A SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF JOSEPH ALLAMANO
Joseph Allamano, the fourth of five children, was born on January 21, 1851, at Castelnuovo d’Asti (now Castelnuovo Don Bosco), in Italy, the hometown of St. Joseph Cafasso and St. John Bosco. His father died when he was not yet three years old, and his mother, Maria Anna Cafasso (the sister of the Saint), was the major influence on his life. Joseph Allamano followed in the footsteps of his uncle, St. Joseph, and devoted himself to the training of clergy. He was a holy man, like his uncle; it was often said that he was “Fr. Cafasso returned to life” and “an almost perfect copy of his great uncle and predecessor”.
With Don Bosco. Joseph Allamano finished elementary school in 1862 and that autumn entered the Salesian “Oratorio” at Valdocco, where his regular confessor was Don Bosco himself. After completing four years of intermediate school at the “Oratorio”, he felt called to the diocesan priesthood, and left Valdocco for the diocesan seminary in Torino. Don Bosco perhaps had thought that Allamano would enter his own Congregation, and gently reproved him: “You hurt my feelings — you left without even saying ‘goodbye’.” Allamano responded timidly, “I didn’t have the nerve …” He felt great affection for Don Bosco all his life long, and did not want to displease him.
In the Diocesan Seminary. His decision to enter the diocesan seminary met with unforeseen opposition in his own family. His brothers were opposed to this idea, even if his mother was not. They were not against a priestly vocation, but they wanted him to attend the “Liceo pubblico” (high school) before going off to the seminary. Young Joseph was firm and told his brothers, “The Lord is calling me now … I don’t know if he will still be calling me in two or three years.” In 1866 he entered the seminary. From his first year as a seminarian there were signs of the poor health that would afflict him throughout his life — at times his physical frailty was a genuine threat – but, on the whole, his seminary experience was very positive. Mgr. G. B. Ressia, later the Bishop of Mondovi’, was his classmate. Speaking about Allamano, he said, “He was the first of our class — and not just alphabetically; he was first in studies, virtue, gentleness and generosity. Everyone of us realized that he was the one closest to the heart of Jesus, that he was Jesus’ closest friend; none of us would have dared to compare with him.
Forming seminarians. On September 20, 1873, Joseph Allamano was ordained to the priesthood. He wanted very much to be involved in pastoral ministry but, instead, he was assigned to the seminary, first as an assistant (1873-1876) and then as spiritual director (1876-1880). Fr. Allamano had very different plans, so that, when Archbishop Lorenzo Gastaldi gave him this assignment, he objected respectfully, “I had hoped to be an assistant parish priest, and later maybe a parish priest in some little village…” The Archbishop responded kindly, “You wanted to be a parish priest? If this is all that’s bothering you…, I am giving you the most important parish in the diocese: the seminary!”
As a formator of candidates for the priesthood, he was distinguished by the firmness of his principles and the gentleness with which he put these principles into action. Everyone recognized his excellence as an educator: he was a genuine “master of clergy formation”. At the same time he continued his own studies, and on July 30, 1876, the Torino Theological Faculty awarded him a doctorate in Theology, and on June 12, 1977, university teaching credentials. He was later appointed as associate member of the Canon and Civil Law Faculty; subsequently he became the chairman in both of these faculties.
Rector of the Consolata Shrine. In October 1880 he was appointed Rector of the Consolata Shrine in Torino and, from that time until his death, all his work took place at that Archdiocese’s Marian Shrine. This new assignment was not an easy one for the 29-year old priest. He later told of his conversation with the Archbishop: “My Lord, I am too young for this job”, he said with filial trust. The Archbishop’s response was both fatherly and encouraging: “You will see that they will like you even so. It is good that you are young: if you make any mistakes, you will have time to correct them.”
Fr. Giacomo (James) Camisassa, a priest Fr. Allamano had known and respected when he was the seminary spiritual director, was his first associate at the Shrine. Fr. Allamano invited Fr. Camisassa to the Shrine, and the letter reveals something of Fr. Allamano’s pastoral plans: “You see, my friend, together we can accomplish some good and honour Mary, our Mother and Consolation, with our sacred worship.” Their fraternal and priestly collaboration lasted their entire lives. Each respected the other’s work and shared the same ideals. Their work together is a magnificent witness to and example of two priests’ friendship and pastoral collaboration. Shortly after Fr. Camisassa’s death, Fr. Allamano said, “He was always ready to sacrifice himself to spare me”. “With his death I have lost my two hands”. “We were together as one for 42 years”. “Every evening we spent long hours together in my study…”. “We have promised to tell each other the truth, and we kept this promise.”
The Shrine was physically run down and in spiritual decline. Fr. Allamano’s leadership initiated a revival. With Fr. Camisassa’s active assistance, the shrine became the artistic, marble and gold jewel we see today. Fr. Allamano took charge of the shrine’s pastoral, liturgical and social activity; gradually it became a centre of Marian spirituality and Christian renewal in the city and in the region. Fr. Allamano’s special gift for counselling and comfort contributed to this rebirth. People of all classes benefitted from his insight and heart-felt concern. Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot remarked, “Fr. Allamano was an exemplar of what a genuine priest should be; his was a providential mission for a diocese like Torino. It was a mission of counselling, direction, encouragement, admonition, and reviving souls through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He brought the joy and peace of God’s friendship to many, and encouraged people to work in the apostolate.”
Retreat Director. Along with his work as Rector of the Consolata Shrine, Fr. Allamano was also the Rector of the Shrine of St. Ignatius, on the hills near Lanzo Torinese. This shrine had a Retreat House attached to it, which was well known as a spirituality centre: St. Joseph Cafasso had preached there for many years. Fr. Allamano saw it as a special place for the formation of priests and lay-people. A close co-worker of his, Canon G. Cappella, said, “He was always eager to direct retreats personally and, while he was directing them, he was also participating in them. He used to say, ‘I am not just a channel of retreat grace for others, but a basin that gathers grace for himself as well’ (…) While he was its director, St. Ignatius’ House became a first-class retreat house: there was never an empty room.”
In the footsteps of his uncle, Fr. Joseph Cafasso. In order to provide a model, especially for priests, Fr. Allamano collected memories of Fr. Cafasso, published his biography and writings, and promoted his cause of beatification, which he saw fulfilled on May 3, 1925. He candidly admitted, “I started this process, not out of affection or family bonds, but because of the positive effects this man’s example could bring about: people who learn of his virtues may be stimulated to become better priests, Christians and missionaries.” Canon N. Baravalle confirmed this: “He never boasted about his family connection with the Blessed, and during our discussions often remarked, ‘As a relative I really should not be involved in this affair, and this is certainly not the reason why I am involved. I am doing this as the Rector of the “Convitto Ecclesiastico” (Priestly College – Pastoral Institute for newly ordained priests), a position he held before me. I teach and direct priests as he did, and I feel it my duty to hold him up as an exemplar of virtue and holiness for them.'”
After his uncle’s beatification, he wrote a circular letter overflowing with joy and emotion to all Consolata Missionaries: “Blessed Joseph Cafasso is the patron and the co-founder of the ‘Convitto’. He is a light and example for devout souls, especially ecclesiastics. But he is also our special protector and “your uncle”, as you say: honour him, therefore, and imitate his virtues. I believe that with his beatification I have provided you with an excellent means of sanctification; the beatification has been part of my mission in regard to you.”
Rector of the “Convitto”. Fr. Allamano worked also to heal the breach caused in the diocese by the closing of the “Convitto Ecclesiastico”, where young priests were trained. The Archbishop had ordered this closing because of controversies about the teaching of moral theology. Fr. Allamano brought about the re-opening of this institution in 1882 and was its Rector until his death. He was very concerned with the spiritual, intellectual and pastoral formation of young priests, and made sure that his program was up-to-date. He emphasized the ultimate goal of a priestly vocation: to save one’s brothers and sisters. To the “Convitto” residents, out of his conviction, he proposed also and emphasized the missionary dimension of priesthood. He used to affirm that “the vocation to the missions is essentially the vocation of every holy priest. All it takes is a greater love for our Lord Jesus Christ, which urges one to make Him known and loved by those who do not yet know Him and love Him.” Having convinced the Archbishop to reopen the “Convitto” at the Consolata Shrine was one of Fr. Allamano’s greatest accomplishments.
