The Vatican recently announced Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011 as the date set for the canonization of an Apostle of Charity, Louis Guanella. One is raised to officially recognized sainthood after rigorous investigation and when the world has need of the message conveyed in the life honored. As Sister Theresann Gehringer of the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence said, “The church is recognizing his spirituality and meaning for today — respect for the dignity of each individual, because we are children of the same Father.”
Born the ninth of 13 children in 1842 in Fracisio, a small mountainous village in the North of Italy, Louis Guanella’s life began in a faith-filled home. His father carried the newborn baby to the parish church in the next town to be baptized. His family lived an agricultural life of hard work and they were leaders in their commnity. Louis witnessed the care with which his parents and grandparents tended to neighbors in need. This planted the seeds of faith that blossomed in so many ways throughout Guanella’s life.
Childhood experiences led him to the priesthood with a goal of serving all, especially the most needy. He established homes with educational and vocational assistance for orphans and youth. He recognized the call of Divine Providence to meet the needs of marginalized persons who were handicapped, sick and elderly.
Guanella established two religious congregations, the Servants of Charity for men and the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence for women to carry on his mission. He died on Oct. 24, 1915 and was beatified in 1964. His incorrupt body now resides in the Shrine of the Sacred Heart in Como, a city about one hour from Milan.
The sisters came to the U.S. in 1913 at the request of Pope Pius X, a longtime friend and confidant of Father Guanella. Father Guanella had visited various cities in the U.S. and chose to begin the works of the congregation in Chicago where the first sisters ministered to the Italian immigrants and their families. They taught school and later built a residential home and school with the focus of caring for the mentally and physically challenged.
The works of the sisters moved to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, British Colombia and to Syracuse, N.Y. in 2005.
In the Syracuse, the Sisters are involved in various aspects of pastoral work through Holy Family Parish. Sr. Caryn visits the homebound and sick and conducts Baptism preparation and Sr. Theresann works in religious education.
The sisters were invited to the diocese to help in providing for the spiritual needs of adults with developmental disabilities. Together they designed the SPAR (Special Adult Religious) Formation Program. On Sunday afternoons once a month, participants arrive at the SPAR Center, 207 Chapel Dr., in Syracuse from their homes or group homes. Caregivers are welcome to stay. The time commences with food and fellowship. Then a Gospel story exemplifies the Bible study, currently focused on the Our Father. A craft is worked on to take home to reinforce the Biblical passage, and prayer rounds out the session.
The sisters are available to offer sacramental preparation for those with special needs over the age of16 who were unable to participate when they were younger. Sister Theresann also serves on the Diocesan Committee for Persons with Disabilities and Sister Caryn Haas is part of the Religious Needs Committee at the Developmental Disabilities Services Office of Central New York.
They are living the charism of their soon-to-be-canonized founder, Don Guanella, who saw those persons who were handicapped and cared for them, always trusting in the Providence of God. He was a member of the “Pantheon of the Apostles of Charity,” a term used to describe the generous souls of his era, like St. John Bosco, St. Joseph Benedict Cottolengo, St. John Baptist Scalabrini, St. Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, and others who recognized the needs of people who were lost because of the industrial revolution.
Following the motto, “Bread and the Lord,” Don Guanella helped to meet both the material and spiritual hungers of so many.
Sister Caryn shares the excitement of the news, “We can feel it in the congregation, even from Italy!” Indeed, Don Luigi Guanella’s life conveys a vibrant message of hope for which the entire world can rejoice!
For more information or to join the SPAR group, contact 315-474-1745.