Luigi Guanella was born in Fraciscio, Italy on December 19, 1842. When he was twelve years old, he entered the seminary and was ordained in 1866. From 1875 until 1878, Don (“Father” in Italian) Guanella assisted St. John Bosco in his care of homeless children. Shortly thereafter, he began a pioneer program dealing with rehabilitation of boys and girls abandoned and rejected by society because of their physical and mental disabilities. Fr. Guanella’s philosophy in this matter was not entirely based on sophisticated theories but dealt in terms of “action.” No one could stop him in this effort. The opposition of civil authorities, criticism of the elite, and his personal reputation as a dreamer, did not matter.
As a talented writer and preacher, he wrote books, articles, and speeches to present to society the problem of those with disabilities and to further their acceptance as brothers and sisters and as blessings from God. He believed that their disabilities should not separate them from our love and attention and that some things could be done to alleviate their alienation. “Good children” as Fr. Guanella used to call them.
In 1886, Fr. Guanella’s goal became a reality. He opened the first established residential school in Como, Italy, for these beloved “Good children”. Some young men and women had joined Fr. Guanella, and two religious congregations were subsequently established: the “Daughters of St. Mary of Providence” and the “Servants of Charity”.
As the work of Fr. Guanella grew and multiplied his thirsts for doing good did not diminish. In 1912, he came to the United States and toured some of the principal cities. On May 3, 1913, he sent the first six Daughters of St. Mary of Providence to work with girls with intellectual disabilities in Chicago. The events of the First World War made it impossible for the Servants of Charity to come to the United States at that time.