From the book: DON ORIONE. INTERVISTA VERITA’
by Don Flavio Peloso, Ed. San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, Italy, 1997, pp. 112-122.
THE LITTLE WORK OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE PRESENTED BY DON ORIONE
Question: Don Orione, you have already told us many things about your life, your ideals and your projects. Around you has grown a spiritual and apostolic movement. To say “Don Orione” today, means not just thinking of you but also the many priests, sisters, hermits, lay people working in various houses and works both throughout Italy and in many parts of the world. Shall we speak about the Little Work of Divine Providence, the name you gave to your foundation?
Answer: The Little Work of Divine Providence wishes, with its various families, to spread the “Sensus Christi” and the spirit of the love of Jesus and of his holy Catholic Church, our Mother, through works of mercy.
It really wants to spread the Gospel and the love of the Pope, “sweet Christ on earth”, among the people, as well as a more lively and greater spirit of fraternal charity among men. It wishes to religiously and socially elevate the working classes, to save them from fatalistic and disinheriting ideologies, to build up and unite the people in Christ.
Its field of work is charity. However, truth and justice are never excluded. Charity is put into practice in truth and justice.
Q.: Right from the start, you called your foundation “Work of Divine Providence”, to which you later added the adjective “Little”. In June 1899 you wrote the “memo on the Society of the Pope”. Tell us about this.
A.: As I said to Don Luigi Gamaleri when I read to him the aim of the Society, the essential element which keeps together all the families which make up the Work of Divine Providence - hermits, workers, adorers, dames, colleges, sisters, priests, etc. - must be this Society.
Q.: However this “Society of the Pope” never came about, but the Little Work of Divine Providence grew up anyway with both a unitary and multiform development. How do you explain this?
A.: Even though it has only one faith, one soul, one heart, one government, it continues to develop various activities according to the many different needs of those it meets. It adapts itself, by the love of Christ, to the several ethnic criteria of the nations to which the hand of God directs it. It is not therefore unilateral, but, so as to sow Christ, faith and civilisation, it creates and promotes diversity in its houses, taking into account, in its apostolate, the experiences and suggestions of the local authorities.
Q.: So, the same principle of development inspired the rise of the various consecrated families.
A.: This Little Work of Divine Providence aims to be like a stream of living, beneficial water, whose canals branch off to irrigate and sow the seed of Christ in the most arid and forgotten strata of society.
It is a new plant, born at the feet of the Church, in the garden which is Italy, not by the work of man, but from the divine breath of the Lord. It is one single plant, but with several branches, all nourished with the same sap, all reaching towards heaven, all flowering with the love of God and of man.
Q.: One single plant with several branches. Looking at the Little Work brings to mind more the untidy but robust intertwined branches of an oak rather than the elegant architecture presented by the branches of the pine. Let’s look at these “branches from a single plant”: the Sons of Divine Providence, priests, brothers and hermits; the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity, active, contemplative and blind Sacramentine; the consecrated lay people and various types of associates.
The Little Work began with you, a clerical student, and with a small group of clerics and priests which you called the “Sons of Divine Providence”.
A.: Making ourselves humble Sons of Divine Providence, we wanted to live a life of faith and charity and make ourselves devotees of the Pope and of that holy Roman Church which alone is mother and teacher of all Churches. We offered our very selves to our holy Mother, the Church and to her Head, the Pope, the one and only Vicar on earth of Jesus Christ.
Priests with an illuminated spirit, of one heart which embraces the apostolic fortress. Priests of action, of prayer, of sacrifice. Priests thirsting for souls, willing to give everything, even themselves, for Christ, for souls, for the Pope!
Let us throw ourselves at the new forms and methods of religious and social action. Let us not be fossilized. Let every initiative be modern in its presentation: it’s enough to be able to sow, it’s enough to plough Jesus Christ into society and to inseminate it with Christ, to give Christ to the people and the people to the Church of Christ.
Q.: You define your Congregation as an “army of charity”.
A.: An army of victims who overcome force; an army of sowers of God, who sow their own lives, so as to sow and plough Jesus the Lord in the hearts of our brothers and of the people; an army which is big, invincible: the army of charity, guided by Christ, by our Lady, by the Pope, by the Bishops!
The army of charity will bring back to parched humanity such a strong and sweet life and light of God that all the world will be restored, and everything renewed in Christ, as St. Paul said.
