Waldensian Pastor and Theologian
Ugo Janni was born in L'Aquila, on 10 Sept. 1865, to Enrico and Carilia Strina, in a wealthy family strongly committed to the cause of the Unification of Italy.
His father had been imprisoned for three years in the prison of Castel Sant'Elmo, in Naples, for his activities against the Bourbon government; in 1859-60 he enlisted as a volunteer with G. Garibaldi and in 1867 he took part in the clash in Mentana; the name of the Janni, in memory of his father's Risorgimento militancy, came from Ugo Bassi, the religious man condemned to death by the Austrians in August 1849.
Encouraged by the civil commitment of his parents and by the cultural liveliness of his city, just fifteen years old, although Catholic, he approached the Methodist community of L'Aquila, in those years very active and led by V. Caressa.
As G. Spini points out, the adherents of the Evangelical Methodist Church in Italy were above all « liberal Catholics, who had matured the detachment from papal Rome in the climate of the Risorgimento », and this Church, precisely because of the liberal Catholicism present in its gene, was the most « Italian of the evangelical churches then operating in Italy » (p. 185).
Infatuated with military life, in November 1882 Janni went to Maddaloni, determined to undertake a military career against the family's advice; a long convalescence at home (1887-88) led him to change his mind, finish (July 1888) the interrupted high school and enrol in the Faculty of Law of the University of Rome.
While still attending high school, he had been attracted by the religious reform project proposed to Italian Catholicism by Count Enrico Campello, founder of the Italian Catholic Church in Rome in 1882, whose programme Janni had learned about through his professor of philosophy, F. Cicchitti Suriani. He decided, therefore, to join this Church and dedicate himself to theology in view of the ecclesiastical ministry, abandoning not only the Church of Rome but also the legal studies undertaken.
The movement promoted by Campello was part of the fervour of reflections, initiatives and protests that crossed the European Catholic world, dissatisfied with the authoritarian turning point impressed on the Church of Rome by Pius IX. This climate had generated in many countries a broad movement of opposition to the growing centralisation of the Curia and the temporal claims of the Pontiff, and a push for the creation of national Churches, open to democratic demands that were widely felt in society and marked by a spirit of collaboration with individual governments.
Once he had made his choice, Janni left Italy and went to study at the Faculty of Old Catholic Theology founded in Bern in 1874.
In 1889 he completed his studies and on 22 December was ordained a priest by Bishop E. Herzog, in the name of the Bishop of Salisbury, thus maintaining the apostolic succession.
The first pastoral see was San Remo, where his activity as preacher and lecturer met with considerable favour. In this city, from 1890, among many organisational and economic difficulties, he resumed publishing, as director-owner, "Il Labaro", the newspaper founded by Campello in 1882.
Under his direction the periodical continued to be published until 1901, succeeding in giving voice to Italian Catholic dissent but also signalling the progressive decline of the Church of Campello.
In May 1895 J. married Felicita Alessandrina Long; from this marriage Elsie and Ethel Evangelina were born.
The wife was, for Janni, a faithful companion in life and his tireless collaborator. Felicita coordinated the church's internal activities (Sunday school, singing, music, youth club); during the First World War she set up a Soldier's Hall in the church premises to welcome soldiers and veterans; she directed the Waldensian primary schools and after-school school, which were attended indiscriminately by Evangelicals and others, until 1935 when the authorities imposed its closure under Vatican pressure.
Even before Campello's abjuration and his return to the Church of Rome (1902), already at the end of 1900, Janni, now convinced of the lack of prospects for the Italian Catholic Church, refused the offer of the Bishop of Salisbury to take care of an Italian-speaking church in London, asked the Waldensian Church to welcome him together with his old Catholic community, whose members enrolled individually in the Waldensian Church, present in San Remo since 1876 (January 1901).
In April 1901 a new Church Council was elected and the Janni replaced Pastor G. Petrai; after a year of ministry, in September 1902, without receiving a new consecration, because the Synod recognised that of 1889 as valid, he became a member of the pastoral body.
As an exception to the Waldensian orders, Janni. remained in San Remo for the rest of his life: And it was precisely through the considerable bequest of Sister Laura, the German Carolina Elena Laura Heye (1830-1906) who, on a large piece of land made available and put up for sale at the end of 1903, on the corner of Via Carli and Via Roma - where the Anglican church of St. John the Baptist had previously stood, destroyed in a fire and rebuilt elsewhere - it was possible to build the Waldensian house, the classrooms, the rooms for youth activities, the shepherd's quarters, but also and above all the temple whose project was commissioned to architect Giovenale Gastaldi Jr. with the technical advice of engineer Liborio Coppola, member of the Evangelisation Committee.
At that time the Waldensian community of Janni could count 39 members and 9 catechumens, and met in via Principe Amedeo (today via G. Mameli). The members of the old Catholic Church of Ugo Janni also joined him in the pre-existing Waldensian Church which met in Via Umberto - where the School was also located - under the guidance of Giovanni Petrai.
The temple was inaugurated on Friday 22nd November 1907. The following Sunday the first worship was celebrated with the preaching of the pastor Teofilo Gay, who came from the Waldensian Valleys. On that occasion the tombstone in memory of Laura Heye was also discovered.
Intense was the work of evangelization carried out by him, also through the publication of important historical-religious and theological works and a constant activity of conferences open to the public.
The Schools continued their work until 1935 when they were closed due to the fascist regime. The Waldensian Church of Sanremo suffered greatly from the events of the Second World War, with the devastation of the premises following air raids.
From the post-war period to the present day, the Waldensian Church of the Ligurian city has known alternating vicissitudes and fortunes; today it continues its journey towards a future of evangelical testimony, not without - and despite - the difficulties of modern times of convulsive and global secularisation. It maintains excellent relations with other Christian churches in the area and periodically hosts conferences and concerts.
Janni died in San Remo on 30th July 1938. In the Waldensian Church, and more generally in the world of Italian Protestantism, Janni was a lively and attentive presence, tireless collaborator of "La Luce", of the "Christian Review", of "Bilychnis", of "Conscientia".
As a Waldensian pastor, he expressed an intense activity urging the Synods (which he presided over twice, in 1911 and 1922) to discuss evangelization, eschatology, liturgy, in order to reconsider in the Unionist perspective, which is the red thread of his thinking and acting, the doctrines and evangelical traditions.
(text taken from Laura Ronchi de Michelis)