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Don Lorenzo Milani was born into a very privileged family in Florence. Milani’s father was a University pro-fessor, his grandfather an archaeologist of repute and his great grandfather an internationally renowned philologist. Milani was certainly not religiously influenced by his parents. His mother declared herself an atheist in a 1970.
A social marker must have made him aware of the social differences prevalent at the time. When he would ask the family chauffer to drop him off at some distance from school, lest his school companions would see him being afforded such luxurious treatment in a city where there were only about fifteen private cars available, two of which were owned by Lorenzo’s father (Fallaci, 1993, pp.13, 14).
Milani had a very independent mind and he defied his family’s aspirations for him by joining an art academy instead of a university. Nevertheless, his family background gave him the confidence to speak his own mind. It was probably through painting that he drew closer to the Catholic faith. Much to his mother’s cha-grin, he eventually decided to receive holy confirmation and, years later, joined the seminary, eventually being ordained in 1947. Milani’s priesthood continued to bring him in close contact with poor people and his feelings of solidarity with the oppressed (the poor and powerless) continued to be strengthened by his read-ing of the gospels and his clinging to an image of Christ whose option was for the poor – the meek who should inherit the earth. After a short spell at Montespertoli, he moved to the mainly working class and peasant inhabited San Donato di Calenzano where he led an evening “popular school” (scuola popolare) for adults. He did not believe in the idea of a denominational school (scuola confessionale) which would have sharpened the social divisions in post-war Italy (ibid.)
There was a strong secular feeling about his school which was not well received by the ecclesiastical author-ities. His classes dealt with a range of subjects many of which related to class politics and oppression. Invited speakers were challenged by the course participants who were encouraged to prepare the topic be-forehand, throughout the entire week, and engage in dialogue and a participatory approach.
This and his own unorthodox approach to religion and pastoral work proved too much for sections of the San Donato community and certain priests based in the area. He was “transferred”, or “exiled” if you will, to an obscure locality (Sant Andrea a Barbiana), in the Mugello region, lacking very basic infrastructural ameni-ties; the only roadleading to the village came to an end a kilometre away. It was there thatMilani developed his best known educational project, a full time school for “drop outs” of the public school system and de-veloped an alternative radical pedagogy that has been a source of inspiration to teachers and social activ-ists in Italy and elsewhere ever since.
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