It may seem rather strange to have included in the family of Pauline saints a man who had taken no Pauline vow, and yet as Fr. Alberione’s spiritual advisor, Canon Chiesa is fondly considered the “godfather” of the Pauline family by her members.
Francesco Chiesa was born in Monta d’Alba, Italy, on April 2, 1874. He proved to be a keen student who wanted to devote his life to God and His Church. Francesco Chiesa entered the seminary in Alba, and was ordained a priest. He went on to earn a philosophy degree in Rome, a theology degree in Genoa, and a canon and civil law degree in Turin.
Francesco Chiesa became a professor at the same seminary that had formed him. It was there that he met the young seminarian, James Alberione. He became young James’ spiritual director, and was the first to hear of James’ inspiration to found an order dedicated to spreading the Gospel to all humanity. It was with Canon Chiesa’s steady and prayerful direction, advice and support that James Alberione was able to further discern the founding of this order, and go forth to make the dream a reality.
When Fr. Alberione had been ordained and had started the radically new congregation of the Society of St. Paul, Canon Chiesa offered himself as a professor to its students. He taught the budding Brothers and Fathers of the Society, and continued to help guide and encourage his old pupil James Alberione during his lifetime.
Canon Chiesa served as pastor of the parish of Sts. Cosmos & Damien in Alba and Canon of the Cathedral for 30 years. Through all his years, he continued to support the growth of the Pauline family. During the most difficult years of WWII, as Italy faced bombings, raids, paranoia and desperation, he was on the pastoral front lines. Documented extensively in his personal diaries, he recalls the names of his parishioners killed in Alba’s bombings; the day he was taken to give absolution to condemned men sentenced to execution and then served as witness to their deaths; and many terrifying situations faced by the Society of St. Paul in Alba, in which he supported Fr. Giaccardo and others in helping to maintain calm and order as the safety of the Pauline religious was continually threatened. He notes with affection the charity with which the priests of both the diocese and the Society of St. Paul continually gave of themselves during this turbulent and dangerous time. And he remained beside them through it all.
In the end, Canon Chiesa was a celebrated teacher and author, but was best known and loved for his faithful life as a priest. He is remembered fondly for his generosity in sharing his gift of guiding others, and his devotion to the adoration of Jesus present in the Eucharist . Canon Chiesa passed away in Alba, June 14, 1946, and was proclaimed Venerable on December 11, 1987.