Blessed Father Louis Guanella and St. Joseph
by Father Germano Pegoraro, S.C.
In just a few pages, it is impossible to present a complete portrayal of
Blessed Louis Guanella's life, charisma, and holiness. However, there are
certain key aspects that show us the real and true figure of our Blessed
It was a wintry day on December 19, 1842 in a remote valley of the Alps,
in a little town called Fraciscio, that the family of Pa' Lorenzo Guanella
and Mary Bianchi received another son, Louis, as a special gift from God.
The Guanella family had a deep religious tradition. In such a religious family
atmosphere, little Louis grew up under the care and love of his Pa' Lorenzo,
and he learned of piety, gentleness, and understanding from his dear mother
Mary. Like Jesus at Nazareth, little Louis at Fraciscio grew "in wisdom,
age and grace." In his heart, he carried the sweetness of his mother Mary
and in his will power, the fortitude of his father. Little Louis was deeply
influenced by his family's life. To him, it resembled the life of the Holy
Family of Nazareth. As a Founder of two Congregations, the Daughters of Saint
Mary of Divine Providence and the Servants of Charity, he wanted the loving
and joyful atmosphere of Nazareth in all his homes for his favorite people.
The deep faith implanted in Louis' heart by his parents was the secret of
his spiritual life. From Pa' Lorenzo's love, respect and care for his wife
Mary and all his children, Louis perceived the paternity of God, a father
who cares and loves all his crea- tures.
Through the figure of Pa' Lorenzo, Louis came to know paternal qualities
such as hospitality, respect and care for the poor, assisting the sick and
helping the needy. All of these became guidelines for Fr. Guanella's activity
and spirituality. We, his spiritual sons and daughters, inherited his charismatic
love for the most neglected people. The Paternity of God the Father became
the central force and inspiration in all his charitable work.
In his daily life, Fr. Guanella had a great devotion to St. Joseph, custodial
father of Jesus and safeguard of the virginity of Mary, his wife, the Mother
of God. He reminded his priests and nuns that St. Joseph is the administrator
of all their homes. All superiors must have the love and care of St. Joseph,
as well as the kindness and gentleness of Mary, in dealing with the residents.
Even today, there are priests and nuns who can testify the providence they
received came through St. Joseph's help.
Fr. Guanella traveled to find good people willing to help him care for his
dear people. People called him the priest of the mentally and physically
impaired, the elderly, and the orphans. He opened many houses in Italy and,
in 1913, he had sent nuns to Chicago. To those asking how he was able to
open so many houses, his answer was, "It is God who does it." His faith in
God's providence was the secret of his success. One day, as was his habit,
he was seen with his head down at the train station. A priest sat near him
posing a question to Fr. Guanella. "What do you think about Fr. Louis Guanella?
Some are saying that he is a holy man; others think that he is crazy. Have
you heard of him? What you think?" Fr. Guanella answered, "I think he is
crazy." What sincere humility for a person so close to God!
His love and care had no limit. His dear impaired people were assisted to
the very end. When he was home, it was his duty to give his blessing for
the dying. His motto was, "Let us give them bread and paradise" and this
was implanted in the hearts of all his nuns and priests.
In Rome, six years before his death and physically tired of his work, Fr.
Guanella was inspired to build a Church and start an Association in honor
of St. Joseph, patron of the dying. Pope Pius X, a very close friend, expressed
a desire to have a church in Trionfale, a very poor area near the Vatican.
The Pope's desire strengthened Fr. Guanella' sown ideas. Trusting to divine
providence, he put a down payment on the land and the foundation was immediately
begun. On the property, there was a barn which became the first Chapel of
St. Joseph. The people called it the 'Basilichetta' (small Basilica.) What
a striking comparison with our barn that we call Basilichetta! In 1912, Fr.
Guanella announced to the Pope that the Church was completed in honor of
St. Joseph and His Holiness, whose baptismal name was Joseph Sarto.
The Pope admired Fr. Guanella for his courage and devotion to St. Joseph,
and when he heard about the Pious Union Association of prayers for the dying,
he said to Fr. Louis, "Please make me the first member." In 1913, Pope
Pius X gave his approval, making the Church of the Pious Union the main center
for all the universal church.
St. Joseph's Church in 1912 The Minor Basilica as it is today.
His beloved Pope Pius X died in 1914, one year before Fr. Guanella's death.
The two saints understood each other so well.
In October 1915, Fr. Guanella had a stroke on his left side. He suffered,
being incapable of movement or speech. Around his bed, all the priests and
nuns assisted him with prayers and showed their sorrow. The future Blessed
Fr. Orione, founder of religious Congregations, came to visit his friend
Fr. Guanella. The two holy priests had a private meeting and when Fr. Orione
left he said, "A saint is dying."
On October 24, 1915, Fr. Guanella died while invoking God and paradise. Religious
and civil authorities, including the Pope, sent their condolences. All the
citizens of Como came to the Sacred Heart Church, another church built by
Fr. Guanella, to visit his exposed body and to pray. His privileged people
provided a constant presence around his body, praying tearfully. The news
of the death of the father of the poor traveled throughout Italy. The funeral
was, as Fr. Guanella desired, simple and modest. His spiritual sons and daughters
in their' sorrow were consoled, recalling that they had asked Fr. Louis Guanella
earlier, "Who will take over after you?" The smiling Father Guanella answered,
"It is God who works!"
On October 25, 1964 in St. Peter's Basilica, Pope Paul VI beatified Father
Louis Guanella with admirers of the holy priest present, including the neediest.
The Pope ended his discourse, repeating Blessed Louis Guanella's saying,
"It is God who works." In closing, the Pope said, "Let us praise God in his
servant Blessed Louis Guanella and pray to Him through the intercession of
this champion of faith and charity, that God will give us the grace to imitate
him and thus bless all of us."
The day of the beatification was very cloudy. Witnesses have confirmed that
at the moment the Pope declared Louis Guanella blessed, the sun came out
and shone through the windows onto the image of Bl. Guanella.
(Credit: Pegoraro, Father Germano. "Blessed Father Louis Guanella
and St. Joseph." Now and at the Hour Oct. 2002:
Fr. Germano Pegoraro, S.C. is the Director Emeritus of the Pious Union
of St. Joseph in the United States.