The Venerable Giovanni Nadiani, Blessed Sacrament Brother
He was born on 20 February 1885 at Santa Maria Nuova in Cesena, Province of Forlì, baptised with the names Giovanni Antonio Gaspare.
His father Ercole was a manager of a grocery store and tavern, involved in trading horses and knowledgeable in providing for all the needs of the people of that small town in the municipality of Bertinoro. Though being a somewhat sombre severe person, a republican anticlerical like all the simple men of that place, he was also good and cordial towards everyone and committed to the good education of his children. He was married three times: first to Annunziata Piazzi in 1880, the mother of Giovanni, Maria and Erminio, who died at the birth of the fourth child, Adolf who also died immediately after her; then three years later in 1892 to her sister Lucia Piazzi, who bore Annunziata, who died aged five; finally, following Lucia’s death, to the maid Giovanna Ruffili in 1897. These three were Giovanni’s holy mothers, who educated him in the faith, prayer and the sacraments, even though his father was unpractising.
As a boy, he was attentive, obedient and devout. At home, on the landing, he set up a little altar before which he gathered his companions for prayer. He was an altar boy when his father allowed him.
In 1889 he entered the seminary of Cesena to become a priest permitted by his father since that establishment was renowned for providing good education to youth. But after four years since the fees were not paid, he had to leave. There are many fine things said about him during his time at the seminary, for example, regarding his studiousness and being a soloist in the choir.
In 1903, when he returned home, he was set to work in serving his father, doing after-school activities for the boys and taking part in the Christian Democratic Club of Provezza (Cesena). Later he emigrated to work in Switzerland to learn languages and go as a missionary. This was interrupted when he returned to Forlì for six months of military service, from which he was dismissed and resumed his work in Switzerland.
In 1907 he was in Rome serving in a bar of his mother Giannina’s relatives. During this time, he entered the Church of San Claudio, where he became fascinated by the Eucharist exposed, in relation to which he reviewed his life, his vocation. He prayed for a long time and decided to join the Institute of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers that looked after that church. It was on 2 July 1907 that he entered at Turin, obediently following advice to be a Brother, a vocation to which he became passionately dedicated.
He made his novitiate at Castelvecchio of Moncalieri (Turin) from November 1907 to November 1909.
He then lived in the house of Turin until October 1931, when he was transferred to Ponteranica where he remained until his death on 6 January 1940.
He left the most beautiful signs of holiness living as a Blessed Sacrament religious.
His “spiritual notes” express an extraordinary witness of his truly ascetical and mystical life. From the novitiate, he built his intimate spousal relationship with Christ. Brother Giovanni was truly in love with Jesus in the Eucharist. He lived his life as a Blessed Sacrament Brother in contemplation and service, the two attitudes of his daily Eucharist. He was most faithful to adoration every eighth hour taking his turn in the community, ready even to substitute others who requested this, especially at night. He noted down:
“The hour of adoration is an angelic exercise; it is the most necessary thing to refresh at the fountainhead the roots of virtue, to rekindle the warmth of our spirit at this ardent furnace. Adoration is the most delightful experience. The only happiness, the only joy promised to religious. Adoration is my little Mass. With what commitment I must celebrate it! I must prepare every time a victim to offer. I must renew every day the profound adoration of the Virgin at the moment of the Incarnation, her loving thanksgiving, her immolation, and her prayer.” With his passion for the Eucharist, Brother Giovanni used to live an intense spiritual asceticism.
At Turin, he asked to go to confession twice a week, and to undertake always new penitential practices: hair shirt, chains around his waist, sleeping on a stray bed. He sought humility: “I will not be able to become an adorer in spirit and truth unless I am humble. Humility is the first stone, the basis of the Eucharistic life.”
Brother Giovanni used to say that he had a great secret throughout his life; it was the favourite theme of his meditations – the secret “to do the Will of God.” “It was the Secret of Jesus taught by his Mother … When the adversaries would like to induce us to evil, we oppose them with the Will of God that forbids sin; when Luke warmness and inertia distract us from doing good, the thought of the Divine Will that prescribes good works shakes us; when hatred leads us to vengeance, we hinge it on the Will of God that requires forgiveness; when pride eagerly raises its head, we remind it that the Divine Will resists the proud. Against this sovereign and holy Will, all arrows are blunted against this diamond shield, all swords are broken. The Saints direct all their efforts to the Will of God. Father Eymard used to repeat:
‘To see the Divine Will in everything.’ In its relief is felt not only by the soul but also by the body; in the Will of God, there is peace of heart. It is true that there is no security, there is no firmness, there is no tranquillity and peace, there is no wisdom, there is no nobility for a person except in exactly fulfilling, faithfully persevering and loving the Will of God.” And Brother Giovanni proposed in a litanic form “The 33 Secrets contained in the great Secret of Jesus.”
In the community at Turin Brother Giovanni was the porter, sacristan, but above all an assistant in the Office of the publications and dispatch of the magazines, taking care of correspondence from subscribers. At the seminary of Ponteranica he was mainly the infirmarian. He was distinguished for his delicacy and kindness towards each sick person. Very modest, he did not make anyone feel uncomfortable, and everyone allowed themselves to be treated by him with confidence. It was here that Brother Giovanni regarded the beauty of his vocation as a Brother in terms of “spiritual motherhood.” He saw priests as fathers by whom so many souls were to be guided and listened to, while in brothers he saw the role of the mother who cares, who assists, who loves. He wrote a booklet “The spiritual Motherhood of the religious Brother:”
“The title of Mother is not strange or improper. It is Jesus himself who gives this sublime mission to every truly loving soul who does the Will of God … Being a little Mary, mother of Jesus, mother of the priests, mother of souls: such is the mission of the religious Brother. And no means are needed; only one thing is asked of you, the love in which everything is contained. Love with the heart of a Mother, and this love is simplified by sanctifying the present moment.” Brother Giovanni was in love with the Madonna whom he called “Smile in the family.” He wanted to imitate her maternal delicacy.
Even in the community he was always amiable, outgoing, joyful, and offering himself to replace anyone in need. He was also sent to carry out commissions and often went to the city to do the shopping or to take the sick to visit the doctor.
He was heroic in his last year when suffering very much from a cancerous ulcer. Without diminishing his commitments, he offered himself every day as a “victim with Jesus of the altar with the Cross in his chest.” At the hospital in Bergamo (the “garden of God” he called it) he was operated on 30 December 1939: “may I celebrate my bloody Mass as a true Blessed Sacrament religious, allowing freely and with joy Jesus the Victim to complete his Passion … the dear heavenly Mother will accompany me.” He died on the morning of 6 January 1940.
This was the Venerable Giovanni Nadiani who by his life presents the beauty and attractiveness of the vocation of a Blessed Sacrament Brother and of religious life as such, even without the incentive of the priesthood. It is a vocational pattern to be fostered in our Congregation.
Let us pray to the Trinity for his glorification
O Most Holy Trinity, we thank you for the gift of the Eucharist, the font and strength of all holiness, and ask you to glorify the Venerable Giovanni Nadiani, who witnessed in humility and service the life of love springing from this Sacrament. Through his intercession grant us the graces that we are asking from you.
Say three “Glorias” to the Most Holy Trinity.
At Morning or Evening Prayer:
For your Servant Giovanni Nadiani, who in humility and service witnessed the love springing from the Eucharist, grant him to be in the Church a sign of your holiness.