Bishop-Elect Italo and the faith lived in our town of Valmadrera

June 29, 2021

Then Father Italo Dell'Oro celebrates Mass in Italy. (Photo by Bishop-Elect Italo Dell'Oro)

Our friend Italo Dell’Oro, today a bishop in the United States, had a “beautiful journey” indeed — human, religious, and spiritual.

As every other little boy in Valmadrera, Italo attended the usual schools of that time — elementary and middle schools in town, then the “Badoni” high school in Lecco.

He demonstrated a solid and strong character at a young age while also being reserved, helpful, quiet and thoughtful. These characteristics gradually improved as he entered the religious community of St. Jerome’s “Somascan” Fathers and subsequently moved to the United States, at first to work in New Hampshire with young people in difficult circumstances, and later on to serve as priest of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.

His friends “conscripts of 1953” were always happy to see him in Valmadrera: during his brief visits to Italy, he not only spent time with his family, but he also made sure to meet his classmates and his old friends from the parish.

Even those who weren’t particularly “religious” were happy to attend the special Mass that he offered in San Martino. We would go eat pizza together afterward while Italo, discreetly and humbly, would tell us something about his American mission, and, most of all, he would inquire about each and every one of us.

We want to offer an outline of some elements of his spirituality. This is only an attempt as Italo has been totally absorbed for the last 35 years in his service to the Catholic communities of the U.S.

Personally, I had just a few occasions to talk at length with him during all these years. However, precisely starting from his long and faithful path serving the Church, we learn the first element: at the bottom of his answer to the “call” to follow Jesus and to devote his whole life to Him, there was a great and courageous “bet:” to be a true man of God, in the real sense of the word.

Through our conversations with him and through his homilies, we understood that for him, it was important and crucial not only to be faithful to the task asked of him in the present but also to ask his brothers and sisters in the Catholic faith to do the same in their own circumstances: as spouses, workers, parents, business people, social workers and politicians.

The more time he spent in the U.S., the more Italo showed a kind of “enculturation” in the American concept of faith and of religious organization, where parishes are strong and functional.

But he never forgot his origins in Valmadrera, the simple and generous Marian spirituality of his town at the foot of the shrine of the Madonna of San Martino, and the creativity and welcoming disposition of the Somascan charism.

Although very smart and capable in his studies and his work, which he abandoned to enter the seminary when he was 22, Italo was always humble about his intellectual dimension and never showed it off.

On the contrary, he was always simple and concrete, and he emphasized the value of daily life where “true” theology is manifested in the care towards the people we get in contact with, in the direct and fruitful response to the needs of the people, either spiritual, or personal, or social, especially the needs of the young and the fragile.

If I had to summarize in a single phrase what kind of priest Italo has been, and if I could predict his character as bishop, I’d say that I expect a concrete, incisive and efficient episcopal service characterized by a great sense for realism on one side and of prophecy on the other, in communion with his superior and with the hierarchy of the whole Church.

I have always thought highly of Italo for these peculiar, personal traits that have characterized him from a young age and developed through his engagements and services.

In my job as a journalist in Rome, I have been able to meet and interview several bishops of the Italian Episcopal Conference, but, of course, having a friend bishop like him, of my own age and from my own town, fills me with a sense of wholeness and brings me to the last element I wish to point out.

Italo is — spiritually — “son” of the long journey within the Church of the community of Valmadrera. Over the course of the last few centuries, hundreds of men and women left Valmadrera to devote themselves completely to the service of God as priests, nuns and missionaries.

However, among those who stayed in town, several other faithful fathers and mothers lived and witnessed a true and strong, simple and fruitful faith.

If among these we had Bishop Bernardo Citterio, his assistant and now Bishop Luigi Stucchi, and today Bishop Italo Dell’Oro, this is due to a spirituality that can be recognized as “mother” of the people’s faith.

I am certain that Bishop-Elect Italo will always be grateful towards his town of Valmadrera and the faith that he experienced in our town from an early age.

Luigi Crimella is an Italian journalist and longtime friend of Bishop-Elect Italo Dell’Oro.