I. The Inspiration
The Little House of Divine Providence, founded by Saint Joseph Cottolengo, is a civil and ecclesial institution. He was an Italian priest, born on 3rd of May 1786, and was ordained a priest in Turin in 1811. He had deep faith in Divine Providence and spent his entire life taking care of the most needy and abandoned people. The Little House (La Piccola Casa) is grounded on Divine Providence, its spirit is the charity of Christ, it is supported by prayers and, at the centre of its activities, are the poor.
Witnessing the death of a mother of three children who was pregnant and very sick yet denied admission in any hospital, Cottolengo knelt in prayer before the picture of the Virgin Mary, our Lady of Graces, and felt inspired by Divine Providence to start a charitable institution for the poors following the example of Saint Vincent de’ Paul. From day to day his heart was evermore impelled by Divine Mercy hence he surrendered himself to God the Father in the service of the poor, expressing his interior inspiration with the words of Saint Paul. (“Caritas Christi Urget nos”) “The love of God impels us” (2Cor 5:14). To serve and help them he founded the Little House of Divine Providence, in Turin (Italy) in January 17th 1828. He founded the communities of Sisters, Brothers and Priest. The Sisters are either of Contemplative or Apostolic life. The Contemplative Sisters’ life is particularly given to prayer and adoration; while the apostolic sister, brothers, and priest spend their live fulfilling their mission through integrating praise of God and the service of our most needy brethren.
II. The Institution
Guided by the “ever admirable Divine Providence”, Cottolengo fulfilled his charismatic inspiration, giving life a “particular eloquent sign of the loving presence of God”, through a Institution of charity, called “small hospital of the poor sick people of Corpus Domini under the protection of St. Vincent de’ Paul”, opened on 17th January, 1828, which after the closure of the “Small hospital” in September, 1831, was reopened on April 27, 1832 and named, “Little House of divine Providence under
the auspices of St. Vincent de’ Paul”. He sent the Sisters and Brother founded by him, even outside of his Institution, to bear witness to the “pure principle of Charity towards the poor”.
He placed Divine Providence at the foundation of all, consecrating “what he had started, or should be expanded or extended to other branches, solely and irrevocably for the glory of God.
III. The Apostolic Dimension and Contemplative Dimension
Particularly inclined to do all the good he could for the poor, Cottolengo took care of the sick and looked after the poor and abandoned person; He prepared a house, by which, in a family atmosphere, their dignity could be recognized, offering a “room for holy education”. Cottolengo was helped by the laity in this mission of charity in the beginning but latter he founded communities of sister, brothers, priest of apostolic life.
To serve God in the person of the poor, our brothers in Christ Jesus, to prefere the most in need, to spend ourselves for their physical and spiritual good, with love, solicitude and sprit of sacrifice is the heart of Cottolengo charitable apostolic action that sees the face of Christ in the neighbour (Mt 25: 41) The poor are to be served with greatest charity, patience, tenderness and zeal, well animated by prayer and trusting in God, to please Him, interiorly impelled by Charity.
The deep desire for the primacy of God and the exclusive search for his glory led Cottolengo, through a singular divine gift, to start even some monasteries of contemplative life.
To live for God alone, with “mind and heart occupied as much as possible by God or by things concerning the health of the soul”, characterizes the Cottolengo ideal of contemplative life.
In an atmosphere of silence, solitude and joyful penance, Cottolengo contemplative life of cloister, with, with manual labour and study of the Sacred Scripture, is an expression of adoration and continuous prayer day and night for all the Church, for the good of the Little House and as charitable services towards our poor brothers.
IV. The Spirituality
Conscious of the universal call of all to holiness, Cottolengo lived his charismatic inspiration in the docility to the Holy Spirit, pointing out a way of conformation to Christ for the religious and the laity according to the following distinctive feature:
- Active filial trust in Divine Providence in the faithful search for the fulfilment of God’s will;
- “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2Cor 5:14) in the communion and service to the poor and the suffering, a true act of cult to Christ; in fraternal life emulating the first Christian community of Jerusalem;
- “detachment from the whole of creation” and from ourselves, which makes the unreserved openness to the challenges of God’s grace and those of human misery possible.
- Deep communion with God, living in his presence, contemplated in all his signs, in the continuous prayer which is the “first and most important work in the Little House” especially in the form of (“Laus perennis”) continuous praise, the daily reception of the Eucharist and in the filial devotion to the Virgin Mary our good Mother;
- Spirit of unceasing praise and thanksgiving expressed through (“Deo gratias”,) “Thanks be to God” for the good and provident intervention of God towards his children;
- Acceptance and contemplation of the mystery of the Cross, lived with the spirit of faith, that transforms the meaning of human suffering;
- Certainty in the blessed hope of paradise as “the last action of Divine Providence”, where the mystery of the cross finds the saving light coming from the risen Christ.