Our Founder – St. John Antony Farina
Life of Our Founder and Origin of the Institute
John Antony Farina was born at Gambellara (Vicenza Province) on 11th January 1803 to Peter Farina and Francesca Bellame. He received his early training from his paternal uncle, a holy priest who was for him a true master of the spirit and a tutor as well.
He entered the diocesan seminary at the age of fifteen at Vicenza where he was known for his distinguishing good nature and a particular aptitude for study. At 21, he was given the charge to teach theology to young seminarians and was noted to be a tutor of outstanding quality. Following his ordination to the priesthood in 1827, he was soon appointed the chaplain of St. Peter's parish at Vicenza, one of the most populous and poorest areas of the city. There he was in charge of the direction of the “Pious Work of Saint Dorothy” - an institution established for the supervision and training of young girls. There was an another institution named “The School of Charity” already existed in the parish and had been established for the instruction and Christian education of poor girls who had been abandoned. However, the school had declined after a short time due to the organisation's ineffectiveness and was subsequently entrusted to the young chaplain Fr John Antony Farina.
In 1831, with the collaboration of a noble man, Felice De Maria, he formed a new institution unifying the two works of charity. Moved by the Spirit, Fr Farina wrote the rules for directors of the school. Within a short period of time, the new school flourished as a centre of excellence for teachers and girls. However, it soon became apparent that the lay teachers were unable to provide total dedication and selfless service to the school that Fr John Antony had envisioned. So he was in due course driven to found a religious institute which would ensure that all teachers had a proven vocation, entirely devoted to the Lord and totally committed to the service of education by giving special concern and care for the unfortunate girls.
He founded the religious congregation of the Sisters of St. Dorothy, Daughters of the Sacred Hearts in 1836. Immediately he wanted his religious to dedicate themselves providing education to financially backward girls, the blind, the deaf and the dumb. He also instructed the Sisters to provide care for the sick and elderly both at home and in the hospital. On 1st March 1839 he obtained the decree of praise from Pope Gregory XVI. The rules drawn up by him remained in force until 1905, when the Institute was approved by Pope Pius X who earlier had ordained John Antony Farina a priest.
Fr John Antony was elected the bishop of Treviso in 1850 and received Episcopal consecration on 19th January 1851. Upon his appointment he immediately undertook pastoral visits and organised associations within every parish. These organisations were to dedicate themselves to providing spiritual and material help to the most needy, thereby leading Fr John Antony to be known as "the bishop of the poor”.
He increased the practice of spiritual exercises and assistance to the poor and the sick priests. He oversaw the doctrinal and cultural formation of the clergy and the faithful, promoting education and youth catechesis. The entire decade of his episcopate in Treviso was troubled by legal issues with the Chapter of the cathedral; these created the deep suffering and conditioned the realisation of his pastoral programme curbing many initiatives to prevent the celebration of the diocesan synod.
He was transferred as the bishop of Vicenza in June 1860, where he carried out an extensive renovation programme and played an impressive role in his pastoral work, guiding cultural and spiritual formation of the clergy and the faithful, teaching catechism for children, reforming the studies and discipline in the seminary. He convoked a diocesan synod which had not been held since 1689. He undertook pastoral visits and sometimes travelled several kilometres on foot or on mule to reach the mountain villages that had never seen a bishop. He instituted numerous brotherhoods for relief to the poor and elderly priests. He preached retreats to the people and instilled a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary. He considered the Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian spirituality. Between December 1869 and June 1870 he participated in the First Vatican Council, where he was among the supporters of the definition of papal infallibility.
The last years of his life were marked by suffering and pain – the fruition of his genuine apostolic activities, following the example of his Divine Saviour. He underwent deep sufferings and unjust accusations to which he reacted with silence, inner peace and forgiveness and offered those for the salvation of souls. After his first serious illness in 1886, his physical strength weakened leading to his death on 4th March 1888.