Vet or priest?
Louis was born in Oliva Gessi (Pavia) on June 5, 1873. From his earliest years, he used to serve mass, so much so that the people already thought he would be a priest, but Louis never wanted to hear talk of that, because he wanted to be a vet.
As a twelve-year-old, he was taken in by Don Bosco, who fascinated him to the extent that he wanted to change his mind. In 1888, soon after Don Bosco’s death, Louis was much taken by the ceremony where seven missionaries received their mission cross and decided to become a Salesian, with the hope of going to the missions.
He gained a degree in philosophy and was soon ready for priestly ordination which took place in 1895. Don Rua appointed him as director of novices at just 23 years of age at Genzano in Rome, a task he carried out for ten years with kindness, firmness and patience.
Missionary to China
After much insistence from the bishop of Macao, in 1906 six Salesians arrived in China, led by Fr Versiglia. Thus a prophecy of Don Bosco’s came true. In Macao he established the Salesian "mother house" and also opened a mission at Heungchow. Fr Louis gave life to the area as Don Bosco would have done, setting up a music band which was much appreciated, and opening orphanages and oratories.
In 1918 the Salesians received the mission of Shiuchow from the Vicar Apostolic of Canton, and on 9 January 1921 Fr Versiglia was consecrated its bishop. Wise, tireless and poor, he constantly set out to visit and encourage the confreres and Christians in his diocese. Whenever he arrived, the villages held a feast especially the children.
He was a true pastor, completely dedicated to his flock. He gave the Vicariate a solid structure with its own seminary, house of formation, and planned residences and hospitals for the elderly and those in need.
He looked after the formation of catechists with much care. In his notes, he wrote: “The missionary who is not united to God is a canal detached from its source”. “The missionary who prays a lot achieves a lot”. Like Don Bosco, he was an example of work and temperance.
Meanwhile in China, the political situation had become very tense, especially for Christians and foreign missionaries. Persecutions began.
On 13 February 1930, together with Fr Caravario, the bishop was at Shiuchow for the pastoral visit to the Linchow mission. Some young boys and girls went with them; they had been studying in Shiuchow. On 25 February a group of Bolshevik pirates stopped the bishop’s boat, wanting to take the girls. The bishop and Fr Caravario obstructed them with all the force they could muster.
They were forcibly taken and eventually shot. Before they were killed they heard one another’s confession. Their last breath was spent for their beloved China.
Paul VI declared them martyrs in 1976, John Paul II declared them Blessed in 1983 and canonised them on 1st October 2000.