Catholic economist and sociologist Giuseppe Toniolo's influence a century ago opened the door for important changes in Italian society. Because of his dedication to politics, Italian Catholics were able to fight Freemason efforts to keep them out of government.
Pope Benedict XVI decreed on Jan. 14 that Toniolo will be beatified for his exemplary life of holiness and for a recent miracle attributed to his intercession.
Toniolo was born in 1845 in Treviso, Italy. He received a law degree in Padua in 1867 and remained in the academic sphere, teaching economics for more than 40 years.
His landmark teachings on sociology and economics were recognized by the likes of Popes Leo XIII and Pius X.
His advocacy of increased protections for workers is considered an important forerunner to the Church's historic document on the subject, called "Rerum novarum." This 1891 Vatican text collects the teaching of Leo XIII on the "Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor."
Toniolo's theories on the prevailing importance of ethics and the Christian spirit in economics gave support to a broader movement, that of "Christian Democracy" in the nation. His efforts came at a time when Italian Freemasons controlled the levers of government, having united the various kingdoms of the region into the country of Italy in 1861.
Despite pressure from those in power and Vatican leaders who were boycotting the Freemason's rule, Toniolo and like-minded proponents defended the economic and social value of religion in politics. Their effective presence in the public square opened the way for many other Catholic politicians who came after them.
Toniolo was very active in bringing about the change he envisioned. In 1889, he founded and led a union that fought for worker's rights. In the early 1900s, he led Italy's still popular Catholic Action movement.
The professor also founded Catholic "social weeks" which raise awareness of important themes affecting the common good in contemporary society. The initiative continues to be promoted by the Italian bishops' conference today.
Among his proposals were those to give workers days of rest and limited work hours per day. He fought for the defense of small property rights and for the protection of women and children.
Toniolo is also remembered as being a strong advocate for peace and a great family man. He and his wife raised seven children.
It was those who followed in his footsteps that set him on the road to beatification after his death in 1918. In 1933, the Federation of Catholic University Students (FUCI), which he co-founded, began promoting his cause for canonization.
The current postulator for his cause, Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of the Assisi-Nocera diocese, described Toniolo to the Italian news agency ANSA after the news of his imminent beatification broke. "He was a truly representative figure in the panorama of lay holiness in Italy, the prophet of the encyclical 'Rerum novarum', the authoritative witness of the commitment of Italian Catholics in politics," he said.
His beatification, added the bishop, "comes at the most appropriate moment, when Italian Catholics need to find their deepest roots in bearing witness in society."
The beatification was approved by the Holy See after it was found that a man in his 30s from Pieve di Soligo, Italy was inexplicably healed of serious injuries sustained in a fall in 2006. He was healed after prayers were offered, asking for Toniolo's intercession at his tomb in the local church.