Bruno Lanteri was born into a devout Christian family and, from his earliest years, was solidly nourished in the life of faith. His spiritual development proceeded as a continual deepening and growth, without periods of distancing himself from the life of grace, a trajectory of uninterrupted maturation building upon the firm Christian formation given within the family. A decisive influence, after the early death of his mother, was the example and teaching of his father Pietro, a doctor and exemplary Catholic. Such information as we have concerning his first seventeen years in Cuneo reveals the young Bruno as deeply committed to his Christian faith, the central reality of his life, and desirous of dedicating himself totally to God.
His brief endeavor to join the Carthusians at this point, unsuccessful because of the limitations of health that would trouble him throughout his entire life, bears witness to this intention. The attempt itself evidences the depth and centrality of his faith already at this time in his life. It attests also to the desire for deep prayer and simplicity of life which would constantly characterize Lanteri. The following year the Bruno opted for secular priesthood and began his studies in Turin where he would spend most of his priestly life. The private vows he took in these years, his later consideration of joining the re-established Jesuits and, most clearly, his definitive role as founder of a new institute, testify to his continuing interest in religious life as a vocational choice.
The key spiritual influence in his life entered through his encounter with Fr. Nikolaus von Diessbach, whom Lanteri met in Turin at the age of nineteen in the course of his seminary years. Diessbach, an ex-Jesuit after the suppression of the Company in 1773, as his spiritual director and mentor, provided the fundamental matrices of Lanteri’s spiritual and apostolic orientation. It may truly be said that “this meeting was the decisive event which determined the direction of his entire life” (Guerber, 111). While Lanteri will develop his own spiritual and apostolic personality, distinct from that of Diessbach, the bases upon which he will build will be those given him by Diessbach.
Diessbach infuses into Lanteri his own profound sense of the power of the printed word as the means which shapes ideas, and of the need to use this medium in support of Christian truth. He prepares him to continue his own work with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and the formation of young clergy. He brings him into the ambiance of his Friendship organizations, select circles of highly trained and zealous clergy and laity, and it is in this setting, following the guidelines established by Diessbach, that Lanteri will assume his own ecclesial identity.
Thus Lanteri will be essentially, though not exclusively, Ignatian in his spirituality and in his apostolic identity. He speaks of his “acquaintance with Fr. Diessbach for nearly twenty years, during which he always insisted on the importance and the necessity of preparing to give and of giving well the Exercises of St. Ignatius” (Positio, 560). In taking Diessbach as his spiritual director, Lanteri enters the world of Ignatian spirituality under the guidance of a capable master, and will penetrate its richness to such a degree that he will become, in turn, a highly effective director in spiritual matters. No less a witness than the Jesuit John Roothaan will say of the sixty-five year old Lanteri that he “knows many of our [Jesuit] things since he has always been occupied , as long as his health permitted, in giving the Spiritual Exercises , in which he is highly knowledgeable ” (Positio, 58).
The number and quality of his writings concerning the Ignatian Exercises is apparent to the most cursory glance at the contents of this volume. In them, Lanteri shows himself personally experienced in the Exercises and an accomplished master in training others to give them, as his published Directory for the Exercises of St. Ignatius demonstrates. The same writings demonstrate how Lanteri lived constantly of the teaching of the Exercises in his own life of prayer, most notably in his meditation, examens and retreats, convinced that in them he possessed a uniquely powerful pathway to holiness.
The Alphonsian Influence
From Diessbach Lanteri learned to esteem the writings of St. Alphonsus de Liguori and to find pastoral guidance in them, becoming in his own right a major proponent of the teaching of the saint. He adopted fully the directive of Diessbach: “have no doubts, follow Liguori in all his teachings” (Un’esperienza, 54) and trained innumerable disciples in this teaching both personally and through propagating the writings of St. Alphonsus.
St. Alphonsus is a major inspiration of his continual emphasis on the mercy of God in preaching, confessional practice, and spiritual direction, that quality of warmth and hope which drew so many to him and to the Oblates he would later form in the same pastoral sensitivity. The Alphonsian influence is also evident in Lanteri’s love for the Eucharistic visit, his adherence to the Holy See, and his devotion to Mary.
Lanteri developed this identity profoundly throughout the first thirty years of his priesthood (1782 – 1811) within the Friendship organizations of Diessbach, initially as a disciple, then as a creative leader in his own right of the energies in this movement. After the fall of Napoleon, in the years of the Restoration, he would apply this already established identity to a new set of works and, finally, to the foundation of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary who were to live of his same spirituality and apostolic initiatives.