The Birth of the Servants of Charity

St. Guanella and the mountains

In Como, on March 24, 1908, Fr. Guanella and eleven other confreres pronounced public and perpetual or temporary vows, according to each one’s status, during an intimate and moving ceremony.
This decision apparently appeared to be an obvious contradiction. Father Guanella, in fact, had just received for the third time, a negative response to the request for approval of the Servants of Charity. The history of those days would never stop amazing us for the amount of surprises and drawbacks.
The procedure had been suggested by Fr. Claudio Benedetti who represented the Holy See and acted in its name: “It was established that Fr. Guanella should put his mind to correcting the Constitutions and fully conform them to the norms of the Sacred Congregation; to make a more precise and total separation of the houses occupied by the Sisters from those operated by the Servants of Charity; to profess and have the others make their vows as already planned; to establish a general government according to the aforesaid norms; to open a novitiate house better than the existing one.”
Father Guanella had the opportunity to present the status of the Servants of Charity and promised to welcome and accept any counsel, to pursue the desired approval. That was enough to make every perplexity fall, and proceed to the first accomplishments.
The evening of Tuesday, March 24, 1908, was the vigil of the Feast of the Annunciation. Father Guanella’s priests gathered in the church of the Sacred Heart in Como to promise their fidelity and also legally become a Congregation. The sober description, almost terse, was composed by Father Guanella himself: “On this evening the undersigned priests gathered to profess simple, perpetual vows, in the institute of the Servants of Charity in this order. The Priest, Louis Guanella, as the Founder, made the perpetual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience according to the Constitutions received, and revised by the most Rev. Consulter, Fr. Claudio Benedetti in Rome. Afterwards, the above mentioned twelve confreres received the profession of the simple perpetual vows.” (6)
Fr. Leonardo Mazzucchi, one of the twelve newly professed, tells about the extremely emotional atmosphere: “In that late hour Father Guanella would open his lips in his humble, good, simple words; but his mouth did not speak, his great heart, his holy soul spoke feelings of rare sublimity of thought and affection. When we heard him, the martyr of such great fatigue and of many past sorrows, thanking us deeply so moved, oh then our heart could no longer withhold our tears, and we shed tears of love, of holy jubilation, of repentance, of recognition that left an indelible mark on our sous.” (7)
The same ceremony with the same emotions was repeated on March 28th in Milan; on April 1st again in Milan; on April 5th again in Como; on May 18th in Fratta Polesine; on June 7th in Rome and on June 26th for the third time in Como. Twenty-five perpetual professions and eleven for a three year term, and many more to come. Each one of them felt as if they were giving life to a reality that would leave a mark on the history of the Church. They felt to be a factor in the birth of an agile, young congregation that would know how to renew itself in love, moment by moment. On March 28th, the first General Chapter of the congregation was assembled at St. Cajetan House in Milan. The chapter fathers were fifteen and on that occasion, Father Louis Guanella was acclaimed General Superior. It was a first step of the unthinkable prospective of a community united by a sole bond of charity.
He wrote to Fr. Benedetti informing him of what had been done. It seemed that now the road for his institutions would be less strenuous. Many obstacles had been removed. Now Father Guanella could look with more confidence and serenity to the future: “Today is the 42nd anniversary of my sacred Ordination, and I beg you to bless me and our institutions, where I believe the Spirit of the Lord rests. God willing, in His mercy, I hope that the two institutes reach their proper goal. I enjoy repeating that they give me much comfort and hope.”

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