, Necessary and Universal Value.

One year later, on April 20, 1935, Holy Saturday, he was ordained a priest at the Lateran Basilica. He celebrated his first solemn Mass in his hometown on June 29, the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, seeing his native Flumignano for the first time after thirteen years of absence.

On July 7 of the same year, he returned to Rome and received his degree in theology (summa cum laude).

During the academic year of 1935-36 he began a second course of study in natural sciences at the University of Padua, and in 1937-38 (his third year) he continued at the University of Rome. Concurrently, he devoted himself to the writing of his doctoral thesis on the principle of participation according to St. Thomas Aquinas, which he defended on October 30, 1937, again obtaining the honor of summa cum laude.

At the age of 25, this study earned him an award from the prestigious Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas, of which he would become a long-standing member. His long university teaching career began initially in Verona and then continued in Rome, at the Lateran as well as the Pontifical Urbaniana University.

On December 13, 1950, Fr. Fabro taught his first course at the most important secular university in Rome, the Sapienza University of Rome. Since he was highly esteemed and much sought after as a lecturer, it is an arduous task to follow all his engagements, which led him even as far overseas as Argentina and Chile.

In 1954 he was awarded the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Naples and became a tenured professor in Theoretical Philosophy and Director of the Instituto Universitario di Magistero “Maria SS. Assunta” of Rome (now L.U.M.S.A.), and occupied the prestigious “Cardinal Mercier” Chair at the University of Louvain (Belgium).

In 1956 he went to Milan to teach at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, where he was promoted to Full Professor of the Rule (1957).

Named a Professor of the History of Modern Philosophy at the Urbaniana, he was also a Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Instituto Universitario di Magistero “Maria SS. Assunta” in Rome. In 1959, he founded the first institute in Europe for the “History of Atheism” at the Urbaniana. In 1960, he was named as both member of the Preparatory Commission and as an expert consultant for the Second Vatican Council.

As a Visiting Professor, he taught at Notre Dame University (Indiana, USA) in 1965. He was also the official representative of Italy at the international convention of UNESCO for the revision of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” (Oxford, November 1965), a member of the Commission of Study for the Formation of the Secular and Religious Clergy, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Perugia, for which he was also President of the Department of “Magistero” from 1965 to 1967. From 1968 to 1981 he held the position of Professor of Theoretical Philosophy in the Department of “Lettere”, also at the University of Perugia. In addition, he was a consultant to the Sacred Congregation of Catholic Education and for the Secretariat for Non-Christians (1966). He was a consultant to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1968; the following year he held seminars in philosophy at the University of Freiberg.

In 1974 he received the “Aquinas Memorial Medal” of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (Washington); he was also named member of the Honor Committee established at St. Thomas Aquinas University in order to celebrate the Seventh Centenary of St. Thomas (1974); he was thereafter designated the official orator of the ministerial committee for the commemoration of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome, in the presence of the President of the Republic of Italy and the Authorities of State and Culture (March 7, 1974). In 1978 he was an associate founder of the S.I.T.A. (International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas), of which he was the President (the first elected by the associates) from 1985 to 1991.

He was also the founder and first President of the “Italian Center for Kierkegaardian Studies” (Potenza 1987); two years later he received the “National Gold Medal Prize for Catholic Culture”.

Fabro was member of the following Academies:

Pontificia Accademia S. Tommaso d’Aquino; Pontificia Accademia dell'Immacolata; Pontificia Accademia Teologica Romana; “American Catholic Philosophical Association”; Academy of the “Società filosofica italiana”; “Kierkegaard Selskabet” (Copenaghen); Academy of the “Societé Philosophique de Louvain”; Academy “S. Kierkegaard” of the University of Osaka (Japan). In addition he was a founding member of the University of St. Thomas (Houston, Texas).

It is important to recall his service to the Church through various collaborations with Offices and Congregations inside the Vatican, and in particular, his role in the preparation of various documents of the Second Vatican Council, most notably the decree on priestly formation “Optatam totius”. Fabro died in Rome on May 4, 1995. As he states in his spiritual testament, he had always sought to be, just as Saint Thomas himself had been, a “miles Christi Jesu”.

 

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