A Friend in Leopardi
Giussani entered the seminary of Venegono at the age of eleven, and was ordained a priest on May 26, 1945, by Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster. During high school, he fell in love with the study of literature, especially the works of the poet Giacomo Leopardi, because his “questions seemed to overshadow all others for me.” So great was his passion that he learned all of Leopardi’s poetry by heart and spend entire periods of time studying only him.
The passion for beauty and attention to everyday activities were two of the characteristics of his personality that most impress those who had the chance to meet him in person.
Faith and Life
This impetus of life, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI, would explain, was the fruit of his personal relationship with Christ. “This love story which is the whole of his life was however far from every superficial enthusiasm, from every vague romanticism.” After his priestly ordination, his superiors decided the young Giussani should stay at the seminary to continue his studies and begin teaching.
In 1954, Giussani received permission from his superiors to teach Religion in a public high school, Liceo Berchet, in Milan, where he remained until 1967.
His presence in the school gave new energy to Gioventù Studentesca (GS or “Student Youth” – the name for the activities of Catholic Action in high school) and gave it the contours of a true Movement. So began the history of Communion and Liberation.
Beginning with the 1964-1965 school year, Fr. Giussani taught Introduction to Theology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, a position that he would hold until 1990. An organic synthesis of what he taught was published in Italian between 1986 and 1992 in the form of the three-volume “PerCorso,” or “itinerary”: The Religious Sense, At the Origin of the Christian Claim and Why the Church.
The Movement Grows
In the early 1970s, Fr. Giussani became directly involved with a group of students at the Catholic University of Milan. Years of great dynamism, they saw the expansion of the Movement into every realm of life: high school, university, in parishes, in factories and in the workplace, often successfully challenging mindsets that were politically or culturally hostile to theirs.
“Not only did I have no intention of ‘founding’ anything, but I believe that the genius of the Movement that I saw coming to birth lies in having felt the urgency to proclaim the need to return to the elementary aspects of Christianity; that is to say, the passion of the Christian fact as such in its original elements, and nothing more.”
A father of many
On February 22, 2005, he died in his home in Milan. The funeral Mass was celebrated in the Duomo in Milan by then-Cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Joseph Ratzinger, serving as the personal representative of John Paul II.He was buried in the Monumentale Cemetery in Milan. His tomb became the destination for a steady stream of pilgrimages from Italy and around the world.
“Fr. Giussani has truly become the father of many. He has conquered hearts, helped to make the world better and to open up the doors of the world to heaven.” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger)