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
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
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
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
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”.