Salesian Saints of January: Blessed Louis Variara (1875-1923)

10 Jan 2019

January 15, memorial for SDBs (optional for rest of SF)

Adapted from

Early years

Louis Variara was born in Viarigi (Asti), Italy, on January 15, 1875, to a devout Catholic family. His father Peter had heard Don Bosco in 1856, when he came to the village to preach a mission. Four months before the saint’s death, Peter decided to take Louis to Valdocco to continue his studies. What Louis came to know of Don Bosco was sufficient to leave its mark on him for life. When he finished high school, he asked to become a Salesian and entered the novitiate on August 17, 1891.

Bro. Variara did his studies in philosophy at Valsalice, where he came to know Andrew Beltrami. He was impressed by the joy with which Beltrami underwent the sufferings of his illness. In 1894 Fr. Michael Unia (1849-1895), the famous missionary to the lepers in Agua de Dios, Colombia, visited Valsalice to choose a cleric who would look after young lepers.

The missionary at Agua de Dios

Fixing his gaze on Bro. Variara, among the 188 others who had the same intention, he said: “This one is mine.” Bro. Louis arrived in Agua de Dios on August 6, 1894. The mission numbered 2,000 people, of whom 800 were lepers.

As soon as he arrived, he became the life and soul of all who lived there, especially the children. He organized a band and brightened up peoples’ lives with unexpected festivity. In 1895 Fr. Unia died, leaving and Bro. Louis and Fr. Raphael Crippa (†1928) to carry on the work. In 1898 Fr. Variara was ordained. He became an excellent spiritual director.

In 1905 Fr. Variara finished building the Fr. Unia Kindergarten, a place that could accommodate up to 150 orphans and lepers and that guaranteed that they could learn a trade to live by and fit into society in the future.

The beginnings of a religious institute

At Agua de Dios, the Sisters of Providence had created the Association of the Daughters of Mary, a group of some 200 girls. Fr. Variara was their confessor. He identified some in the group who were called to religious life. A brave project was born – something unique in the Church – a congregation that would be allowed to admit people with leprosy. Inspired by the spirituality of Fr. Beltrami, he developed the Salesian charism of sacrifice and founded the Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which today numbers 400 religious women.

A man of complete obedience

Fr. Variara suffered much at the time of this founding through the lack of understanding of people, including some superiors, who several times thought he should be removed from Agua de Dios. Like Don Bosco, he was exemplary in obedience. Even in the face of calumny he said nothing. He was credible because he was obedient. Fr. Michael Rua encouraged him from Turin.

He died far from his beloved lepers, as obedience had demanded. Now his remains lie in Agua de Dios, in the chapel where his sisters worship. St. John Paul II beatified him on April 14, 2002.