Beatified on 4-14-02
Early years – marked by Don Bosco
Louis Variara was born in Viarigi in the province of Asti on January 15, 1875 to a deeply Christian family. His father Pietro had heard Don Bosco in 1856, when he came to the village to preach a mission. He decided to take Louis to Valdocco to continue his studies. The Saint would die four months later. But what Louis came to know of him was sufficient to leave its mark on him for life. When he finished his secondary schooling, he asked to become a Salesian. He entered the novitiate on August 17, 1891.
Variara did his studies in philosophy at Valsalice, where he came to know Andrew Beltrami. He was impressed by the joy with which Beltrami underwent the sufferings of his illness. In 1894, Fr. Unia, the famous missionary to the lepers in Agua de Dios, was at Valsalice to choose a cleric who would look after young lepers.
The missionary – Agua de Dios
Fixing his gaze on Variara, amongst the 188 others who had the same intention, he said: “This one is mine.” Louis arrived in Agua de Dios on August 6, 1894. The mission numbered 2,000 people of whom 800 were lepers.
Priest among lepers
As soon as he arrived, he became the life and soul of all who lived there, especially the children. He organized a band, and brightened up peoples’ lives with unexpected festivity. In 1895, Fr. Unia died and Louis was alone with Fr. Crippa. In 1898, he was ordained priest. He became an excellent spiritual director.
The beginnings of a Religious Institute
In 1905, he finished building the “Fr. Unia Kindergarten,” a place that could accommodate up to 150 orphans and lepers, and guaranteed that they could learn something with which to earn a living and help them fit into society in the future. At Agua de Dios, the Sisters of Providence had created the Association of the Daughters of Mary, a group of some 200 girls. He was their confessor. He identified some in the group who were called to religious life.
Daughters of the Sacred Hearts…
A brave project was born – something unique in the Church – an Institute that would be allowed to take in those who had leprosy. Inspired by the spirituality of Fr. Beltrami, he developed the Salesian charisma of sacrifice and founded the Congregation of the “Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary,” which now numbers 600 religious women.
A man of complete obedience
He suffered much at the time of this founding through the lack of understanding of people and certain superiors who thought he should be removed from Agua de Dios a number of times. Like Don Bosco, he was exemplary in obedience. Even in the face of calumny, he said nothing. He was credible because he was obedient. Don Rua encouraged him from Turin.
Death – far from Agua de Dios, but close to God
He died far from his beloved lepers, as obedience had demanded. Now he lies in Agua de Dios, in the chapel where his Sisters are. John Paul II beatified him on April 14, 2002.
Declared Venerable on April 2, 1993 and beatified on April 14 by John Paul II.