When Fr. Gandini passed away, St. Luigi Orione wrote down a circular letter to his sons expressing his feelings.
Tortona, 19th February 1920
Dearest Sons of Divine Providence,
What sad news I am now about to give you, my sons in the Lord. (…)I cannot tell you what I feel in giving you this sad news.
Fr. Gandini is dead! He died suddenly this morning in this House. Yesterday he was healthy, full of strength, serenely good-natured, alive: today he is dead! It does not seem true that he is dead! (…)
He went off to rest peacefully, and now he is dead! One can hardly believe it; yet it is so. And it seems that the hand of the Lord led him to say goodbye to everyone first. On Sunday, being in Alessandria to celebrate Mass in our new parish of St. Rocco, he made a trip to his native village, to see once more his father, sister, brothers and brother-in-law. Yesterday morning he then wanted to say Mass for the young people, at the altar of Our Lady of Divine Providence, even though another priest was due to say it, and it was his last Mass, and he distributed the sacred ashes, pronouncing these words over everyone's head: Remember, man, that you are dust! Then, late last evening, he also went into the infirmary, and into the printing office. He stopped by everyone, poor Fr. Gandini!
I had taken him in when he was a child, there in that old convent of St. Clare, and his serene face and innocent look and, what is more, his pious and good behaviour, made me foresee that he would hear the voice of the Lord and become a priest, a priest with a modest soul, full of faith, innocence and goodness. And I remember that I called him Johnny, because to me he seemed already to be completely of God and, looking at his fine face, also of St. John the Baptist. (…)
Yesterday evening Fr. Gandini had come to ask me if he could go to say Mass in the Cathedral today, in the place of another priest; and no-one was surprised this morning to find his room closed, as they thought he was already at the Cathedral. But, once 8 o'clock came, seeing that he was not back, someone sent for him and we discovered with a shock that he was not in the Cathedral and had not even gone there.
A terrible doubt then arose in us and increased dramatically. Fr. Gandini's room was locked. We knocked and we called, but no-one answered. We had to enter by a window. And our poor Fr. Ernesto was there, stretched out on the floor, at the foot of his bed.
He was still alive, but unconscious and unable to speak.
His bed was unmade; he had obviously gone to rest and during the night he must have felt ill. He would have got up to call for help but, perhaps suffering a heart attack, as the doctor said, he did not manage to get to the door, and collapsed on the ground where we found him. He did not speak any more or give any sign of understanding. I gave him absolution; I commended his soul; I anointed him with the Holy Oil, but a quarter of an hour later he was already dead! It was not yet nine o'clock. How quickly death comes!
My dear son, were you waiting for me then to breathe forth your soul in my hands?
Also present were Fr. Zanocchi, Fr. Draghi, Fr. Enrico Bariani and several of the senior seminarians and young people.
While I am writing to you our Fr. Gandini is there, on his death bed, and seems to be asleep. His face still has that serene expression of gentleness and goodness which was so like him. He is clothed in his sacred habit and his priestly stole. On his breast is his Crucifix and his hands are joined in prayer. His fingers are clutching his Rosary. He will probably be buried in the cemetery of Predosa, his village, near his mother who was a truly Christian mother, and my heart is troubled, but I want to take him there.
And now what shall I say to you, my brothers? It is a great anguish, but the Lord gave, the Lord took away: Blessed be the Name of the Lord. May the Lord's will be done! May the Lord always be blessed, blessed in life and blessed in death! Although this sudden death gives me great pain, I have no doubt that, as Fr. Ernesto had always lived as a good religious, he was found ready for the great step. He had consecrated himself entirely to God and the Church! It will be a great sorrow for us all my sons, but let us be consoled by these words. We are comforted, as we well know that our brother belonged to God, and it is right that God does with His own according to His mind and will, neither do we despair like those who have no hope - that would not be Christian. We will see him again. We have full hope in immortality! He has just gone before us to show us the way. And the Lord will lighten our grief, and will use this death to increase our numbers. I can see more and more coming... sent by God. Happy are they who, listening to the voice from Heaven, come to fill the place left empty by Fr. Gandini.
In any case this sudden disappearance proves to me ever more how useful it would be for us all to make a point of making the exercise of a good death every month.
This is how death can surprise us at any time, and suddenly.
It respects neither youth nor strength of character, but comes like a thief, at a time when we are least expecting it.
The Lord has visited our Institution; let us adore Him and pray to Him! Yes my sons, let us pray and persevere in our holy vocation, and let us be vigilant with our lamps in our hands, always ready.
For me and for you this sudden death is a special word from God.
A word which invites us not only to bow our heads reverently, to become humble and to adore the inscrutable judgements of the Lord; but a word which comes to shake us, to fill us with the fervour of a religious life of virtue and holiness. This is what God wants from me and from you.
And He wants us to pray for our dear dead brother, and pray deeply. The prayers will be a comfort for us and a relief for him. Even if he has already gone up to that God, who can find stains even on the white wings of His angels, even if Fr. Gandini had no more need of our prayer, it would not be in vain. Merciful as he always was towards sufferers, he will joyfully see the Lord distribute to others those prayers dutifully said by us for his soul. And may we be comforted by the thought that one day we shall meet our Fr. Ernesto in Heaven where, at the feet of our Holy Mother in Paradise, he will be praying for me and for you, and he will be an angel of consolation for our sorrows, as well as the other brothers who have gone before us to our Home.
Rest in the peace of Christ then, my gentle and blessed son, who have left this miserable life for a blessed life. May the angels of the Lord go with you to Heaven; may they take you into that holy Jerusalem and, on the palms of their hands, may the Virgins and Martyrs bear you to the throne of God. Then, united with the Heart of Jesus Crucified, pray for us! We will all soon come with you; we want to be with you always, in the arms of the Lord for ever, and close to our heavenly Mother.
You see it is just a short wait for you and for us: This life is a fleeting shadow.
Oh Fr. Gandini, my dearest son who have loved God, the Church and her Pope; who have served God in the little ones and the poor orphans: I embrace you for me and for them, and for your brothers in the Congregation who are not here. For all our people who, far away, lament your death with sorrowful yet sweet tears, I embrace you and kiss your forehead, with a holy kiss!
Goodbye my blessed son, sleep in Christ: Tomorrow we shall be together again.
Your Father in Jesus Crucified and in Our Lady,