LUIGI BOCCARDO (1861- 1936)
Luigi Boccardo was born on 9 August 1861 in Moncalieri, Italy. He was the seventh of nine children born to Gaspare Boccardo and Giuseppina Malerba. The firstborn of the family, Giovanni Ottavio, who at age 13 became Luigi's godfather, was to have a decisive role in his younger brother's future.
Although Luigi's parents were farmers, they took into consideration his desire to study and enrolled him with the Barnabite Fathers, where Giovanni had also studied. Influenced by his brother's good example and the religious atmosphere he encountered, Luigi thought he might want to be a priest.
He received additional good example of dedication to God when his sister Giacinta entered a cloistered convent in 1874.
When Luigi expressed his desire to study for the priesthood, his parents were reluctant to comply, and it was his older brother Giovanni who again interceded for him, also taking upon himself the financial burden of all Luigi's seminary studies. The young man entered Turin's archdiocesan seminary in October 1875, and on 23 September 1877 received the clerical cassock.
It was at this time that he contracted a severe typhus fever which brought him to the brink of death. As a last resort to save his life he was given some water from Lourdes to drink. This event deepened within Luigi a filial devotion to the Mother of God, to whom he consecrated himself. On a holy card of the Blessed Virgin he wrote: "This is she who saved me and stole my heart".
In addition to the protection of the Virgin Mary, Luigi was once again in the good company of his brother Giovanni, who was assigned as spiritual director of the seminary philosophy students. Holy companions continued to surround him in the theological seminary, where he received spiritual direction from the future Bl. Giuseppe Allamano.
Luigi Boccardo was ordained a priest on 7 June 1884. He held a few temporary assignments, including parochial vicar in the parish where his brother, Fr Giovanni Maria Boccardo, was assigned as parish priest at Pancalieri, Turin. During this time the area was struck with a cholera epidemic and Fr Luigi again witnessed his older brother's virtuous life through the pastoral care he gave his flock.
In fact, as a result of the epidemic, which left several orphans and abandoned elderly in its wake, Fr Giovanni founded a Congregation of Sisters to assist them, the Poor Sisters of St Cajetan, which later became his younger brother's priestly responsibility.
New roads to travel
In 1886 Fr Luigi was named vice-rector and spiritual director for the young priests at the Ecclesiastical Boarding School of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Turin, where he served for the next 30 years alongside the rector, Bl. Giuseppe Allamano. Fr Luigi worked with patience and humility in the shadow of this holy man of God, taking on various tasks according to the needs of the institution.
The school was also a place where recently ordained priests, before being assigned as parochial vicars, came to study for two years to further their education, especially in moral theology. Most priests of the Archdiocese of Turin attended this formation school, and it was Fr Luigi Boccardo who guided the overall formation of generations of diocesan priests.
On 9 January 1914, Fr Luigi was appointed Superior General of the Congregation of the Poor Sisters, which had already spread to many parts of Italy. A new chapter thus began in his life, and rather than the relatively tranquil one he had enjoyed thus far, he had to adapt himself to frequent travel throughout Italy. Certainly the demands were many in directing an institute comprised of dozens of convents, several hundred Sisters and the thousands of sick, elderly, children and aging priests who received their care. It is equally certain that it required personal growth on his part, because most his life had been spent in a male seminary environment.
His ability proved great and earned him yet another burden, which he received in 1919. On 3 December of that year Fr Luigi was appointed Director of the Institute for the Blind, begun some 25 years earlier and now in grave debt.
When space and distance constraints made it necessary to move the General House of the Poor Sisters of St Cajetan, Fr Luigi found a suitable site next to the Institute for the Blind in Turin. He took up residence there on 12 June 1928.
However, even in his new place of residence the prematurely aging and hunchback priest, who was never in the best of health, was not allowed to rest. For love of God and neighbour he acceded to the insistence of those who asked for a church to be built next to the Sisters' home. He then began work on the Shrine of Christ the King, which was consecrated on 24 October 1931, the first in Piedmont to spread this Papal devotion.
Constant Kingdom building
But even with all this, Fr Luigi was not finished.
As spiritual director of the Institute of the Blind, which he saved from closing and actually made flourish, he met some people who wanted to consecrate their lives to God. While he tried directing them to monastic life, they were refused due to their blindness.
Taking all this to heart, he decided on 18 January 1932 to consecrate some of them to God with the title of "Sisters of Christ the King", thus becoming a contemplative branch of the Poor Sisters of St Cajetan. The vesting of the first "Sisters of Christ the King" took place on 29 October 1932; their work was to pray for the Church, the Pope, priests and especially the most needy.
On 5 June 1934 Fr Luigi celebrated his 50th anniversary of priesthood and enjoyed the well-deserved recognition and thanks of many. Among his accomplishments are the 1,027 letters gathered into seven volumes from 1901-36 addressed to lay people, priests and Religious and in which is expressed all the spirituality and trust in God of this humble priest who said of himself: "Three things I would never have thought of doing: writing books, founding a religious institute for women and building churches. And I have done all three!".
Fr Luigi Boccardo celebrated his final Mass on 26 April 1936 at the altar of Our Lady of Good Counsel in the Shrine he built to Christ the King, and he died peacefully on 9 June of the same year.