Don Luigi Fugacci, the parish priest in Malgrate for 35 years until his death in 1973, was also known by his nom de plume, Fra’ Ginepro. He wrote poetry, published several books, was a contributor to the Corriere Apuano, the weekly publication of the diocese of Pontremoli, and Giovane Montagna, a magazine. He was a founding member of the Associazione Manfredo Giuliani in Villafranca, which published a review of his life and work, Ritratto di Don Antonio Fugaccia. Fugaccia’s nephew, Riccardo Ferrari, who lives in Scotland, is a friend of mine.
Don Luigi Fugaccia with his sister, Italina, and niece, Yolanda
Although many of those who remember Fugaccia think he came from Valdena, the tiny village in the comune of Borgotaro on the other side of the Passo del Bratello, he was in fact born in London in 1894, where his first name was recorded as Andrew. His parents, Dominico Fugaccia and Eugenia Zaccarini, were born in Valdena but, like many Italians in the late 19th century moved to England for a better life. They settled in the Clerkenwell district of London, also known as Little Italy.
Sometime between 1910 and 1914, Fugaccia arrived in Italy. His parents had encouraged him to join the seminary in Pontremoli, whose diocese included Valdena, in the hope that he would receive a good education, and perhaps would go on to become a priest.
World War I interrupted Fugaccia’s studies. From 1915 to 1918 he served in the 154th Reggimento Fanteria, also known as the Brigate Novara. He ended the war with the rank of Corporal and was awarded the Croce al Merito di Guerra. In June 1916, Fugaccia’s younger and only brother, Tranquillo, who also joined the Italian army, died in the first gas attack of World War I on the Italian front at Monte San Michele, in which 7,000 Italians died and 2,000 from the Austrian-Hungarian Army.
A young Don Luigi Fugaccia (second from the left)
At the end of the war, Fugaccia returned to Pontremoli to resume his studies. In 1922, at the age of 28, he was ordained as a priest, and went to serve as the parish priest in Bratto, not far from Valdena. He remained in Bratto for the next 14 years. In those days, access to the village was by a rough track and life was hard, particularly in the winter, when the village could be cut off by the harsh weather in the mountains. A quiet, humble man, Fugaccia is remembered in Bratto for his kindness, gentleness and humanity – the small pharmacy he operated to help the sick, his care for the aged, his help in finding work for the men of the parish, and above all for his solidarity with the impoverished population. When not working in the parish, Fugaccia revelled in the presence of the mountains, which inspired his poetry and writing. It was at this time that Fugaccia started contributing to the Corriere Apuano and Giovane Montagna under the name of Fra’ Ginepro.
As Italians continued to seek a better life abroad, so too the population of Bratto continued to dwindle, and in 1937 Fugaccia moved to Malgrate, where a vacancy in the parish had arisen. After his father’s death, Fugaccia’s mother, Eugenia Zaccarini, made many extended visits to Malgrate to take care of her son. Like Don Luigi, she is buried in the cemetery at San Lorenzo. Don Luigi’s only sister, Italina – the mother of my friend, Riccardo – visited Malgrate on a number of occasions.
During World War II, Fugaccia was detained by the Germans and, along with three other priests, was sent to a camp in Bibbiano in Emilia-Romagna. They were released after a few days and set out to walk back home. However, at Berceto, they were re-arrested and returned to Bibbiano in a cart carrying cattle. Fugaccia’s short story, Ricordi di Berceto, tells the tale.
Fugaccia continued with his studies and writing. His scholarly works include studies of Silvestro Landini (1503-1554), a Jesuit missionary born in Malgrate, and Padre Antonio of Virgoletta (1593-1641), who was martyred in Ethiopia.
Fugaccia’s writings about Lunigiana include Bratto and Bria, a compilation of his writing in Giovane Montagna published in 1942, and his best known work, Lunigiana – Visioni e Figure, published in 1959, a compendium of short stories. The simple sketches from Lunigiana – Visioni e Figure depict the everyday life of the Lunigianese. He describes the people and places of the time, as well as the landscape. His style is simple but poetic, often touched by sadness; always a reflection of his love for Lunigiana and its people. These stories can be read on the Bagnonemia website. I have also attempted to translate my favourite story, The Bells of the Valley.
My thanks to the Parish of Malgrate and to Riccardo Ferrari for the photos. My thanks also to the Bagnonemia website and to the Associazione Manfredo Giuliani.