St Luigi Scrosoppi

Luigi Scrosoppi, born in Udine, was one of three boys in his family, all of whom became priests. After his ordination in 1827, he lived a very active priestly life, and showed a particular concern for the care of orphans. To this end he and his step-brother Fr Carlo established a ‘House for the Destitute’: fund-raising and building work took a number of years, but it was ready by 1837. Luigi played an important role in the foundation of the Sisters of Providence, who devoted their lives to the service of the orphans: the first professions of the sisters were made at Christmas 1845, and the community achieved formal recognition in 1848, an event which was perhaps hastened by the deep impression the Sisters made by their courageous behaviour during the fighting over Udine between the people and the Austrian imperial forces.

Luigi had been associated with the Oratorian Fathers from his earliest years, but the political situation of the time was never favourable to the Udine Oratory. His brother Carlo had become a member of it in 1806, but it was suppressed in 1810, a victim of anti-clerical laws. In 1846, it was re-established, with Carlo, Luigi and two other priests as its members.

The work of Luigi and the Sisters continued to expand: schools were opened, including one for deaf and dumb girls in 1857, the Sisters’ work reached beyond Udine into hospital ministry, a cholera epidemic in 1855 provided an opportunity for Luigi and the Sisters to alleviate suffering among the general population of Friuli. in 1858 the Sisters, now numbering more than thirty, had their Rule commended by Pius IX (although it was only definitively approved in 1891), and things seemed set fair.

But the anti-clericalism which had caused the demise of the Udine Oratory in 1806 struck again: in 1866 the army of the Kingdom of Italy conquered Udine and the surrounding regions, and nothing could prevent the suppression of the Congregation and the confiscation of the church. Luigi would never again live within the formal structures of an Oratory.

But this did not prevent him from remaining a faithful disciple of St Philip. He devoted himself from that time on to the spiritual and practical welfare of the Sisters of Providence. Happily the House for the Destitute was saved, although it had to become subject to public control, and the from the mid-1860s onwards, the work of the Sisters flourished in Austrian-controlled territory, so that Luigi’s prophecy that twelve houses would be founded by the time of his death came true.

Towards the end of 1883, Luigi had to give up all his activity because of ill-health, and he died on 3rd April 1884. During his life, he lived by the motto ‘Work, suffer, and be silent.’ He was indeed a man of prayer, and was filled with spiritual wisdom. He, in the spirit of his Father and patron St Philip, could not bear vanity or hypocrisy; he could also at times be rather brisk, particularly with new candidates for the Sisters – he realised the importance of resilience and the necessity of the gift of strong faith if such people were to be successful in their religious life. And he practised what he preached – if he ever lost his temper or became angry, he was always ready to ask pardon of anyone, from any walk of life. His final exhortation to his Sisters also sums up his own life: ‘Charity! Charity!… Save souls, and save them with charity.’

Luigi was beatified in 1981, and canonised by Pope John Paul II on Trinity Sunday, 10th June, 2001.

O God, since you have inflamed the heart of your priest, Saint Luigi, so that he might be an example of genuine charity towards those who suffer, grant to us that, with the help of his intercession, we may love our brethren with sincere hearts, and daily seek the kingdom of God and his justice. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.