Don Luigi Guanella e Como.
Italiano Francese Inglese

Biography of Don Guanella

Fraciscio, paese natale di S. Luigi Guanella

S. Luigi Guanella, prete novello (1866)

S. Luigi Guanella con i primi Confratelli

Il piccolo Luigi

The Blessed Luigi Guanella, a modern Apostle of Charity, dedicated his life to establishing homes for welcoming orphans, the poor, the old-aged, the ill, the bedridden and the handicapped in and overcoming all the difficulties he encountered with an infallible trust in the works of Providence. Born on the 19th December 1842 in Fraciscio, a municipal district of Campodolcino located amidst the sunny Valle Spluga mountains in Northern Italy, Luigi was the ninth of thirteen children. He was raised in an atmosphere that was carefree yet devoted to human and Christian beliefs and values. On the day he received his First Holy Communion in the spring of 1852, whilst on the Gualdera hillock, young Luigi receives a prediction of his future mission: he recalls that in a moment of solitude «his heart reflected a surge of gently delicate, near-paradisiacal sweetness, strongly persuasive of his forthcoming Works of Good».

Gli anni della formazione

When he turned 12 he initially began his priestly formation studies in grammar and humanity at the Gallio Academy in Como after which he entered the Diocesan Seminary. After being ordained on the 26th May 1866, Luigi began his priestly activities first in Prosto and then in Savogno where he tirelessly worked to alleviate both the material and spiritual suffering of the abandoned and the poorest alike.

Alla scuola di don Bosco

In 1875, Father Luigi travelled to Turin and joined St. John Bosco, who welcomed him with high esteem and regard, holding high hopes of keeping him there in service as a Salesian. However, another destiny awaited him: in 1878, Father Guanella returned to the Diocese in Como obeying the Bishop’s request but also with the aim of doing the works he felt he needed to do for his people and that he had been harbouring in his heart for many years.

"Hour of mercy"

After some extremely trying experiences in Traona and Olmo, in November 1881 Father Luigi was appointed to act as Parish Administrator in Pianello del Lario, where he very soon took charge of a small Home for orphan girls and old aged women operated by some local young ladies that had taken their vows, two of whom were sisters Marcellina (future co-founder of her Congregation) and Chiara Bosatta (who was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1991). This small Home located in the municipal district of Camlago was later to represent the embryo of the very first Guanellian Institute.

Here, the «hour of mercy» finally strikes for him too: it is right from Pianello del Lario that a few years later Father Luigi sends off a small boat carrying two sisters, a group of orphan girls and a very few pieces of furniture to Como, with the task of founding what would later be renown as the “Divine providence Home”, the first of his foundations.

The founder

To continue his works Father Luigi then gathers a group of Sisters and of Priests and founds two religious orders, the Daughters of Saint Mary of Providence and the Servants of Charity. Together with a group of non-confessionals, they start working to share the charisma of charity the world over, by bringing the “Bread and Lord of Faith” to the poorest and working to manifest the integral promotion of the individual.

The Saint

Father Guanella died in Como on the 24th October 1915 shortly before he was about to turn fifty. On the 25th October 1964, Luigi Guanella was beatified by Pope Paul VI whilst on the 23rd October 2011, he was canonised by Pope Benedict XVI. Due to his unremitting zeal and love for the sick, in 2005 the Blessed Luigi Guanella was declared, together with Saint Pious X, as being joint Patron Saint of the U.N.I.T.A.L.S.I. (the Italian National Union for Transport of the Sick to Lourdes and International Shrines).

Don Luigi Guanella’s saintly charisma and his message

Roma: Ricovero San Giuseppe in Via Aurelia Antica. Foto scattata probabilmente nella seconda metà degli anni Venti del Novecento.
I sacerdoti in fondo sono don Giovanni Calvi (a sin.) e don Mauro Mastropasqua (a des.).

Don Luigi Guanella fu sempre attento alla scienza, all'educazione e alla comunicazione, consapevole del valore della tradizione ma aperto al mondo ed alle sue novità. Pranzo offerto da don Guanella in occasione del Congresso dei telegrafisti convenuti per le onoranze di Alessandro Volta, presso la Casa delle Figlie di Santa Maria della Provvidenza a Lora. Anno dell’esposizione Voltiana 1899.

