the founder: Who is Father Giussani?
Luigi Giussani was born in 1922 in Desio, a small town near Milan. His mother, Angela, gave him his earliest daily introduction to the faith. His father, Beniamino, a member of an artistically talented family, a carver and restorer of wood, spurred the young Luigi always to ask why, to seek the reason for things. Fr Giussani has often recalled episodes from his family life, signs of an atmosphere of great respect for persons and of an active education to keep alive the true dimensions of the heart and reason. An example is an episode when, still a young child, he and his mother were walking in the pale light of dawn to morning Mass, and his mother suddenly exclaimed softly at the sight of the last star fading in the growing morning light, “How beautiful the world is, and how great is God!” Or the great love of his father, a Socialist anarchist, for music, a passion that led him not only to try to lessen the impact of difficult moments in the family by singing famous arias, but also to prefer to the few comforts affordable in a modest economic situation the habit of inviting musicians home with him on Sunday afternoon so as to hear music played live.
At a very young age Luigi Giussani entered the diocesan seminary of Milan, continuing his studies and finally completing them at the theological school of Venegono under the guidance of masters like Gaetano Corti, Giovanni Colombo, Carlo Colombo, and Carlo Figini. Besides the cultural training it offered, and his relationships of true esteem and great humanity with some of his masters, Venegono represented for Fr Giussani a very important environment for the experience of the companionship of some “colleagues,” like Enrico Manfredini—the future archbishop of Bologna—in the common discovery of the value of vocation, a value that is enacted in the world and for the world.
These were years of intense study and great discoveries, such as reading Leopardi, Fr Giussani recounts, as an accompaniment to meditation after the Eucharist. The conviction grew in him in those years that the zenith of all human genius (however expressed) is the prophecy, even if unaware, of the coming of Christ. Thus he happened to read Leopardi’s hymn Alla sua donna [To his Woman] as a sort of introduction to the prologue to the Gospel of St John, and to recognize in Beethoven and Donizetti vivid expressions of the eternal religious sense of man.
From that moment, reference to the fact that truth is recognized by the beauty in which it manifests itself would always be part of the Movement’s educational method. One can see in the history of CL a privileged place given to aesthetics, in the most profound, Thomist sense of the term, compared to an insistence on an ethical referent. From the time of his years in the seminary and as a theology student, Fr Giussani learned that both the aesthetic and ethical sense arise from a correct and impassioned clarity concerning ontology, and that a lively aesthetic sense is the first sign of this, as evidenced by the healthiest Catholic as well as the Orthodox tradition.
Observance of discipline and order in seminary life became united with the strength of a temperament that, in his dialogue with his superiors and the initiatives of his companions, stood out for its vivacity and keenness. For example, Giussani promoted together with some fellow students an internal newsletter, called Studium Christi, with the intention of making of it a kind of organ for a study group dedicated to discovering the centrality of Christ in every subject they studied.
After ordination, Fr Giussani devoted himself to teaching at the seminary in Venegono. In those years he specialized in the study of Eastern theology (especially the Slavophiles), American Protestant theology, and a deeper understanding of the rational reasons for adherence to faith and the Church.
In the middle of the 1950s, he left seminary teaching for high schools. For ten years, from 1954 to 1964, he taught at the Berchet classical high school in Milan. In those same years he began a work of study and writing articles for journals aimed at drawing attention both inside and outside the Church to the problem of education. Among other activities, he wrote the entry on “Education” for the Enciclopedia cattolica.
These were the years of the birth and dissemination of GS (Gioventù Studentesca, Student Youth). From 1964 to 1990 he occupied the chair of Introductory Theology at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan. On more than one occasion he was sent by his superiors to the United States for periods of study. In particular, in 1966 he spent some months in the States to pursue his study of American Protestant theology, resulting in the publication of an academic study, one of the few publications on the subject, entitled Grandi linee della teologia protestante americana. Profilo storico dalle origini agli anni ’50 [An Outline of American Protestant Theology. An Historic Profile from the Origins to the ‘50s].
He heads the Communion and Liberation movement and is president of its General Council.
He is also president of the Central Diakonia of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, an association recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in 1982.
He is the soul and guide for the experience of Memores Domini, a lay association, also recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity (1988), which unites members of CL who have made the choice to consecrate their lives to God in virginity.
He is a Consultant for the Congregation for the Clergy and the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
He was named Monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1983, with the title of Honorary Prelate to His Holiness.
From 1993, he was director of the successful series “I libri dello spirito cristiano” (“Books of the Christian Spirit”), published by the leading Italian publisher, Rizzoli RCS.
From 1997, he directed the series of musical recordings, “Spirto Gentil,” issued in collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon, which has met with significant success, as witnessed by sales figures and numerous reviews in music magazines.
In 1995 he was awarded the International Catholic Culture Prize.
He is the author of numerous essays, translated into various languages: English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, Polish, Portuguese, Slovak, Slovenian, Hungarian, Greek, and Albanian, which have provided the basis for the formation of hundreds of thousands of young people and adults.
In 2001, on the occasion of the tenth edition of the «Corona Turrita», presented by the city of Desio in recognition of its illustrious citizens, Fr Luigi Giussani received the award.
On February 11th, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, John Paul II wrote Fr Giussani a long autograph letter.
The same year, the President of the Province of Milan, Ombretta Colli, in the presence of Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi, conferred on Fr Giussani the Isimbardi Gold Medal of Gratitude award, while Il Comune dei Giovani (The Municipality of Youth,) of Bassano del Grappa, conferred honorary citizenship on Fr Giussani.
In 2003, Fr Giussani received the Macchi Award, given by the Association of Catholic School Parents, to distinguished figures in the field of education
In 2004, John Paul II wrote a long letter to Fr Giussani, dated February 22, 2004.
On March 16th of the same year, during the fifth Celebration of the Statute of the Lombardy Region, Luigi Giussani was awarded one of the sixteen Sigilli Longobardi (Longobard Seals) assigned to citizens distinguished for particular social merits.
Fr Giussani died on February 22, 2005, in his home in Milan.