Don Lorenzo Milani 100 years after his birth: this is what is left of his legacy

A century after the birth of the prior of Barbiana, we went to see the former pupils of the priest who, born rich, fought against social inequalities. Starting from school. Surprise: their story is extraordinarily timely

  don-milani-today-21 Don Lorenzo Milani (1923-1967) with his pupils in Barbiana, in Mugello

Everyone has their memories. Illuminating, sometimes dissonant. When Don Lorenzo Milani's former pupils talk about their prior, born in Florence on May 27, 1923 and died, at the age of 44, on June 26, 1967, they open endless doors on his life as a man of faith and prophetic challenges. 100 years after the birth of don Milani, to talk about him we start from 'his of him' Scuola di Barbiana, an educational experience aimed at the boys of that village in the Mugello, attached to Monte Giovi and Vicchio (Florence).

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SENT INTO “EXILE” – Few houses, no electricity and no water, peasant poverty of the fifties: this presented itself to the gaze of Don Lorenzo when, due to contrasts with the Florentine Curia, which considered him too critical of the Church, he was sent in 1954 to parish priest in that isolated place. But he in that exile saw much more. Here, in 1967, the famous book was born Letter to a teacher , which has become a manifesto of criticism of the school and in particular of that pedagogy that did not know how to bridge social inequalities. Already in San Donato di Calenzano, before going to Barbiana, Don Lorenzo had set up a popular school aimed in particular at workers. The priest, born into a wealthy and non-believing family, discovered his vocation when he grew up, 'after 20 years spent in the darkness of error', he said. He was ordained a priest in 1947, after having attended, attracted by painting, the Brera Academy in Milan, and quasi-girlfriends, such as Carla Sborgi (from the family of the jurist Pietro Ichino). The priest considered inconvenient in Barbiana also wrote Pastoral Experiences.

BETWEEN FORBIDDEN TEXTS AND GIRLFRIENDS – It was 1958 and the book, which anticipated the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, ended up among the prohibited texts by the Holy Office: it only came out in 2014, in the second year of Pope Francis' pontificate, which on 20 June 2017 went in Barbiana to pray at the tomb of the prior. The President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella and the Cardinal and Archbishop of Bologna Matteo Zuppi are now expected on 27 May. Don Milani's former pupils will also be there. A part, at least (there were about fifty in all). There will be Agostino Burberi, born in 1946, president of the Don Lorenzo Milani Foundation in Barbiana, a former trade unionist. He was among the first six boys of Barbiana with Aldo Bozzolini, Giancarlo Tagliaferri, Michele Gesualdi, Giancarlo (called Carlo) Carotti and Silvano Salimbeni (the last three are dead). In a historical photo, the six boys study outdoors under a pergola: they on one side of the table and Don Lorenzo on the other. «We had two books in six. We were careful, otherwise the prior would give us a kick», recalls Agostino who lives in the Milanese area. «He went ahead at the pace of the last one: we all had to understand what we were studying». A new idea of ​​school was born, even for Agostino who had failed in first grade. «Don Milani was also a father to me. I was more with him than with my father, whom I saw little because he left very early, on foot, by bike and by train, to go to Florence, to work as a construction worker, and returned very late». At 18, Agostino was already a trade unionist. And Barbiana in memories is school and family.
'He taught me a lot. On everything the importance of thinking with one's own head », says Aldo Bozzolini, 76, in the coffee capsule shop in Sesto Fiorentino. He is engaged as a volunteer in the Don Milani Association of Calenzano which deals with people in difficulty. 'Today in Barbiana the life of don Milani is told, money is managed, and in Calenzano we get busy, according to his teachings', says Aldo with a smile. At times, different visions, even misunderstandings, emerge in the stories of the prior's former pupils. For example, with Michele Gesualdi, who was a trade unionist, president of the Province of Florence and gave life to the Don Lorenzo Milani Foundation. “He was a bit self-centered. Sometimes we quarreled», says Aldo. And think of Don Lorenzo like this: «The image I keep of him is that of a father who is behind his son. Then I was also quite critical with him. At one point, in 1963, I left because I didn't like being involved in politics and trade unions, as the prior wanted me to do. Then in 1965 I returned. I also collaborated on the data-tables of the book Letter to a professor. And those that weren't clear enough were then redone by Giancarlo Tagliaferri », he explains. And he remembers when the prior used the cord with the knots that he wore on his trousers as a strap. «Once the record player broke down and I took it all apart to try to fix it. He got angry.'

