Born in Tortorici, Sicily, on October 15, 1873.
First vows Notre-Dame de l’Osier, 1892.
Died in Abruzzo, April 16, 1927.
Antonio Basile was born in Tortorici, Sicily, on October 15, 1873. After completing his primary studies and starting his secondary studies in his native place, he joined his elder brother as well as the young Gaetano Destro and six other compatriots at the French juniorate in Diano Marina. They were attracted by some priests from the diocese of Patti, Sicily, who, after having come to France, became friendly with the Oblates of the Calvaire, where the work for the Italians, founded by Father de Mazenod in Marseille to assist immigrants from Italy, had its headquarters. Antonio arrived from Tortorici on the evening of February 22, 1887, with his father and younger brother Vincenzo. But they barely had time to see his elder brother Giovanni again; that very evening a violent earthquake shook the Ligurian city. The bodies of two young Italians remained under the first rubble of the Ardoino Palace; one of them was Giovanni Basile. The other nine Tortoricians left for Sicily; but, in Rome, Father Cassian Augier, then superior of the Procure located in Piazza San Ignazio, kept them there. They continued their studies at the Massimo College, even after they had moved to the new house in via San Pietro in Vincoli, which later became via Vittorino da Feltre. Of the nine boys, only Gaetano Destro and Antonio Basile remained. After his baccalaureate, Antonio left for Notre-Dame de l’Osier where he made his first vows in 1892.
Back in Rome, he began his studies of philosophy and theology at the Gregorian University; but, after the transfer of the juniorate to Villa del Drago, he moved, once his philosophy was finished, to the new house to help Father Destro in the teaching and supervision of the boys. A few years later he returned to the scholasticate in Rome to complete his ecclesiastical studies. Then he returned to Villa del Drago and resumed his work with love and a more generous enthusiasm; he helped the young people with kindness, gentleness, wisdom and insight to cultivate the mind and the body; he had them enjoy a city like Rome and the freedom of the countryside.
He left there, on September 17, 1903 with 29 boys and Brother Steck, originally from the German province, for Santa Maria a Vico, where they were welcomed by Fathers Destro, Trier and Di Giovine who, during the year, had prepared the apostolic school for the future Oblate province of Italy. He continued his work of teaching and education, with pastoral responsibilities in the ancient shrine.
Later transferred to Maddaloni, he would remain there for fourteen years. He preached in churches in the surrounding area and elsewhere. He took part in popular missions, a work he considered to be the most important in the life of an Oblate. He lent himself to all the tasks that were asked of him, returning, when he could, to his dear students in the apostolic school, making himself close to the poor and the sick, whom his gentleness and especially his kindness irresistibly attracted.
Father Basile was a wise educator who knew how to stimulate people’s energies, a master of life for all categories of people, a clever and persuasive speaker, a conscientious and wise nurse, who neglected his health and did not heal as he should have from his many and heavy infirmities, a diligent confessor, a skillful and prudent director of souls. He was an elegant writer with good inspiration but a sober style much like his behavior. He was the first to propose, support and carry out the project of printing a periodical that would link the works of the legally established province with several interested parties and collaborators, who at that time were spread over several regions of Italy, thanks to the preaching work of the missionary team. In preparation for the centenary of the pontifical approval of the Constitutions and Rules, he was the first to launch a booklet Per le vie della luce, on the origin and development of the Congregation, its works in Italy and in the world, especially in the foreign missions, and the figure of its Founder, etc.
But Father Antonio Basile was above all a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate, always and everywhere, in all the pulpits and in whatever way he could proclaim the Word of God: to children and young people, to priests and religious, to juniorists and Fathers. He had a simple, persuasive, penetrating style, made up of ideas, doctrine, examples, practical applications, spontaneous discoveries, to which were added, to complete the work, the grace of the Holy Spirit and Mary’s intercession which he invoked.
He died on the go, that is to say, during a Lenten preaching that had led him, in four successive stages, to the most inaccessible places in Abruzzo. The last stop was not the last village on the program, but heaven, on a Saturday dedicated to Our Lady, the day before the day of the Resurrection. He died holding his Oblate cross to his chest, surrounded by the poor of a village lost in the snows of the Apennines, on April 16, 1927.
Francesco Trusso. OMI