Luigi Giovanni Giussani was born on 15 October 1922 in Desio (a small town in Brianza, north of Milan) to Beniamino Giussani, a designer and expert engraver, and Angelina Gelosa, a textile worker. His mother was a fervent Catholic, and his father sympathized with the ideas of Socialism. From this marriage there were also born Livia (1925), Brunilde (1929) who died the next year, Brunilde (1932) and Gaetano (1939).
Father Giussani spoke about his parent throughout his life: he always indicated the facts of their life and aspects of their characters as examples of humanity and faith.
From 1928 to 1933, he attended the elementary school in Desio.
On 2 October 1933, Luigi entered the Diocesan Seminary of Saint Peter Martyr in Seveso, where he completed the first four years of middle school (1933-1937).
In 1937, he was transferred to the Seminary of Venegono, where he would spend eight years: he finished the last year of middle school, three years of high school (1938-1941) and then six of advanced theological studies (1941-1947). He remained at Venegono until the mid-Fifties.
During high school, from the teaching of Giovanni Colombo –the future Archbishop of Milan–Giussani received his passion for literature and above all for the poetry of Giacomo Leopardi, which produced a wound in him, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger would say in Giussani’s funeral homily: “Father Giussani… from the start he was touched, or better, wounded, by the desire for beauty. He was not satisfied with any beauty whatever, a banal beauty, he was looking rather for Beauty itself, infinite Beauty, and thus he found Christ, in Christ true beauty, the path of life, the true joy” (24 February 2005).
During his years of theology studies, under the guidance of teachers like Gaetano Corti, Carlo Colombo, and Carlo Figini, Giussani’s adolescent enthusiasm and discoveries found a deeper foundation and form in a teaching that put the event of the Incarnation at its center. The Incarnation is the fulfillment of the hope in man’s heart, and therefore, the method of encounter is the origin of a reasonable faith. Father Giussani would remember that in him “everything was due to the fidelity of a teaching, that I received in the high school and seminary years in Venegono, from true teachers who knew how to help me assimilate a solid Christian tradition.”
Those seminary years were also marked by the relationship with a few classmates, in particular Enrico Manfredini–the future Archbishop of Bologna–and Guido de Ponti (who would die shortly before his ordination), with whom he gave life to a group called Studium Christi and a publication called Christus.
During the seminary, Giussani distinguished himself by brilliant results in his studies, documented by the high marks reported at the end of each year.
He received his degree on 4 November 1943.
On 26 May 1945, a month after the close of World War II, he was ordained a priest by Cardinal Ildefonso Schuster in the Duomo of Milan.
The previous March, Giussani had been designated by the rector of Venegono to stay at the seminary, both to continue his studies and begin teaching. He specialized in Eastern theology (especially the Slavophile theologians), in American Protestant theology, and in the rational motivation for adhesion to the faith and the Church.
He received his license in theology and began to teach in the minor seminary in Seveso.
In the autumn of 1945, Father Giussani began to serve at a parish in a working-class neighborhood near Milan on Saturdays and Sundays. This parish experience only lasted a few months: very soon, in fact, he got sick from the winter cold, the frequent train trips and his bedroom at the Seminary, which he would often find frozen over when he came home on Sunday evenings.
Thus, he started taking long periods of convalescence, mostly at Varigotti on the Ligurian Riviera, in the care of a religious community; these stays would last until 1949.
Starting in 1950, having regained his health, he served on Saturdays and Sundays at a parish in the center of Milan.
In 1951, the first of his series of studies on Protestantism and Orthodoxy were published.
After a chance encounter with some high school students on a train, he developed the desire to dedicate himself to the education of young people.
From 1953, he was invited to participate in the Consulta [Board] of Gioventù Studentesca [Student Youth], which gathered high school student from Catholic Action in Milan, first getting involved in the female branch and then, seeing the good results, in the male branch.
In June 1954, Giussani received his doctorate in Theology with the highest possible grade (70/70), Magna cum Laude, writing a thesis entitled The Christian Sense of Man according to Reinhold Niebuhr.
Since 1954/1955 school year, Father Giussani taught religion at the Berchet classical high school in Milan, where he would remain until 1967; over the years he went on to teach at other Milanese school as well. He was animated by the desire to propose the Christian experience in the school environment, as a response to the questions and demands of the young people, who lived in a context that was progressively hostile to the faith and to the Catholic Church.