HIS SPIRITUAL LEGACY – Then he dwells on the intellectual legacy of don Milani. «He taught everyone the importance of commitment in the wake of the truth, for what it is given to men to seek and find it. He passed on a method », he reflects. Giancarlo Tagliaferri, 78, kindly answers the phone from Pescia, Pistoia. He worked as a surveyor, had a construction company and detached himself a bit from the world of Barbiana. He wasn't even there for the visit of Pope Francis. “I didn't like the idea of ​​exploiting Barbiana's legacy. In recent years I have also distanced myself from the Church. I'm a bit allergic to the authorities», explains Giancarlo. «However, I remain tied to the educational experience of Don Lorenzo. I particularly remember a beautiful lesson of his on the truth: he maintained that it must be proclaimed and that even silence offends it and can represent a lie ». Even when he was no longer in Barbiana, Giancarlo went to see the prior. «Every now and then I passed for a fascist because I maintained that Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin looked alike. He talked to each other even if we didn't always agree ». Fiorella Tagliaferri, 75, sister of Giancarlo, was six and a half years old when Don Milani arrived in Barbiana. «The priest who was there before him told us that a young priest would arrive as a punishment. But his former parishioners came to visit him from Calenzano by bus and it immediately became clear who he was », says Fiorella who is now a volunteer in Barbiana, where she lives, and in Calenzano. “Once he took us to his family villa.

FROM WELL-BEING FAMILY – When we arrived, the waitress called him “signorino”, he who went around in a worn tunic, ate badly, slept in a sort of closet. Thus I discovered that he was not poor. I asked him why he hadn't stayed in his nice rich house. “Up there I have you, this is a more important wealth”, he replied ». Fiorella, who at the age of 12 worked in a shoe factory, is married to Gianpaolo Bonini, also a pupil of don Milani. «I think he has devised the best way to go to school. And I am happy that Pope Francis has rehabilitated him in the eyes of the Church », she underlines. Don Milani's pedagogical thought is also very topical for Paolo Landi, 75, a former pupil of Barbiana, a former trade unionist, founder and former president of the Adiconsum consumer association, now involved in educational projects. “Even today there are kids who drop out of school. And the application of full-time employment also highlights territorial discrimination, given that it is 65 percent widespread in the North, 45-50 percent in the Center and 15 percent in the South », he underlines. And he continues: «When I started dealing with trade unions, Don Lorenzo explained to me the importance of listening, of cultivating the courage of one's ideas and of expressing them without riding on populism, easy consensus. In addition to the duty to commit oneself to solving problems». Words that are still necessary today. «Don Milani taught us that school creates civil society. And we are all called to this responsibility», says Edoardo Martinelli, 72 years old. Arrived in Barbiana at 14, now he is involved in training in the field of disability, after having been a trade unionist (and street artist), after having worked in a factory and in an agricultural cooperative. «He left me a legacy of criticism, the instinct to seek the truth. “In life they persecuted me, in death they will exalt me, but you defend me from mystifications”, he said ». And if we mention those shadows of pedophilia that touched don Milani - in 2017 with the publication of the novel by Walter Siti Burn everything – does not hesitate to judge them as slanders. 'Don Lorenzo was of total purity,' she says. In Barbiana today people go on pilgrimage to the places of Don Milani. We are looking for the origin of his idea of ​​the Church and of the school. «The distortions against which Don Lorenzo fought and taught how to fight, still exist. Yesterday as today there are the first and the last in society», wrote Michele Gesualdi in the book Don Lorenzo Milani - The exile of Barbiana (St. Paul).
The voices of the ex-boyfriends mix together, bring reasons and feelings, illuminate the past and present. They return fragments of the story of don Milani, 'religious and civil prophet', and of his 100 years of multitude.