Saint Luigi Orione: General of an Army of Charity

A simple priest and from a humble family like Don Bosco – of whom he was a pupil – Don Orione amazed the world with his holiness, his apostolic zeal, his innumerable works in favor of poor children and all kinds of needy people.

Newsroom (16/03/2022 11:25, Gaudium PressThe motto he adopted, “Renew everything in Christ”, unfolds historically in this way: “Renew everything in the Church”; and, in the way of action, it can also be formulated this way: “Renew everything in charity”.

Like the Divine Master, “he went through the world doing good”. And when the hour came to present himself to the Supreme Judge, he serenely surrendered his soul to God, letting slip from his lips these words charged with jubilation and hope: “Jesus! Jesus! I’m coming.”

“We will make him a general!”

In Pontecurone, a small town in Northern Italy, Louis Orione was born on June 23, 1872, in a dependency of the country house of Minister Urbano Rattazzi, of which the couple Vittorio and Carolina Orione were porters.

The Minister liked to entertain his employees familiarly. Taking little Louis in his arms, he told his father, “We will make a general of him!” This promise – a mere kindness of the illustrious man of state – came true, however, with complete accuracy, for the King of Kings himself had decided, “I will make this boy a great general!”, as we shall see later.

Louis Orione’s childhood can be summed up in a few words: poverty, work, piety and, above all, a great vocation.

From 1886 to 1889 he studied at the Salesian Oratory in Valdocco, from where he left to enter the Diocesan Seminary of Tortona. While still a seminarian, he began to dedicate himself to the works of helping the most needy, participating in the St. Marcian Mutual Aid Society and the Vincentian Conferences. In July 1892, following the path of Don Bosco, he opened his first Oratory, a center of Christian education and recreation for poor boys.

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 Foundation of the first college

To his burning zeal, this seemed little. So the following year he founded a boarding school for boys from poor families. He was only a seminarian then, only 21 years old, and without any financial resources!

But Divine Providence does not abandon the souls chosen by Her to carry out great works. When he hired the building for the school, the landlord demanded payment in advance for the first year: 400 lire.

Orione didn’t have a cent, but he assured the man: “Providence will take care of it”. He left and headed for the Cathedral. On the way, he was interrupted by an old lady:

– Where are you going, Orione?

– I’m opening a school,” he answered.

– How nice! Can I put my grandson in your school? How much will you charge me?

– Pay what you can. – I have 400 lire that I saved for my grandson’s education… How long will it last?

– 400 lire! Your grandson will be able to stay at school for the duration of his studies! – exclaimed Don Orione.

Returning immediately, he made the owner the required payment for the first year’s rent. Thus began this grandiose work, which in less than half a century had spread its benefits to countless countries.

Ordained a priest, he begins to form his “army”

On April 13, 1895, Don Orione was ordained a priest. On that same day he gave the clerical soutane to six students of his school who had a priestly vocation. And in a short time he opened new schools in Mornico, in Noto, in Sanremo and in Rome.

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Don Orione had, in fact, valuable gifts as a general. He soon united to himself the priests and seminarians who, under his command, constituted the first nucleus of a powerful religious family: the Little Work of Divine Providence.

In March 1903, Bishop Igino Bandi gave canonical approval to the new Congregation, which proposed to “work to bring the little ones, the poor and the people to the Church and the Pope through works of charity”. In addition to the three usual vows – poverty, obedience and chastity – the Orionites’ love for the Chair of Peter led them to desire a fourth vow: that of “special fidelity to the Pope”.

In time, the new branches of the Orionine Family came into being: besides the priests, the religious sisters, the hermits of Divine Providence. Then there were the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity, to which were associated the Sacramentine Sisters Adorers and, some time later, the Contemplatives of Jesus Crucified.

Father Orione also organized various groups of lay men and women, which later on formed the Orionine Secular Institute (ISO) and the wide range of associations of the Orionine Lay Movement (OLM).

A heart longing to embrace the whole world

After the First World War (1914-1918), schools, colleges, agricultural colonies, Scaritan and social works multiplied. Among the many works, the most characteristic were the “Little Cotolengos,” institutes located on the outskirts of large cities to welcome the needy and abandoned.

Don Orione’s apostolic zeal was soon manifested by the sending of missionaries to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Palestine, Poland, Rhodes, the United States, England and Albania. All this up until the year 1936.

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Besides being a great preacher, Don Orione was an excellent confessor, organizer of pilgrimages and popular missions. A great devotee of Our Lady, he spread Marian devotion in every way.

Throughout his life, Don Orione received demonstrations of esteem and trust from Popes and civil authorities, who entrusted him with important and delicate missions, in difficult situations of relationship between Church and Civil Society.

In 1940, with his work spread over several continents, Father Orione was stricken with a serious heart disease and had to undergo medical treatment. Only three days later, he passed away serenely, uttering these short words: “Jesus! Jesus! I’m coming.”

His body was buried in the crypt of the Guard Shrine and found unharmed 25 years later, in 1965.

Text extracted from the magazine Arautos do Evangelho n.29, May 2004.

 

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