Mother Giovanna Alberoni was a humble missionary at the service of humanity. Her journey was a long and blessed one. It brought her all the way from a tiny village in Northern Italy to Bandra, a suburb of Mumbai. It was a journey of deep compassion and exemplary competence.
She was born on October 1st, 1926 in San Georgio Piacentino in Italy, second in three girls. After her primary schooling, she completed her professional training in teaching from the institution of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate in Piacenza. Thereafter she was privileged to render her service in the same Institution. The exemplary life of both the Daughters of Charity and the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate, the experience of the Second World War, the burning missionary zeal deep within her and many other influences attracted her to Religious Life. She joined the Congregation of the Ursulines of Mary Immaculate on 16th January 1946.
More than just wanting to be a religious, Mother Giovanna was driven by a dream to be a missionary. The Ursulines had just begun their mission in India and this great smiling Ursuline left her motherland and all her dear ones and arrived in India on 4th November 1948. A generous heart, burning with love of God and humanity, coupled with missionary zeal and enthusiasm enabled her to fight the challenges, in a land of unknown tongue, unfamiliar customs, diverse cultures extreme climate and a people totally strange. Her enchanting smile and amiable ways captivated the hearts of many Indians as she began her life in Kannur, Kerala in 1948 and headed for her intermediate studies in St. Agnes College Mangalore.
On completion of her medical studies from Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi, as a full-pledged and dedicated doctor she began her service in Mariampur Hospital, Kanpur as one of the pioneers. In the later years, moving from the north to south of India she rendered her generous service as Medical Superintendent and a practicing Gynecologist in Nirmala Hospital, Marikunnu, and Good Shepherd Hospital Vythiri , Kerala. During this time, in 1970, Mother Giovanna generously offered to render her service in the refugee camps in West Bengal, where millions of refugees from Pakistan were huddled in makeshift camps.
In the year 1978, Mother Giovanna arrived in Mumbai to take over the Holy Family Hospital which was handed over to the Ursuline Sisters of Mary Immaculate from the Medical Mission Sisters. Mother Giovanna was the pioneer and primary architect behind its phenomenal growth. Her gentle healing hands and magnanimous heart won over the hearts and minds of the Bandra community and the hospital soon gained a good reputation, especially as a maternity home. She extended medical assistance to the Slums in Bandra East by establishing Navjeeth Community Health Centre in the year 1978, which today has expanded and branched out to many of the Mumbai slums and to tribal hamlets with an integrated development approach. In 1992, she was appointed as the Executive Director of Holy Family Hospital. With her vibrant leadership and far sightedness she directed the hospital to emerge as a premiere Catholic institution in the city of Mumbai with state of the art medical facilities.
She was elected as the Superior General of the Congregation and moved to Rome, Italy from 1997-2003. After completion of her term, she returned to India and rejoined Holy Family Hospital. In 2004, she was appointed as the Mission Secretary of the Congregation and worked enthusiastically for the welfare of the poor and marginalized. She played a vital role in obtaining sponsorships for education of thousands of children across India. Even at her advanced age, she continued to contribute and bring in value addition to the hospital through her diligent and wise guidance, as a member of the Management committee and Ethics Committee till the end. With a heart full of compassion and tender loving care she visited the patients in the hospital even on a wheel chair and comforted them with her healing presence. One of her sayings that echoes in our hearts is “What you give must cost you, your time must be more valuable than money”.
She won many prestigious awards both at the national and international level for her dedicated service to the poor, the sick and the abandoned, especially women and children.
In 1958, when she graduated from Lady Hardinge Medical College, Delhi, she received an award from the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru for “the most sympathetic medical student towards poor patients”. In 1993, she received the “Angil dal Dom” (Angel of the Cathedral) award from the Foundation of a local bank in the town of Piacenza, Italy where she studied for many years. In 1994, she was knighted (Ufficiale al merito della Republica) by the Italian government for “The abnegation and competence with which, she dedicated herself for a long period of service in India”. In 1999, she was honoured with “Illustrious Citizenship” by the Mayor of San Giorgio, Italy for her amazing missionary activity in India. In 2001. She was awarded with “Solidarity for Life” for her pro-life work in India. In 2012, she was awarded the “Nobel Prize for Missionaries” from Cuore Amico, Italy. Mother Giovanna was one of the four missionaries to receive this prestigious award for 64 years of service in India as a missionary doctor. Mother Giovanna enjoyed good health at the age of 77, even after her return from Italy in 2003. She continued to come to the hospital with her timely suggestions, observations and guidance until March 2020. Thereafter she was confined to the room due to COVID -19 isolation protocols. Though not able to move out of her room, she took keen interest in knowing the day to day operations of the hospital. The social isolation restriction and fragility of old age took a toll on her health.
She was admitted to the hospital on 5th January 2021. She passed away peacefully, due to old age complications, at the age of 94 on 18th January 2021.
Mother Giovanna mentored the hospital. It was due to her vision, her ethos and her encouragement that Holy Family Hospital has become the premier institute it is today. The gigantic Holy Family Hospital is a fitting monument to her dedication and zeal.