54. Fr. Giulio Costantino educator
Fr. Giulio Costantino (1842-1915) was the first successor of Murialdo (1900-1912) and his life since 1853 was spent at the Artigianelli boarding school first as an orphan boy without mom, then as a priest, vice-rector, Rector of Artigianelli and Superior general of the Congregation of St. Joseph. He was away from Turin only for a few years (1872-1883) as head of the reformatory of Bosco Marengo. A life spent for the poor and tough boys, a direct and intense experience as educator, so to be called “father (dad) of the youth.” This article presents some features of his way of being an educator, knowing that Fr. Giulio Costantino deserves to be better known.
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54. Fr. Giulio Costantino educator (Tullio Locatelli)
- The man and the priest
Fr. Giulio Costantino is often remembered with two words: good and humble. These beautiful virtues, joined to an always cheerful mood, would easily earn the benevolence of those who approached him, especially kids. As a boy he learned to do a little of everything: first he worked as a shoemaker, became a teacher in drawing, teacher of physics and mathematics, but above all he liked mechanics; for this reason he was often in the workshop with the children to repair mechanisms and invent some device.
He had learned to play the piano and the organ with which to solemnize feasts both in the Church and in the theatre. He was able to compose. He was taking care of each job even if modest and insignificant, as long as he was helpful. As superior general he accepted to substitute a teacher in the elementary grades in order to avoid additional expenses on the Artigianelli.
It was a good treasurer, scrupulous, laborious and he often reminded the youngsters that a good economy begins in doing their job, whatsoever, well, convinced that everyone could live with dignity in his work. He was a man of peace and often it was his turn to solve issues between confreres, assistants or among the youths of the boarding school. To a brother asking him to be more authoritative and complaining about his goodness of heart, Fr. Giulio replied that he had had a bad example from the Lord Jesus, and he had learned from him.
- The educator
Fr. Giulio Costantino grew up in the shadow of the founders of the Artigianelli boarding school: Fr. Cocchi, Fr. Tasca, Fr. Berizzi, and then he shared his life for over 30 years with Murialdo. He always had a great admiration for them and many times expressed his gratitude towards them. From them he learned to be an educator.
Fr. Reffo writes: “His standard of education was to be frequently with young people and to live their life and his secret was to be good, to be always good, with the fine ones as well as with the bad ones.” Fr.Costantino was as such: he lived among young people and not only for them, he would be present in any environment, able to enliven, to console, to encourage through “his presence;” a sympathetic presence thanks to his “round” physique, as a good priest.
Fr.Costantino at Bosco Marengo was the director of a house of correction called “reformatory” that came to welcome up to 400 children, who instead of being allocated to the juvenile detention center in Turin, the “Generala,” were finding here an educational and non-punitive system, with the option of school for children and workshops for older kids. Fr. Giulio expressed in those years all his fatherly love to these young people, more ill-fated according to him than bad, more unfortunate than guilty. It was not easy to combine discipline and fatherly love, but Fr. Giulio realized what the Guidelines asked the rector and the educators: “The students should be for him like sons and he like a father to them” (Chapter V); “He should be everything to everyone and at the same time Father and Mother to these unfortunate ones, especially to the most in need, the weakest, the worst” (Chapter XI).
Fr. Reffo wrote, “The day, in which it was decided to close the reformatory and Fr. Giulio had to see his youths sent to other houses of correction scattered in Italy and only a few in the Institutes of the Association of Charity in Turin and Rivoli-Bruere, was one of the saddest days of his life. ”
He was very averse to punish, and urged his colleagues to prevent by asking more assiduous surveillance than strong repression. A former student said his way of educating was very practical, rooted on common sense, and not on philosophical discourses, but rather you could get a practical advice, appropriate for everyday life, related to the problems manifested.
From 1883 to 1900 he was responsible for the foster home that gathered young workers who went during the day in the various workshops of the city.
Fr. Giulio Costantino was spending the day at the Artigianelli and in the evening he was coming in the foster home. Then he gave time to personal interviews, informal meetings with all, in view of preparing them to be someday good family men and good Christians in society.
- His convictions
It is interesting to highlight a letter from 1899, in which he expresses some of his convictions.
