Priest and Parish Priest of Bussana
Don Francesco Lombardi was born on February 24th 1851 in Terzorio, a small village in the western Ligurian hinterland. Francesco was the first-born of thirteen children. The fruits of an authentic religious education soon became evident in him.
Don Giacomo Lombardi, his countryman and peer, who was parish priest of San Siro in Sanremo, said: « I remember him always pious and devoted, modest and pure, always attracted to the church of our native village, assiduous in prayer and in the frequency of the sacraments ».
The divine call did not take long to manifest itself. Welcomed in 1864 in the monastery of Subiaco, he proposed to become a Benedictine monk.
His precarious health interrupted, however, after only two years, that fruitful experience which served to deeply mould the spirituality of the future priest.
He returned home and waited calmly for the Lord to show him the way.
After a parenthesis between the Scolopi Fathers of Savona, in October 1868 he was initiated into classical and philosophical studies which he followed in the College of the Mission of Sarzana.
Despite the spirit and the rule of St. Vincent fascinated him, he said yes to his bishop when he called him to the diocesan seminary of Ventimiglia in 1870.
By then the road was clearly marked and, after completing his theological studies, on 19th September 1875 Francesco Lombardi became a priest.
Bishop Lorenzo Biale appointed him temporarily regent in his native town of Terzorio and a few months later sent him to the parish of Bussana, which, due to various circumstances, had been without a parish priest for many years.
A sense of apprehension and humble perplexity pervaded the young priest's soul, but he was ready for obedience and on the 9th November 1875 he arrived in Bussana.
The name of don Francesco Lombardi is linked to the historic earthquake that destroyed Bussana vecchia in 1887, so much so that his first biographer, don Vincenzo Novella, from Bussana, entitled his book: « The Parish Priest of the Earthquake ».
He was also the main architect for the construction of the new grandiose Sanctuary dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. After laying the first stone for the new construction on September 15, 1889, he had to settle endless disputes and misfortunes in order to celebrate, together with Bishop Reggio, the first Mass on December 13, 1891.
The famous Ligurian Barnabite Father Giovanni Semeria said that « the earthquake opened the head of the humble country parish priest and made him a genius ».
It is a beautiful sentence that does not, however, do justice to the truth: don Lombardi was already a "genius". His genius was that of the good shepherd, animated by an inner flame that made him a great apostle: the apostle of the Sacred Heart.
He died again in Bussana, on 13th February 1922.
(taken from a re-enactment on the anniversary of his death, by the Diocesi Ventimiglia-Sanremo)