Apostle in the local Church. Along with everything reported above, Fr. Allamano was directly or indirectly involved in a host of other apostolic works. He was canon of the Cathedral, a member of various commissions and committees, and the religious superior of the Visitation Sisters and of the Sisters of St. Joseph. He was very involved in anniversary celebrations and worked hard helping refugees and priests and seminarians drafted into the army during the First World War. Fr. Allamano was able to cooperate in all sorts of apostolate. Canon N. Baravalle, who lived with him at the Shrine, said: “The most modern forms of Catholic apostolate, like the press and similar ones, were not just something he admired, but something which he helped with what at those times were substantial financial contributions.” Mgr. G. B. Pinardi, the Auxiliary Bishop of Torino, wrote: “During Fr. Allamano’s life, there was no single apostolic project that escaped the influence of the Consolata’s ‘Convitto’.”
Fr. Allamano was a fervent supporter of Catholic journalism, not just in his youth or at the height of his apostolate, but also in his old age and up to the time of his death. Mgr. B. Caselli, editor of the Torino Catholic newspaper, wrote, “Our Catholic newspaper always enjoyed his very authoritative, heartfelt and moral support.” Canon A. Cantono had this to say: “He was a valid critic of our journalism work. He wanted it agile and done well. He told me we should not be afraid to use modern forms or technology”.
Father of Missionaries. Fired by his intense apostolic zeal and a vivid understanding of the Church’s mission, Fr. Allamano’s concerns reached out to the whole world. He felt the urgency of Christ’s command to take the Gospel to all peoples. He thought it unnatural that the Church in Torino, that flowered with so many institutions devoted to charity, should not have one solely dedicated to the missions. He sought to remedy this situation, thus helping those who felt the missionary call to carry out their vocation and encouraging this call in other people. Founding a missionary Institute was not a sudden impulse; Fr. Allamano conceived this idea after prolonged spiritual preparation and in the face of considerable obstacles and contradictions. Undoubtedly the work of founding the Institute was one of trial and fatigue for Fr. Allamano, who was already deeply involved in Fr. Cafasso’s cause and the work at the “Convitto” and Shrine, as well as at St. Ignatius’ House.
In 1891 he believed the right moment had arrived to found his missionary Institute of priests and brothers, but he was only able to carry out this project when his friend and classmate, Cardinal Agostino Richelmy, became the Archbishop of Torino. In Card. Richelmy Fr. Allamano found someone who supported him and shared his ideals. Delay came to a sudden end through the intervention of Divine Providence. In January 1900, Fr. Allamano was close to death; he had contracted a disease while assisting an old woman in an icy attic. He always believed that his recovery was a miracle of Our Lady Consolata. He never doubted that this was a sign that the Institute was to be founded. The following year, on January 29, 1901, the Institute of the Consolata Missionaries (priests and brothers) was born.
The underlying motivation of this foundation was the deep-rooted spirit of Fr. Allamano himself. Fr. L. Sales, his loving disciple and first biographer, claims that the root cause of this missionary endeavour is Fr. Allamano’s sanctity. He himself once said: “Since I could not be a missionary myself, I wanted to make it possible for those with this vocation to follow it.” There were also other circumstantial reasons for starting this work: a desire to continue Cardinal Massaia’s work, and the missionary spirit and urgings of some of the priests living in the “Convitto”. Fr. Allamano himself says as much in a letter to Card. Richelmy on April 6, 1900: “During my many years of training clergy, I must confess that I have often encountered genuine missionary vocations.” The final decision to found an Institute of missionaries was taken only at the explicit command of the Archbishop. Fr. Allamano responded to this command with Peter’s words to Jesus on the occasion of the miraculous catch: “In your name I will cast out the nets”.
On May 8, 1902, the first four missionaries left for Kenya: two priests and two brothers. Others followed shortly afterwards. Soon becoming aware of the need for female collaborators, Fr. Allamano obtained from the Superiors of the Cottolengo Institute some Vincentian Sisters to go to Kenya and work alongside the Consolata Missionaries. This collaboration began in 1903 and lasted more than twenty-two years. However, because of difficulties arisen between the newly elected Apostolic Vicar, Bishop Filippo Perlo, and the Cottolengo Superiors, no more Sisters were sent after 1909. Those who were working in Kenya quite gradually returned to Italy.
