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 that was said to him, but being unable to speak, he had to express himself through signs. At the age of five, his condition worsened and he was unable to take any food. After many failed attempts to treat him medically, the Father Guardian of the Capuchins had the inspiration to send 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 was cured.
Because of his precarious health, he was unable to go to elementary school. Compelled to stay home, his older brother taught him the basics at home. He was finally able to go regularly to the village school in 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 27th, 1922, skipping fifth grade, he moved to the Most Holy Trinity Parish in Verona, where he received a solid, austere formation, as was the custom in those days, at the Stigmatines’ “Bertoni” Apostolic School.
On November 1st, 1927, he entered the novitiate of the Stigmatine fathers. As a novice, Fabro took this most important formative year of his life very seriously, even embracing personal austerities that could have compromised his admission to the profession of vows on account of poor health. On November 2nd, 1928, he professed his religious vows, after which he began the first year of high school and philosophy courses at the Apostolic School. Having finished high school with high honors, his superiors sent him to continue his studies in Rome.
Fr. Cornelio Fabro attended the Lateran University and, in 1931, at barely twenty years old, he received his doctorate in philosophy with the thesis, “La oggettività del principio di causa e la critica di David Hume” [The objectivity of the principle of cause and the critique of David Hume]. Next, he studied theology at the University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum). On December 20th, 1934, in the Pallazo della Cancelleria, he was granted first prize from the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas for a monograph on “Il principio di causalità, origine psicologica, formulazione filosofica, valore necessario ed universale” [The principle of causality: psychological origin, philosophical formulation, necessary and universal worth].
Four months later, on April 20th, 1935, Holy Saturday, he was ordained a priest at the Lateran Basilica. He celebrated his first solemn Mass in his hometown on June 29th, the Feast of Saints 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 Licentiate degree in Theology (summa cum laude).
During the academic year of 1935-36, he began the second year of Natural Sciences at the University of Padova, and in 1937-38, he continued the third year at the University of Rome. At the same time, he devoted himself to writing his doctoral thesis on the metaphysical notion of participation according to St. Thomas Aquinas, which he defended on October 30th, 1937, again obtaining the honor of summa cum laude.
In 1939, he published this thesis, which was very well received, even outside of Italy, and was republished twice more, in 1950 and 1963, which is no small thing for a philosophical work. His long teaching career began initially in Verona and then continued in Rome, at the Pontifical Lateran University and the Pontifical Urban University (the Urbaniana).
On December 13th, 1950, Fr. Fabro taught his first class at the most important secular university in Rome, the Sapienza University. Since he was highly esteemed and much sought after as a lecturer, it becomes difficult to follow him in all his commitments and travels, 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 temporary professor of Theoretical Philosophy and Director of the Instituto Universitario di Magistero “Maria SS. Assunta” in Rome (now L.U.M.S.A.), and occupied the prestigious “Cardinal Mercier” Chair at the University of Louvain (Belgium). He was the first priest to obtain a chair in Theoretical Philosophy in Italy since its unification in 1871.
In 1956, he went to Milan to teach at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, where he was promoted to full Tenured Professor in 1957.
Named Professor of the History of Modern Philosophy at the Urbaniana in 1958, he was also promoted to ordinary professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Instituto Universitario di Magistero “Maria SS. Assunta.” In 1959, he founded the first Institute in Europe of the “History of Atheism” at the Urbaniana. In 1960, he was named both as member of the Preparatory Commission and as an expert consultant for the Second Vatican Council.
As a Visiting Professor, he taught at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) in 1965. That same year, he was also Italy’s official representative at the international convention of the UNESCO for the revision of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” (Oxford, November 1965), a member of the Study Commission for the Formation of the Secular and Religious Clergy, and became a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Perugia, where he presided the Education Department from 1965 to 1967. From 1968 to 1981, in the same university, he held the position of Professor of Theoretical Philosophy in the Humanities Department. In addition, he was a consultant to the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education and to the Secretariat for Non-Christians in 1966 and to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1968, and the following year he held seminars in philosophy at the University of Freiberg.
In 1974, he received the gold medal from the “Centro S. Domenico” in Bologna and the “Aquinas Medal” from the American Catholic Philosophical Association in Washington, DC. He was also named member of the Honor Committee established at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas for the celebration of the seventh Centenary of St. Thomas and named 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 7th, 1974). In 1978, he was an associate founder of the S.I.T.A. (International Society of 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 of Merit for Catholic Culture.”
Fabro was member of the following Academies: the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Pontifical Academy of (Mary) Immaculate, the Pontifical Theological Academy, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the Academy of the Italian Philosophical Society, the Kierkegaard Society (Copenhagen), the Academy of the Philosophical Society of Louvain, and the S. Kierkegaard Academy of the University of Osaka (Japan). In addition, he was a founding member of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas.
It is also worth recalling his service to the Church through collaboration at various times with Vatican Offices and Congregations and, in particular, his role in the preparation of various Vatican II documents, most notably, the decree on priestly formation, “Optatam totius.”
Fabro died in Rome on May 4th, 1995. As he states in his spiritual testament, he considered it a great honor to be, just as Saint Thomas himself had been, a “miles Christi Jesu” [a soldier of Jesus Christ].