(Article by Fabio Cittadini) Giovanni Calabria was born in Verona on October 8, 1873. He was the youngest of seven children of a poor family who lived with the little money gained by patching shoes. At the premature death of his father John was forced to interrupt the elementary schools to do menial jobs.
Little John was good, fragile health, shy and a bit messy, but equipped with a great faith. Loving to pray, he builded altars in his house. These “attitudes” were noted by Don Pietro Scopini, then rector of the Church of San Lorenzo, which prepared him for three years for the admission exams in high school at the Seminary of Verona.
Having passed examinations with difficulty, John was admitted as an external seminarian. Not much given to the study and in poor health, he had to overcome many difficulties and perplexities of superiors. However he was always helped and supported by Don Pietro.
When he reached the military service, nobody did anything to get him the exemption. Indeed the Rector hoped that the two years of service would have persuaded him to not to enter the Seminary. John instead came back more determined than before, enriched of the experience of charity and humanity made during military service.
The November 11, 1901 he was ordained priest. In 1908 he was appointed vicar of the Church of “San Benedetto al monte”, where he began to receive the first abandoned children. With the help of lay people, religious and priests, he opened the “Casa dei Buoni fanciulli”. In 1932 this house was approved by the bishop as the “Congregation of the Poor Servants of Divine Providence“.
Twenty years later John endowed the Congregation of a female branch. Moreover sensing that for the Church was time that the laity and not only the priests were to commit themselves in the Church, gave birth to the “External brothers and sisters“.
He also promoted an evangelical reform of the Church, writing enthusiastic articles in magazines for the priests. He died on December 4, 1954. In 1999 John Paul II proclaimed him saint.
Of his testimony we emphasize some aspects. First of all the intense and extensive charitable work of Don Calabria: he received any person in difficulty and with each one of them entertained a special relationship.
John helped poor young people to become priests, instructed them and on the threshold of theology left them free to continue in other dioceses or in other congregations.
He anticipated the Second Vatican Council, joining all the initiatives on behalf of other separated Christian confessions.
Don Calabria’s apostolate was animated by the knowledge and the implementation of the will of God. In his diary he wrote: “Holy or dead.” Let’s pray that God may send us priests like don Calabria!