Fr. Allamano suffered because of the difficulties, but was unable to forestall their consequences. He felt forced to intervene to assure the necessary presence of Sisters in the missions. At the urging of Bishop F. Perlo, with the permission of his Archbishop, and on the advice of Card. Girolamo Gotti, prefect of “Propaganda Fide” and especially because of Pope St. Pius X’s support, Fr. Allamano founded the Institute of the Consolata Missionary Sisters on January 29, 1910. He later told the Sisters how their Institute came to be founded. He was asking them to pray for Card. Gotti who was very sick at the time and he said, “It was Card. Gotti who encouraged me to found the Sisters. He told me ‘It is God’s will that there be Sisters.’ And I responded, ‘But there are already so many Sisters’. ‘Yes’, he said, ‘many Sisters, but few missionary ones’.” Fr. Allamano also revealed the Pope’s involvement: “It was Pope Pius X who wanted your foundation; he is the one who gave me the vocation of providing women missionaries”. He would continue with pleasure, and recount his conversation with Pope Pius X, to whom he had spoken about his problems in finding female personnel for the missions. The Pope said, “You yourself must found an Institute of missionary Sisters, as you have founded one for men missionaries.” “But, Your Holiness”, Fr. Allamano respectfully objected, “there are already so many Institute of Sisters”. “Yes”, the Pope responded, “but they are not exclusively missionary”. “But, Holy Father,” Fr. Allamano continued, “I do not feel I have a vocation to found an Institute of Sisters!” “If you do not have it,” the Pope said, “I give it to you”. Logically Fr. Allamano would then tell the Sisters, “You see, it was the Pope, not me, who wanted your foundation. Therefore you must be ‘Papaline’ (faithful to the Pope)”.
In later years, other mission fields were entrusted to the men and women Consolata Missionaries, in Ethiopia, Tanzania, Somalia, and Mozambique. Today the Consolata Missionaries are working in twenty-four Countries of the continents of Africa, America, Europe and Asia.
Through personal contacts, letters, and formation meetings, Fr. Allamano lavished his most loving care on his sons and daughters. Convinced that the missions deserved the best we have to offer, he was more concerned with quality than quantity. He looked for well-prepared evangelizers, “saint in a superlative way”, and willing to give their lives for the missions. He had as a motto: “First saints and then missionaries”. For him this “first” was not a matter of time but of priority.
He encourages and blesses us from heaven. Fr. Allamano died on February 16, 1926, at the Consolata Shrine. Today his remains are preserved in the church of the Mother-House of his Missionaries in Corso Ferrucci, in Torino. Missionaries, friends of the missions, and many pilgrims visit his resting place. Bd. Allamano’s sarcophagus is not just a tomb; it is an altar on which Mass is celebrated. Bd. Allamano’s sons and daughters have placed the remains of his close collaborator and co-founder, Fr. Camisassa, next to his body.
Fr. Allamano was beatified on October 7, 1990, by Pope John Paul II. The Pope confirmed the tributes the new Blessed had received during his life and after his death: “The Consolata Saint”, “Provident Father”, “Formator and Teacher of the Clergy”, “A priest for the whole world”. During the homily he delivered at the beatification, the Pope said, “At this moment when his name is added to the list of the Blessed, Joseph Allamano reminds us that, in order to be faithful to our Christian vocation, we must share the gifts we have received from God with brothers and sisters from every race and culture. We must proclaim Christ with courage and coherence to everyone we encounter, and especially to those who do not yet know Him”.
Bd. Allamano left a written last will and testament to his missionaries. It included words of encouragement which can certainly be seen as addressed to all people who intend to embrace his missionary spirituality: “I have lived my many years for your sake; I have given my possessions, my health and my life for you; I hope that, after my death, I will be your protector in heaven”.
By Fr. Francesco Pavese, IMC, and Sr. Angeles Mantineo, MC