Hunger, disease and wars in Friuli

From 1813 to 1817, Friuli was marked by famine, hunger, disease and wars: years of bad harvests, not even millet, foot and mouth disease, famine in the mountains, continuous rains in 1816, change of political power between the French and the Austrians, smallpox and typhoid in 1817; this, last one, left two thousand victims in Udine alone, out of 17 thousand inhabitants. An Oratorian priest, Fr. Gaetano Salomoni, opened the "home for the abandoned" in Udine under the protection of the Virgin Mary and St. Cajetan of Thiene, the saint of Providence. He provided hospitality to the orphaned, abandoned and poor girls: gave them food and clothing, taught them to read, write and basic accounting in addition to embroidery and tailoring.

Initially, they were around 19 children, but in 1817 they became 40. They were all less than 12 years old. The first voluntary "teachers" of Friuli, Sandra Marpillero from Venzone and Margarita Gaspardis from Sevegliano were dressmakers and embroiderers. In 1819, Fr. Carlo was asked to lend a hand as treasurer; three years later, in 1822, he became the director of the Home. In 1929, Fr. Giovanni Battista Bearzi of Udine appointed Padre Luigi as Vice-Director.

It was neither easy to run the Home during those days nor to maintain the girls. Ever since a priest, Padre Luigi, made himself a beggar on the streets of Friuli to help his brother. But once the administration of the Home was entrusted to him, the income became more stable; thanks to the Providence in which he had unwavering trust and also due to his initiatives: he travelled the streets of Friuli with a handcart collecting donations and food. Often he had to bear harsh insults and even blows. It is said about a man who slapped him considering him an idler. "This is for me but now what will you give for my little girls?", was the reaction of the saint! Amazed by the attitude of Luigi, the ill-tempered man provided him with plenty of foodstuff and became a supporter of the work.

There were hundreds and hundreds of girls helped by the Home; in addition, the young who were already in the Home were assured not only human and religious education but also vocational training, so that, they could face life with dignity. Padre Luigi himself, together with his collaborators, future Sisters of Providence, taught not only catechism lessons but also astronomy, geography and history.

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