Early years, marked by Don Bosco
Luigi Variara was born in Viarigi in the province of Asti on the 15th January 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 Luigi to Valdocco to continue his studies. The Saint would die four months later. But what Luigi 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 the 17th August 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. Luigi arrived in Agua de Dios on the 6th August 1894. The mission numbered 2000 people of whom 800 were lepers.
Priest amongst lepers
As soon as he arrived he became the life and soul of all who lived there, especially the children. He organised a band, and brightened up peoples' lives with unexpected festivity. In 1895 Fr Unia died and Luigi 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 work 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 charism of sacrifice and founded The Congregation of the Daughters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, which today 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, in Cúcuta (Colombia) on 1st February 1923 at the age of 48. Now he lies in Agua de Dios, in the chapel where his Sisters are. He was declared Venerable on 2nd April 1993 and beatified by Pope John Paul II on 14th April 2002.