The contents of his lessons were topics that would accompany him–and be continually deepened by him–along his whole path as a man and as an educator: the religious sense and the reasonableness of the faith, the hypothesis and reality of Revelation, the pedagogy of Christ in revealing Himself, the nature of the Church as the continuity of Christ’s presence in history down to our day. It was above all his personality that exercised an attraction that made the Christian announcement contemporaneous to the young people he met.
In 1955, he was named Diocesan Assistant for Gioventù Studentesca.
He published Risposte cristiane ai problemi dei giovani.
Led by his superiors to choose between scientific work in the theological faculty and work among the young people of Milan, Giussani opted for the latter, while still teaching until 1957 at Venegono.
In 1956, he left his lodgings at the seminary and established himself in Milan, initially on Via Statuto, the location of GS.
His father died in 1957 of renal tuberculosis.
That same year, he involved all of GS (Gioventù Studentesca) in the Mission to the City, which was promoted by Archbishop Giovanni Batista Montini–the future Paul VI–with a letter entitled Sul senso religioso [On the Religious Sense]. A few months later, Father Giussani published Il senso religioso, the first version of a text whose successive editions would deepen the content and concerns of that first booklet, published by GIAC (the Italian Youth of Catholic Action).
At the head of GS, Giussani renewed its educational proposal, conceiving it as a Christian community present in schools. The novelty in his method particularly struck Father Maurice Cocagnac, the editor of the French magazine Vie Spirituelle.
He involved GS students in an educational gesture involving charity, dubbed “Caritativa”, or “Charitable Work” in English, in the depressed area on Milan’s outskirts known as “Bassa”.
Between the end of the 50’s and the beginning of the 60’s, he published three small volumes that synthesized the heart of his proposal: GS: riflessioni sopra un’esperienza (1959); Tracce d’esperienza cristiana (1960); Appunti di metodo cristiano (1964). All three were published with the ecclesiastical imprimatur.
These were the years of a diffusion for GS in the Diocese of Milan and in Italy, and of the first endeavor of young lay people who left for the missions, starting with Brazil.
In 1960 and 1961, Giussani made two trips to Brazil, preludes to the departure of the first GS kids, at the invitation of Bishop Aristide Pirovano of Macapà and of the businessman Marcello Candia.
Starting in the 1964/1965 academic year, he taught the class of Introduction to theology at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, a chair he would hold until 1990, when he would leave teaching for reasons of age.
In 1964, the first nucleus of what would become the reality of Memores Domini began to gather around Father Giussani. These were lay people who chose to dedicate themselves to God in virginity.
He became involved with the group of young college graduates who have started the Charles Péguy Cultural Centre.
The diffusion of GS provoked some misunderstandings and difficulties in the Diocese of Milan.
In 1965, at the same time as tensions were growing, and after a few months in the United States, Giussani left his role in GS, where signs of a crisis began to show themselves, a crisis that would culminate in 1968, when many young people left GS to join the Student Movement, a reality that was going to lead protests throughout the schools and universities of Italy.
In 1968, during a series of meetings with some Memores Domini, priests and adults that remained in relationship with Father Giussani through the Charles Péguy Cultural Center, Giussani laid the foundations for a recovery of the original experience of what would be the movement of Communion and Liberation.
In 1969, the name “Communion and Liberation” appeared for the first time, in a flyer written by some students at the University of Milan, who intuited and sought to recover the initial idea from which GS was born.
From the beginning of the 70’s, Giussani was involved regularly with a group of students at Catholic University.
He published Teologia protestante americana: Profilo storico, with the publishing house of the Venegono Seminary.
He also published Reinhold Niebuhr, with Jaca Book.
In 1971, he played a role in the foundation of the Cascinazza Benedectine Monastery outside Milan.
He met the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who introduced him to Joseph Ratzinger.
In 1973, he met the archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła, in Poland.
In 1974, at the request of the secretary of the Italian Bishop Conference (CEI), he involved the Movement in the referendum campaign against divorce.
On Palm Sunday 1975, he participated together with the whole movement of CL at a meeting promoted by Paul VI, where the Pope said to him, in a private conversation at the end of the liturgy in Saint Peter’s Square: “Take heart. This is the right road. Keep going.”
