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The missing piece to the puzzle

· Birthplace of Pope Bergoglio’s grandmother discovered ·

The following is a translation of an article which appeared in the 7 August 2014 edition of “Il Popolo”, the weekly publication of the Diocese of Tortona, Italy.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine from Turin, Giancarlo Libert, who has a number of publications to his credit regarding Italian emigration to South America, asked me to confirm the birthplace of Supreme Pontiff Francis’ maternal grandmother. On the basis of his many years of experience in countless research projects he was quite convinced that she was born in Val Borbera. The outcome of one of his early investigations in the town hall of Mongiardino did not yield positive results.

I was then asked to research the documents in the episcopal archives. The available information was full name: Gogna, Maria; date of birth: 3 June 1887; father: Gogna, Pietro Giovanni; mother: Demergazzo, Regina. In the existing documentation the birthplace was indicated generically as “Alessandria (meaning the province), Piedmont, Italy”.

The Pontiff’s family tree had been previously studied in depth by Analìa Montorfano, a researcher from Buenos Aires as well as a member of the Board of Directors of the Academia Americana de Genealogía. An article on his ancestry had appeared in the 31 March 2014 edition of the daily newspaper “Il Secolo XIX”, under the byline of Eloisa Moretti Clementi. However, one piece of the puzzle was missing, that of the birthplace of his maternal grandmother.

With the assistance of Dr Silvia Malaspina, Director of the Diocesan Historical Archives, it was possible to identify the parishes of Val Borbera. Moreover, baptismal information was available for the year in question, and this was enough to provide a starting point for the research.

The initial surveys were unsuccessful. Then, unexpectedly, among the baptismal records of the parish of San Lorenzo in Cabella Ligure (years 1886-87) a document (certificate n. 21), partially printed and completed by hand, as part of a register provided to all the parishes of the diocese, was found. The certificate, which I have transcribed in full, (handwritten portions shown in italics) reads: “In the year of the Lord eighteen hundred eighty seven and on the fifth of the month of June in the parish of S. Lorenzo of Cabella, presented in the Church was a girl born on the third of the month of June at the hour of three p.m. in the district of this Parish (Teo) daughter of Gugna Pietro Giovanni known as Antonio and of Demergasso Regina of Giovanni in Gugna: to whom Baptism was administered by me the undersigned Parish Priest and on whom was imposed the name of Maria: Demergasso Giovanni of Giovanni having been godfather and Demergasso Maria of Giovanni godmother. Signature of Parish Priest: Fr Paolo Torre”.

The indication “Teo” stands for a tiny area of Cabella Libure where the Gogna couple lived. The parish priest, for reasons unknown, wrote “Gugna” in the margin instead of “Gogna” as a correction shown on the birth certificate in the town hall of Cabella Ligure. The birth certificate obtained from Cabella also shows that both parents were farmers. The mystery of the birthplace of the Pontiff’s maternal grandmother has thus been solved. I naturally took care to inform Giancarlo Libert and provide him with an electronic and later a hard copy of the certificate in question.

At a tender age, Maria emigrated to Argentina with her parents. She was living in Buenos Aires at Calle [Street] Yapeyù 669 on 4 April 1907 she married Francesco Sivori in the Parish of San Carlo Borromeo. Her mother Regina, sadly, died on her wedding day. Maria and Francesco had a baby girl, born on 28 November 1911. Their daughter, whom they named Regina Maria, would be the mother of Pope Francis. And thus the circle closes.

In carrying out this research I couldn’t help but remember how many Argentines have turned to our dioceses, like to others in Piedmont, in search of the roots of their family tree. I must admit that in many cases, the process that is often aimed at obtaining Italian citizenship has been thwarted by the information provided. On the other hand, don’t we say that in Argentina, half the population is of Italian origin and the other half are children of Italians?

Giuseppe Decarlini




St. Peter’s Square

Jan. 29, 2020