Don Luigi Guanella’s saintly charisma is the biblical announcement of the Paternity of God which he believes constitutes a profound individual experience of a mystic and prophetic nature. His saintliness and his mission are thus imbued with a characteristically qualified and typical dimension. An experience that he wishes to share with everyone, especially with the abandoned and poorest of us all: «God the Father is as prosperous as the sea, that in restoring back to the land all the waters it receives, it grows no smaller in size. God the father [...] looks lovingly upon you, as if he had only you to think about».

His Homes are coherently arranged in well appointed and family-minded human-scale structures adopting their signature preventive-education methods, entrusted to the paternity of God. Overall guidance and conduction are thus entrusted only to Him: «It is God that doeth». Since we too are of God, the Holy Ghost bestows upon us the evangelical grace and inspiration of the Founder, so that his Ministry of Charity is continuous within the Church.

The people characterising our apostolate are those that have undergone enduring experiences in both body and soul; assistance is provided to youngsters, seniors and “sons of God” alike.

Guanellian photograph archive

Posa della prima pietra
del Santuario S. Cuore in Como (1913)

La Casa Divina Provvidenza (Como)
all’inizio del Novecento

A Roma, nel quartiere Monte Mario, nel 1903 don Guanella aprì una colonia agricola ed un ricovero maschile

Nuova Olonio (Sondrio): monumento a don Guanella nella Casa Madonna del Lavoro, struttura che accoglie anziani e disabili, realizzato dallo scultore Alfredo Vismara.

“Don Luigi Guanella and Como: a story told through images” is the title of a project from the Guanellian Photographic Archive by the Congregation of the Servants of Charity – Opera Don Guanella – Province of the Sacred Heart, with the patronage of the Como Community Foundation and the Campione d’Italia Municipality.

With a few clicks, the visitor is welcomed into a proper virtual museum comprising an impressive iconographic support of 12,000 images. The project scheme is ideally divided into four areas.


The four sections of the photographic archive

The first area which is dedicated to don Luigi Guanella provides an overview, by way of digital and negative photographs and slides portraying significant moments, of the life of the novel Saint hailing from the northern Italian region of Lombardy, with particular reference to the provinces of Como and Sondrio, the two main centres of the Lake Como Diocese. The oldest evidence dates back to the First Mass ceremony, celebrated in 1866, whilst the most recent are dated 1915 which is the year Blessed Luigi Guanella died in. There is yet plenty more to see. The area is completed with a display of paintings, pieces of furniture and sculptures, as well as portraits and drawings also depicting don Luigi’s parents.

The second gallery houses all the people that knew him or that anyway admired his works, starting from Pope Pious X, then on to the Blessed Scalabrini, Bishop of Piacenza and Luigi’s friend and Cardinal Andrea Carlo Ferrari, the Bishop of Como who then became Archbishop of Milan and always maintained a special predilection for the Servants of Charity.

The third area covers the Guanellian “Places”, i.e. a number of geographic locations showing various different traces of the Don Guanella’s presence and giving evidence of his involvement with the city of Como, from the second half of the eighteen hundreds up to 1915.

Finally there are the Saint’s “Opere”, i.e. the Guanellian Homes. Some of those that have been included in the project date directly back to the Founder of the Congregation. Again, it is Como that is highlighted here, with views of the “Home of the Divine Providence” - the congregation’s mother-house - and other homes founded in the nearby Valtellina district and in Switzerland. Part of the iconographic documentation is actually subsequent to the Blessed Luigi, as documented by recent works constructed in Ghana, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Search methods

How does one successfully conduct a research through the archive’s iconographic sources? Consultation is easy and user-friendly. By clicking again, you will access a simple screen map. If the visitor already has an exact idea of the items of interest, it is possible to perform a “keyword” search.

If for example the term “baptism” is entered, Don Luigi’s actual baptism certificate will come up on screen. If a more complex search is required, it is possible to enter more than one keyword. To quote a new, concrete example, should one be interested in the Blessed Guanella’s involvement with the Helvetic Confederation, it is sufficient to type in “Guanella” and “Switzerland”, in either upper or lower case letters.

There is also a second option for guiding users that are not successful with “navigating” the archive contents. The search template furthermore enables the entry of some pre-set fields, which can either be typed in individually or all at once, such as: the place the image refers to, the year or period it dates back to and the type of support it is on (digital photograph, photo negative or slide).

Therefore, if you want to check whether there are any negatives of the City of Como in the year 1950, first click on "SEARCH", fill in the three fields by entering the relevant keywords, then "Search On All" and finally "search".