Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo—the gentle, brilliant, long-suffering priest through whom Jesus gave us the words of the Surrender Novena—had spiritual gifts and experiences that many people would categorize as extraordinary phenomena. He had visits from Jesus, Mary, and the angels; he could read souls and prophesy; and, as in the following story, he bilocated.
Yet to Don Dolindo, these events weren’t extraordinary at all, and he didn’t consider himself a uniquely elevated soul (in fact, it was the opposite: he considered himself lowly and foolish, a “poor instrument in God’s hands.”) Rather, he believed the supernatural marks of his life flowed directly from his priesthood.
“Jesus did not reveal Himself to me in an extraordinary way, but simply by intensifying the ordinary channel of my priestly personality,” he explains in the autobiography he wrote under obedience to his confessors in 1923. “He would help me, strengthen me, and operate in me through my priesthood.
“That is to say, the activity of Jesus was not an act of extraordinary mysticism but rather Jesus acting through the priesthood.”
Don Dolindo even discouraged the pursuit of the extraordinary and fantastical, and encouraged the pursuit of holiness through the ordinary and wholly accessible means of the Church and Her sacraments.
“When I hear stories of extravagant occurrences—this I admit with some bewilderment—it causes me to react with a certain skepticism and incredulity,” Don Dolindo writes in his autobiography. “Very often I have left books unfinished in which visions, ecstasies, and outlandish tales were related. This aversion of mine was not, however, the result of a materialistic perspective but rather because I wished to be certain of the truth. Instead of the extraordinary I have always preferred the normal and ordinary way.”
And so, from Don Dolindo’s perspective, all the spiritual gifts that he received were extensions of his sacramental priesthood. While others might consider these events extraordinary, he saw them as ordinary channels of God’s grace working through his priesthood to save souls.
One of these souls was a man named Federico.
One evening in 1908, Don Dolindo was pacing about his bedroom and praying, fully awake and alert, when suddenly he was overcome with the need to lie down.
He lay down in his bed and dozed off drowsily but did not fall asleep in a normal way.
“It was definitely not a real sleep,” he said later, when recounting the story in his autobiography.
Then, in an instant, he had the sense that he was in America. He found himself near a lake, where someone was drowning.
He recognized the drowning man as someone he had known during his novitiate. Back then, the man had been his tour guide—the tour guides were referred to as “guardian angels”—in the Missionary Community.
Don Dolindo dragged his “guardian angel,” a man named Federico Santaniello, out of the water and absolved him. Thus the man was reconciled with God.
Then, in the next instant, Dolindo rose abruptly from his bed. All traces of drowsiness had disappeared; once again he was fully awake and alert.
With chills, Dolindo remembered that Federico had, some time before, apostasized and gone to America. Moreover, he also remembered praying and begging God in the past to allow him to bring Federico “back into His grace” before he died.
Later, Dolindo learned that Federico had indeed died in America; and not only that, but a peasant who had been in America at that time testified that he had seen Don Dolindo in America.
“I have never been to America,” Don Dolindo writes in his autobiography. “I know and I attest that the Lord took me there to save that soul.”
As I am writing this article in 2023, a century after Don Dolindo told this story in his autobiography, it strikes me that what happened to him in 1908 is not only a past event but a prophecy—or at least, a sign—of what is happening with Don Dolindo in America today. Through the words of the Surrender Novena, people all around the country are receiving new hope, new light, new life. Souls who were spiritually drowning are being pulled to shore and reconciled to God. Just as Don Dolindo was sent to America to rescue Federico, I believe he is also being sent, a century later, to help revive many more souls, to bring God’s grace into their lives in exactly the way that each individual soul most needs it.
Federico was, I believe, the first of many, many souls Don Dolindo would bring to God in America.
Acknowledgement and special thanks to Maria Palma Smith for the use of her English translation of the book Amore, Dolindo, Dolore (Casa Mariana Editrice “Apostolato Stampa”, 2001). Publication of the English translation is forthcoming from Academy of the Immaculate Publishing.