(ANS – Rome – April 19, 2020) – Giuseppe Cognata was born at Agrigento (Sicily) on October 14, 1885, to Vitale and Rosa Montana Cognata. He showed a great wealth of human gifts and talents from his childhood.
As a twelve-year-old he entered the San Basilio Salesian school in Randazzo (Catania), Don Bosco’s first work in Sicily, ready to accept the call to religious and apostolic life among the Salesians. His vocation was strongly opposed by his father and grandfather, with its trials and long and painful struggles, but crowned with joyful success.
Salesian: priest – teacher – apostle
On May 5, 1908, Bro. Giuseppe Cognata made his perpetual profession at San Gregorio di Catania, into the hands of the Fr. Michael Rua, and the following year, on August 29, 1909, he received his priestly ordination in Acireale.
He had graduated brilliantly in both literature and philosophy and then went to young people not only as a teacher and assistant, but also as a zealous priest, carrying out his mission at Bronte in Sicily, Este in Veneto, and Macerata in Le Marche.
World War I saw Fr. Cognata as a soldier in Palermo, Trapani, and Padua. In Trapani he laid the first foundations of the Salesian work which he was called to direct a few years later. He was director of several works, but even more the director of souls. From Trapani he was called to lead the school at Randazzo, then the school at Gualdo Tadino in Umbria, and finally he became director of the Sacred Heart works in Rome.
Bishop and founder
In the consistory on March 16, 1933, Pius XI appointed Fr. Giuseppe Cognata as bishop of Bova, a particularly poor and disadvantaged diocese of Calabria. He received his episcopal ordination on April 23 in the basilica of the Sacred Heart in Rome, from Salesian Cardinal August Hlond, archbishop of Gniezno and Poznan. The co-consecrators were the Salesian bishop of Sutri and Nepi, Luigi Maria Olivares (like Cardinal Hlond, “Venerable”) and Bishop Romolo Genuardi, auxiliary bishop of Palermo.
Along steep paths and mule tracks, Bishop Cognata – who had chosen the Pauline expression Caritas Christi urget nos as his episcopal motto – sought to visit and comfort not only all the small villages of the diocese, but also groups of poor families scattered here and there in the most remote and inaccessible places.
He gave life to a pious society of generous young women willing to work with courage and joy in the smallest, lost, and most abandoned centers. Thus the Congregation of the Salesian Oblates of the Sacred Heart was born on December 8, 1933.
In silence and solitude
In 1939, an infernal storm raged against the founder and his institution. On December 20, 1939, the Congregation of the Holy Office (now the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), on the basis of false accusations, unjustly condemned Bishop Cognata to dismissal from his episcopal dignity. He then went far away, living for long years in silence and solitude, separated from his spiritual daughters. He was welcomed into the Salesian houses in Trent and Rovereto until 1952 and then at Castello di Godego (Treviso) until 1972, carrying out an assiduous and appreciated ministry as confessor and spiritual guide.
Per Crucem ad lucem
The cross is hope, the certainty of resurrection and life. In Easter 1962, Bishop Giuseppe Cognata was reintegrated into the episcopate by Pope John XXIII. Thus, by the will of Pope Paul VI, he participated in the second, third and fourth sessions of the Second Vatican Council. On August 6, 1963, he was appointed titular bishop of Farsalo. On January 29, 1972, he had the joy of seeing his religious institute recognized by the Holy See with the Decretum Laudis (Decree of Praise). He died on July 22, 1972, in Pellaro (Reggio Calabria), the initial headquarters of the missionary activity of the Salesian Oblates.
His remains lie at rest in the generalate of the Oblate Sisters in Tivoli.