The Latin Letters
C. S. Lewis made a commitment to answer every letter written to him. In 1947 he received a letter from a Catholic priest in Verona, Italy, 25 years his senior. Father Don Giovanni Calabria (1873-1954) had read an Italian translation of The Screwtape Letters and decided to write the author. Calabria was burdened by the division within the Christian world and desired unity once again among believers. To this end, he wrote articles, as well as letters to other church leaders (including the Archbishop of Canterbury); however, his correspondence with Lewis was the longest and most affectionate. Since Calabria did not speak English and Lewis did not know Italian, the men agreed to correspond in Latin, the language they had in common.
Father Calabria was from a poor family and never lost his concern for the less fortunate. Ordained in 1901, Calabria founded an orphanage in 1907 called Casa Buoni Fanciulli (House of Good Children). In 1932 he formed The Poor Servants of Divine Providence, which was a congregation designed to staff and run the orphanage.
In the late 1930s Father Calabria purchased an old abbey in Verona dating back to the 10th century and turned it into a haven for religious workers seeking spiritual renewal and rest. During WWII, the abbey -- renamed La Casa di Maguzzano -- became a refuge for those escaping the Third Reich. The Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Romania lived in exile at the abbey for several years.
After his death in December 1954, an envelope was found in Father Calabria’s belongings labelled “Important letters from our beloved separated brethren . . . .” Inside, among other papers, were the letters from C. S. Lewis. The two men never met in person.
On 17 April 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Father Calabria. The same Pope canonized him eleven years later on 18 April 1999. He is now known as Saint Giovanni (John) Calabria.