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the Guanellian Leadership Institute at Developmental Programs of Philadelphia

Providing Help - Creating Hope
by supporting individuals with developmental disabilities since 1948

Father Luigi Guanella (Don Guanella)

The life of Fr. Luigi (Fr. Aloysius by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence) was a long run to be present wherever there was a cry for help and there was help to be offered; a sensibility he cultivated since childhood.

Luigi Guanella was born in Fraciscio, an outlying district of the municipality of Campodolcino in the Diocese of Como, on December 19, 1842. On the following day he received the sacrament of Baptism.

His parents, Lorenzo and Maria Bianchi, were exemplary Christians dedicated to the family, to their work in the fields and to sheep and cattle farming. They were accustomed not only to reciting the Holy Rosary but also to reading the lives of the saints, an experience that was to characterize the apostolic activity of Luigi throughout his life.

Having completed his studies at the seminary in Como, he was ordained a priest on May 26, 1866 and the year after his ordination he was appointed parish priest of Savogno. During his seven years as a zealous minister he came into contact with Don Bosco and Cottolengo's institution in Turin. Eager to have a more radical religious experience, in 1875 he entered Don Bosco's Order, making religious vows for three years. The Bishop of Como recalled him to the diocese and Fr. Guanella returned with the dream of founding an institution that would take in needy boys. He opened a school which he was subsequently obliged to close because of the hostility of the civil authorities.

“The hour of mercy", as Fr. Guanella called the propitious moment of divine favor, struck in November 1881 when he arrived in Pianello Lario as parish priest. Here he found a group of girls dedicated to providing help for the needy.

This group of young women was to become the kernel of the new congregation: the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence.

Fr. Luigi' zeal and apostolic built up the beneficial work until it was able to expand its activity in the heart of the city of Como itself. The young women began the activities of the "House of Divine Providence", which later became the Mother House of the two, female and male, congregations.

They opened both their arms and hearts to the poor to help them and to love them. Alongside the Congregation of Sisters, Fr. Guanella also gathered a group of priests whom he called "Servants of Charity."

"It is impossible to stop as long as there are poor people to be helped", he would frequently repeat on his pilgrimages to the wounds of poverty. For this reason both religious congregations continued to spread in various Italian regions and to the Cantons of Grisons (Grigioni) and Ticino in the neighboring Swiss Confederation. In 1904 Luigi Guanella realized his dream of reaching the holy city, Rome, to be closer to the Pope and to show his fidelity to the Church through a luminous witness of charity and apostolic fervor.

St. Pius X had understood the greatness of Fr. Guanella's mind, held him in high esteem and entrusted to him his wish to build a church dedicated to the Transito di San Giuseppe [happy death of St. Joseph]. Beside the parish church the Pious Union of the Transito di San Giuseppe, an association of prayer for the dying, sprang up. St. Pius X wanted to be its first member.

His missionary zeal impelled him to go to the Italian immigrants in North America. In December 1912, at the age of 70, Fr: Guanella embarked on a ship bound for the United States.

The last extraordinary intervention in Fr. Guanella's life was in January 1915, when he chose to stay in Rome to help the victims of the earthquake in the Abruzzo. He had beside him working with zeal Venerable Aurelio Bacciarini, the first parish priest of St. Joseph Parish and his successor in the governance of the Congregation of the Servants of Charity, who was later called to the episcopal ministry in the Swiss Diocese of Lugano.

The infirmities of old age, Italy's entry into the First World War and the involvement of several of his confreres on the military front undermined his health.

In the booklets Fr. Guanella bequeathed to us he wrote: "death is like a mother who embraces her son [...] she is the angel who takes us to our homeland". That mother, bright as an angel, passed at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday, 24 October 1915. And it was a Sunday on which the sun never set.

Spirituality of Saint Luigi Guanella

The spirituality of St. Luigi Guanella can be understood as a unique confluence of the spirituality of the "saints of charity" such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Vincent de Paul, St. Joseph Cottolengo, and St. John Bosco, with the spirituality of the "saints of mystical contemplation" represented by St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila. For Fr. Guanella, a life and spirit of action and contemplation, as symbolized by the sisters St. Martha and St. Mary in the gospels, served as the foundational cornerstones which guided and sustained his ministry of charity along with his life of prayer. "Prayer and suffering" were to be the guideposts by which he and his followers were to actively live this spirituality and giving "Bread and the Lord" to those whom he served further exemplifies these ideals of action and contemplation in the tradition of St. Benedict's "ora et labora"- "prayer and work."

Another hallmark of Fr. Guanella's spirituality centered on his serene confidence and trust in the loving Providence of God, the Father. Because of the Father's infinite goodness and love, especially to his "least ones," Fr. Guanella's faith-filled trust that God would provide, care for, and protect us permeated his life and spirituality. It was this confidence and trust in the Providence of God which allowed St. Luigi to carry on his work to God's "buoni figli" (good children) to many parts of Italy with only the support of his priests, brothers, and sisters and the support of many friends and benefactors.

Fr. Guanella's spirituality was also very Christo-centric fixed very strongly on the person of Jesus Christ in His Sacred Heart. It was in the Heart of Jesus that St. Luigi Guanella saw the "burning furnace of charity" which enlivened all of our souls and which inspired our every action in service to the poor and marginalized of society. Fr. Guanella also instructed his followers to recognize in the poor and the "least ones" the face of Jesus Christ himself - an ideal similarly taught by Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Finally, St. Luigi Guanella's spirituality would be less than complete if it did not include its most essential component - the theological virtue of charity which St. Paul describes as the "greatest of these" virtues. To his first priests, Fr. Guanella stated that "all our experience of faith and service has charity as its center," a charity which is lived in filial surrender to God and in evangelical compassion to the poor. In addition to its love of the Providential Father and service to the poor, this charity is a charity which is to be lived in a familial spirit pointing to the Holy Family of Nazareth as the model of family life with this life being characterized by simplicity and trust and complete availability to the Father's will. Lastly, this charity, for Fr. Guanella, was to be nourished, sustained, and strengthened through devotion to and frequent, if not daily, reception of Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist. It is this Eucharistic aspect of Bl. Luigi Guanella's spirituality which makes possible a life of action and contemplation - which underpins one's perseverance to "prayer and suffering"; and which pervades a life of giving "Bread and the Lord."

The Guanellian Lay Movement

The Lord has raised a large movement of people around St. Luigi Guanella who, in different ways and in mutual collaboration, share a specific call to a common mission of charity to the poor.

The Catholic Church has recognized the “Guanellian Family” as formed by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, the Servants of Charity, and the Guanellian Cooperators.

Subsequently, other lay people attracted by St. Luigi Guanella’s charism formed new groups and associated with the Guanellian Family.  Gathered in Association, recognized by the Church, they share with the Guanellian Religious the responsibility of witnessing and spreading the charism in the Church and in the world. By doing this, their lifestyle in their family and society can become a fruitful witness that promote a gradual adhesion to Christian faith for those who have not yet discovered it or have abandoned it practice.

“Show the beauty of your faith and many will embrace it”. (St. Luigi Guanella).

Guanellian Lay Movement 2012 activities

To those willing to know better the spirituality and the mission of St. Luigi Guanella, the following schedule will be presented during 2012 in which we remember important events of our history.




March 24

Congregation Day – GLM meeting remembering the Centennial Anniversary of the approval by the Holy See with the Decretum Laudis

The Servants of Charity: who were they and who are they today. Their vocation and mission in the today world. Historic and Geographic excursus

May 26

Founder’s Ordination Anniversary

+ Saint Luigi Guanella: missionary of God’s Love among the poor.
+ The Servants of Charity; following his footsteps in the defense of life from conception to natural death.

September or October

Gathering of the GLM with persons with disabilities on the occasion of the First Anniversary of the Founder’s Canonization.


December 15

Celebration of the First Centennial Anniversary of the arrival of St. Luigi Guanella in the US


For those interested in joining the Guanellian Lay Movement and to participate in the 2012 Memorial Events, please contact
Fr. Paul Oggioni,  Don Guanella Village, 1795 South Sproul Road, Springfield, PA 19064