One wonders why children often rebel to the educators, to the superiors? Fr. Costantino answers: Do you know why? Because the superiors, even the choicest supervisors, lack something that abounded in Fr. Cocchi and that I and my companions always tried to imitate in him: they lack the vocation, which consists of zeal, abnegation, spirit of sacrifice, love for the unfortunate for the love of Jesus Christ who set the example and gave the precept.
Where such attitudes are missing, young people do not feel “that something particular” toward the superiors treating them as enemies and constantly trying to overcome them.
These statements remind us to be for young people: friends, brothers and fathers.
Fr. Giulio Costantino is humble and good, but not weak and to the young people, even to the most difficult, he was making a serious and demanding educational proposal. He writes: And now the synthesis of my intervention, if you want to prevent unrest, and get fruits: love them as Fr. Cocchi loved them. Instruct them as he struggled with them in all his institutions. Make them work seriously so that they learn the art and will use it, even by getting tired in working, as a free labourer.
All this according to the love and teachings of Jesus Christ in order to save souls, not just to get by, in order to survive and to make a career.
In another occasion Fr. Costantino expressed the thought that young people, even the most difficult, even the most rebellious ones, know how to love those who love them, they have a heart capable of responding to the love received. He said: Love produces love; it is natural that he who loved and loves the poor people would be loved. But similar so spontaneous events are always a sign of a good heart. Praise be to God! As long as there is a good heart you can hope for much; and we are confident of an excellent outcome for these dear young people. They probably had no other fault that not having learned on their own what had not been taught to them.“ Namely that young people often do not know how to love because they have had no experience of being loved.
- The education is either Christian or is not education
Fr. Giulio Costantino lived in a time when the conflict between church and state, between religious culture and secular-Masonic culture, found in education a harsh and openly battleground. For his part he was always convinced that the closure of the reformatory of Bosco Marengo had been decreed in order to reduce the opportunity for priests to be educators of many young people. It was certainly not the only motivation, but it was indeed part of such a decision.
The religious component was then a key aspect qualifying the education given in the institutes run by religious.
Fr. Costantino preached often to young people, dealing with themes of morality, sacramental practice, and the duties of a good Christian. He was responsible for the beautiful chapel of the Artigianelli boarding school, built by brother Massoglia and decorated by Henry Reffo.
He longed for it and always dreamed about until it was realized a few months after his death on May 1915.
He looked after the religious services and every year he proposed to his youngsters a few days of Retreat, even in the Reformatory of Bosco Marengo. Even as Superior General he was available for confession, the sacrament he had great respect for and in which he posed a great confidence for the improvement of young people.
One thing that worried him a lot and caused so much sadness was: to see children and young people abandoning prayer, the sacraments due to the bad example of others and ” that great beast” that is human respect.
He used to say to young people: Study religion with commitment because when you are in the midst of the whirlwind of the world you will need to hold the shock of passions and interests, the sad influence of scandals and political parties, which will try to get you away from the path of virtue and goodness.
- The “wishes” of Fr. Giulio Costantino: health, money and holiness
At the age of 18 or 19 the young people were leaving the boarding school, after completing their training. He used to say to them: I wish you health, money and holiness. If you are healthy physically your soul will also be healthy. For a worker health is one of the main gifts God can give him. Right now you are healthy, procure not to waste it with disorders and bad habits. Money is a great thing if accompanied by health: the French say l’argent fait tout, and the British: time is money. But remember well that money does not rain down from heaven, it derives from work and is the fruit of your savings, of your sweat, of your honesty. If money will come otherwise it will be no good. I wish you, therefore, a master, respecting in you a brother, who pays you with the conscience of a Christian. Remember then that to be holy is not necessary to perform miracles: just faithfully fulfil the duties towards God, keeping the commandments and obeying the Holy Church; towards ourselves increasingly perfecting the soul and the body and never indulge with vice, with blasphemy, with the evil deeds; towards others doing unto others as you want others to do to you; honouring the country which was called “glorious mother of heroes” by living as honest and good citizens.“
Simple and clear words, a concrete and comprehensive wish, such was the greeting of the one who for so many years had been a good father to them, and would continue to be so.