At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

25 October 2017

Carlo Gnocchi – military chaplain

Remembering a protector of the sick and the mutilated

Carlo Gnocchi as a young priest
Carlo Gnocchi as a young priest
Carlo Gnocchi, a brave priest who was chaplain to Italy’s alpine troops during the Second World War, was born on this day in 1902 in San Colombano al Lambro, near Lodi in Lombardy.

In recognition of his marvellous life, which was dedicated to easing the wounds of suffering and misery created by war, his birthday was made into his feast day when he was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on October 25, 2009 in Milan.

Gnocchi was the youngest of three boys born to Henry and Clementine Gnocchi. His father died when he was five years old and his two brothers died of tuberculosis before he was 13.

He was ordained a priest in 1925 in the archdiocese of Milan and afterwards worked as a teacher.

When war broke out he joined up as a voluntary priest and departed first for the front line between Greece and Albania and then for the tragic campaign in Russia, which he miraculously survived, despite suffering from frostbite.

While he was chaplain to alpine troops in the war he helped Jews and Allied prisoners of war escape to Switzerland. During this time he was imprisoned for writing against Fascism.

Gnocchi pictured with General Luigi Reverberi at the Russian Front
Gnocchi (left) pictured with General Luigi
Reverberi at the Russian Front
As he assisted the wounding and dying soldiers and listened to their last wishes the idea came to him to create a charity that was to become a reality after the war.

Gnocchi founded the Fondazione Pro Juventute after the war and worked to provide care for those orphaned or disabled during the conflict. The Foundation gradually expanded its operations to care for children suffering from polio.

Today the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation also cares for children or young people with disabilities or diseases and for patients of any age with debilitating diseases. In 2003 the president of the Italian Republic awarded it a gold medal for service to public health.

Gnocchi died of cancer in 1956 in Milan and on his deathbed donated his corneas, which returned sight to two, blind young people.

After his death many people invoked his name when in danger and claimed Gnocchi had saved their lives. An electrician from Villa d’Adda said he had survived a serious accident at work after praying to him in 1979.

He was venerated in December 2002 by Pope John Paul II and in 2009 his beatification was celebrated in Piazza del Duomo in Milan on October 25, the date of his birth 107 years before.

A panoramic view over San Colombano al Lambro
A panoramic view over San Colombano al Lambro
Travel tip:

San Colombano al Lambro, where Gnocchi was born, has the distinction of being the only wine producing town in the province of Milan. An area of 100 hectares (250 acres) grows the grapes to produce the acclaimed red wine San Colombano DOC. San Colombano is an exclave of the province of Milan, as it is completely surrounded by the territory of the provinces of Lodi and Pavia. When the province of Lodi was carved out of Milanese territory, the people in San Colombano voted in a referendum to stay part of Milan.

The Santuario del Beato Don Gnocchi is next door to the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district
The Santuario del Beato Don Gnocchi is next door to the
Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district
Travel tip:

Gnocchi’s remains were transferred in 1960 from the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan to the Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi, which is close to Via Don Carlo Gnocchi in the San Siro district of Milan. The foundation stone for the building was laid in September 1955 but Carlo Gnocchi did not live long enough to see the construction completed. Named after him, the organisation was originally set up to provide care, rehabilitation and social integration for children who had lost limbs during wars but has expanded over the years to provide treatment for adult patients as well. 

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