In a series of meetings, which took place throughout 1976, Giussani noted a difficult situation taking shape in the life of CL: “Un Avvenimento da creare, non un’organizzazione da pensare” [“An Event to be created, not an organization to be thought”]. Father Giussani’s preoccupations at this time found their culmination at the Équipe of the CL University Students in September 1976, which marked a turn in the history of the Movement. From that moment, for at least 20 years, the CLU Équipes would be points of reference for the whole life of Communion and Liberation. The transcriptions of these meetings have been published by Rizzoli in the series “L’Équipe” (2006-2014).
In 1977 Giussani published Il rischio educativo, where the reflections of twenty years as an educator, first in high school then in the university, bore fruit. It would be one of Father Giussani’s most read books, republished many times.
The election of John Paul II marked the deepening of a relationship with Karol Wojtyła which began in Poland in 1971. On 18 january 1979, Giussani was received in audience by the Pope; for many years, Father Giussani would visit the Pope with a group of young people on the occasion of the so-called “monthly birthdays” of the Pope, at the Vatican or at Castel Gandolfo.
On 31 march, he accompanied the CL university students to their first audience with Pope John Paul II.
In 1981, summoned by the Italian Bishops Conference, he involved the Movement in the referendum campaign against abortion.
The same year, together with the Polish priest Józef Blachnicki, founder of the Light and Life movement, Giussani organized the first international meeting of ecclesial movements in Rome.
On 11 February 1982, the Pontifical Council for the Laity officially recognized the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, with Father Giussani as founder and president for life.
That same year, on the eve of the Meeting for Friendship among Peoples (the international cultural event that takes place every year in Rimini at the end of August) Giussani was received in a private audience by Pope John Paul II, then he attended the Meeting, on the occasion of the papal visit.
Giussani would also come to the meeting in 1983 and 1985.
In 1983, Giussani’s mother died.
Father Giussani was named Monsignor by John Paul II, with the title of Honorary Prelate to His Holiness.
In 1984, he lead a pilgrimage to Rome with Communion and Liberation, on the occasion of an audience with John Paul II for the thirtieth anniversary of the Movement.
In 1985, he was named a consultor of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
He attended a meeting of the Nueva Tierra cultural association in Avila, Spain, among the leaders of which was Fr. Julián Carrón. In September, Nueva Tierra joined CL.
He was involved in the foundation of the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of Saint Charles Borromeo.
In 1986, Il senso religioso: PrimoVolume del PerCorso, was published by Jaca Book.
In the same year, he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In 1987, he participated in the Synod of Bishops on the laity as a member named by the Pope and intervened with a contribution entitled “Dal Battesimo una creatura nuova” [“From Baptism, a new creature”] (now published in L’avvenimento cristiano: Uomo Chiesa Mondo).
Giussani spoked at the assembly of the Christian Democrat party of Lombardy at Assago (Milan).
The mayor of Nagoya, Japan, invited him to hold a conference on the religious sense. On that occasion, he met one of the leaders of Japanese Buddhism, professor Shodo Habukawa, with whom he would forge a deep friendship.
In 1988, the Holy See recognized the Memores Domini as a Private Association of the Faithful, with juridic personality.
He spoke at the diocesan pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in Caravaggio, invited by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
He published All’origine della pretesa cristiana. Volume secondo del PerCorso, with Jaca Book.
In 1991, he underwent surgery to remove a tumor. Early signs of Parkinson’s disease began to appear.
In October 1992, he led a pilgrimage to Lourdes for the tenth anniversary of the Fraternity of CL.
In 1993 Giussani published his first book with Rizzoli, L’avvenimento cristiano: Uomo Chiesa Mondo. With the same publisher he started to direct the series “I libri dello spirito cristiano”. From this time, his books would be republished–or published anew–in Italy, above all by Rizzoli, but also by San Paolo, Marietti, SEI and Piemme. Translated into numerous languages, Giussani’s books would be diffused throughout the world.
In 1994, he was named a consulter of the Congregation of the Clergy.
He was received in a private audience by Pope John Paul II.
Si può vivere così?: Uno strano approccio all’esistenza cristiana is published by Rizzoli.
