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Bl. Moses Tovini (1877-1930)

Diocesan Priest

Moses Tovini was born on 27 December 1877 in Cividate Camuno, Italy, and was the first of eight children. His father Eugenio was an accountant and his mother, Domenica Malaguzzi, was a teacher. His uncle, Bl. Giuseppe Tovini (beatified in 1998), was his godfather.

Moses was a very bright boy and started elementary school in Breno at the age of 5. When he was 9, he moved to Brescia to continue his schooling and lived there with his uncle and godfather.

Moses received his First Holy Communion on 14 November 1886.

In 1889, he was sent to a school in Romano Lombardia to finish his junior high school studies. It was here that he met Dominic Menna, who became a life-long friend.

In 1891 the third centenary of the death of St Aloysius Gonzaga was solemnly celebrated at the school, and the two students were so deeply fascinated by this young saint that they began to consider a vocation to the priesthood.

Moses asked the advice of his father concerning his vocation. His father convinced him not to begin priesthood studies at that time. He was then sent to a high school in Celana, Bergamo, where he felt very lonely and did not "fit in" with the street-wise boys there.

After Moses took a mathematics exam which all the other boys boycotted, he became the target of their bullying. To escape their abuse the young Moses returned home and in this circumstance was able to confirm his desire to enter the seminary in Brescia. Thanks to the intervention of his uncle Giuseppe, he was admitted to the seminary even though the school term had already begun.

When the health of his dear Uncle began to decline, he was allowed to live with him and care for him. But on 16 January 1897, Uncle Giuseppe suddenly died and it was Moses who had to organize the funeral.

Upon finishing studies at the minor seminary Moses' parents intervened for a leave of absence. He was then enrolled for a year of military service in the army in Brescia.

Also in this environment many opportunities existed for the young man to witness his adherence to the Gospel or to demonstrate his virtue. Once he even silenced an official who was in the habit of blaspheming.

With his discharge from the army on 31 October 1898 with the rank of sergeant, he returned to his home parish where he instituted the charity of "St Anthony's Bread" and furthered his studies for the priesthood.

On 10 March 1990 he was ordained a deacon and on 9 June 1900, when he was only 22 years old, he was ordained a priest in the Cathedral of Brescia.

His first assignment was as chaplain of Astrio. A short time later, the Bishop sent him off to Rome, where he spent four years continuing his studies.

Professor and catechist

In 1904, Fr Tovini returned to Brescia with degrees in mathematics, philosophy and a licence in theology. There he asked his Bishop for permission to enter the new Congregation of Oblate Priests that had been opened in that city.

From November 1904 until his death, Fr Tovini served as professor at the seminary of Brescia. He also studied in Milan to obtain a degree in dogmatic theology. He dedicated all his time and energy to his students and prepared his lessons with great fidelity and obedience to the teachings of the Church, the Pope and the Bishop.

Fr Tovini did not limit himself to his lessons and schooling. During vacation time, he organized religious education courses for teachers, weeklong catechetical sessions and, of course, performed his more direct priestly duties as well.

In 1915 he was appointed parochial vicar at Provaglio d'Iseo; and with the outbreak of World War I, this duty exempted him from being enlisted and enabled him to continue teaching at the seminary.

The following year he was made vice pastor of the parish of Torbole, because the current pastor had been called to active duty.
Although avoiding the immediate battle ground, he nonetheless risked his own life with the outbreak of Spanish flu, ministering fearlessly to the sick.

When the war ended, he was given a new assignment to assist the seminarians who had been unable to complete their studies due to their involvement in the war.

Throughout his life as a priest, Fr Tovini was always eager to teach catechism.

In 1919 he was appointed vice-prior of the Diocesan Commission of the Catechism, and in 1926 he became director of the Institute for Training Catechism Teachers in Brescia. Here, he prepared hundreds of teachers for the State schools.

In 1922, he and Don Giuseppe Schena began the Catholic Action Movement in Italy.

In 1923 he was appointed canon of the Cathedral and was also vice-official of the ecclesiastical tribunal. In 1926 he was appointed rector of the seminary.

"Three pillars' of priestly vocation

As rector, Fr Tovini taught the seminarians the "three pillars" upon which they were to build their vocation: the Eucharist, the Immaculate Virgin and the Pope. He was a true father to them, with constant vigilance over their souls and the necessary severity and goodness that this watchfulness demanded.

His "benevolence" was often misunderstood as weakness and criticized by his immediate collaborators, but he silently accepted this cross since his main concern was for the proper formation of seminarians.

On 23 January 1930, Fr Tovini was hospitalized and diagnosed with pneumonia. On 27 January he asked for the Sacrament of Last Rites; the following day he died.

That same evening, 28 January, the Bishop of Brescia wrote in his diary: "This morning, around 11 o'clock, Mons. Tovini died. I pray to find a rector that will be like him".