Saturday, September 15, 2012

Trusting in Divine Providence: 400 lire for a boarding school

In Rome Luigi Orione, then seminarian had seen so many priests and monsignors, several bishops and even cardinals.  This highlighted even more the relative scarcity of clergy in his city of Tortona.  Why not promote vocations among poor people and increase the number of workers in the Lord's vineyard?
He expressed his thoughts to the bishop.  Mgr. Bandi looked at him smilingly and kindly, but raised a mountain of difficulties.  The seminarian replied that he had thought of all those things, but that his faith in Providence gave him the courage to try:
"Just your approval and blessing, my Lord, and all will be well."
"Well, if that is the case, I give you both," the bishop then said and approved the seminarian's plans in general.  Perhaps he thought that between saying and doing there would be an ocean to cross.

As soon as he was out of his meeting, however, he started to work towards the accomplishment of his fine dream.
First of all he had to find a suitable premise to accommodate the boys.  He left the bishop's palace to begin a tour of reconnaissance and met a youngster, Luigi Stassano, a pupil of the Salesians.
"Where are you going?" asked the youngster.
"I'm opening a boarding school, you know," replied Orione immediately, as if he were taking up the thread of his thoughts.
"Oh yes?  A boarding school?"
"Right.  I'll change and go there too.  Where are you opening it?"
"I'm just going around looking for a place."
The boy's father, Pasquale Stassano, a really good type of person and a member of the St. Vincent conference that had been opened in Tortona by the choirmaster Giuseppe Perosi, had in fact intended to let out a small house that had belonged to a priest brother of his, in the San Bernardino district, a kilometre out of Tortona on the way to Genoa.  Could he perhaps try that?  That was Luigi Stassano's suggestion to the seminarian Orione, who accepted it with enthusiasm and acted immediately upon it.  Mr. Stassano was not against it but, however good and willing he considered Luigi Orione to be, he knew that he was very poor.  Consequently, before giving his word he made an expressive gesture with his hand and asked:  "What about money?"
"How much are you asking"
"Four hundred lire per year."
"That's fine," declared the seminarian.
It seemed the most natural thing in the world.
But the other, somewhat astonished, did not really understand.
"But do you have four hundred lire?"
"Do not doubt.  Providence will see to it," was the reply.
"Okay," answered Stassano who did not want to deny trust in Providence but proceeded cautiously, "let's agree to do it this way: if this week you can give me a deposit I will place the premises at your disposal.  If not, I will be under no obligation."

 A small step forward had been taken.  For Luigi Orione this was enough to feel protected by Providence.  But the best was about to happen.  Once he left the Stassano house he walked towards the city with a view to going back to the cathedral.  Hardly had he crossed the Ossona bridge than a woman's voice called out to him in the Tortona dialect.  It was an admirable old lady whom he knew, Angelina Poggi.
"What are you doing around here?"
"Don't you know?  I'm opening a boarding school."
"A boarding school?" repeated the old lady to whom the news came like manna from Heaven.  "Right, I'll be sending my grandson there."
"How much will you be charging?"
"Just a little; very little.  Whatever you can give me."
"If I give you four hundred lire, how long can you keep him?"
Four hundred lire!  The exact amount.  Luigi Orione's heart was beating more strongly in gratitude to God.  He could do nothing other than to respond with an act of generosity:
"I'll keep him for the whole of the high school period."
"Good.  Come home with me and I will give you the money immediately."
The word "chance", if used in connection with this meeting, would give a totally wrong impression.  It was Providence in action, guiding the steps of the young seminarian and coordinating the different incidents.
Luigi Orione did not wait to be told twice.  He followed that good old lady, took the four hundred lire that she offered, rushed back to the Stassano's house, paid the rent for the first year and left for the cathedral holding the welcome receipt and with a spring in his step.
Then came the reverse of the coin.  A sacristan with a discouraging frown tackled him from afar and said:
"But where have you been all this time?"
"Did you not know that I am opening a boarding school?"
"A boarding school indeed.  Go and see the bishop right now.  He has already sent for you two or three times."
What could have happened? - thought the seminarian with his mind in a state of apprehension.
It turned out that a few over-zealous people, after hearing this great piece of news, had thought it their duty to let his lordship know of the inevitable failure and unpleasant consequences that could arise from it to the detriment of the clergy.  The bishop, somewhat disturbed, gave in to this pressure and was persuaded to suspend all approval.
As soon as he saw him, Bishop Bandi said very severely:  "For your information I am withdrawing my blessing.  I want no more to do with your boarding school."
The poor seminarian was dumbfounded for a while on hearing this tone of disapproval.
"I am sorry," he then replied humbly and ashamed, "especially as I had already arranged everything."
"What?  What?" the bishop burst out, raising himself up a little on his chair.
Luigi Orione told him of what had happened immediately after they had been together.  Although he was trying to cast his eyes down through respect, they were shining.
Once he had finished and had declared that he was ready to be obedient to his bishop, whom he venerated above all other authority, Bishop Bandi, freshly convinced and full of emotion, said: "Kneel down; I am giving you back my blessing."
And he encouraged him to continue.
Without losing any time Luigi Orione set the date of 15th October for the opening of the new boarding school, which was then made ready after much intense work during the few days that were remaining.

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