Luigi Giussani was born in 1922 in Desio, a small town near Milan. His mother, Angela, gave him his earliest daily introduction to the faith. His father, Beniamino, a member of an artistically talented family, a carver and restorer of wood, spurred the young Luigi always to ask why, to seek the reason for things. Fr. Giussani has often recalled episodes from his family life, signs of an atmosphere of great respect for persons and of an active education to keep alive the true dimensions of the heart and reason. An example is an episode when, still a young child, he and his mother were walking in the pale light of dawn to morning Mass, and his mother suddenly exclaimed softly at the sight of the last star fading in the growing morning light, “How beautiful the world is, and how great is God!” Or the great love of his father, a Socialist anarchist, for music, a passion that led him not only to try to lessen the impact of difficult moments in the family by singing famous arias, but also to prefer to the few comforts affordable in a modest economic situation the habit of inviting musicians home with him on Sunday afternoon so as to hear music played live.
At a very young age Luigi Giussani entered the diocesan seminary of Milan, continuing his studies and finally completing them at the theological school of Venegono under the guidance of masters like Gaetano Corti, Giovanni Colombo, Carlo Colombo, and Carlo Figini.
Besides the cultural training it offered, and his relationships of true esteem and great humanity with some of his masters, Venegono represented for Fr. Giussani a very important environment for the experience of the companionship of some “colleagues,” like Enrico Manfredini—the future archbishop of Bologna—in the common discovery of the value of vocation, a value that is enacted in the world and for the world.
These were years of intense study and great discoveries, such as reading Leopardi, Fr. Giussani recounts, as an accompaniment to meditation after the Eucharist. The conviction grew in him in those years that the zenith of all human genius (however expressed) is the prophecy, even if unaware, of the coming of Christ. Thus he happened to read Leopardi’s hymn Alla sua donna [To his Woman] as a sort of introduction to the prologue to the Gospel of St John, and to recognize in Beethoven and Donizetti vivid expressions of the eternal religious sense of man.
From that moment, reference to the fact that truth is recognized by the beauty in which it manifests itself would always be part of the Movement’s educational method. One can see in the history of CL a privileged place given to aesthetics, in the most profound, Thomist sense of the term, compared to an insistence on an ethical referent. From the time of his years in the seminary and as a theology student, Fr. Giussani learned that both the aesthetic and ethical sense arise from a correct and impassioned clarity concerning ontology, and that a lively aesthetic sense is the first sign of this, as evidenced by the healthiest Catholic as well as the Orthodox tradition.
Observance of discipline and order in seminary life became united with the strength of a temperament that, in his dialogue with his superiors and the initiatives of his companions, stood out for its vivacity and keenness. For example, Giussani promoted together with some fellow students an internal newsletter, called Studium Christi, with the intention of making of it a kind of organ for a study group dedicated to discovering the centrality of Christ in every subject they studied.
After ordination, Fr. Giussani devoted himself to teaching at the seminary in Venegono. In those years he specialized in the study of Eastern theology (especially the Slavophiles), American Protestant theology, and a deeper understanding of the rational reasons for adherence to faith and the Church.
In the middle of the 1950s, he left seminary teaching for high schools. For ten years, from 195