Luigi Scrosoppi (1804-84) has recently been appointed patron saint of footballers. The Vatican has stressed that his care is extended to all players; one trusts, therefore, that his favours would be neutrally bestowed in a tight World Cup final between England and Italy.
Certainly there can be no question of Scrosoppi’s sanctity. Throughout his life he battled against the strong anti-clerical tide in Italy to bring hope and comfort to the poor.
The son of a jeweller, Aloysius Scrosoppi – always known as Luigi – was born in Udine, above Trieste at the north-eastern limit of Italy. His family was extremely devout, and his two elder brothers, Carlo and Giovanni, were ordained before him.
Luigi was brought up amid acute distress, with famine, typhus and smallpox endemic. Even as a boy he felt the obligation to provide relief, inspired by Matthew 25:40: “Inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
At 25, the year before he was ordained, Luigi joined a group of priests and young teachers dedicated to educating poor and abandoned girls, both in the town of Udine and in the surrounding countryside.
He gave himself tirelessly to fundraising, and was soon running an organisation which accommodated 100 boarders and 230 day pupils in a building which became known as the House of the Destitute.
Luigi Scrosoppi, however, was not inclined to take any credit. “The Providence of God,” he wrote, “who prepares minds and hearts to undertake his works, was alone the founder of this Institute.”
He gathered together a team of young women to teach sewing and embroidery, as well as “the three Rs”. Nine of them decided to mark their dedication more formally and in 1837, under Luigi Scrosoppi’s direction, constituted themselves the Sisters of Providence.
The Sisters came from widely different backgrounds, Luigi being concerned only that they should be “educated in affection”. The congregation received official recognition from Pope Pius IX in 1871.
In 1846, aged 42, Luigi Scrosoppi, joined the Congregation of the Oratory in Udine, and redoubled his work for the Sisters of Providence, promising to found 12 houses for them before he died. This target he achieved. He also opened a school for deaf-mute girls.
Luigi Scrosoppi could be harsh on any hint of self-promotion or self-regard among the Sisters, while never failing to encourage those who suffered from doubts or lacked confidence.
In the 1860s the anti-clerical policies of the government in the Udine region forced the Oratory to close. But Luigi Scrosoppi’s determination and practical support enabled the Sisters of Providence to carry on their work.
Today his name is invoked by sufferers from Aids. The Sisters of Providence remain active in Italy, Brazil and Portugal.