The Founder: Don Ottorino Zanon

Pia Società San Gaetano | Don Ottorino
Pia Società San Gaetano | Fondatore

The venerable Don Ottorino Zanon was born in Vicenza on August 9, 1915, into a very humble family and on May 26, 1940, he was ordained as a priest, during World War II. As chaplain of a city parish, he was struck by the situation of pain and degradation lived by the families on the outskirts of the city.

On May 24, 1941, he embarked on a new endeavor, the San Gaetano Institute, gathering and hosting orphaned and abandoned children. He began educating them through his work, so that they could become good citizens and good Christians.

Right from the beginning, he involved collaborators, and  on providence to respond to the countless needs of the children; there was never a luck of concrete signs of the presence of God, to whom the endeavor belonged.

Pia Società San Gaetano | Fondatore

In 1948 he formed the first group of young people, who then became religious, priests and deacons. In 1961 the “Pia San Gaetano Society ” was born, a religious congregation formed by priests and deacons, dedicated to the pastoral care of parishes among poor people and dioceses lucking of clergy.

He had a fatherly, jovial and innovative soul while educating young people. With an irrepressible passion for Jesus and an overflowing desire to announce to the world the beauty of being united with him and among us. He had a profound spirituality and he constantly sought God’s will.

His recurring question was, “Am I in my rightful place?” and then the radicality in the donation. He wanted to be a “priest-priest”, a repetition that represented a superlative in Veneto. The choice of religious life meant a total donation.

Pia Società San Gaetano | Fondatore

His strong idea was unity and charity within the Church. “If a religious man speaks ill of another religious man, he has to remain silent for a month,” he said.

Don Ottorino devoted himself to the formation of young religious people  and triggered off the missionary expansion of the congregation. In 1963, he opened missions in the South of Italy, Guatemala, Brazil and Argentina and in 1965 he created the Lay Friends, followed by the birth of Sisters of the deaconry.

He died in Brescia on September 14, 1972, due to a car accident, with his last words being, ‘Jesus, I love you‘.

On June 5, 2015, Pope Francis permitted the recognition of the heroic virtues of   Fr. Ottorino Zanon who is, therefore, venerable.

“Know and love Jesus, let him be known and let him be loved” these are the enlightened words of the reverent servant of God Fr Ottorino Zanon, founder of the Pia San Gaetano Society, a religious-missionary congregation formed by priests and permanent deacons.

Fin dalla giovane età del seminario Ottorino sente il desiderio e la missione di conoscere e amare il Signore Gesù e di non tardare per farlo conoscere e amare da tutti gli uomini.

Right from the beginning of the seminary Fr Ottorino felt the desire and mission to know and love the Lord Jesus and the haste to let him be known and loved by all men.

It is his life of dedication to his studies, first in the seminary and then in the passionate search for God’s will, which exposed him to the action of the Holy Spirit and pushed him to go beyond the boundaries that he knew. While in contemplation inside the seminary and inspired by a painting of the Crucifix against the background of the horizon of the world, he clearly felt his call to missionary life and could no longer rest until everything served the work of evangelization. He entrusted everything to the Virgin Mary, in whom he reserved a confident and creative abandonment for his intercession and protection. A filial devotion to the Madonna, to Mary Immaculate, constantly pervaded him; the trust placed in her was unwavering not even his darkest moments could obscure this trust. This also became a clear line of spirituality first and foremost for future members of the congregation, and later for members of the ‘Don Ottorino Family’. He often repeated: “Boat in storm: trust in Mary“, as certain as the protection of our ‘dear Mother of heaven’.

Pia Società San Gaetano | Fondatore

As an incredibly young diocesan priest, at the beginning of his apostolate work, he completely dedicated himself to constructing new service roads in order to restore dignity to those who lived in marginalization and loneliness. The young people, then orphans of war, motivated impulses and audacity to start working, but these could only commence if he received a clear sign of God’s will. A clear trait of Fr Ottorino’s sensibility is evident in his style of feeling the wounds of humanity and presenting them to the Lord, a line of orientation for his Work. He permitted the poverty to guide him and tried his best to respond and alleviate its grave consequences on the young people who suffered the most. His love for the people, encouraged Fr Ottorino to set up his first communities outside Vicenza and future missions in the neediest places and dioceses. Where absence of clergy seemed to be a clear appeal for the presence of this new congregation; where streets, neighborhoods and suburbs became ideal places to delineate the style and kind of service that Fr Ottorino had always dreamed of, for the permanent deacons of his congregation. Priests and deacons together on the altar and in life; in community service thus demonstrating a church capable of proximity and fraternity in the daily life of the needy.