In 1995, he invited the leaders of CL Spain in the leadership of the movement's International Committee.
He participated in a meeting with Jean Guitton, at the Complutense University in Madrid.
He received the International Prize for Catholic Culture at Bassano del Grappa.
Giussani began to publish frequent articles in various Italian newspapers, from Il Giornale to La Repubblica to Corriere della Sera.
Since 1997, Giussani directed the musical collection “Spirto Gentil”, realized through an agreement with Deutsche Grammophon and with other musical publishers.
On 11 December 1997, The Religious Sense was presented at the United Nations in New York. At the invitation of the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Bishop Renato Martino, there were interventions by a Buddhist monk (Shinghen Takagi), a Jewish musician (David Horowitz), and a Catholic theologian (David Schindler). In response to this event, Father Giussani would speak of “a new beginning” in the life of the whole movement of CL. In the following years and even after his death, there would be hundreds of presentations of Giussani’s books in Italy and throughout the world.
On 30 May 1998, he gave a personal testimony during the encounter of ecclesial movements and new communities with John Paul II in Saint Peter’s Square.
That same year, with Stefano Alberto and Javier Prades, he published Generare tracce nella storia del mondo: Nuove tracce d’esperienza cristiana with Rizzoli.
He underwent surgery to remove a tumor.
In 1999, At the Origin of the Christian Claim was presented at the United Nations in New York.
He wrote the article “L’uomo colmo di dolore e di certezza” [Man Filled with Pain and Certainty] for the Jubilee Committee periodical on the occasion of the opening of the Holy Door to mark the beginning of the Holy Year.
On 15 March 2000, he defended Pope John Paul II with an article in La Repubblica after he had been criticized for his apologies (mea culpa).
In 2001, Giussani was given the Corona Turrita, a recognition that the city of Desio offered to its illustrious citizens.
On 11 February 2002, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Pontifical recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, John Paul II wrote a long letter to Father Giussani, in which, among other things, he affirmed: “Therefore the Movement wanted and wants to point out not a way, but the way, to arrive at the solution of this existential drama […]. Thus, before being a collection of doctrines or a rule for salvation, Christianity is the ‘event’ of an encounter.”
On 15 October, when Father Giussani turned 80 years old, the Pope sent him a signed letter.
That same year, the president of the Province of Milan, Ombretta Colli, bestowed the Isimbardi Gold Medal of Recognition on Father Giussani.
In 2003, an international conference on The Risk of Education was held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., which opened with a reading of a message sent by Giussani to the conference.
Giussani received the Macchi Prize, given by the Association of Catholic School Parents, for distinction in the field of education.
He wrote a reflection on the funeral of Italian military personnel killed in the assault on Nasiriya, Iraq, for RAI 2 Channel news program.
In January 2004, on the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Communion and Liberation, he sent a letter to John Paul II, who responded on 22 February.
During the fifth annual festival of the Lombardy Regional Charter, Giussani was given the Lombardy Seal, bestowed on citizens who distinguished themselves for the good of society.On 16 October, on the occasion of a pilgrimage to Lourdes for the fiftieth anniversary of CL, Giussani wrote his last letter to the Movement.
On 24 December, he wrote the Christmas editorial for RAI 2 Channel news program.
In late December, his health rapidly deteriorated.
On 18 February 2005, after having received news of Giussani’s decline, Pope John Paul II sent him a telegram invoking the protection of the Virgin Mary Salus infirmorum.
On 22 February 2005, Father Giussani died at his home in Milan.
The funeral was celebrated in the Duomo of Milan by then-Cardinal and Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, as personal envoy of John Paul II.
Buried in the Mausoleum of the Monumental Cemetery of Milan, where the illustrious citizens of the city were laid to rest, in 2008 Giussani was moved to a new tomb in the same cemetery.
From the day of his burial, the tomb is the goal of continuous pilgrimages from Italy and the rest of the world.
On 22 February 2012, at the end of a Mass celebrated in the Duomo of Milan on the seventh anniversary of the death of Father Giussani, Father Julián Carrón, president of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, communicated that he had sent a request for the opening of the cause for the beatification and canonization of Giussani. The request was received by the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola.
[For more information, see Savorana Alberto, The Life of Luigi Giussani, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017]