Q.: The “priests who run”, “the porters of Divine Providence”, “priests of the stole and work”: these and similar phrases circulate. You insisted also on the fact of being “a doctrinal force in the hands of the Church”.
A.: The learning of the priest is the eighth sacrament of the Church, according to St. Francis de Sales. The worst disasters happened in the Church when the holy ark of knowledge went to hands other than those of the Levites. I want more men of prayer than scholars: humble, active men, well crucified in the Lord to serve the Church and souls! This is everything. Souls are saved by holiness, good example and learning.
Q.: Right from the very beginning you started the branch of the “Hermits of Divine Providence” . Where did you get this idea from?
A.: Hermits have always been important in religion. They are a necessary part of the Work of Divine Providence. They live in continuous sacrifice, continuous voices of love for Jesus for the health of the brothers... Today, it seems that the needs of the times require this institution. Society is in danger because gold is an idol which has replaced everything; dishonesty is on the increase, it diminishes intelligence and weakens young people; pride reigns, insubordination, rebellion in the spirit. To keep distant this triple danger, the world needs to see the opposite virtues. So we have the Hermits. What sermons these servants of God are demonstrating with their habits and their lives, every day, and so efficaciously, how different they are from everyone else.
Q.: And something about their specific form of life?
A.: They live withdrawn from the world, concerned only with God through prayer and manual work and penance. Their work itself is a means of sanctification and penance according to the true spirit of Jesus Christ and of our holy Mother the Church.
The great and holy Rule of St. Benedict can be summarized in two words: “laus et labor” which means “prayer and work”. This is the life of the Hermits of Divine Providence. A life founded on faith, humility, prayer, activity, obedience, poverty, candour and integrity in their behaviour concerning mortification, temperance and the most delicate modesty.
In the very heart of the Congregation the Hermits must be like Moses on the mount: with hands raised up in prayer. In that way they offer an admirable contribution of fruitfulness to all the Congregation’s apostolate.
Q.: And then there are the brothers.
A.: Yes, lay or coadjutor brothers who are much needed both in Italy and abroad, in the Missions and in the schools. It is enough that they are healthy and enthusiastic. All those who feel called and strong enough to give me a hand in the Apostolate of charity: everyone can find their own niche, their own place of work.
Q.: How would you describe their spiritual characteristics.
A.: The specific virtues of the brothers must be: devotion, peace of mind, purity of conscience, humility, docility and willingness to work.
Q.: Priests, hermits and brothers: is there a risk of classes or differences being created?
A.: If in the heart of this his Little Work of Divine Providence, the Lord wants that there should be several branches from one single plant, from one single Work, and that some of them should be priests and others not, that is not because he prefers the first to the second, but because the Priests help save souls principally through the ministry of the Sacraments, preaching and other priestly means; while the others sanctify themselves and save others especially by means of prayer which will make the ministry of those who are Priests even more fertile, through the means of humility, sacrifice and corporal work...
Without any distinction, he who, more than the others, has done the holy will of God and kept his obligations and has grown in humility and chastity before God, will receive greater glory in paradise.
Q.: In 1915 the Little Missionary Sisters of Charity were founded. Can you tell us something.
A.: For quite a while a large number of good young women had been waiting to become Sisters... The house of San Bernardino in Tortona was bought by a benefactor and offered to us. It was willingly accepted so that it could become the cradle for the young women as it had been for the Sons of Divine Providence. The aim of the Sisters is the same as ours: ‘devotion to the Holy See’, with the same Constitutions.
Q.: Did you also have in mind any branching out for the Sisters?
A.: God willing, the Institute will spread out. From it, other branches will grow, professing the same, common, fundamental Rule. They will then each develop an adapted Rule, according to the scope and aim Divine Providence indicates for them. Then we will have the “Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament”, the enclosed Sisters, the “Victims of the Sacred Heart”, the sick women who enter and make their profession while remaining sick. You see, the charity of Christ is inexhaustible and never closes the door in the face of anyone.
Those who will be called to be enclosed, to adore our Lord, will help their fellow Sisters with their prayers. God willing, there will be enclosed Sisters, of strict observance. There will be the missionaries who will go to far away places to spread charity, the sweet fragrance of Jesus Christ, to do good, to bring the faith of Jesus Christ.
Q.: What directions have you given them for their lives?
A.: Missionaries of Charity, listen! You are the ones called by the hand of God to spread charity. Leave to the Priests the mission to teach the Faith. Your mission is to make charity known; to bring through your presence the Charity of Jesus Christ.
(Don Orione picks up a letter from the table ready for posting which he opens and reads)
Dear daughters of the Lord, I received today your good letter. I am very happy: you do good work... You spread the Charity of Jesus Christ. With charity, you will please the Lord, you will sanctify yourselves, save souls, earn paradise and God will be always with you. Without charity, even if you do miracles, you will not belong to the Lord, you will be deprived of his true spirit and you will not save yourselves, nor will you save souls. Be nurses, and I am more than happy. You can even be road sweepers, just do works of charity, love the Lord and make him loved by others. I bless you. Serve the Lord in the sick. How happy I will be if I know that you have done so much good work with a humble, self-sacrificing spirit; making yourselves the servants of the sick and daughters of those sick older than you.
Q.: Don Orione, I can see how enthusiastic you become talking about the Sisters...
A.: In Argentina, where the Sisters number less than here, in only a few years of mission work, they have opened kindergartens, they do more than us.
Our Sisters do not have good clothes... This I did on purpose, because women are always a little tempted towards the vanity of this world. But it is a fact that, sometimes, under these rags, souls chosen by God are hidden. There are generous souls, capable of enormous sacrifices, who do a lot of good in the field of charity.
A third of the good Sisters at the Paverano in Genoa became sick through overwork. But we often look down from on high on the Sisters because we have a book under our arm, because we think we know it all, without thinking that they are the ones who keep the house going; that they earn for us, with their prayers and sacrifices, the blessing of God.
I asked for Sisters to go to Indianapolis and immediately received more than 40 volunteers. We have heroines among the Sisters, so the biggest challenge is to restrain them.
Q.: About the blind Sacramentines, I believe that they are the only foundation of contemplative Sisters of this kind...
A.: Some Sisters suggested putting up a grill. They already have one, I answered; let them be seen. Their serenity is a continous apostolate. Our Lord can be loved even by those with eyes and ears closed. They can sacrifice themselves for him, be his brides.
The blind Sacramentines serve Jesus in Sacramento also on behalf of others who are blind. Then God will do as he pleases with his grace. They keep Jesus company. (After a brief pause) In the evening, when I find I am too tired even to pray, I say: Forgive me, Lord... you know, those daughters pray for me.
Q.: It’s really good, listening to you speak so happily and proudly, like a father about his daughters, even knowing their limits, emphasizing their good points! That way you encourage...
A.: (Interrupting me) We have had the most virtuous confreres. Our Congregation has had its dead, those who have gone before us, the vanguard who fell, the heroes who opened the way, the courageous beginners who mapped out the road, the ranks of those who worked and suffered in the heroic age of the Congregation. Some of these priests gave us a clear example of a holy life, examples of heroic virtues. Who knows whether one day we will welcome some Martyrs! My heart tells me so.
Q.: Do you want to mention any in particular?
A.: Our Don Gaspare Goggi, the first Son of Divine Providence, a radiance of holiness and doctrine. A true servant of God, he loved Our Lady and the Pope very much. The student Giovanni Mussati, the St. Aloysius of the Congregation, model of goodness and spiritual virtue. Then Father Ricardo Gil Barcelon, blameless in life, completely edifying, prompt in obedience, fervent in prayer, steady and simple.
The hermit Brother Romualdo lived as a saint and as a saint fell asleep peacefully in the Lord; he had all the virtues, I think, at a heroic level; he died with baptismal innocence and his life was holy with an uncommon holiness. Then Brother Ave Maria, a blind Hermit of Divine Providence: I wouldn’t be suprised if he did miracles.
Sister Maria Stanislaa: if that Sister hadn’t been in Genoa, I don’t know how we could have carried on, a true saint... With her unselfishness, her holy activities and above all the good example given by her good and holy ways.
Don Giulio Cremaschi, a priest of gold, the novice master, a ‘mother’. Don Carlo Pensa: a son and brother in Christ with my complete trust, a brightly burning lamp.
Lastly, if God were to say to me: ‘I want to give you a successor after your own heart’, I would answer: ‘Lord, you have already given me Don Sterpi’.
We must force ourselves to follow in their footsteps, to follow the example of their lives. They admonish us, me for one, that if we want, we can become saints in the Congregation.
For quotations regarding sources please refer to the book "DON ORIONE. INTERVISTA VERITA".