Not many people know this place where 125 years ago the first community of the Congregation in Italy was founded, apart from the one in Rome-Via Giulia 163, which was founded in 1885. Fr. Antonio Naval and Brothers Ángel Salas and Julián Escudero, CMFF, left Rome for Spoleto on April 6, 1897, arriving at the new foundation of the Sanctuary of El Fosco and San Felice on the afternoon of the 8th.
Previously, in the month of December 1896, Fr. Joseph Xifré, accompanied by Fr. Jerónimo Batlló, had already been there, testing the possibility of a foundation in Italy. According to the legend, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fosco was located where the Virgin appeared to a young shepherd and caused the disappearance of a great plague in the place. It is a sanctuary built in 1860 and some rooms next to it. The Abbey of San Felice was founded by the Benedictines, who made a church and a monastery at the beginning of the 12th century. Both places had been entrusted to the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood, founded there by St. Gaspare del Buffalo in 1815, from which they had been expelled shortly thereafter. Xifré was unable to reach the Sanctuary of Fosco, located more than 1 km. away, because on the way it began to rain, he became ill and had to return to San Felice.
Father General returned to Rome without any desire to establish a community there. But, the requests of the Procurator of Rome and even more of His Excellency, Cardinal Protector, Rampolla, and of the Archbishop of Spoleto, who already considered the foundation as a fact, made him decide in the end to continue the foundation, which took place, as we have said, on April 8, 1897.
The three founders were very well received, but they found the circumstances of the Sanctuary very different from what they had been told. Tempted and stunned by so many inconveniences, Antonio Naval wanted to return to Rome the following day with the luggage they had brought with them. But on second thoughts, he decided to send Brother Salas to inform Father Batlló about the final decision. From then on that foundation, poor and isolated in the countryside, became a nightmare, especially for Father Naval.
Xifré immediately chose the individuals who were to reside in both foundations. After some days of spiritual retreat, they embarked in Barcelona on July 21, 1897, aboard the Italian steamship Orione bound for Genoa, accompanied by Xifré himself. They were: Fathers Joaquín Bestué, Ignacio Duña, Atanasio García Bartolomé, Nicolás García Cuesta, Anselmo Santesteban, Crescencio Urbiola and the brothers Mariano Baixet, Josep Castellet, Pascual Ibáñez, Alfredo Krentzer, Pablo Moga and Josep Noguer. They arrived in Rome on July 23. On the 26th, with the six o’clock train, they left for Spoleto.
After a year, the situation of the community was worrisome. A real disappointment after the splendid hopes that had been placed in them. Xifré wrote to Cardinal Rampolla:
“The state and conditions of our missionaries in the Diocese of Spoleto, according to the report of the worthy Fathers Procurator General and Naval, Superior of the Sanctuary of Giano, is sad and unfruitful; everything contrary to what was promised by that Prelate and Secretary.” As Father Serrat graphically wrote: “To die of hunger the Missionaries must not go so far“.
Thus, Fr. Xifré, on March 16, 1898, took the firm resolution to abandon Fosco and San Felice, “since there is no means of subsistence or of winning souls for God. Without the expressed requirement, of means of subsistence, no one, in conscience, can oblige us“.
For this reason and remembering that frustrated foundation, a group of Claretians of the General Curia visited the place on the eve of the Feast of our Father Founder, and after 125 years we found the house of Fosco where they lived, more or less as our missionaries left it. In the Shrine of Our Lady of Fosco we remembered them and we offered our prayers to the Lord and to Mary in their memory.