The Icon of the Theotokos Joy of All Who Sorrow (date unk.) celebrated today is not the one that is celebrated on July 23, which had twelve coins welded onto it by a lightning bolt in 1888. Nor is it the one celebrated on November 19, about which I could discover nothing. Today’s icon was in a church in Moscow in 1688, which, if you were an icon, was not a bad place or time to be. The icon shows the Theotokos (as you might have deduced from the name of the icon) raising her hand in blessing over those who sorrow (as you might have deduced from the name of the icon).
In that same year, the Patriarch of Moscow was Joachim, and he had a sister named Euthymia (or Euphymia) who had been plagued with a nasty skin condition for many years (no, not the actual plague; that’s just a metaphor). She went from doctor to doctor (doubtless stopping to rest and eat and stuff in between), but none could heal her. Finally she gave up on the doctors altogether, and just prayed. One day while praying she heard a voice saying to her, “Yo, Euthymia or Euphymia, go to the church of my Son’s Transfiguration, and get the priest there to say a moleiben before the Joy of All Who Sorrow icon. Message ends.” What would you do? Euphemia (or Euthymia) went to the church, had the priest say the moleiben, and was healed. The icon became famous and much-touted, and Euthymia (or Euphymia) will forever be remembered as the reason for its great fame and, um, toutedness.
Luigi Guanella (1842–1915) was born poor and illiterate, and stayed that way for a long time. He was the ninth of thirteen children, but who’s counting? He entered seminary at twelve, which seems early, and was ordained at twenty-three, which seems about right. These were tough times for pious Catholics in Italy, as the new Italian kingdom and the Vatican were having an ongoing spate of unpleasant disagreements about who was in charge of what where (this resulted in the total dissolution of the Papal States and the creation of Vatican City as an independent, if dinky, country). As a result, priests were regularly harassed by the political authorities, because, well, just because.
Luigi served as a parish priest in various towns—Savogno, Traona, Olmo, and Pianello Lario. While in Savogno, he created the town’s elementary school and served as its first and at the time only licensed teacher. Between Savogno and Traona, he worked in Turin with (St.) John Bosco in the Order* of Silesian Priests, serving the poor and needy. That good cause stayed with Luigi throughout his life. In 1890 he founded the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence to work among the poor; in 1904 he opened a facility for the homeless children of Rome; in 1908 he founded the Servants of Charity Congregation of priests and brothers. The orders and institutions he founded are collectively called “the Guanellian Family.”
In 1912, Luigi visited the United States, and was appalled at the poor conditions under which Italian immigrants were living. When he returned to Italy he sent back six Sisters of Providence to work in Chicago, a beachhead for the Guanellians, whose presence in the States has grown considerably since. In 1914 he started the Pious Union of St. Joseph, an international prayer confraternity whose purpose is to pray for the sick and the dying. It counts Pope Pius X as its first member, and is still going strong. In 1915 Luigi worked bringing aid to earthquake victims in central Italy. His health was already failing by that point, and the strain of that work probably hastened the end; he died later the same year back in Como. He was beatified in 1964 by Pope Paul VI, and, after his prayers healed a young man with a serious brain injury (from skating without a helmet) in 2011, he was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI.