A teacher, a diocesan Catholic Action delegate, a remedial orthopedagogist, a founder, and involved in politics as a counselor for children and the first woman Mantua’s first deputy mayor. Vittorina Gementi (1931-1989) was one of last century’s most significant figures in Italian social, political, educational and ecclesial life. An anticipator. Her name is above all linked to the Casa del Sole, which she founded in 1966 for cerebropathic, mentally, and sensorially handicapped children and adolescents. This came about after long experience in the social field, which she pursued with a rigorous moral commitment, and passionate study. Ever since she taught as a primary school teacher in country schools, Vittorina had been considering how to effectively and professionally help children with mental deficiencies, while taking into account the difficulties families experiencing in accepting them. For her, children were those existences which, although marked by limitation and suffering, become chosen and effective signs of the miracle of life. Gementi was strict in the application of all scientific and therapeutic applications that could help improve the life of every young life, and to which she added another element. It was not so important to technically achieve the goals of efficiency (to be able to read or write or speak with a verbal language) but rather to help the child in difficulty “to fully realise their life, giving them the maximum possibility to enjoy love and to experience love”. That love which reveals all its therapeutic power through respect for every life in its diversity and uniqueness. Disability may reduce motor, intellectual, working and sensory capacities, but it does not diminish the dignity of the person, which is unique and unrepeatable.
The love that Vittorina expressed could be defined as visionary because it was capable of anticipating the future and thinking of how to achieve what we consider impossible today. Only a utopian projection allows change and brings novelty to the world.
June 3 is the 32nd anniversary since her death. Her legacy is three highly specialised centres run in Mantua and a holiday home on Lake Garda.
By Adriana Valerio
Historian and theologian, professor of History of Christianity and the Churches at the Federico II University in Naples