May 21, 2019

The “Istituto San Leone Magno” of Rome has been officially proclaimed “House of Life”

Istitute San Leone Magno

The Istituto San Leone Magno (Institute of San Leone the Great) is a renowned school in Rome, from pre-school through high-school (Scientific Lice) run by the Marist Brothers. It was established in 1887 and its motto is “Estote Sapientes” (“Be Wise”).

During the Holocaust, particularly between 1943 and 1944, under the courageous leadership of its Director, Brother Alessandro Di Pietro, 24 Jewish children (including one German and one Polish) were sheltered at the School, together with 12 adult Jews and some Italian soldiers who deserted from the Army.

In recognition of his feats, Brother Di Pietro was officially recognized as Righteous among the Nations back in 2001.

In a moving ceremony which took place at the school premises, in Piazza di Costanza, theInternational Raoul Wallenberg Foundation (IRWF) proclaimed the institute as House of Life and unveiled a commemorative plaque that will serve as an ongoing tribute.

The IRWF was represented by Ms. Elena Colitto Castelli, National Coordinator of the ONG’s Houses of Life program. Castelli is the granddaughter of the late Spanish diplomat,Sebastian de Romero Radigales, who was recognized as Righteous among the Nations thanks to a thorough research conducted by the IRWF.

In those days, Brother Di Pietro and his staff literally risked their lives to save the sheltered children and adults, who entered the school with forged documents. For security reasons, the children had to pretend they were Catholic and prayed as such. There were many warnings of impending inspections by the SS, which eventually did not take place.

Securing food for the refugees was a constant worry and the school managed to barter tobacco vouchers for basic meals. Two of the Marist brothers, Angelo Oreggia and Graziano took upon themselves the task of ensuring the nutrition of the interns.

Brother Alessandro Di Pietro

Jewish Children sheltered at the Istituto San Leone Magno during WWII

Hundreds attended the ceremony and were greeted by the incumbent school director, Brother Roberto Moraglia, who thanked the IRWF for the honor.

Students of the school told the story of Brother Alessandro Di Pietro, followed by a lecture by Prof. Anna Doria, who highlighted the role played by women rescuers in other places in Italy and by Dr. Livia Ottolenghi speech which focused on the Bible verses that inspired the rescuers in their life-saving efforts.

Ms. Colitto Castelli, in turn, underscored the importance of the Houses of Life program and told her own story, as granddaughter of a rescuer.

This was followed by a student reciting a monologue written by Brother Di Pietro and a moving message from the President of Italy, HE Sergio Mattarella, who was a student at San Leone Magno. President Mattarella highlighted his appreciation to the IRWF for its Houses of Life Program.

Finally, Brother Roberto Moraglia came back to stage and stated his admiration for his students for their interest in this initiative and thanked again the IRWF for the recognition.

The closing remarks were by Brother Ernesto Sanchez, from Mexico, who highlighted the work of the Marist Brothers all over the world, in favor of the needy and the poor.

Eduardo Eurnekian, Chairman of the IRWF and Baruch Tenembaum, Founder of the IRWF, issued a special statement underscoring “the importance of recognizing the Istituto San Leone Magno and the heroes who acted under its roof, following the courageous leadership of Brother Alessandro Di Pietro. These rescuers epitomize the spirit of the rescuers, demonstrating that it is always possible to try and alleviate the plight of those in need. The IRWF salutes the Marist Brotherhood on this joyous occasion”

Left to Right: Brother Ernesto Sanchez, General Superior of the Marist Brothers, Ms. Elena Colitto Castelli, Prof. Anna Doria and Brother Luis Carlos Gutierrez, General Vicar of the Marist Brothers.

Two students unveiling the House of Life Plaque

Letter addressed by HE President Sergio Mattarella