“Throughout the diocese, religion was little known or understood and religious practices were desecrated by gross abuses and disgraced by superstition. The Sacraments were neglected, for many of the clergy scarcely knew how to administer them, and were lazy, ignorant and debauched; monasteries were full of disorder.”
He had to make a clean sweep, build a diocese from scratch, and he did. He instituted so many reforms, it doesn’t seem possible that one man could have done it all. And we must keep in mind that at this time, he was only twenty eight years old. It was pure Holy Spirit. He was responsible for the institution of some of the following:
1. Reorganization of Diocesan administration into a workable set of offices with separate, individual functions.
2. He called six different provincial councils and eleven diocesan councils to set policy and a working relationship by the people of the church with each other and with their bishop.
3. He began methodical and frequent visits to every part of his diocese.
[Author’s note: This may not sound like such a big accomplishment to us. Our bishop usually gets to every parish in the diocese at least once every year or so. Keep in mind, however, that this diocese, and most like it at that time, may not have ever seen a bishop in the lifetime of anyone in the parish. This particular diocese, Milan, had not had a bishop living in the diocese for over eighty years. The bishops pretty much stayed in Rome. Plus, even if the bishops wanted to embark on such a grand excursion, their means of transportation were pretty primitive by our standards. If a bishop began a journey to visit all the parishes in his diocese, using a stagecoach, he might never finish it in his lifetime. So you can see what an undertaking St. Charles had given himself.]
4. He opened up seminaries in the Archdiocese, first to the Jesuits, and then to the followers of St. Ambrose. Again, this may not seem like any big thing, but seminaries were not in existence prior to the Council of Trent. Actually, St. Charles was very instrumental in the creation of the seminary system during the Council. So actually, he was basing what he did as Archbishop of Milan on what he was partially responsible for putting into the Canons of the Council of Trent. He so believed in the need for formal education and training of priests that it was one of the first reforms he put into effect in his diocese.
5. CCD – Confraternity of Christian Doctrine – St. Charles created CCD in its original form. Actually, CCD was begun by St. Charles under the inspiration and leadership of Pope Pius IV, his uncle. This was done for the people of Rome. There was such a need for educating the people in the churches of Rome on the teachings of the Catechism that it was begun and promoted in 1560. When St. Charles left Rome after his uncle died in 1565, he brought the concept to Milan and put it into practice, according to the mandate made by Pope Pius IV.
6. He began a diocesan religious society, originally called the Oblates of Milan, which were subsequently named the Oblates of St. Charles. This was a reform of clergy which St. Charles began in 1579.
7. He opened up schools and cultural and social institutions within universities in Pavia and at the University of Brera in Milan.
8. He provided shelters for street people of his day: wanderers, the lost and neglected, reformed prostitutes and orphans. Today we would call them the marginalized and disenfranchised, battered women and abused children. The names change with the technology, but the situations remain the same.
For more about Saint Charles Borromeo go to