When C.S. Lewis Befriended a Living Catholic Saint - Crisis Magazine: When Luigi Calabria, a shoemaker married to a housemaid, died in Verona, Italy in 1882, the youngest of his seven sons, Giovanni, nine years old, had to quit school and take a job as an apprentice. A local parish priest, Don Pietro Scapini, privately tutored him for the minor seminary, from which he took a leave to serve two years in the army. During that time, he established a remarkable reputation for edifying his fellow soldiers and converting some of them. Even before ordination, he established a charitable institution for the care of poor sick people and, as a parish priest, in 1907 he founded the Poor Servants of Divine Providence. The society grew, receiving diocesan approval in 1932. The women’s branch he started in 1910 would become a refuge for Jewish women during the Second World War. To his own surprise, since he was a rather private person, his order spread from Italy to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, India, Kenya, Romania, and the Philippines.
With remarkable economy of time, he was a keen reader, and in 1947 he came across a book translated as Le lettere di Berlicche by a professor at the University of Milan, Alberto Castelli, who later became a titular archbishop as Vice President of the Pontifical Council of the Laity. Berlicche was Screwtape and “Malacode” served for Wormwood. The original, of course, had been published in 1943 as The Screwtape Letters and Calabria was so taken with it that he sent a letter of appreciation to the author in England. Lacking English, he wrote it in the Latin with which he had become proficient since his juvenile tutorials with Don Pietro.
It is annoying how some assume and assert that C.S. Lewis responded in Lingua Latina only because he had no Italian. As a teenager in Northern Ireland, Lewis had become enamored of Dante, beginning with the Purgatorio and that began his fascination with Italian, including Petrarch, having first learned French and Latin, soon to embark upon Greek and other tongues including his beloved Old Norse. He quotes Italian lines from the Paradisio in his Letters to Malcolm. As a youth studying a Latin atlas of Italy, he was attracted to the name of an Umbrian town called Narnia, and put it in his memory bank where years later it bore fruit. Father Calabria knew that Latin would be second nature to an Oxford don. The sermon at the opening of each academic term is preached in Latin in the University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, with its charming if incongruous Solomonic pillars.