God’s will. To be obeyed always, at all costs, sought and loved day after day.

This guides Fr. Ottorino’s spirit of donation and he expresses it with a mosaic patchwork cross, in which everyone must seek and occupy his rightful place to live in harmony with man and with the Lord, giving color to life.

‘Am I in my rightful place?’ It is an urgent, ever-present imperative to think and act in the presence of the Lord with whom we must cultivate intimate union in a daily encounter, a celebration of the Eucharist, proclamation of his word and constant prayer.

‘Am I in my rightful place?’ This became one of his most popular slogans because he felt he was the instrument of spreading the Charisma of the Holy Spirit. Fr. Ottorino let himself be transported by God’s work which he had neither wanted nor sought, but to which he submitted without hesitation after he realized that it was the Lord’s calling, putting everything in God’s hands.

To begin his work Fr. Ottorino asked for signs of conversion; he sought collaborators as a trace of God’s constant Providence that never abandons those who rely on it; he remained faithful and obedient to the church even if his intuitions anticipated the times, emanating the spirit and reverberating the echo of the second Vatican Council.

With a profound attitude of deep humility, he dreamt of the restoration of the permanent diaconate prophecy; a dream shared with some of his first companions since the 1940s. He patiently followed the pace of the church and was able to introduce with brilliant creativity, the seed of permanent diaconate.

Heart, family and work, according to Fr. Ottorino, hold the presence of the Lord, where we can live the true sacrament of his closeness. “With Christ in our heart, family, work” was written at the entrance of the St. Gaetano Institute so that it could be a reference for hundreds of young people, collaborators and families to help them understand that it is possible for everyone to live in the presence of the Lord.

The purpose of his original intuition is the gift of unity. Unity not abstract and generic, but in charity. ‘Unity in Charity’, is Fr. Ottorino’s ideal first, and then the religious missionary congregation.

He feels that the price of unity in charity is the cross of the Son of God. On it he finds the reason for his existence and finds the source to renew himself even when the wounds of communion are more painful than ever. He says ‘Love the Cross’, despite the fact that these words always hurt those who can even dare pronounce them.

Fr. Ottorino’s idea became music for the soul, as time went on. He repeatedly said that he could feel the music within, but could not compose it alone. He was filled with humility as the work progressed and got the desire to share everything so as to let everyone participate in what he recognized to be the presence of Jesus.

His charisma spread constantly and with it the need to announce grew. Soon lay people and friends became part of the idea. The story developed into the Charisma that matured into the fruit of “Fr. Ottorino’s Family”. The religious, the sisters in the deaconry, the laity and families, who despite the diversity of their vocations and callings, live and cultivate the charisma of Fr. Ottorino testifying the diaconal face of the church and pastoral style in the parishes, they are called to operate in.

Fr. Ottorino always recommended intimate contact with the Lord: ‘Talk to him’ and called unto him before making challenging choices. Contact and dialogue with Jesus to be renewed every day and to love the cross that always visits the friends of God.

The immense trust in Providence made Fr. Ottorino a credible man in the eyes of all, a man of the future and of great projects. It made him contagious and many could not resist his ardent impulse that demonstrated him as authentic and optimistic man of God, who submitted himself entirely to man and the Lord.

The Pia St. Gaetano society, a religious-missionary congregation – now Fr. Ottorino’s Family, are currently engaged, in different vocations, to live in the Unity of Charity inside the parishes. In the sensitization of the vocation of the permanent diaconate and in the certainty that the answer to ‘I am in my rightful place?’ is the source of every authentic joy of life to be spent in commitment and donation to God and to brothers and sisters.

Pia Società San Gaetano | Articoli | Servir Periferias

Spirituality and charisma, go hand in hand and identify Jesus with traits of a servant priest. This fulcrum became an icon of the pastoral religious charisma of the Congregation. It became an inspiration for the choices of the missions and for the pastoral work of Fr. Ottorino’s family. He became more like Jesus a servant priest, who offered everything to the Father and celebrated his mission among men.

He presented himself in a deacon servant style, so that no one could feel him distant, as he became the path of true sanctity for members, a call to be renewed every day.

la Famiglia di don Ottorino

Don Ottorino, a humble disciple of Jesus, an obedient member of the church, and a prophet without glories, is an inspiration to all those who are in his family today both in the world and in the church.

Priests and Deacons with pastoral action, Sisters in the deaconry, consecrated women participants of the charisma, friends and families continue to compose that music that Fr. Ottorino felt within himself. Dedicated charisma to live ‘United in Charity’, is the inner joy and creative impetus to build bridges and willing to be mosaic pieces ready to occupy that place in the design that the Lord has always reserved for everyone and for the church.