The Rev. Flavian Joseph Bonifazi, a noted religious scholar and author who was a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostate, known as the Pallottine Fathers, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure in the rectory of St. Jude Shrine on Paca Street. He was 81.
Father Bonifazi devoted more than 40 years to translating from Italian the writings of St. Vincent Pallotti, who founded the order of Pallottine Fathers in 1795.
He published four books of the saint's writings in English and wrote two others dealing with the spirituality of St. Vincent Pallotti and his founding of the order.
"St. Vincent wrote, 'All people are called to be apostles and to revive their faith and rekindle charity in all.' And this was what Father Flavian tried to promote in the English-speaking world," said the Rev. Frank Donio, pastor of St. Jude's.
"He traveled to Europe, Australia, India, South America and North America giving lectures and speaking on this topic. He was one of the most famous writers on St. Vincent Pallotti in North America," he said.
Father Bonifazi, who had lived at St. Jude Shrine since 1997, was described by Father Donio as a priest who was "right out of Central Casting and extremely charming."
"He was short and rotund, with a bright smile. He had a cheerful Italian accent and could get away with saying things to people that others couldn't. And they would take them to heart," said Father Donio.
"They were not meant to offend or belittle but were directed for your better good. He'd look at me and say, 'Frank, you're putting on a little weight there; you look a little fatter,'" he said, laughing.
"He was terribly direct and didn't pad his remarks," said the Rev. Michael J. Roach, former pastor of St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church on Hollins Street and now pastor of St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Manchester, Carroll County.
"He was quite a raconteur and graciousness itself. And he was also very well regarded as a priest," he said.
"Even though he had a comic way about him, he was very serious about his faith," he said.
Father Bonifazi was born Flavian Joseph Bonifazi in Prossedi, Italy, the son of devout Catholic parents. He entered the Ostia Lido Prep Seminary in Rome in 1931 and entered the Society of the Catholic Apostate in 1935.
He professed his vows in 1938 and was ordained at the Church of St. Carlo ai Catinari in 1943.
Father Bonifazi studied philosophy and theology at Gregorian University in Rome, from which he graduated with bachelor's degrees in both disciplines in 1944. In 1969, he received a master's degree in theology from Oblate College in Washington.
After teaching Italian and Latin for three years, he arrived in New York to be pastor at Italian churches served by the Pallottine Fathers.
He held positions at churches in New Jersey and New York before arriving at St. Leo's in Little Italy in 1959. From 1963 to 1969, he was a full-time scholar.
In 1969, he was named spiritual director for the students at the Pallottine Seminary in West Hyattsville. In 1974, he was named rector of the institution.
In 1977, he was elected general councilor of the Pallottines and spent the next six years in Rome.
After returning and working briefly in New Jersey, he returned to the St. Jude Shrine in Baltimore.
In 1991, he was assigned as superior of the Pallottine residence on Stiles Street, where he assisted in Masses and continued writing.
At St. Jude Shrine, he heard confessions and delighted in giving religious pilgrims tours of the shrine to St. Jude. Often, visitors asked the saint of last resort for cures for the ill, miracles and other special intercessions.
"Today you can't say miracles," Father Bonifazi told The Sun in a 1998 interview. "They say graces and special favors you receive from the saint. Not miracles.
"For me they are miracles. They come in here and they cry. Men cry. 'Father,' they say, 'my daughter has cancer. She needs therapy.' I say, 'Pray to St. Jude.' They come back and they say, 'She don't need therapy.'
"It's not the priest. It's St. Jude. He's making propaganda for himself."
A Mass of Christian burial was offered yesterday at St. Jude Shrine.
Father Bonifazi is survived by a brother, Alighiero Bonifazi, and two sisters, Pia Cologgi and Ester Amor, all of Italy.