Luigi Maria Monti (1825-1900)
In order to thwart the agnosticism spreading like wildfire in the 19th century, the Holy Spirit brought forth exceptional men and women endowed with the charism of “assistance” and “receptivity” so the love of neighbor could convince skeptical and positivist man to believe in God-Love.
Numbered in these ranks of the faithful replete with the Holy Spirit was Luigi Monti, blessed of charity. He bore witness to love of neighbor under the hallmark of the Woman who did not know sin, the sign of liberation from all evil: the Immaculate Conception.
A lay religious called “father” out of veneration by his followers because of his readily evident spiritual fatherhood, Luigi Monti was born on 24 July 1825 at Bovisio in the diocese of Milan, and was the eighth of 11 children. His father passed away when he was 12 and he became a craftsman of products in wood to help support his mother and younger siblings. Ever an ardent youth, in his shop he gathered together many artisans and farmers of his age in order to give life to an evening oratory. This group took the name of “The Company of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”, but the people of Bovisio referred to it as “The Company of Friars”.
This group of young men stood out for its austerity of life, dedication to the sick and the poor, and its zeal in evangelizing those who had lapsed from the Church. Luigi, the leader of the group, consecrated himself to God in 1846, at the age of 21, by professing the vows of chastity and obedience into the hands of his spiritual director. He was a faithful layman consecrated in the Church of God with neither convent nor habit. Not everyone, however, was able to grasp what the Spirit had bestowed upon Luigi Monti. In fact, some people in the small town, together with the parish priest, mounted a campaign of servile yet evident opposition which led to slanderous charges of political conspiracy against the Austrian occupation authorities. In 1851 Luigi Monti and his companions were jailed in Desio (Milan) and released only 72 days later at the end of the formal investigation into the charges filed.
Docile to his spiritual director, Fr. Luigi Dossi, Luigi Monti joined him in entering the Sons of Mary Immaculate, the congregation founded by Blessed Ludovico Pavoni only five years earlier. He remained in the congregation as a novice for six years. This was a period of transition for Luigi Monti, but during it he fell in love with the constitutions written by Blessed Pavoni, gained experience as an educator, and learned both the theory and practice of nursing care which he placed at the service of the community and those stricken by cholera during the epidemic of 1855 in Brescia, when he willingly accepted to be isolated in the local asylum with the sick. At the age of 32 Luigi Monti was still searching for the concrete realization of his own consecration. In a letter dated 1896, four years prior to his death, he evoked the nighttime of the spirit which he had lived at that time: “I would spend hours before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, but they were all hours without a drop of heavenly dew; my heart remained arid, cold, and unmoved. I was on the verge of abandoning everything, when, alone in my room, I heard a clear and distinct inner voice saying to me: “Luigi, go to the choir in church and present your tribulations once again to the Blessed Sacrament'. I heeded this inspiration and hastened to follow it. I kneet down and after a short time—what wonder!—I saw two personages in human form. I recognized them. It was Jesus with His Most Holy Mother, who approached me and in a loud voice said to me: “Luigi, much indeed will you still have to suffer; other varied and greater battles will you face. Be strong; you will emerge victorious from everything; never lacking to you will be our powerful help. Continue the way you began. Thus did they speak and then disappeared”.
Inspired by the witness of charity of Saint Crocifissa Di Rosa, Fr. Luigi Dossi broached the idea that Luigi Monti give life to a “Congregation for the service of the sick in Rome. Luigi embraced the idea and suggested calling it “The Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception”. The idea was shared by several of his friends dating back to the time of the ‘Company', and by a young, ardent and experienced nurse by the name of Cipriano Pezzini.
A foundation in the Rome of Pius IX was no simple matter, and especially so in one of the most famous hospitals of Europe, the Santo Spirito Hospital. In the meantime, the Capuchin chaplains in the selfsame hospital were in the process of creating a sort of Third Order of St. Francis for bodily assistance to patients.
When Luigi Monti arrived in Rome in 1858, the situation he found was quite different compared with the plans he had made with his friend Pezzini, who had gone before him to handle the necessary negotiations with the 'Commendatore', the hospital's highest ranking authority.
He understood that for the time being God wanted him simply as ‘Fra Luigi from Milan', a nurse at the Santo Spirito Hospital, and he humbly asked to be admitted to the group organized by the Capuchin Fathers. He was initially assigned to those tasks nowadays reserved to practical nurse assistants, and then to the responsibilities of a phlebotomist, as certified in the diploma he received from the La Sapienza University in Rome.
In 1877, following the unanimous wish of his confreres, Pius IX placed him at the head of ‘his' Congregation, and so he remained until his death twenty-three years later.
Pius IX harbored a special predilection for the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception from its very origin, because of his intense yearning to see the patients in Roman hospitals well assisted, and because it bore the name of the Immaculate Conception.
When he became Superior General, Luigi Monti prepared for the Congregation a rule of life reflecting the experiences he had lived under the impulse of the Holy Spirit. And, through his animation, the community of Santo Spirito Hospital lived the “apostolica vivendi forma” of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception. Nourished by the Eucharist and meditation upon the privilege of the “Lady All Pure”, the Brothers dedicated themselves with heroism to the care of the sick. At times of mass admissions due to epidemics of malaria or typhoid, or in the aftermath of armed conflicts, the Brothers did not hesitate to surrender their own beds for the comfort of the sick and infirm. They declared their readiness to assist all those afflicted by forms of malaria, no matter where they might be sent. Luigi Monti opened other small communities in the upper part of the Latium region, where he himself had worked earlier in sundry hospital roles, as well as a traveling nurse attending to needs in isolated farm houses scattered all over the countryside around Orte (Viterbo).
In 1882 a Carthusian monk came to see him at the Santo Spirito Hospital and said he had been inspired by Mary Immaculate to do so. This monk came from Desio and presented Luigi Monti with the pitiful case of his four nephews who had lost both their parents. This was a sign from the Spirit of God, and Luigi Monti expanded his mission of assistance to encompass completely orphaned children: He opened a home for them in Saronno. His fundamental pedagogical principle was based on the fatherhood of an educator: the community of the religious receives the orphan just like a family in order to provide him with a human and Christian formation serving as the basis for all vocations in life: civic life, family life, life in the state of special consecration.
Luigi Monti, a consecrated layman, conceived the community of ordained and lay ‘Brothers' in equality of rights and responsibilities, where elected as superior of the community was to be the Brother deemed best suited. He died in 1900 at the age of 75, completely worn out and practically blind. His project had yet to receive ecclesial approbation, and only did so in 1904 from St. Pius X, who approved the new model of community foreseen by the Founder, granting the ministerial priesthood as an essential complement for carrying out an apostolic mission addressed to the whole of man in both assistance to the sick and save haven for youth in need.
In 1941 Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan, initiated the diocesan phase of the cause of beatification which lasted until 1951.
In 2001 the Congregation for the Cause of the Saints promulgated the decree acknowledging the heroic nature of the virtues, and 2003 witnessed the decree which endorsed as miraculous the healing of Giovanni Luigi Iecle, a farmer from Bosa (Sardegna), in 1961.
Hard at work all over the world, the Congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception continues to imbue works of charity with the charism of paternal openness and assistance practiced with such professionalism and utmost dedication by the Founder, Luigi Monti.